Long before it was a hidden storage space or a metaphor for queer and trans shame, the closet was one of the most charged settings in English architecture. This private room provided seclusion for reading, writing, praying, dressing, and collecting—and for talking in select company. In their closets, kings and duchesses shared secrets with favorites, midwives and apothecaries dispensed remedies, and newly wealthy men and women expanded their social networks. In The Closet, Danielle Bobker presents a literary and cultural history of these sites of extrafamilial intimacy, revealing how, as they proliferated both in buildings and in books, closets also became powerful symbols of the unstable virtual intimacy of the first mass-medium of print.
Focused on the connections between status-conscious—and often awkward—interpersonal dynamics and an increasingly inclusive social and media landscape, The Closet examines dozens of historical and fictional encounters taking place in the various iterations of this room: courtly closets, bathing closets, prayer closets, privies, and the “moving closet” of the coach, among many others. In the process, the book conjures the intimate lives of well-known figures such as Samuel Pepys and Laurence Sterne, as well as less familiar ones such as Miss Hobart, a maid of honor at the Restoration court, and Lady Anne Acheson, Swift’s patroness. Turning finally to queer theory, The Closet discovers uncanny echoes of the eighteenth-century language of the closet in twenty-first-century coming-out narratives.
Featuring more than thirty illustrations, The Closet offers a richly detailed and compelling account of an eighteenth-century setting and symbol of intimacy that continues to resonate today.
Awards and Recognition
- Finalist for the Mavis Gallant Award for Non-Fiction, Quebec Writers’ Federation