The working women of Victorian and Edwardian Britain were fascinating but difficult subjects for artists, photographers, and illustrators. The cultural meanings of labour sat uncomfortably with conventional ideologies of femininity, and working women unsettled the boundaries between gender and class, selfhood and otherness. From paintings of servants in middle-class households, to exhibits of flower-makers on display for a shilling, the visual culture of women's labour offered a complex web of interior fantasy and exterior reality. The picture would become more challenging still when working women themselves began to use visual spectacle. In this first in-depth exploration of the representation of British working women, Kristina Huneault explores the rich meanings of female employment during a period of labour unrest, demands for women's enfranchisement, and mounting calls for social justice. In the course of her study she questions the investments of desire and the claims to power that reside in visual artifacts, drawing significant conclusions about the relationship between art and identity.
'Difficult Subjects will make a major contribution to the history of British visual culture, and particularly to the presently underdeveloped but significant history of representations of labour'. Tim Barringer, Department of History of Art, Yale University
'This excellent book shows a good understanding of what visual culture is and the theoretical framework that can be utilised to study it… this book is a fascinating examination of working women and their representations - by others and by themselves… I would recommend this book very highly for its interesting, if "difficult" subjects, and the painstaking research made evident in its publication.' Gen Doy, The Art Book
'… this fascinating and persuasive analysis of images of working women in the period's visual culture… an excellent contribution to our understanding of this particular period in British social and cultural history when women's lives were changed immeasurably.' Cheryl Buckley, Woman's Art Journal
Contents: Introduction; My servant/my self: domestic servants and visual culture; Flower-girls and fictions: selling on the streets; Imag(in)ing industry: order and beauty on the factory floor; 'Living tableaux of misery and oppression': visualising sweated labour; Working women and the visual culture of trade unionism; Epilogue; Index.