An instrument of creative labour, the needle has played a significant but ambivalent role in the closely related histories of women’s work and women’s rights. The gendering of demarcations between private and public domains, formations of paid and unpaid labour, and hierarchies of art, craft and design all converge in the practice of sewing, an occupation with a complex relationship to the history of women’s education, employment and creativity. Centrally concerned with questions of visibility and value in relation to women’s work, this chapter directs new critical attention to the figure of the dressmaker in twentieth century fiction by women writers. It examines the legacies of Victorian discourses of distress in Rosamond Lehmann’s Invitation to the Waltz (1932), wartime austerity, domestic space and private property in Beryl Bainbridge’s The Dressmaker (1973) and British Caribbean women’s labour in the post-war textile arts and industries in Joan Riley’s Waiting in the Twilight (1987). With a sustained focus on the material conditions of creative labour, this chapter foregrounds the social, economic and political forces which serve to shape women’s exercise of creative agency in differing historical, class and colonial contexts.
|Title of host publication||Routledge Companion to Literature and feminism|
|Editors||Rachel Carroll, Fiona Tolan|
|Publication status||Published - 2023|