Playing Cute: Sensation Villainy and the Aesthetics of Small Things in The Woman in White and Lady Audley’s Secret

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

In Our Aesthetic Categories (2012), Sianne Ngai defines ‘cute’ as an aesthetic ‘preoccupation with small, easy to handle things . . . an aesthetic that celebrates the diminutive and the vulnerable’. Although Ngai identifies the cute as a predominantly twentieth-century phenomenon, and one which is inextricably bound up with the mass-market commodification, even eroticization and
fetishization of the cute object or person, it is difficult to imagine a literary character more enamoured with ‘small things’ – from tiny, sugary confections to his menagerie of pet mice – than Wilkie Collins’s Count Fosco, or a character who so perfectly conforms to the definition of the cute commodity itself as ‘appealing specifically . . . for protection and care’ than the ‘childish, helpless, babyfied’ Lucy Audley in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). This article
reads Count Fosco and Lady Audley through the characteristics of cuteness to better understand the aesthetic and economic dynamics of their villainy, and to establish for the twentieth-century phenomenon of cuteness identified by Ngai a discernible genealogy in the specific conjunction of print culture, theatricality, commodification, and physical sensation that we now recognize as the sensation fiction of the 1860s.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Victorian Culture
Early online date2 Sep 2021
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 2 Sep 2021

Keywords

  • Sensation
  • Cute
  • cuteness
  • Braddon
  • Collins
  • Aesthetics
  • Fosco

Research Groups

  • EHU Nineteen Research Group

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