Whilst the actual origins of English consumer culture are a source of much debate, it is clear that the nineteenth century witnessed a revolution in retailing and consumption. Mass production of goods, improved transport facilities and more sophisticated sales techniques brought consumerism to the masses on a scale previously unimaginable. Yet with this new consumerism came new problems and challenges. Focusing on retailing in nineteenth-century Britain, this book traces the expansion of commodity culture and a mass consumer orientated market, and explores the wider social and cultural implications this had for society. Using trial records, advertisements, newspaper reports, literature, and popular ballads, it analyses the rise, criticism, and entrenchment of consumerism by looking at retail changes around the period 1800-1880 and society's responses to them. By viewing this in the context of what had gone before Professor Whitlock emphasizes the key role women played in this evolution, and argues that the dazzling new world of consumption had beginnings that predate the later English, French and American department store cultures. It also challenges the view that women were helpless consumers manipulated by merchants' use of colour, light and display into excessive purchases, or even driven by their desires into acts of theft. With its interdisciplinary approach drawing on social and economic history, gender studies, cultural studies and the history of crime, this study asks fascinating questions regarding the nature of consumer culture and how society reacts to the challenges this creates.
'Whitlock presents a fascinating picture of capitalism that is never very far from criminality and that created a sphere for buyers and sellers to make handsome profits and suffer great losses.' Victorian Studies 'Whitlock is to be complimented for her uncovering of a fascinating period in the history of retailing. Her use of a range of materials brings a significant contribution to our understandings of the history of consumer society, and she provides an impressive case for a reinterpretation of many of the debates assumed to originate with the emergence of the department store.' Journal of British Studies 'This book unearths much fascinating material… there is much in this book that will be of value to anybody interested in the cultures associated with nineteenth-century retailing and consumption.' Urban History
Contents: Introduction. Part I Destroying 'The Nation Of Shopkeepers': Ready money only: small shops and new retail methods; Vanity fairs: the growth of bazaars and fancy fairs; 'Mothers beware!': fraud by the retailer; The culture of fraud and the female consumer. Part II Criminal Consumption: Shoplifting in early 19th-century England; Mrs McGregor's sealskin jacket: female frauds and the art of buying without paying; Solving the problem of the criminal consumer: women and kleptomania. Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.