The Bonnet's Brim: The Politics of Vision in Frances Trollope's Domestic Manners of the Americans

Document Type


Publication Date

Summer 2009


Frances Trollope's bestselling travel narrative, Domestic Manners of the Americans, and its original illustrations place readers at an unusual vantage point. Whereas early-Victorian conduct literature imagined how women's regulation of manners inside the home could influence national identity, the visual/verbal rhetoric of Domestic Manners presents the codes of domestic supervision as a means of domestic and sociopolitical analysis. The reliance of Trollope's text on visual and textual caricature, and, more uniquely, on images of early-Victorian women's headwear, encourages readers to adopt the perspective that conduct literature typically assigned to women. That is, readers are positioned to scrutinize the material and political conditions informing (and deforming) the domestic manners of Americans, and by extension, to recognize the inherent instability of the representational boundaries of home and nation. By aligning readers with this shrewdly supervisory gaze, Trollope and her illustrator illuminate their political argument: the American subordination of women and people of color threatens the civility and humanity of an entire nation.