Tracing the Victorian crisis over the representation of working-class women to the 1842 Parliamentary bluebook on mines, with its controversial images of women at work, Hidden Hands argues that the female industrial worker became even more dangerous to represent than the prostitute or the male radical because she exposed crucial contradictions between the class and gender ideologies of the period and its economic realities.
Drawing on the recent work of feminist historians, Patricia Johnson lays the groundwork for a reinterpretation of Victorian social-problem fiction that highlights its treatment of issues that particularly affected working-class women: sexual harassment; the interconnections between domestic ideology and domestic violence; their relationships to male-dominated working-class movements such as Luddism, Chartism, and unionism; and their troubled connection to middle-class feminism.
Uncovering a series of images in Victorian fiction ranging from hot-tempered servants and sexually harassed factory girls to working-class homemakers pictured as beaten dogs, Hidden Hands demonstrates that representations of working-class women, however marginalized or incoherent, reveal the very contradictions they are constructed to hide and that the dynamics of these representations have broad implications both for other groups, such as middle-class women, and for the emergence of working-class women as writers themselves.
Patricia E. Johnson is an associate professor of literature and humanities at the Pennsylvania State University-Capital College at Harrisburg. Her articles on such authors as Charles Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot have appeared in SEL, Mosaic, Studies in the Novel, and Victorians Institute Journal. More info →
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Our Lady of Victorian Feminism is about three nineteenth-century women (Jameson, Margaret Fuller, and George Eliot), Protestants by background and feminists by conviction, who are curiously and crucially linked by their extensive use of the Madonna in arguments designed to empower women.
In 1837, when Queen Victoria came to the throne, no institution of higher education in Britain was open to women. By the end of the century, a quiet revolution had occurred: women had penetrated even the venerable walls of Oxford and Cambridge and could earn degrees at the many new universities founded during Victoria's reign. During the same period, novelists increasingly put intellectually ambitious heroines students, teachers, and frustrated scholars—at the center of their books.
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.