Aging Faces and Gowland’s Lotion in Austen’s Persuasion (1817)
Sir Walter Elliot, a conceited aristocrat in Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1817), takes it as a personal affront when he sees an aging face. For him, an aging face is a physical manifestation of one’s lowly breed. In his obsession with youthful and “superior” looks, the concept of aging is explicitly entangled with class. Quite unlike Sir Walter’s essentialist belief, the era’s advancing scientific and medical knowledge of the human body began to understand aging as a material phenomenon rather than a cosmic fate. The era witnessed a thriving anti-aging skincare industry that promised ways to treat the physical signs of aging, to guard against decay, and even to restore “bloom” to all who may subscribe to its application. This article focuses on one historical anti-aging skincare product and a personal favorite of Sir Walter, Gowland’s Lotion. Reading popular medical texts and beauty regimens alongside Persuasion, this article shows how Austen captures the significance of daily practices of anti-aging skincare routines, exposing the faltering class system in Britain in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
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