Compassion as Commodity

Middle-Class Women and Care Work in the Long Nineteenth Century


  • Hendrikje Kaube Freie Universität Berlin



Middle-Class Women, Caregiving, Victorian Fiction, Ideology


While it was common for Victorian working-class women to be employed outside of the home, a paid occupation spelled the end of gentility for their bourgeois counterparts. Yet many of these ladies found respectable alternatives to make a living. For our research of the nineteenth century, we rely to a great extent on numbers – census data, population statistics, percentages. However, few contemporary employment records give an accurate or reliable account of the respective household constellation, particularly with regard to women. Looking at these numbers, we have to bear in mind that we are also looking at numbers accrued with certain assumptions about the role of women in society. Unlike the New Woman of the fin de siècle, who is a typist or clerk, some held positions which fell outside of the common labor categories. From Charles Dickens to Neo-Edwardian literature, these ‘odd women’ appear as caretakers, companions, and assistants performing various duties. Broadening the scope of investigation into women and work in England during the long nineteenth century beyond considerations of manual and educational employment into the realm of emotional labor, we can obtain more information on the restrictions of contemporary ideology and the power dynamics of affective care.


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How to Cite

Kaube, H. (2024). Compassion as Commodity: Middle-Class Women and Care Work in the Long Nineteenth Century . Journal of World-Systems Research, 30(1), 78–103.



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