Disruptive Threads and Renegade Yarns: Domestic Textile Making in Selected Women's Writing 1811-1925
Bruusgaard, Emily J.
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Images of domestic textiles (items made at home for consumption within the household) and textile making form an important subtext to women’s writing, both during and after industrialization. Through a close reading of five novels from the period 1811-1925, this thesis will assert that a detailed understanding of textile work and its place in women’s daily lives is critical to a deeper understanding of social, sexual and political issues from a woman’s perspective. The first chapter will explore the history of the relationship between women and domestic textile making, and the changes wrought to the latter by the Industrial Revolution. The second chapter will examine the role of embroidery in the construction of “appropriate” feminine gentility in Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park (1814). The third chapter, on Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (1853), will explore how the older female body became a repository for anxieties about class mobility and female power at the beginning of the Victorian era. The fourth chapter will compare Sara Jeannette Duncan’s A Social Departure (1890) and Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) to consider how later Victorian women both internalized and refuted public narratives of domestic textile making in a quest for “self-ownership.” The last chapter, on Martha Ostenso’s Wild Geese (1925), examines the corrosive, yet ultimately redemptive, relationships of a family of women trapped by abuse and degradation. For all five authors, images of textiles and textile making allow them to speak to issues that were usually only discussed within a community of women: sexuality, desire, aging, marriage, and motherhood. In all five works, textile making “talks back” to the power structures that marginalize women, and lends insight into the material and emotional circumstances of women’s lives.