Nineteenth-century domestic interior. The space disguises itself – puts on, like an alluring creature, the costumes of moods. The self-satisfied burgher should know something of the feeling that the next room might have witnessed the coronation of Charlemagne as well as the assassination of Henri IV, the signing of the treaty of Verdun as well as the wedding of Otto and Theophano. In the end, things are costumes beneath which they exchange glances of complicity with nothingness, with the petty and the banal. Such nihilism is the innermost core of bourgeois coziness […] To live in these interiors was to have woven a dense fabric about oneself, to have secluded oneself within a spider’s web, in whose toils world events hang loosely suspended like so many insect bodies sucked dry. From this cavern, one does not like to stir.
Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project
Increasingly, my work steers me in the direction of interior décor, as if the whole of nineteenth-century thought and feeling was conveyed by the objects in people’s drawing rooms. This of course is fetishism, and although it’s hard to think of Mrs Gaskell’s descriptions of green glass cake-fork holders, being the same thing as dressing up at the weekend in a gasmask and being flogged by a lithe youth in diving gear, it probably is.
It’s an area I’m not altogether comfortable thinking around. Not because of fetishism, not because of Regency fashions, but because there’s something uncomfortably ‘New Universities’ about mentioning the words ‘Jane Austen’ and ‘black latex-hosiery’ in the same breath. It’s just where I fear the study of literature may be heading, in a hand-cart, and that is why I spend much of this afternoon preferring to stare out of the window at the rain-soaked street, rather than commit to a literature search along the lines of “Fetishism in nineteenth century literature”.
So, I go back to Crabbe, hoping for it to seem different:
In a small but splendid room she lov’d to see
That all was plac’d in view and harmony;
There as with eager glance she look’d around,
She much delight in every object found;
While books devout were near her — to destroy,
Should it arise, an overflow of joy.
But here, you see is my problem. Dinah in ‘Procrastination’ replaces human interaction with ‘portable property’ as Mr Wemmick would call it. And it is clear that it does form a more than adequate substitute for the lover she has displaced— more so, it’s hard to imagine Dinah needing to keep devout books at hand should her passions with Rupert get out of hand.
Within that fair apartment, guests might see
The comforts cull’d for wealth by vanity:
Around the room an Indian paper blaz’d,
With lively tint and figures boldly rais’d;
Silky and soft upon the floor below,
Th’elastic carpet rose with crimson glow;
And it goes on, each detail of design more sensuous than the last, Dinah getting increasingly… well… excited, by the design of each picture frame. Whereas Bloomfield was kitsch, this really is writing about a woman whose own life is kitsch, but in a rather sexual way. Like the cliché of pizza boys, and plumbers, I suppose that porn is by its very nature kitsch. These days Dinah would be the sort of woman to host Ann Summers parties, no doubt.