The Play

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Act 1 introduces the Tiffany household and demonstrates Elizabeth Tiffany’s slavish adherence to fashion. Humor lies in her use of French terms that she cannot pronounce and her attempts to transform her slave Zeke into Adolph, a continental butler. In conversation, Prudence, Elizabeth’s sister, reveals their humble origins, but Elizabeth sees herself as “fashionable.” She is a patron of T. Tennyson Twinkle, who maintains that a poet’s “velocity of composition” is the best measure of excellence. Another “fashionable” visitor is Augustus Fogg, a “drawing room appendage” who is indifferent to any subject mentioned. When Count Jolimaitre arrives, Elizabeth maneuvers him toward Seraphina, her daughter, but her machinations are thwarted by the arrival of Adam Trueman, an old farmer, who is openly contemptuous of everyone’s pretensions. Elizabeth considers Adam crude and threatens to throw him out.

In act 2, scene 1, Elizabeth’s husband, Anthony, and his clerk, Snobson, discuss their illegal business activities in Anthony’s office. Snobson threatens to reveal Anthony’s forgeries unless Snobson can marry Seraphina, and Anthony agrees to allow this courtship of his daughter. He indicates, however, his hopes for financial rescue from Adam, his father’s friend. When Adam arrives, he comments upon Anthony’s changed attitudes and values.

In a series of conversations during scene 2, characters reveal their interrelationships. Seraphina’s governess, Gertrude, and her suitor, Colonel Howard, are revealed as honorable characters, and their mutual affection is established. Gertrude’s encounter with Jolimaitre clearly demonstrates the contrast between his character and that of Howard. Adam overhears the count’s improper advances to Gertrude, and hostility between the two...

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Dramatic Devices

(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Fashion plays well because it employs elements of farce. Characters overhear key conversations, frequently misunderstanding what they hear and misinterpreting what they see. For example, Prudence hears Gertrude set up a meeting with Jolimaitre and assumes it is an assignation. Adam and Howard find Gertrude alone with Jolimaitre and draw negative conclusions about her virtue. These misunderstandings are resolved by methods typical of farce: truths revealed by coincidental overhearing of a conversation or reading of a letter, strategically timed revelations, and abrupt changes in attitude or behavior. Among the comic characters are several stock characters of farce: the poet or pedant, the fop, the meddling gossip, the desperate spinster, the saucy maid, the socially ambitious matron, the flighty belle, the young man with financial problems, and the wise older man who sets everything and everyone right in the end.

Anna Cora Mowatt also employs conventions from melodrama. Most characters are one-dimensional, their actions governed primarily by plot requirements. Potentially dire consequences are averted by fortuitous coincidences. Adam enters as Gertrude finishes her letter. Seraphina returns still unmarried because she forgot her jewels. Millinette reveals the truth just before Jolimaitre returns. Snobson decides to head west instead of incriminating Anthony. Jolimaitre resolves to become an honest man. The Tiffanys agree to adopt agrarian virtues and lifestyle. Perhaps most melodramatic of all is the epilogue, where Adam, Anthony, and Gertrude discuss the “moral” of Fashion, which Gertrude defines as the idea that virtue should be its own reward.


(Survey of Dramatic Literature)

Sources for Further Study

Abramson, Doris.“’The New Path’: Nineteenth Century American Women Playwrights.” In Modern American Drama: The Female Canon, edited by June Schleuter. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press, 1990.

Fowler, Lois Josephs. “Anna Cora Ogden Mowatt, 1819-1870.” In Nineteenth-Century American Women Writers: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Denise D. Knight. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1983.

Hutchisson, James M. “Poe, Anna Cora Mowatt, and T. Tennyson Twinkle.” Studies in the American Renaissance (1993): 245-254.

Ito, Akira. “Early American Drama, III: The Flattering Mirror of an Age.” Language and Culture 5 (1984): 1-25.

Shaffer-Koros, Carole M. “Edgar Allan Poe and Edith Wharton: The Case of Mrs. Mowatt.” Edith Wharton Review 17, no. 1 (Spring, 2001): 12-16.