Working Girls: Fiction, Sexuality, and Modernity investigates the significance of a new form of sexual identity at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century.
Young women of the lower-middle and working classes were increasingly abandoning domestic service in favour of occupations of contested propriety. They inspired both moral unease and erotic fascination.
Working Girls considers representations of four highly glamorisedyet controversial types of women worker: telegraphists and typists (in newly-feminised offices), shop assistants (in the new department stores), and barmaids (in the new 'gin palaces' of major British cities). Economically emancipated (more or less) and liberated (more or less) from the protection and constraints of home and family, shop-girls, barmaids, typists, and telegraphists became mass media sensations.
They energised a wide range of late-Victorian and Modernist fiction.
This study will bring late-Victorian and Modernist British writers into intimate conversation with a substantial new archive of ephemeral sources often regarded as remote from high art and its concerns: popular fiction; musichall and musical comedy; beauty pageants and fairground exhibitions; visual art and early film; careers manuals; magazine and periodical journalism; moral reform crusades, Royal Commissions, and attempts at protective legislation.
Working Girls argues that these seductive yet perilous young women helped writers negotiate anxieties about the state of literary culture in the United Kingdom.
Crucially, they preoccupy novelists who were themselves beleaguered by anxieties over cultural capital, the shifting pressures of the literary marketplace, or controversies about the morality of fiction (often leading to the threat of censorship).
In articulating questions about sexual integrity, Working Girlsarticulate often submerged questions about textual integrity and the role of the modern novel.