|dc.description.abstract||This thesis explores the cultural meanings attached to the visible appearance of the
body and its parts in eighteenth-century understanding. It is situated within historical
scholarship concerned with the embodied display of ‘politeness’ and the relationship
between the body and categories of social difference. The research draws upon a
range of popular literature, including conduct books, popular medical advice books,
midwifery manuals and advice guides.
Chapter one reveals the way that contemporaries conceptualised the
relationship between the individual body and society through investigation of various
aspects of abdominal experience. Chapter two illustrates how the appearance of the
skin was thought to convey identity information about an individual’s health,
temperament, character, gender, class and race. Chapter three then continues by
exploring similar themes with respect to the face. The next two chapters focus on the
corporeal display of gender; while chapter four argues that changing male and female
hairstyles reflected shifting gender mores, chapter five evidences how female breasts
were seen as visible markers of sexual difference. Chapter six examines how class
informed how the hands were employed and displayed by different social actors.
Finally, chapter seven looks at how ‘politeness’ informed how the legs were trained to
enact various cultural performances.
In this thesis it is argued that in the eighteenth century popular authors sought
to uncover how bodies worked by appropriating anatomical models of examining the
body through scrutiny of its parts. Yet, it will be demonstrated that discussion of the
body’s parts within popular literature was distinctive because it reflected readers’
growing preoccupation with how the body, as a social actor, conveyed information
about individual identity.
The thesis contributes to present scholarship by detailing a range of meanings
which were attached to different parts of the body that have previously been elided by
historians. Additionally, it demonstrates that discursive dismemberment, though
located in eighteenth-century discourses on the body, represents a historically
reflective and methodologically useful mode of examining the lived body in the