Trinkets in Defoe

Screen Shot 2020-08-02 at 13.20.12Reading Eugenia Zuroski Jenkins’ 2013 book A Taste for China: English Subjectivity and the Prehistory of Orientalism (Global Asias), Oxford: Oxford University Press, and seeing after Robinson, Defoe gets all a trinketty according to Jenkins:.

‘In fact, “trinket” was commonly used in this period as a verb: “to trinket” was to “have clandestine communications or underhand dealings with; to intrigue with; to act in an underhand way.” 33 The resulting inflation—or “trinketing”—of the coins’ value resembles the “monstrous generation” of capital identified by Ann Louise Kibbie in Moll Flanders (1722) and Roxana (1724). In those novels, Kibbie argues, traditional anti-usury arguments are channeled into narratives about female embodiments of capital that reproduce value in economically unsanctioned ways’ (p114)


‘“trinketing” of chinoiserie reverberates throughout writing of the eighteenth century, particularly in poems such as John Gay’s The Fan (1713) and Alexander Pope’s The Rape of the Lock (1714) that parody women’s taste for toys and trifl es. 40 This strain of cultural thought, which relegates foreign ornamental goods to “toys,” and the English taste for them to fancy and folly, gains momentum throughout the eighteenth century.’ (p116)

Then, great to see, Adam Smith uses the term:.

‘In A Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), Adam Smith perceived that the English, still “lovers of toys,” continued to cut just such ridiculous figures:
“How many people ruin themselves by laying out money on trinkets of frivolous utility? … All their pockets are stuffed with little conveniencies. Th ey contrive new pockets, unknown in the clothes of other people, in order to carry a greater number. They walk about loaded with a multitude of baubles, in weight and sometimes in value not inferior to an ordinary Jew’s-box, some of which may sometimes be of some little use, but all of which might at all times be very well spared, and of which the whole utility is certainly not worth the fatigue of bearing the burden”‘ (p116-117)

And while I think this is far too general an assertion, why not:

‘Defoe’s novels behave, in this sense, like the trinket itself, generating and circulating meaning and value by disavowing the material world in favor of an imaginary, figurative one’ (p120)

finally, in a footnote to Langford’s A Polite and Commercial People:

‘What I am calling chinoiserie Langford describes as “a wealth of trinkets, novelties, and knick-knacks in the French, Chinese, or Indian ‘manner,’ which invaded many homes”’ (Langford 68).


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