The Art of Beauty

Author Mary Eliza Haweis
Author Name Variants Mrs. H. R. Haweis
Publication New York: Harper, 1878.
Link to Text
Genres Textbook
Keywords Education, Reform, Fine Arts, Domestic Science, Conduct
Contributing State New York
Research Notes  
Digital Source Notes  

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Jamie Logan

Tulane University, December 2015

            During her lifetime, Mary Eliza Haweis became one of the most prolific women writing about fashion (Cunningham 161). Born in England in 1848 to the portrait painter Thomas Musgrove Joy and trained as a child in painting and drawing, she dove into the world of art with zeal (Moers 371). At eighteen she had a painting accepted by the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition (Cunningham 160). At nineteen she landed “the husband of her dreams” (Moers 370), a fashionable clergyman named Hugh Reginald Haweis, only to discover that much of his income went to support his mistress and illegitimate child. Mary Eliza – now a mother of three – embarked on a career as a fashion writer to fight financial strain.
            First published by Harper & Brothers in 1878, The Art of Beauty was Haweis’s first foray in the field of fashion. Its popularity can be measured by the fact that it went through five editions and was followed by three similar works, The Art of Dress (1879), The Art of Decoration (1881), and The Art of Housekeeping (1889). In The Art of Beauty, Haweis explored topics ranging from “the pain of ugliness” to the importance of aesthetic accord between furniture and costume (9). She believed beauty should guide housekeeping and domestic science and therefore devoted an entire section of the book to the importance of pleasant surroundings within the home (229). The book also included a number of Haweis’s own drawings for illustration. She combined the pursuits of book design, fashion, and homemaking with a desire to educate, crafting a practical textbook grounded in her own training in the fine arts and knowledge of historical notions of beauty.
            The instant success of the manual allowed Haweis to become the founder of the field of aesthetic fashion reform (Schaffer 32). She gained popularity partly by justifying her opinions in reference to the historical consensus on fashion, yet she also advocated controversial trends such as the enhancement of natural beauty through cosmetics (“The Art of Beauty” 638).
            Six years after its publication, The Art of Beauty was exhibited as part of the Women’s Literary Department at the 1884 New Orleans World’s Fair. Although Haweis was born and raised in Britain, her book was classified at the Exposition under the state of New York, where it was first published. Haweis had a significant impact on international fashion, and the women of New York were probably proud to claim her book as representing their state. Haweis became a notable public figure who supported fellow women and was outspoken about her belief in causes like women’s suffrage (Cunningham 170). She epitomized the dilemma faced by many women at the time, as she wavered between tradition and progress. This struggle is reflected in the language of her book, which perhaps explains its widespread appeal. From the costs of using corsets to the moralities of dress, she focused on issues that were important to women at the time. She encouraged women to search for their own hidden talents, study styles that suited them, and foster self-esteem (Schaffer 32). The book would thus have been interpreted as a fitting tribute to female literary efforts.

Works Cited

“The Art of Beauty.” Review of The Art of Beauty, by Mary Eliza Haweis. the spectator,18 May 1878: 636-638. Cunningham, Colin. “Hints on Household Taste and The Art of Decoration: authors, their audiences and gender in interior design.” Women, Scholarship and Criticism: Gender and Knowledge C.1790-1900, edited by Joan Bellamy et al.Manchester: Manchester UP, 2000. 160-177.

Haweis, Mary Eliza. The Art of Beauty. New York: Harper, 1878.

Moers, Ellen.Review of The Arbiter of Elegance: A Victorian Biography by Bea Howe and Love and Work Enough: The Life of Anna Jameson by Clara Thomas.Victorian Studies, vol.13, no. 3, 1970, pp.370–371.

Schaffer, Talia. The Forgotten Female Aesthetes: Literary Culture in Late-Victorian England.University Press of Virginia, 2000. 32.