In this study of Victorian jewels and their representation, Jean Arnold explores the role material objects play in the cultural cohesion of the West. Diamonds and other gems, Arnold argues, symbolized the most closely held beliefs of the Victorians and thus can be considered "prisms of culture." Mined in the far reaches of the empire, they traversed geographical space and cultural boundaries, representing monetary value and evoking empire, class lineage, class membership, gender relations, and aesthetics. Arnold analyzes the many roles material objects fill in Western culture and surveys the cross-cultural history of the Victorian diamond, uncovering how this object became both preeminent and representative of Victorian values. Her close readings of Wilkie Collins's The Moonstone, George Eliot's Middlemarch, William Makepeace Thackeray's The Great Hoggarty Diamond, and Anthony Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds show gendered, aesthetic, economic, fetishistic, colonial, legal, and culturally symbolic interpretations of jewelry as they are enacted through narrative. Taken together, these divergent interpretations offer a holistic view of a material culture's affective attachment to objects. As the assigned meanings of jewels turn them into symbols of power, personal relationships, and valued ideas, human interactions with gems elicit emotional responses that bind the materialist culture together.
'Arnold […] includes both historically contextualized readings of individual novels and explanations of the importance of jewelry as material objects for interpreting cultural ideas and literature. … Using jewelry to interpret the novels by taking into account cultural context, Arnold provides close readings of salient passages. … Recommended.' Choice ’Arnold should be congratulated on writing a book that while it is focussed on one significant aspect of Victorian material culture, suggests new avenues of discovery and insight and will certainly act as a stimulus to many critical historians of the Victorian period.’ Cahiers Victoriens et Edouardiens
Contents: Introduction: jewels and the formation of identity in Victorian literature and culture; Perceiving objects; The commodity fetish in Thackeray's The Great Hoggarty Diamond; Gift, theft, and exchange in The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins; Cameo appearances: aesthetics and gender in Middlemarch; Tactics and 'strate-gems': jewelry, gender and the law in Trollope's The Eustace Diamonds; Afterword; Bibliography; Index.