Thursday, 21 July 2011

The world of Tom Thumb and Gulliver and others

Tom Thumb (from an 1855 text)
The Little Everyman
Stature and Masculinity in Eighteenth-Century English Literature
Deborah Needleman Armintor

University of Washington Press
£23.99 PB 2011 

From the publication of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels in 1726 to Josef Boruwlaski's Memoirs of the Celebrated Dwarf in 1788, eighteenth-century English literature, art, science, and popular culture exhibited an unprecedented fascination with small male bodies of various kinds. Henry Fielding's Tom Thumb plays drew packed crowds, while public exhibitions advertised male dwarfs as paragons of English masculinity. Bawdy popular poems featured diminutive men paired with enormous women, while amateur scientists anthropomorphized and gendered the "minute bodies" they observed under their fashionable new pocket microscopes. Little men, both real and imagined, embodied the anxieties of a newly bourgeois English culture and were transformed to suit changing concerns about the status of English masculinity in the modern era. The Little Everyman explores this strange trend by tracing the historical trajectory of the pre-modern court dwarf's supplanting in the 1700s by a more metaphorical and quintessentially modern "little man" who came to represent in miniature the historical shift in literary production from aristocratic patronage to the bourgeois fantasy of freelance authorship. Armintor's astute close readings of Pope, Fielding, Swift, and Sterne highlight little recognized aspects of some of the classic works and writers of the period while demonstrating how, over the course of a single century, the little man became an "everyman." Intervening in current cross-disciplinary discussions of literature and art, the history of science, extraordinary bodies and disability, and eighteenth-century literary and cultural studies, Armintor makes a major contribution to our understanding of how questions of masculinity and gender, the sociology of marriage, and the economics of commodity capitalism converge in central literary works of the English eighteenth century. 

Deborah Needleman Armintor is associate professor of English at the University of North Texas and the co-editor of Eighteenth-Century British Erotica, Vol. 2

"Armintor mounts an historical argument that dwarfs move from serving as representatives of aristocratic court culture to models of the bourgeois man of feeling that was so prominent in the culture of the end of the century. In the process, she teases out the rich and ambiguous reciprocity between morality and physicality, between power and febrility, between the big and the small, between sexuality and mentality." -Barbara Benedict, Trinity College

1 comment:

  1. For Tom Thumb in the nineteenth-century, with an interesting take on popular and high cultural tastes, take a look at

    "Killed by Tom Thumb"