Outward Appearances: The Female Exterior in Restoration London

Outward Appearances: The Female Exterior in Restoration London

Outward Appearances: The Female Exterior in Restoration London

Outward Appearances: The Female Exterior in Restoration London

Synopsis

Elucidates early modern attitudes toward women's public display. This title presents a cultural study that draws on a range of literary and non-literary texts from 1650-1700 to revisit the sites where women appeared most prominently: the playhouse, the park, and the New Exchange (a shopping arcade in the Strand).

Excerpt

This book considers how men viewed women in restoration London. It is a cultural study that draws on literary and nonliterary texts to reconstruct a culturewide conversation that took place in the second half of the seventeenth century, a conversation on the topic of women’s outward appearances.

By “outward appearances” I mean something more than our common use of the phrase to signify “how things look or seem,” often in contrast to their true condition. I am using it to name two distinct but related things. the first is outward physical appearances: the visible, tangible exteriors of bodies—in this case, women’s bodies. I discuss the exterior features of women’s bodies (skin, eyes, hair, breasts, clothing, carriage) and men’s attempts to read these outward signs as evidence of internal states. Restoration culture was both remarkably attentive to these signs and deeply suspicious of them. Men carefully scrutinized a woman’s outward appearance in the belief that it made apparent the truth of her social and spiritual identity, but they often found her appearance to be a disguise or impersonation, what Milton calls “mere shows of seeming pure.” As one conduct book warned, some women “are nothing lesse than what they most appeare.”

The second type of “outward appearances” has the sense of “making an appearance” rather than “having an appearance,” appearances that are outward from the home rather than from the body. I discuss women as public figures in Restoration London and examine how men reacted to their increased appearance in public places. the emblem of women’s new visibility and exteriority was the professional actress, first introduced to London in 1660, but women of all sorts were increasingly appearing on the figurative stage of London, in the many sites of public display that the city offered. This second sort of outward appearance, as the first, provoked complex responses from those who wrote to and about women. Women were encouraged to secure their innocence by keeping distant from public venues of entertainment, recreation, and commerce, but there was also a growing tolerance of and market for women who displayed themselves publicly.

Perhaps as a result of this ambivalence, the two sorts of outward ap-

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