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What is a Woman to Do?

A Reader on Women, Work and Art, c. 1830-1890

Series:

Kyriaki Hadjiafxendi and Patricia Zakreski

This anthology contributes to a scholarly understanding of the aesthetics and economics of female artistic labour in the Victorian period. It maps out the evolution of the Woman Question in a number of areas, including the status and suitability of artistic professions for women, their engagement with new forms of work and their changing relationship to the public sphere. The wealth of material gathered here – from autobiographies, conduct manuals, diaries, periodical articles, prefaces and travelogues – traces the extensive debate on women’s art, feminism and economics from the 1830s to the 1890s.
Combining for the first time nineteenth-century criticism on literature and the visual arts, performance and craftsmanship, the selected material reveals the different ideological positions surrounding the transition of women from idleness to serious occupation. The distinctive primary sources explore the impact of artistic labour upon perceptions of feminine sensibility and aesthetics, the conflicting views of women towards the pragmatics of their own creative labour as they encompassed vocations, trades and professions, and the complex relationship between paid labour and female fame and notoriety.

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Section Four Fame, Reputation, and the Public Woman 273

Extract

Section Four: Fame, Reputation and the Public Woman Introduction The success of women’s artistic achievements, whether in the field of lit- erature, performance or the art-industries, invariably led to debates over their growing prominence as public figures. The fourth and final section of this anthology aims to complete its exploration of the aesthetics and economics of female artistic labour through its focus on the way Victorian women faced both the benefits and dif ficulties of public renown as a result of their ef forts to widen woman’s sphere. Having as its starting point Harriet Martineau’s dissatisfaction with, and dislike of, her own literary lionism – the celebrity-adulation of literary authors in the 1830s and 1840s – this section explores women’s negotiations with fame and reputation across the period. Pieces in the section cover the dif ferent ways that female artistic reputation was achieved and maintained, whether through the creation of institutions like the Society of Female Artists, calls to commemorate renowned women by public statuary, or how actresses used their autobi- ographies to stress their domestic character and concomitantly raise the status of their profession. Part of the ideological boundaries working women had to negotiate was the way in which the public sphere was becoming increasingly commod- ified. Recently, critics such as Tom Mole, Richard Higgins, Judith Pascoe, Richard Salmon, and Cheryl Wanko, to name but a few, have demonstrated how this shift was itself a multifaceted phenomenon, stemming from, amongst other things, the growth of print and visual media, the develop-...

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