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. In her isolation and helplessness, she provided social reformers with a powerful image of working-class suffering that appealed to the sensibilities of the upper classes and helped galvanize public opinion around the need for reform.
Women, Work, and Representation addresses the use of that image in the reform movement, underscoring the shock to the Victorian public when reports revealed that the profession of needlework was extremely hazardous, even deadly.
Author Lynn M. Alexander traces the development of the symbol of the seamstress through a variety of presentations, drawing from the writings of Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charlotte Elizabeth Tonna, and George W. M. Reynolds, and on visual representations by Richard Redgrave, Thomas Benjamin Kennington, John Everett Millais, John Leech, John Tenniel, and Hubert von Herkomer.
Written to appeal to Victorian scholars, women s studies scholars, and those interested in semiotics and aestheticism, Women, Work, and Representation includes twenty illustrations, most from periodicals of the day, providing new insights into the lives of working women throughout the Victorian era.