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Are Diamonds a Girl’s Best Friend? ‘Commodity Fetishism’ and Ownership in the Social Economy of Victorian Britain by Deborah Olds

f India was perceived as the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ of the British Empire by the imperialists then the acquisition by Britain of the Koh-i-Noor diamond in 1850 was a physical representation of India’s subjugation. On its arrival in Britain, the diamond was subsumed into English patriarchal society as an invaluable example of war booty which Albert, Prince Consort, exploited to bolster masculine control. Moreover, the Koh-i-Noor was transferred to, and conferred upon, Queen Victoria and successive female royalty. Thus was the male diamond feminised as it crossed cultures. 

Of the time, Anthony Trollope is but one Realist writer who exemplifies societal pre-occupation with portable property and the legal and communal capacity of female ownership. In his lengthy novel, The Eustace Diamonds, Trollope’s Realism contributes to the narrative canon of female control, in and by a patriarchal society, against the legal landscape of the recent Married Women’s Property Act (1870).

With the Koh-i-Noor and the fictional Eustace diamonds assuming a personality and symbolism of their own whilst in the possession (or not) of a female, these stones imply and infer an inherent power gathered on their cross-cultural and cross-gender journey. It will be argued here that their power demands, and is rewarded with, societal value and recognition such that a ‘commodity fetishism’, comprised of cumulative attributes, attaches to both the Koh-i-Noor and the fictional diamonds. Further, it will be identified that the patriarchy is challenged and, paradoxically, sustained by male anxiety, and fissures in the emotional economy of the period.

Date created: 
Wednesday, April 12, 2023
Attribution for this resource:
Are Diamonds a Girl’s Best Friend? ‘Commodity Fetishism’ and Ownership in the Social Economy of Victorian Britain by Deborah Olds, All rights reserved.