Coziness and Its Vicissitudes: Checked Curtains and Global Cotton Markets in <i>Mary Barton</i>

Elaine Freedgood

in The Ideas in Things

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print November 2006 | ISBN: 9780226261553
Published online February 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226261546 | DOI:
Coziness and Its Vicissitudes: Checked Curtains and Global Cotton Markets in Mary Barton

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Fustian and calico hold a host of meanings in their names, in their histories, and, quite literally, in their rough and smooth textures. Part of the genealogy of coziness that we can trace in checked curtains is that they mark a continuity with the preindustrial past of East Lancashire. The calico curtains in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton suggest that its laboring-class residents are domestic. This chapter is not so much a “reading” of Mary Barton as it is a meditation on the way that the history of calico unravels the ideological work of domesticity as Gaskell tries to deploy it. The blue and white curtains that promise protection at key narrative moments have been purchased at the expense of the laborers who make them in England, and the laborers who no longer make them in South Asia. Hence, the presence of checked curtains suggests the exceptionally high price of domesticity for the poor. In addition, famine haunts Mary Barton; characters hunger, starve, and die at an alarming pace.

Keywords: Elizabeth Gaskell; Mary Barton; cotton; coziness; domesticity; calico; fustian; famine; laborers

Chapter.  8912 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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