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Working Women, Literary LadiesThe Industrial Revolution and Female Aspiration$
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Sylvia J Cook

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195327809

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195327809.001.0001

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Full Development or Self-Restraint

Full Development or Self-Restraint

Middle-Class Women and Working-Class Elevation

(p.188) 7 Full Development or Self-Restraint
Working Women, Literary Ladies

Sylvia Jenkins Cook (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the later decades of the 19th century, when women's factory labor was no longer a novelty, and industrial and class tensions were becoming increasingly the focus of reforming writers. While working women continued to seek lives that satisfied the needs of body and spirit, middle-class women novelists and male fiction writers for the Knights of Labor offered them literary models of religious sublimation rather than the more secular salvation of intellectual culture. Educated and more affluent women, like Rebecca Harding Davis, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, and Louisa May Alcott — who sympathized keenly with working women's material deprivation, and who struggled to vindicate their own creative ambitions — nevertheless recommended Christianity and its otherworldly rewards rather than the mental and artistic subjectivity they were themselves trying to assert. One notable exception to the consolations of religion was Marie Howland's utopian and communitarian novel, The Familistere (1874), which challenged not only religious piety as a female virtue but also conventional attitudes towards sexuality, capitalism, and private property. In doing so, she anticipated some of the more radical working-class attitudes of the generation of immigrant women who followed her.

Keywords:   women novelists, Christianity, Rebecca Harding Davis, Elizabeth Stuart Phelps, Louisa May Alcott, Marie Howland, Knights of Labor

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