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Her Representation Precedes Her

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Jennifer R. Henneman. "Her Representation Precedes Her: Transatlantic Celebrity, Portraiture, and Visual Culture, 1865-1890." PhD Dissertation, University of Washington, 2016.

Analysis of representations of London’s professional beauty and the tomboy heroine of the American West reveals the centrality of female celebrities to debates regarding feminine labor, gendered consumer behavior, and racial right to imperial rule during the second half of the nineteenth century in Britain and the United States. In the first three chapters of this dissertation, a consideration of the development of commercial photography and album culture leads to an analysis of how professional beauties, including Lillie Langtry, Mary “Patsy” Cornwallis West, Margaret Wheeler, and Lady Lonsdale harnessed representational tools to create a powerful sense of public intimacy that motivated celebrity culture, threatened expectations of gendered consumer behavior, and risked a visual miscegenation with colonized subjects in the minds and hands of indiscriminate viewers. The final two chapters analyze reports of frontier women such as Calamity Jane (Martha Jane Canary) and sensational dime novel fiction, out of which grew the figure of the tomboy heroine of the American West. A symbol of possibility on an expanding frontier, the Western tomboy heroine found a welcome a home in the popular imagination and was successfully performed by Annie Oakley in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West. While a short-skirted sharp shooter would seem a transgressive female figure for Victorian-era audiences, analysis of her positive reception in Britain during the American Exhibition of 1887 reveals that a return to a more “natural” womanhood was considered a viable alternative to the negative effects of an industrialized urban environment. Utilizing sensitive attention to object materiality, consideration of socio-historical context drawn from primary sources, and examination of various modes of public performance, this dissertation implements a hybrid methodology to interrogate the imaginative fantasies required of and sustained by celebrity and consumer culture. Analysis of these case studies amidst London’s visual ecosystem during the second half of the nineteenth century demonstrates the ways in which representations of women were utilized to illustrate the hopes and anxieties of an imperial era.

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