Gender, Class, Status and the Ever Present Conspicuous Consumption


The idea of conspicuous consumption is a main component of this weeks reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the amusement of this week’s readings of play and peom.

In The Lady’s Dressing Room, by Jonathan Swift sprinkles his reads with a little torrid humor of the gender roles. In a basis way, the woman (Celia) takes eternity, (5 hours) to get prepared for her evening and keeps a mate, Strephon at bay. I image Strephon to grow bored and weary from waiting and sneaks into Celia’s room to find out what could take some five hours to dress. To his amazement, disappointment and judgement he finds more than he bargained. Is it notable to Swift to make the accusation that Strephon’s desire and then judgment towards Celia being so intrusive is due to the theory of Conspicuous Consumption? These purchased goods are not necessarily for display rather than the partaking and preparing of self. The grotesques of a woman’s dressing room being surprisingly “foul” as much as Strephon baring witnessing Celia’s restroom etiquette. How dare the delicateness of a woman have ever such a thing associated with it? Never did it cross Strephon’s mind Celia could be so womanly a “mess”? “But swears how damnably the Men lie, In calling Celia sweet and cleanly.” (Swift, The Lady’s Dressing Room) There seems to be expectation of Celia being ready and available. “A nasty Compound of all Hues, For here she spits, and here she spues. But oh! It turn’d poor Strephon’s Bowels, When he beheld and smelt the Towels.” Is classism an issue here from Strephon? What does this mean to him. What posed him to take inventory? Is this about the culture and class of each other. “That careless Wench! No Creature warn her To move it out from yonder Corner; But leave it standing full in Sight. For you to exercise your Spight.” Strephon is now dismissive and angry to refer to Celia as a Wench. The layers of contradiction that she could be so messy and foul has provided a new vision on her value, only to Strephon who has this new look of her. I pondered what Celia was getting prepared for in the evening anyway, was this a rare occasion? Her classism might allow her to be fashionably late. 5 hours of preparation may seem the fanciest of time, by a ton of products that are near wasteful in the eyes of Strephon. The idea that she had a “Betty” to aid her means she had some level of classism. Was the Betty subjected to Celia’s living style. Did anyone else observe her “humanness” Yet, I ponder the idea of a Hoarder here. Someone who has values upon values and has no care or regard for these items as they pile up and grow some attachment to them.

 In She Stoops to Conquer, by Oliver Goldsmith has been a fun read. The humor is something to be quite fond of. The characters all have some concerning layers of interpretation. In the theory of Conspicuous Composition, starting off with “Thus I begin- All is not Gold that glitters. “ Strongly flashiness is keeping up with the Jones. This idea that “pleasure seems sweet, but proves a glass of bitters.” (P.164) This play, as mentioned in the lecture, chronicles the misbehavior and misidentification that motivates the actions of the characters. Mr. Hardcastle and his wife are marrying off their daughter and have a son who seems to have not yet grown up in his actions and misleading behaviors as he sets up the men to assume they are someplace they are not. Marlowe, as with others behavior is quite different depending on the location of his awareness and who his company happens to be. In what Marlowe believes is an in, he can’t understand why he can’t get a free moment from the host. He ponders why everyone is so intrusive to his space.

Property and Place, Mr. Hardcastle has issue with the man who has come to marry his daughter as he behavior is not as it was professed to be and Marlow is apparently disengaging for purposes of courting his daughter for marriage. All the while the daughter whom is aware of the falseness falls for him seeking to him his true behavior in misidentifying herself. There are various conversations pertaining to taste and classism. Far simply, the idea of them living in the country and not the city of London. “Ay, and bring back vanity and affection to last them the whole year. I wonder why London cannot keep its own fools at home……Ay, your times were fine times, indeed. You have been telling us of them for many a long year. Here we live in an old rambling mansion, that looks for all the world like an inn, but we never see company.” (Goldsmith, P.164) This is how the family can understand the mistake of Hasting and Marlowe being mislead by Tony as the home being an Inn. Still in dealing with the issue of classism. In a conversation that eventually arises with Miss Hardcastle and Marlowe, unknown to him that she is the woman he is to look as his bride they discuss taste. “It’s-a-disease-of the mind, madam. In the variety of tastes there must be some who, wanting a relish-for-um-a-um. ‘ (P184) “I understand you, sir. There must be some, who, wanting a relish for refined pleasures, pretend to despise what they are incapable of tasting.” (p.184)

“You mean that in this hypocritical age there are few that do not condemn in public what they practice in private, and think they pay every debt to virtue when praise it….True, madam. Those who have most virtue in their mouths, have least of it in their bosoms…” (Goldsmith P. 185) This play has been a comedy of errors that have defined that roles that played various messages about conspicuous computation.
The classism role and the gender role repeat its self. Example,

“I’m sure I should be sorry (pretending to cry) to affront any gentleman who has been so polite if he left the family upon my account. I’m sure I should be sorry, people said anything amiss, since I have no fortune but my character. (Miss Hardcastle) “

By heaven, she weeps. This is the first mare of tenderness I ever had from a modest woman and it touches me. Excuse me, my lovely girl, you are the only part of the family that I leave with reluntance. But to be plain with you, the difference of our birth, fortune and education, make an honourable connection impossible…(Marlowe).”(P.205)


3 thoughts on “Gender, Class, Status and the Ever Present Conspicuous Consumption

  1. I noticed the same things you did about the dressing room poems. I found it interesting that he was in such disgust and amazement that the woman he was waiting for was not the natural beauty he believed. I think that there are a lot of people who’s image of natural beauty is tainted with makeup. There was an image set on Facebook a while ago about a girl who was wearing lots of obvious makeup, such as red lips, cat eyes eyeliner, etc. Then, in another photo she was not wearing any makeup at all, showing her natural skin tone and blemishes. In a third photo, she was wearing a little mascara, a natural color lipstick, and some foundation to even out her skin tone. She discussed the different reactions to each of the photos that people gave her. Most people, when she was not wearing any make up at all, said that she looked sick and tired, asking if she was okay. Whereas when she was wearing a little bit of makeup, people said she look beautiful with no makeup on and should not wear makeup more often, even though she actually was. Societies minds have been tainted by their image of “natural” just like the image of “natural” foods that we consume.

  2. That is a very interesting observation. I appreciate your sharing that analogy. I think is says a lot about how conspicuous composition call be prvy to this imagry and standard of how people want to be desired and seen a certain way, especially, in the perspective of others.

  3. You make the comment that Strephon’s peeping-tom behavior in “The Lady’s Dressing Room” is just as “foul” as any of the things he witnesses, and I think that is a really interesting point. I am not sure exactly how that might relate to conspicuous consumption, but I think his sneaking fits well with the definition of grotesque. Strephon’s ‘consumption’ of Celia in the dressing room definitely does not seem conspicuous, because he surely does not want other people to see what he is doing; he would likely be reprimanded rather than envied, even if he had not found the experience to be fairly disgusting. Certainly, there is a degree of curiosity involved in his behavior, but it is also “inappropriate to a shocking degree,” as the New Oxford American Dictionary defines ‘grotesque.’ I think it is really interesting that Swift uses this poem to focus so much on Celia’s conspicuous consumption and grotesqueness while paying almost no attention to what might be going on with Strephon, especially since his behavior is much worse.

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