Abstracts for Week Nine
‘in the becoming was the weared’: Beckett, Joyce and Clothing
As a new way of thinking about the literary relationship between Joyce and Beckett, this talk proposes to use the representation of clothing in their texts as a way of drawing out key threads tha tboth weave them together and draw them apart. Taking Circe as a case study, this talk will argue for the importance of clothing to the writing of Joyce,as a means of creating meaning through a kind of textile over-determination. In Circe, this process almost becomes a parody of itself, where identity is invested almost totally in the cloth to the negation of the body and subject which gives it shape. The negation of body and subject is a familiar operation in the work of Beckett, but how it is enacted, through the medium of clothing and the revelation of the body in his work, is not through textile suffocation, as in Joyce, but in repetition and the constant threat of disintegration and nudity (bodily and otherwise). The representations of clothing in both Beckett and Joyce raise crucial questions about identity formation, going further than the well-worn maxim, “the clothes maketh the man” towards Thomas Carlyle’s more troubling assertion in Sartor Resartus that clothes “are threatening to make clothes screens of us all. ”Behind the cloth lurks the ever-present risk that nothingness abounds, a risk that drove Joyce towards a glorification in fabrication, while Beckett’s operations possess a more wary relationship to that which conceals a body and subject that is ultimately inexpressible.
Suspicious Servants: Fielding’s Universal Register Office and the Elizabeth Canning Case
The paper will explore Fielding’s somewhat ambivalent attitude towards servants, suggesting that he had a deep-rooted distrust of this group and in particular, of their capacity for truth telling. In this context, the paper will examine his involvement in the Universal Register Office established in 1750. This office was established as a meeting place of sorts, and fulfilled many functions; a primary role however was to act as a recruitment agency, matching employers with potential employees. It is this role which the paper will focus on, examining the office’s attitude toward, and treatment of servants. In this respect, the paper will examine the policies and procedures practiced by the office in its attempt to defend against servant imposition.
In contrast to this, the paper will then examine Fielding’s role as a magistrate in the Elizabeth Canning Case, which occurred three years after the founding of the Register Office. This case, which involved the mysterious disappearance of a young servant girl and her suspicious reappearance twenty-eight days later proved highly controversial and divided public opinion. The paper will conclude by suggesting that Fielding’s belief in the marvellous and improbable story told by this young servant girl is ironically surprising given his evident suspicion of these domestic employees.