Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century Prose

Women in the Workplace in the Long Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article Nineteenth-Century Prose

Women in the Workplace in the Long Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt

This essay reviews Economic Women: Essays on Desire and Dispossession in Nineteenth-Century British Culture and Crafting the Woman Professional in the Long Nineteenth Century: Artistry and Industry in Britain. Both essay collections offer rich and varied accounts of women's economic position during the nineteenth century: Economic Women, through its attention to women's relationships to capitalism, and Crafting the Professional Woman, through its focus on women as amateur and professional artists.

Lana L. Dailey and Jill Rappoport, Economic Women: Essays on Desire and Dispossession in Nineteenth-Century British Culture (Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013), 238 pp., $69.95 cloth.

Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi and Patricia Zakreski, Crafting the Woman Professional in the Long Nineteenth Century: Artistry and Industry in Britain (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2013), 306 pp., $124.95 cloth.

"Every undertaker should employ women," wrote Priscilla Bell Wakefield in Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex (1798), "for the express purpose of supplying the female dead, with those things which are requisite. How shocking is the idea of our persons being exposed, even after death, to the observation of a parcel of undertaker's men" (47). Wakefield finds employment opportunities in the loopholes and inconsistencies of the gender ideology of the long nineteenth century. In doing so, she demonstrates the mental acrobatics many women performed in order to negotiate places (actual and hypothetical) for themselves within the economic landscape of the period. Two recently published essay collections on women's economic positions and professional status in nineteenth-century Great Britain provide a rich view of the whole circus.

Lana L. Dalley and Jill Rappoport introduce Economic Women by invoking Marx's "Homo Economicus," the economic man epitomized in fiction by that self-sufficient empire builder, Robinson Crusoe. As Dalley and Rappoport suggest, no equivalent "economic woman" existed, either in the popular imagination or in the social histories economists at the time produced. Instead of searching for a female Crusoe or lamenting her nonexistence, Dailey and Rappoport bring together a diverse set of essays that reveal the multiple and various ways nineteenth-century women were economic agents. To support the range of economic identities women of the era embodied, Dailey and Rappoport have usefully divided their volume into four parts, each focused on a type of economy in which women participated. Ethical or moral economies is the focus of Part I; Part II deals with the nineteenth-century study of political economy; household economy is the focus of Part III; and Part IV is concerned with women in business and women's work. This range of approaches is also reflected in the individual essays comprising the volume, which cover the gamut from literary analysis to case study, fictional economic women to their real counterparts. Dailey and Rappoport encourage their readers to "forge their own connections between essays, and engage in the fuller, richer picture our contributors paint of Economic Women in nineteenth-century British culture," and indeed, surprising and interesting continuities and disruptions emerge within and across the sections of this collection (4).

The three essays that make up the section on "moral economies" exemplify this diversity. Leslee Thorne-Murphy's examination of the 1845 Anti-Corn Law League bazaar brings League pamphlets and news articles on the bazaar into conversation with Harriet Martineau's Dawn Island, written specifically for sale at the bazaar. Thorne-Murphy highlights the ironic clash of ideologies in the League's choice to use a bazaar, the epitome of an artificially inflated market, to raise money for their free trade campaign. As Thorne-Murphy notes, this clash was also gendered, pitting women's overpriced handicraft (the traditional stock of a bazaar) against the cheap manufactured goods sold alongside them. …

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