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States of Undress: Nakedness and the Colonial Imagination

Philippa Levine
Victorian Studies
Vol. 50, No. 2, Papers and Responses from the Fifth Annual Conference of the North American Victorian Studies Association, Held Jointly with the Victorian Studies Association of Western Canada (Winter, 2008), pp. 189-219
Published by: Indiana University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40060320
Page Count: 31
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States of Undress: Nakedness and the Colonial Imagination
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Abstract

The politics and aesthetics of nakedness was, for Victorians, both complex and slippery, the result of ambivalent nineteenth-century attitudes toward the unclothed body. This essay argues that such vexed attitudes about nudity and nakedness in Victorian Britain cannot fully be comprehended without reference to the experience of empire. Colonialism's seemingly timeless fascination with indigenous undress provoked a number of questions about human difference, evolution, and the nature of civilization. Analyzing different readings of nakedness in the worlds of science (especially anthropology), high art, and popular culture, this essay examines the enduring association between savagery and the lack of clothing.

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