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Trading Women, Traded Women

A Historical Scrutiny of Gendered Trading

Gönül Bakay and Mihaela Mudure

For the scholarly reader it is a truism that trade, in its widest sense (exchange, interchange, deal) is the basis of human society, it is part of the human interaction which is the very texture of society. The French anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss demonstrated in his seminal essay «The Elementary Structures of Kinship» that human society relies on the exchange of women by men. But women are not only the passive object of this trade among men. They also try and often succeed in trading goods, ideas, and changing their subject position by getting the upper hand in this crucial exchange. Little attention has been given to genderizing the connection between trade and the British Enlightenment and to its subsequent influence on women’s history and/or literary or visual representations of women by women or men. The contributors in this collection focus on women as physical or symbolic traded objects, as subversive women trading in spite of cultural and social stereotypes, and as women empowered in the cultural, political, and social trade.

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Trading “several laughable Subjects, droll Figures, and sundry Characters” (Mihaela Irimia)


Mihaela Irimia

Trading “several laughable Subjects, droll Figures, and sundry Characters”

Mary Darly has come down to us as the “mother of the caricature” in the Long Eighteenth Century, a time of radical changes in Great Britain’s cultural institutions against the backdrop of the emerging public sphere and its production and consumption processes. One of the first professional caricaturists in England, she authored A Book of Caricaturas (1762), in which she showed her interest in addressing “suitable” Ladies and Gentlemen and gave special attention to “Ye Principles of Designing in the Droll & Pleasing Manner,” as she admits from its very title. As gender and material culture underwent significant shifts in the London of her day, so did the meanings of the social practices and attitudes related to women. “The Female Conoiseur,” as she features in a visual illustration of 1772, was a prominent name in the world of satirical prints of the late century. She could assess the preferences of her customers and produce images to suit their taste. She kept a high profile as owner of a print shop in Fleet Street and then of a larger and better equipped one in the Strand and called herself “the Fun Merchant” of the caricature trade. Together with her husband Matthew Darly, Mary assembled an exhibition of amateur prints displaying “several laughable Subjects, droll Figures, and sundry Characters.” In the following I look at the conjunction of caricatures of female characters and meaningful female images in...

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