‘As separate as if we were in two worlds’: working-class women’s neglected labor in Victorian literature

UNCG Author/Contributor (non-UNCG co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kristine Noel Lee (Creator)
The University of North Carolina at Greensboro (UNCG )
Web Site: http://library.uncg.edu/
Noelle Morrissette

Abstract: The field of Victorian studies historically includes critical studies of the working-class, but many of the most recent narrowly focus on men’s roles, masculinity, travel, and literacy in relation to the working class. When critics examine working-class women, they frequently focus not on their agency but on the relationship between cultural expectations for women and the problematic sexual and violent associations between women and work during the Victorian period, producing a similarly narrow scope that also treats women as passive entities. These mis-readings and non-readings of working-class women laborers are the point of departure for this study. This study proposes new forms of labor to re-see women characters in a range of Victorian novels depicting the working class. This project identifies four critical terms for types of labor that working-class women characters engage in as a means of negotiating agency and authority: protective labor, healing/medicinal labor, mental labor of visions and fantasy, and virtuous labor, all of which are kinds of work that go beyond the tasks required by employers. In the texts studied here, working-class women characters navigate tight and marginalized positions, and use these forms of labor as a means of mobility and agency, with varied results. Entering an old text from a new critical direction is precisely the method of this dissertation. It is a way of breaking the masculine-focused tradition of working-class studies, revising ideas of cultural history, and creating an essential act of survival: the reclamation of and rethinking about women’s work from the Victorian period.

Additional Information

Language: English
Date: 2019
Labor, Mining, Victorian, Women, Working class, Working-class
English literature $y 19th century
Working class women in literature

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