About Faces: Physiognomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain

About Faces: Physiognomy in Nineteenth-Century Britain

by Sharrona Pearl


Members save with free shipping everyday! 
See details


When nineteenth-century Londoners looked at each other, what did they see, and how did they want to be seen? Sharrona Pearl reveals the way that physiognomy, the study of facial features and their relationship to character, shaped the way that people understood one another and presented themselves.

Physiognomy was initially a practice used to get information about others, but soon became a way to self-consciously give information—on stage, in print, in images, in research, and especially on the street. Moving through a wide range of media, Pearl shows how physiognomical notions rested on instinct and honed a kind of shared subjectivity. She looks at the stakes for framing physiognomy—a practice with a long history—as a science in the nineteenth century.

By showing how physiognomy gave people permission to judge others, Pearl holds up a mirror both to Victorian times and our own.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674036048
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 02/25/2010
Pages: 302
Product dimensions: 6.30(w) x 9.40(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Sharrona Pearl is Assistant Professor of Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication of the University of Pennsylvania.

Table of Contents

  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction: Face Facts

  1. Pocket Physiognomy: Sense in the City
  2. Performing Physiognomy: Imitating Art and Life
  3. Portrait Physiognomy: Communicating Character
  4. Caricature Physiognomy: Imaging Communities
  5. Photographic Physiognomy: Through a Mediated Mirror
  6. Diagnostic Physiognomy: From Phrenology to Fingerprints

  • Conclusion: Seeing Ourselves
  • Notes
  • Index

What People are Saying About This

Peter Galison

In this smart, engaging book, Sharrona Pearl shows that we can see Victorian culture through new eyes if we learn to look, as the Victorians did, with a physiognomic sensibility. Actors, criminals, the insane, rushed Londoners, Irish, Jews: all came to be categorized in this new form of gaze. Pearl's inventive and expansive About Faces recreates for us this most protean of nineteenth-century sciences.

Peter Galison, Harvard University

Alison Winter

"This is a masterful study of how the Victorians came to see each other and themselves. Sharrona Pearl's witty, incisive, and pathbreaking book uses 'physiognomy'--the scientific study of faces--to tell us about the ways that the nineteenth-century British understood their rapidly changing social world, one face and glance at a time."
Alison Winter, author of Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain

Customer Reviews