Diderot’s Dressing Gown

Denis Diderot Dressing Gown
Denis Diderot Dressing Gown

This is a very famous example appearing in Regrets for my Old Dressing Gown, from which we have come up with the concept of the Diderot effect: a phenomenon that favours cohesion to consumerism. That is, singularity or logic to one’s objects as they relate to one another will give greater satisfaction than an eclectic combination of wonderful and wonderless items. In the work, Diderot panics: “Why didn’t I keep it? It was used to me and I was used to it. It molded all the folds of my body without inhibiting it; I was picturesque and handsome. The other one is stiff, and starchy, makes me look stodgy. There was no need to which its kindness didn’t loan itself, for indigence is almost always officious.” The old is replaced with the new, but not the sentiment. The sentiment remains with the original dressing gown, which haunts poor Diderot. And thus, the Diderot effect.


Havisham’s Wedding Dress

photo: Helena Bonham Carter as young ms. Havisham in Great Expectations (2012)
photo: Helena Bonham Carter as young ms. Havisham in Great Expectations (2012)

Miss Havisham is defined by her wedding dress, not taken off for over three decades. Charles Dickens uses the dress to make this eccentric character into a ghostly figure, haunting her own mansion all in white. Not only this, but the dress is also the object that haunts its wearer for it is a permanent reminder of failed love, of being used which would lead her to renounce men forever. The symbol of the wedding dress continues throughout the book. Directly after asking Pip for his forgiveness, the dress catches fire and is, in part, destroyed.


The Overcoat

The Overcoat
photo: russianavantgard.com

Gogol’s The Overcoat is a bizarre little work, transforming from a social critique to a character study and finally into a ghost story. The overcoat takes on a different function during each of the phases. In the first, it is an unattainable luxury and point of desire. Not only this, but the overcoat would also mean warmth and protection. It is life-affirming; its absence is life-denying. For the character of Akaky Akakievich, once pure chance makes the possession of a new overcoat possible, an obsession is developed until he treats the object as a wife almost. Everyone is mesmerized by the coat: the tailor who made it, passers-by, and even his colleagues who’d normally spend their time teasing Akaky. Once dead, the ghost of Akaky is reported to be haunting the streets of St Petersburg, taking overcoats from all indiscriminately.


The Red Shoes

Red Dancing Shoes

The Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale depicts a haunted pair of shoes that can’t stop dancing, that are cursed with groove. The shoes take over their wearer, possessing them in dance trance, hollowing them out entirely. A descending angel tells Karen, whose vanity had cursed the shoes, that she is condemned to dance in them even in death. Terrified, Karen gets an executioner to chop off her legs but this doesn’t stop the shoes: still, they dance with her amputated legs spraying about. Since Anderson’s tale, the red shoes have appeared in a number of stories, mostly for film and the stage. The red shoes dance on!


The One Ring To Rule Them All

The One Ring To Rule Them All
photo: Wikipedia

How could this not be number one? What suspense could there possibly have been? The effects that the ring has on its characters, most drastically on Gollum one could say, doesn’t compare with any other item. People that come in contact with it literally start to live around it so that the ring is, in many ways, a sun of its own with an orbit of devotees and terror. The fantasy of the ring was so engaging to audiences that sales of imitations have gone through the roof since the Peter Jackson trilogy.


  1. If you were to read the Harry Potter books you would realize that the invisibility cloak Harry had was not something one could simply go out a purchase in whatever size they needed. This was a cloak made by death, long before James Potter ever came across it.


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