“If only there would pass away the horror of those hands!”: Cholmondeley, Jerome and the Woman’s Touch in the Fin de Siècle City

Carolyn Oulton


In using the language of spectacle to chart the movement of women through the city, fin de siècle accounts often take as a subtext the desire for, or fear of sexualised touch. However Mary Cholmondeley’s “Geoffrey’s Wife” (1885) and Jerome K. Jerome’s “The Fawn Gloves” (first known publication 1916) use the image of the gloved female hand to suggest that touch itself cannot always be instinctively interpreted or appropriately registered. In refocusing the reader’s attention on the tactile encounter, both writers subtly examine the cost of maintaining traditional gender ideals.

In “Geoffrey’s Wife” the delicate hands of the bride on her husband’s arm are replaced by the hands of a surging crowd during their honeymoon in Paris. In the disturbing ending to the story, Geoffrey learns that the hands around his neck belong to an ageing prostitute and not his wife. In “The Fawn Gloves” the gloved hands of an unnamed woman in a park are used to invoke images of Eden. When her lover learns that the woman’s hands have suffered damage from a chemical reaction, he abandons her, only to learn too late that the condition is easily remediable. These “pure” female figures are not adapted to survive the hostile setting in which they are placed, a dilemma which is carefully explored through the consumption of women’s bodies in the anonymous crowd of the city. 


Mary Cholmondeley; Jerome K. Jerome; fin de siècle; city; prostitution; hand; glove; tactile; visual

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