Acting the Part: Emma Hamilton's Self-Fashioning and the Transgression of Class Boundaries
PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractEmma Hamilton, an eighteenth‐century British social icon, rose from classless obscurity and an unconventional past to fame and widespread popularity among Britain's elite. Like contemporary eighteenth‐century British actresses who often struggled with associations with immorality, Emma too struggled to progress beyond the public's understanding of her as a prostitute or mistress. Emma can be viewed as similar to actresses, an association which serves to illuminate potential motives in portraits of Emma. Both Emma and actresses recognized the utility of portraiture in the reversal of their negative images and the construction of a public persona that more closely aligned them with the virtues assumed to be inherent in female members of the aristocratic class. Particularly in George Romney's portraits of Emma, her journey towards acceptance by the British social scene was in part the result of a conscious self‐fashioning and construction a public persona for Emma by both Emma and Romney. Romney's portraits of Emma reveal an image of her that deliberately imitates portraits of the social elite in terms of virtue and respectability while also incorporating the celebrity and glamour found in contemporary portraits of actresses into Emma's own portraits.
Degree ProgramHonors College