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COMMODITIES, OWNERSHIP, AND THE EUSTACE DIAMONDS: THE VALUE OF FEMININITY

  • Jen Sattaur (a1)
Extract

In an 1867 treatise on diamonds and precious stones, Harry Emanuel writes the following:

[I]n the process of cutting, flaws and imperfections are often laid bare, which go much deeper than the appearance of the rough diamond would predict; and, on the other hand, the colour, apparent in the rough stone, is sometimes found to arise from the presence of flaws or specks, which are removed in cutting, thus leaving the stone white. (70)

From such a description, it is easy to see the parallel to the female condition, and particularly the female condition, as it is popularly portrayed in the mid-nineteenth century. With the emphasis on purity and hidden flaws, it is not difficult to understand why the diamond could hold such symbolic significance for the female wearer, by functioning as an indicator not only of personal wealth, but of moral worth. Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds (1871), a novel which can be said to revolve around this metaphor, is essentially a novel about worth: absolute vs. transitory worth, actual vs. symbolic worth, and especially monetary vs. moral worth. Lizzie's character, the legal issues surrounding the diamonds, and the convoluted marriage arrangements which are perpetuated by or affected by the presence of the diamonds are all, in one way or another, concerned with the different types of value – moral, symbolic, monetary, etc. – placed upon commodity objects: objects which, by their very nature, can never be permanently owned, as their value lies in their exchangeability. I will return later to a discussion of the diamonds themselves. There has been considerable recent commentary on the role of commodities – whatever their worth – and of commodity culture within Trollope's novel; such readings, however, concentrate on the purely symbolic role played by commodity objects – and primarily the diamonds – in the novel; it is worth, by contrast, examining how Trollope utilizes the discourses and associations of actual commodity objects as he deploys them within his fictional world. This paper will examine the ways in which Trollope uses four commodity objects in particular – books of poetry, hunting horses, the safe box, and finally, the Eustace diamonds themselves – and the contemporary discourses surrounding them to defend the essentially mercenary character of Lizzie as a woman shaped by the demands that a commodity-driven society places upon her.

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Victorian Literature and Culture
  • ISSN: 1060-1503
  • EISSN: 1470-1553
  • URL: /core/journals/victorian-literature-and-culture
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