Textile orientalisms: cashmere and Paisley shawls in British literature

Choudhury, Suchitra (2014) Textile orientalisms: cashmere and Paisley shawls in British literature. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Abstract

Britain imported a vast number of cashmere shawls from the Indian subcontinent in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These were largely male garments in India at the time, which became popular dress accessories for British women. The demand for these shawls was opportune for textile manufacturers at home – particularly in Edinburgh, Norwich, and Paisley, who launched a thriving industry of shawls, ‘made in imitation of the Indian’. There has been considerable scholarship on cashmere shawls and their European copies in textile history. However, it has enjoyed no such prominence in literary studies. This PhD thesis examines Cashmere and ‘Paisley’ shawls in works of literature. Indian shawls are mentioned in a number of literary texts, including plays, poems, novels, opera, and satire. A wide variety of writers such as Richard Sheridan, Sir Walter Scott, Jane Austen, and Wilkie Collins (to name a few) depict these textiles in their works. For these writers, I argue, shawls provide a means to explore Britain’s changing social and imperial identity through the prism of material culture. The sheer incidence of ‘shawls’ in printed discourse furthermore suggests that they went beyond the realm of everyday fashion to constitute one of the important narratives of nineteenth-century Britain. In emphasising the significance of material culture and recovering new historical contexts, this investigation raises important questions relating to the links between industry and trade, and literary production. I rely on literary criticism, scholarship on India, and textile history to examine the phenomenon of cashmere shawls. In the wider context of postcolonialism, the research suggests that instead of the Saidian model which viewed the East as an abject ‘Other,’ colonies actually exerted a reverse and important influence on the imperial centre. A new emphasis on Indian things in literature, this work hopes, will contribute a fresh strand of thought to studies of imperialism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Due to copyright restrictions the full text of this thesis cannot be made available online. Access to the printed version is available.
Keywords: Paisley shawls, cashmere shawls, textile in literature, objects in literature, fashion, British empire in literature
Subjects: P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0080 Criticism
P Language and Literature > PN Literature (General) > PN0441 Literary History
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies
Funder's Name: UNSPECIFIED
Supervisor's Name: Leask, Professor Nigel
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Ms Suchitra Choudhury
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5201
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 30 May 2014 11:18
Last Modified: 07 Oct 2015 10:08
URI: http://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/5201

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