In her immensely readable and richly documented book, Christine Bayles Kortsch asks us to shift our understanding of late Victorian literary culture by examining its inextricable relationship with the material culture of dress and sewing. Even as the Education Acts of 1870, 1880, and 1891 extended the privilege of print literacy to greater numbers of the populace, stitching samplers continued to be a way of acculturating girls in both print literacy and what Kortsch terms "dress culture." Kortsch explores nineteenth-century women's education, sewing and needlework, mainstream fashion, alternative dress movements, working-class labor in the textile industry, and forms of social activism, showing how dual literacy in dress and print cultures linked women writers with their readers. Focusing on Victorian novels written between 1870 and 1900, Kortsch examines fiction by writers such as Olive Schreiner, Ella Hepworth Dixon, Margaret Oliphant, Sarah Grand, and Gertrude Dix, with attention to influential predecessors like Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Brontë, and George Eliot. Periodicals, with their juxtaposition of journalism, fiction, and articles on dress and sewing are particularly fertile sites for exploring the close linkages between print and dress cultures. Informed by her examinations of costume collections in British and American museums, Kortsch's book broadens our view of New Woman fiction and its relationship both to dress culture and to contemporary women's fiction.
'Drawing on novels by Olive Schreiner and Sarah Grand, and less well-known works by Margaret Oliphant (Kirsteen) and Gertrude Dix (The Image-Breakers), among others, Kortsch shows that dress culture can give a sense of female community, and that sewing is often represented as a "rich, meaningful activity" for female characters.’ Times Literary Supplement
'There is a great deal in this book that is valuable, interesting, and enlightening, and it makes a significant contribution to the scholarship in the field of fashion and literature. Kortsch's command of current work is excellent, and the bibliography that she provides for her reader is in itself an excellent resource.' Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens
'Kortsch's analysis of corset trends and photographs of their wearers reflect her research in costume museum collections. Her histories of corset styles and alternative dress movements effectively synthesize key primary and critical sources. Overall, her use of relevant historical and literary scholarship is exemplary. Kortsch is a skilled, engaging writer. … This book will benefit specialists in Victorian gender studies, fashion history, and material culture.' English Literature in Transition
'Bayles Kortsch’s clear, well-informed and very readable examination of Victorian dress culture enhances her readers’ own dual literacy and successfully establishes the importance of the relationship between dress culture and Victorian women’s writing. By examining in detail the import of the signs these writers were offering through dress, Bayles Kortsch significantly opens up their texts and offers an original insight into the modes through which the question of women’s role in Victorian society was being debated.’ Women: a cultural review