(15) Chapter 8 cont.

A brave and determined Perdita plays hostess at an elaborate gala; the guest of honor fails to arrive.

I wish I could guess what Mary Shelley pictured her characters wearing in 2085 or so—Britain’s elite, along with its dirt-poor, its drop-outs, and its fallen Near Eastern demi-royalty in residence. She does not supply a single clue; even with the opportunity right in front of her, as this installment shows, she does not describe a single woman’s gown: torn or “light and graceful” is her limit. Clothes don’t appear to have interested her, at least as a subject to write about; she does nothing with the chance that another writer might have seized to project the future of dress. Every hint in the text points to her imagining that things would continue much as they were at present, in 1825—when indeed women’s styles were far more slim and freeing than they’d be 50 years later, in big-skirted Victorian times.


Perdita’s October 16th Gala: She enters. Raymond’s note arrives. Her rooms fill with guests.

All dating from 1824-27, most of these images come via Internet Archive from a bi-annual British digest called The Repository of Arts, Literature, Commerce, Manufactures, Fashions and Politics. This, the creation a German immigrant named Rudolph Ackermann, was a literary project of its time—an ambitious and influential one, as told here with flair by an antique prints professional. The fashion illustrations remain pretty widely known; but the text deserves attention, too, as you can see:

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