“A challenging and significant book. Its interdisciplinary focus on art and literature, its concentration on non-canonical as well as canonical texts, its emphasis on the periodical press, its use of victorian documents, and its important to gender studies render it an influential examination across the disciplines. Astute and incisive, it is a signal contribution to the cultural history of nineteenth-century Britain.”
Joe Kestner, University of Tulsa
“Convincingly demonstrates the evolution of the ‘poor needlewoman’ from reformist documentation to symbol to Victorian cultural cliché. In addition to wide-ranging research, Alexander is good at close reading and at revealing the messages in artistic composition and iconology.”
Sally Mitchell, Temple University
In Victorian England, virtually all women were taught to sew; needlework was allied with images of domestic economy and with traditional female roles of wife and mother- with home rather than factory. The professional seamstress, however, labored long hours for very small wages creating gowns for the upper and middle classes. In her isolation and helplessness, she provided social reformers with a powerful image of working-class suffering that appealed to the sensibilities of the upper classes and helped galvanize public opinion around the need for reform.
Women, Work, and Representation addresses the use of that image in the reform movement, underscoring the shock to the Victorian public when reports revealed that the profession of needlework was extremely hazardous, even deadly.
Author Lynn M. Alexander traces the development of the symbol of the seamstress through a variety of presentations, drawing from the writings of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, and George W. M. Reynolds, and on visual representations by Richard Redgrave, Thomas Benjamin Kennington, John Everett Millais, John Leech, John Tenniel, and Hubert von Herkomer.
Written to appeal to Victorian scholars, women's studies scholars, and those interested in semiotics and aestheticism, Women, Work, and Representation includes twenty illustrations, most from periodicals of the day, providing new insights into the lives of working women throughout the Victorian era.
Lynn M. Alexander is professor of English at the University of Tennessee at Martin and the co-editor of The Slaughter-House of Mammon: An Anthology of Victorian Social Protest Literature.
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