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Friday, 28 March 2008

A Different World

What a busy week! Chester Chronicle has run a feature on Narrow Windows, Narrow Lives, and I've also got a feature on women workers in this month's Jane Austen's Regency World. For women like Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë, the only socially acceptable means of earning their living was as a governess - or by writing. Even then, novel writing was considered so socially risky that Jane didn't put her name on the title page of her novels. Many ordinary women, however, had to earn their keep however they could - down the mines, in the cotton mills, or making lace or straw plaiting. Although women workers were traditionally paid less than men for doing the same job, just the fact that they could earn a wage gave them a measure of financial independence; young mill girls had the confidence to leave their parent's home and find their own if home life was uncongenial. Austen and Brontë were reliant on friends and relations for a change of scenery. The interesting question is, would they have even wanted to swap places with the mill girls or lace makers, with the drudgery of their long working hours? Or did they prefer their comfortable homes and the confines of their class?

In a Cotton Factory, (1880s). Engraving by G.P. Jacomb Hood (1857-1929) for
Lancashire by Grindon, Leo H., (Seeley & Co., 1892.) Author's Collection.

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