Skip to main content

Arduous business: Immaterial labour in the Victorian realist novel

Thesis type
(Thesis) Ph.D.
Date created
Arduous Business explores representations of immaterial labour in the Victorian realist novel. By "immaterial labour," I mean labour that has economic and social value, but that does not fall within countable hours or produce tangible goods. The category includes the mysteriously profitable stock-broking of Anthony Trollope's speculator villains, and the doomed scholarship of Thomas Hardy's working-class philosopher, Jude Fawley. More central to the project, though, and ubiquitous in the Victorian novel, is the unwaged emotional labour of women: the coaxing, communicating, caring, and sympathizing through which societies—and, indeed, economies—cohere. From dominant nineteenth-, twentieth-, and twenty-first-century perspectives, these activities count only ambiguously as "work," yet critical economists from Marx onward have noted that economic production depends on the material and ideological reproduction of workers, a task historically associated with the feminized domestic sphere. I argue that realist novels are uniquely equipped to demonstrate the economic importance of feminized immaterial labour, and the effects of industrial capitalism on the intimate processes of thinking and feeling that labour contains. Methodologically and thematically, novels resist the strategies of abstraction on which the contemporaneous discourse of political economy relied, instead engaging economic phenomena dialectically, forging dynamic theories of labour and value that connect parts to wholes, people to systems, and systems to history. By situating work in its manifold contexts, the novels I examine reveal immanent meanings of the shift to capitalism, including the insidious but consequential exploitation of caring and communicative labour, and the limitations of a historically specific, liberal form of subjectivity. Chapter one (on Gaskell's Mary Barton) and two (on Eliot's Romola) analyze critical responses to the appropriation of women's immaterial labour. Chapter three argues that Trollope's Palliser novels unfreeze reified notions of social and economic value, presenting value instead as an uncontainable relationship between people. Chapter four shows how Hardy's reverse-Bildungsroman, Jude the Obscure, confronts liberal progressivism with its failure to resolve the antagonisms of class, gender, and sex, thereby revealing the false ground of a promised reconciliation between individuals and society.
Copyright statement
Copyright is held by the author(s).
This thesis may be printed or downloaded for non-commercial research and scholarly purposes.
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Lesjak, Carolyn
Member of collection
Download file Size
input_data\21072\etd21164.pdf 22.5 MB

Views & downloads - as of June 2023

Views: 32
Downloads: 0