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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reading Female Bodies: Deformity, Gender and Fortunetelling in Frances Burney’s Camilla


The introduction to “Every Lady’s own Fortune-Teller,” published in 1791, outlines the procedure for reading the future for others in astrological signs, palms, faces, and cards, before suggesting that “A looking glass will supply your own occasions, if you consult for yourself.” Several fortunetelling manuals directed to women were published in the late eighteenth century, and their popularity points to a cultural anxiety concerning the difficulty of predicting and controlling women’s lives1. As fortunetelling manuals and games from the period suggest, popular imagination often linked the futures of individual women to signs on their bodies, equating their physical traits with their intellectual or moral capacities. This kind of reading makes women vulnerable not only to false ideas about their own futures but also to exposure and seduction as they become objects of a scrutiny that is both scientific and voyeuristic.

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