Volume 1, Issue 1, Article 2 - 2018
Ogling, Quizzing, and Spying:
BY susan vincent
The eyeglass was a distinctive accessory of the long eighteenth century. Contrary to contemporary conduct advice, which enjoined a self-disciplined gaze and a polite use of the eyes, this accessory made a fashionable virtue out of staring. Using textual sources and the more abundant visual evidence of portraiture and satirical prints, this paper opens by exploring the origins, appearance, and naming of the object. It then turns to examine the different ways of looking enacted with the eyeglass: lascivious and voyeuristic, connoisseurial, and dandiacal. The distinct but intersecting contexts in which it appeared are considered, as well as its passage from male to female fashion in the nineteenth century. Finally, the paper situates the quizzing glass within the broader pattern of eighteenth-century developments: rapid urbanization, commercial expansion, the rise of the middle and aspirant classes, and an Enlightenment epistemology that grounded knowledge in empirically tested observation. In the midst of such developments, the eyeglass became a tool with which to enact visual criticality, the small piece of glass both arming the viewer and providing a way of deflecting the critical looks of others. In graphic satire however, its presence references a satirical gaze being directed from outside the frame of the print. In a small but significant way, the eyeglass came to stand for both the discerning eye, and its absence.
- quizzing glass
long eighteenth century