“An original and arresting piece of scholarship…. With its broad range, it should find a wide readership among those interested in fashion and the novel, literary critics, and cultural and imperial historians alike.”
Kate Teltscher, author of India Inscribed: European and British Writing on India, 1600–1800
"The definitive work on the subject of Cashmere and Paisley shawls in all of their intricate significances within eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English history and fiction…. Magisterial.”
Deborah Denenholz Morse, Sara E. Nance Professor of English, College of William & Mary
The first major study of Cashmere and Paisley shawls in nineteenth-century British literature, this book shows how they came to represent both high fashion and the British Empire.
During the late eighteenth century, Cashmere shawls from the Indian subcontinent began arriving in Britain. At first, these luxury goods were tokens of wealth and prestige. Subsequently, affordable copies known as “Paisley” shawls were mass-produced in British factories, most notably in the Scottish town of the same name. Textile Orientalisms is the first full-length study of these shawls in British literature of the extended nineteenth century. Attentive to the juxtaposition of objects and their descriptions, the book analyzes the British obsession with Indian shawls through a convergence of postcolonial, literary, and cultural theories.
Surveying a wide range of materials—plays, poems, satires, novels, advertisements, and archival sources—Suchitra Choudhury argues that while Cashmere and Paisley shawls were popular accoutrements in Romantic and Victorian Britain, their significance was not limited to fashion. Instead, as visible symbols of British expansion, for many imaginative writers they emerged as metaphorical sites reflecting the pleasures and anxieties of the empire. Attentive to new theorizations of history, fashion, colonialism, and gender, the book offers innovative readings of works by Sir Walter Scott, Wilkie Collins, William Thackeray, Frederick Niven, and Elizabeth Inchbald. In determining a key status for shawls in nineteenth-century literature, Textile Orientalisms reformulates the place of fashion and textiles in imperial studies.
The book’s distinction rests primarily on three accounts. First, in presenting an original and extended discussion of Cashmere and Paisley shawls, Choudhury offers a new way of interpreting the British Empire. Second, by tracing how shawls represented the social and imperial experience, she argues for an associative link between popular consumption and the domestic experience of colonialism on the one hand and a broader evocation of texts and textiles on the other. Finally, discussions about global objects during the Victorian period tend to overlook that imperial Britain not only imported goods but also produced their copies and imitations on an industrial scale. By identifying the corporeal tropes of authenticity and imitation that lay at the heart of nineteenth-century imaginative production, Choudhury’s work points to a new direction in critical studies.
Suchitra Choudhury is a research fellow supported by the William Lind Foundation at the University of Glasgow and an independent scholar. Her articles have appeared in Textile History and Victorian Literature and Culture. She is the cocurator of the display Paisley Shawls in Literature at Scotland’s Paisley Museum (2023). More info →
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