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Topic: Victorian studies


Comment/Reply on how any of the authors extracted by the Norton Anthology list below might have responded to the colleagues text below
‘Women and Work” and Browning’s Aurora Leigh.

Norton Anthology texts (in chronological order):

Stickney Ellis, Sarah, The Women of England: Their Social Duties and Domestic Habits (1839) [656-58]

Nightingale, Florence, Cassandra (1852-59) [672-76]

Martineau, Harriet, Autobiography (1855) [662-65]

Eliot, George, ‘Silly Novels by Lady Novelists’ (1856) [407-14]

Anon., ‘The Great Social Evil’ (1858) [666-70]

Mulock, Dinah Maria, A Woman’s Thoughts upon Women (1858) [670-72]

Mill, John Stuart, The Subjection of Women (1860) [90-101]

Ruskin, John, ‘Of Queen’s Gardens’ (1864) [661-62]

Caird, Mona, ‘Marriage’ (1888) [676-80]

Besant, Walter, The Queen’s Reign (1897) [680-82]

‘Women and Work’ by Barbara Leigh Smith, 1857.

https://books.google.co.uk/books id=dR9eAAAAcAAJ&dq=%22women+and+work%22&source=gbs_navlinks_s

Women and Work by Barbara Leigh Smith discusses the movement of women into the workplace, Smith addresses who should be reading her book ‘This Tract is addressed to the men and women who live by the work of their hands and heads’ (p.4) [1]. Smith wants the reader to be open to her argument as the working-class men and women have a responsibility, as she describes them to be ‘the mass and hope for our country’ (p.4)[1]. The main matter discussed by Smith is that women and men are both ‘Gods children’ (p.6)[1] and with this they should be treated equally. She believes by educating individuals on these ideas will push for society to be more inline with Gods plan for humankind.

Although, Smiths views are coming from a Christian mind set her argument is that women should work and not be reliant on men. She argues that ‘Every human being should work; no one should owe bread to any but his or her parents’ (p.11)[1], this is suggestive that humans should all be responsible for themselves as they grow and not be dependent on anyone else. Elizabeth Barret Browning’s, Aurora Leigh represents this with Aurora rejection of Romney’s proposal. ‘What you love is not a woman, Romney but a cause. You want a helpmate […] A wife to help your ends. – in her no ends’ (II,400-404) [2]. Browning is suggesting that Aurora is not willing to lose a part of herself to support the ‘cause’ of a having a husband, she is too driven by her own passion to let it go by being a wife.

Both Smith and Browning display similar ideas within their texts of what women and work should be, the argument for women to have equal rights to work just like men is argued by both writers. An interesting part of Smiths book is at the beginning, she quotes an extract from book eight of Aurora Leigh ‘Be sure no earnest work […] she drops, below the dignity of man, accepting selfdom’ (p.2)[1] by Smith using Browning’s work as inspiration for her own ideas, demonstrates how influential the poem Aurora Leigh was to the debate of women and work.


[1] Barbara Leigh Smith, Women and Work (London, Bosworth and Harrison,1857) p.2-11

[2] Elizabeth Barret Browning, ‘Aurora Leigh’ in The Norton Anthology of English Literature 10th edition. Ed by Stephan Greenblatt (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2018) p.134.


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