The Thrill of the Chaise: Gendering the Phaeton (1770–1820)
22 May 2019, 17:15 to 22 May 2019, 19:15
IHR Wolfson Room NB01, Basement, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Benjamin Jackson, QMUL
Historians have conceived of the ‘coach-and-six’ as a defining emblem of men’s economic and social prestige. In the eighteenth century coach ownership rapidly expanded, as did the type of carriages available in the bustling workshops of Long Acre, Convent Garden. However different typologies of carriage design have received little attention in histories of gender and consumption; the focus on ‘social prestige’ of coach-ownership has obscured the variety of motivations behind men’s consumption of different carriage types. This paper aims to diversify our understanding of the social and cultural meaning of carriages within the context of elite masculinity. It explores how the danger and risk of coach-travel was associated with masculine attributes of bravery and daring, and how the specific design and use of phaetons materialised this – something overlooked in the current historiography on gender and carriages.
Using examples from literary and visual culture, it examines how driving a phaeton enabled men to demonstrate their skill and knowledge of driving as a marker of elite masculinity. It argues that the phaeton could be seen as the archetypal masculine carriage type, by exploring how its materiality and use was gendered in heterosocial and homosocial contexts. The paper does this by analysing how the material form of phaetons themselves was adapted to suit gender norms and roles. It uses correspondence between a group of elite men to demonstrate how phaetons marked differences of maturity between men. It concludes with an examination of the gendering of phaeton driving in satirical prints in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth century.
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