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Understanding dandyism in three acts : a comparison of the revolutionary performances of Beau Brummell, George Walker, and zoot suit culture


My objective in this research was to find a usable definition for dandyism and to understand why the performance has been culturally important and adopted in different eras. I looked to performance theory and to real -life performances of dandyism by Beau Brummell, George Walker, and the zoot suiters, as well as to the literary productions and historical research of dandyism by such writers as Ellen Moers, Ian Kelly, and Barbara Webb. I was able to locate, within the life performances of these three historical subjects, three aspects of the dandy's performance that are the most salient and translatable : the dandy shocks his community with a performance of superiority, delimiting his otherwise marginal status in that community; he alienates that society by putting himself on a pedestal of self; and he entertains, maintaining a seamless mask of truth and fiction that pleases his alienated society while he, always the stoic, appears not to notice. Performance takes place and is passed on in the liminal space, or the topsy-turvy space in the margins of society, which often results from social and political ruptures. The dandyism that is born here is always revolutionary, pushing back against oppression and creating a new space of performance that opens doors to the possibility of future dandies. This holds true for the performance of the three dandyisms explored in the dissertation: Beau Brummell, George Walker, and the zoot suiters' cultural moments suffered epistemic ruptures from which the dandy performance was spawned: late eighteenth- century England was shifting as the aristocracy fell, late nineteenth-century America shifted with the rise of a newly freed black population, and the mid-twentieth century saw great changes in the United States with the Second World War and the influx of migrant workers to the cities. I found that all of my subjects were indeed performing against erasure in their societies, whether the oppression was set upon their class, race, or, in the case of the zoot suiters, age, family hierarchy, and ethnicity

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