E-REA (Dec 2018)

The Needle and the Brush: A Victorian Drama


Journal volume & issue
Vol. 16


Read online

When the mid-Victorian women’s movement launched the Society of Female Artists in 1857, a figure of reference for many responding publicly to this move was needlework – a reference deployed rather to scoff at this innovation than to praise it. This essay explores the comparison thus made between needlework and fine artwork, analysing the tropes attached to both these fields in mid-Victorian discourse and their significance in the issues that made up the “woman question” of the period. It was made clear that needlework was, as Rozsika Parker’s pioneering feminist study proposed, assumed to absorb and ring-fence both women’s time and their creative aspirations while fine art was expected to display qualities foreign to femininity and thus seemed a potentially transgressive occupation for women.