For a while now, a long while, I have found benevolent fairs to be fascinating. I am sure this can be partially blamed on the ladies fair we depicted years and years ago for Yuletide. The combination of fundraising, women in public, thematic decorating, making little items to sell and pagentry… well, fascinating.

The thesis I recommended pre-flu, on miser purses added a whole nifty twist to the fair fascination. “Women’s ‘immoral’ behaviour at fairs.” Yep.

Check this out. Laura L. Camerlengo, in her discussion of miser purses in social context through the symbolism in literature and paintings says this:

Thackeray’s sarcastic remark about fancy fairs relates to larger society’s criticisms of this method of fundraising and the women who frequented these fairs. These criticisms, as we will see, were reflected in contemporary artworks, and directly relate to the role of the miser’s purse as a foreshadower of marriage in literature and paintings. Although contemporary women’s publications, particularly of the mid-century, favored this method of fundraising, many writings by and for men criticized fancy fairs and the women who hosted them. Gary R. Dyer reflects in “The ‘Vanity Fair’ of Nineteenth-Century England: Commerce, Women, and the East in the Ladies’ Bazaar,” that “bazaars…became integrated with misogynistic notions of feminine corruption and duplicity, the discursive tradition surrounding them implies that lust, greed, and
deceit are women’s essence.”
She continues to quote Doyle’s Bird’s Eye Views of Society, Dickens’ Sketches by Boz and discuss the painting At the Bazaar, or, The Empty Purse:
The bazaar is held in a large marquee, which is furnished by stalls gaily decked out with ribbons, wreaths, and flags, and covered with
merchandise; and numberless young ladies preside at the stalls, dressed in the height of fashion, and never cease to attract public
attention to the goods with the most winning, coaxing, insinuating and if one may be allowed the expression, wheedling ways. (Doyle)
Aspiring young ladies, who read flaming accounts of some ‘fancy fair in high life,’suddenly grow desperately charitable; visions of admiration and matrimony float before their eyes; some wonderfully meritorious institution, which, by the strangest accident in the world, has never been heard of before, is discovered to be in a languishing
condition…and the aforesaid young ladies, from mere charity, exhibit themselves for three days, from twelve to four, for the small charge of one shilling per head! (Dickens)
Brain Candy!!!
(**Side note – I never looked at the woman in At the Bazaar as possibly being a prostitute because she is looking directly at the viewer. That is a whole other topic.)
Of course, I have to know more….Hop over to check out Bird’s Eye Views of Society…. Here is the illustration of the Bazaar and Fancy Fair:
As the image is overwhelming with business, here are some cropped images that may be alluding to what the authors perceived as immoral behaviour for women:


The section on charity bazaars in full:Publication1

The article she mentions, “The ‘Vanity Fair’ of Nineteenth-Century England: Commerce, Women, and the East in the Ladies’ Bazaar” can be found here. The author, Dyer, opens with the origins of a Bazaar for aiding disadvantaged women:
“Early in 1816 John Trotter, having made a fortune supplying the army

during the Napoleonic Wars, turned his warehouse on Soho Square in London into what he called a “bazaar,” where women, particularly widows and orphans of army officers, could sell items they had made, renting counter space for three pence per foot daily.”
He continues to say
“From the first, English bazaars were sites of conflict among cultural and moral values.”
Dyer surmises that while Trotter made money from the bazaar, he did have supporters who saw the society benefits and did not consider the bazaar to drive women from their homes. By providing sources of income locally, “The bazaar would thus strengthen the traditional British family and fight prostitution by cutting off its supply of desperate young women.” (page 198) Despite the support, suspicion or anticipation of immoral behaviour seemed to almost be a given because what else would happen if women were allowed to assemble in one place. Oh, my. Take a look at the rules to prevent such immorality on page 199.
Dyer mentions George Cruikshank’s “A Bazaar”, a satirical illustration. I went searching for a clear copy of this because each, well most, of the characters are saying something…. and, I want to read the little cartoon bubbles myself.
Well, humph. It seems there isn’t a decent copy, or at least not to my liking, online. Here it is at The British Museum, in color, just not clear enough to read myself. *pout* (Btw, I happen to think this other illustration of his, “A London Bazaar” appears to be far more scandalous.)
I did end up finding this paper: “Fashioning Femininities: Sartorial Literacy in English Domestic Fiction, 1740-1853” by Stephanie Robinson Womick. While it does not have a readable image, I am going to have to go back and read it.
In the second quarter of the century, bazaars became those fairs for charitable fundraising. These are more along the lines of what I visualize when I think of a bazaar or fair. The twist is, according to Dyer, while the women selling wares at these fairs were fashionably dressed middle and upper class women rather than those needing to support themselves and children, the women themselves were what were truly for sale, not the material items. “People perceived the women working in these temporary bazaars as the real merchandise; indeed, many unmarried young women evidently did see a fancy fair as a means to display themselves.”
Yet, everything thus far has been solely focused in England. I want to know more about the fairs in the US and the perceptions of those…..
Additional Reading:
*****Side note – What material objects I see in “The Empty Purse” left to right:
  • Embroidered slipper ready to be cut
  • Doll or doll pin cushion
  • Three prints – one of Jesus carrying the cross, one portrait, one unknown
  • Two undetermined bottles – One tall possibly with a wicker woven exterior, one short with possibly an elephant on the label
  • Embroidered braces/suspenders with a rose motif
  • Feather duster with wooden handle
  • Hat, possibly straw on a hat stand – trimmed around the brim with ribbon and feather trim, possibly a gold metal button in the front.
  • An empty hat stand
  • Print or painting of flowers against the wall
  • A brown wooden box with a white and blue label that may say “bricks”
  • A ball or ball pin cushion triangle pieced of red and black.
  • A framed portrait – small
  • A folding fan
  • A domed planted flower potted – (Fernery)
  • A squared bottle with something white inside
  • A small reticule that appears to have a shaped base, silk bag and decoration.
  • A short, squat decorative jar

In her hands is a miser’s purse and possibly a ring that may or may not go to the purse.

Published in: on December 23, 2015 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: