chapter  2
25 Pages

Muslin: concealing and revealing

On 7 April 1790 Sophia Jones was caught shoplifting a hundred-yard bolt of muslin from a draper’s shop in Oxford Street, London. Seventeen days later she appeared at the Old Bailey, was found guilty and sentenced to death (Old Bailey Proceedings Online). Such a brutal example of the late eighteenthcentury criminal justice system prompts many questions. But, in the context of this chapter I’m curious about why Sophia Jones chose to steal this particular textile. She could, after all, have selected any number of different silks, printed cottons, velvets, linens, or damasks. We do not know the personal motivations for Sophia Jones’s preference. If she spoke at her trial, her words were not recorded. Apart from the testimony of the shop-boy who recounts how he caught her, we have no other documentary trace of Sophia’s life. Her reality is closed to us. She was, to use Marx’s term describing the criminal operating outside the order of political economy, a ‘nebulous figure’ ([1844] 1992, p. 335).