Patricia Zakreski's interdisciplinary study draws on fiction, prose, painting, and the periodical press to expand and redefine our understanding of women's relationship to paid work during the Victorian period. While the idea of 'separate spheres' has largely gone uncontested by feminist critics studying female labour during the nineteenth century, Zakreski challenges this distinction by showing that the divisions between public and private were, in fact, surprisingly flexible, with homes described as workplaces and workplaces as homes. By combining art with forms of industrial or mass production in representations of the respectable woman worker, writers projected a form of paid creative work that was not violated or profaned by the public world of the market in which it was traded. Looking specifically at sewing, art, writing, and acting, Zakreski shows how these professions increasingly came to be defined as 'artistic' and thus as suitable professions for middle-class women, and argues that the supposedly degrading activity of paid work could be transformed into a refining experience for women. Rather than consigning working women to the margins of patriarchal culture, then, her study shows how representations of creative women, by authors such as Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Dinah Craik, Charles Dickens, Anthony Trollope, and Charlotte Yonge, participated in and shaped new forms of mainstream culture.
’…[Zakreski] situates these works within a multivalent context of literary, periodical, and historical references. This skillful layering results in dense, provocative analyses… Thoroughly researched and convincingly argued, Zakreski's book asks us to recognize that nineteenth-century separate spheres ideology was in fact much more flexible and complex that we might imagine.’ Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature
’Zakreski has chosen a well-mined subject on which she writes with competence and authority.’ BrontÃ« Studies ’… Zakreski's contribution to the growing body of literature on the working life of Victorian women is significant, informative, and definitely an essential read.’ Victorian Studies
’… makes interesting reading, and offers some original perceptions of a range of Victorian authors: the canon is well-represented, and many lesser names add weight.’ Gaskell Journal
Contents: Introduction: Refining work; Needlework and creativity in representations of the seamstress; 'A suitable employment for women': The woman artist and the principle of compatibility; 'The difference is great in being known to write and setting up for an authoress': representing the writing woman; Unceasing industry: work and the actress; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.