Priscilla Sonnier

School: Art History and Cultural Policy

Supervisor: Nicola Figgis

Noble Nubility: Fashionable Fantasies and Fictions in Eighteenth-Century Britain Research

Throughout the eighteenth century, the aristocracy in both France and Britain crafted various artistic outlets catering to creative seductions. In Britain, the process of imagination and pleasure seemingly abandoned reason for a period of sexual indulgence, described as “remarkably open, easy, and unrepressed.” It was only among the elite, that adultery, ménages à trois and shifting sexual liaisons were commonplace, and a sexual etiquette was needed in polite society through which one could communicate pleasures without embarrassment. This need, I would argue, not only resulted in Grand Manner allegorical portraiture conventions and Gothic narratives, but also led the aristocracy on a self-contradictory and seemingly self-defeating course, most particularly felt in France with the Revolution. Just as the bourgeoisie retaliated against a culture of aristocratic excess in France, the same could be said in Britain within common society, as it was widely acknowledged towards the end of the eighteenth century that sexual indulgence (particularly among women) was “leading to national corruption and anarchy.” My dissertation will research how the general public’s perception of renegotiated female sexuality within the British aristocracy, emphasized through allegory and novel, subsequently resulted in the unpopularity of Grand Manner portraiture and the shift from eroticized horror to dark horror in Gothic narratives.