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Oxford University Press, USA
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Domestic handicraft was an extraordinarily popular leisure activity in Victorian Britain, especially amongst middle-class women. Craftswomen pasted shells onto boxes, stitched fish scales onto silk, scorched patterns into wood, cast flower petals out of wax, and made needlework portraits of the royal spaniels. Yet despite its ubiquity, little has been...
Domestic handicraft was an extraordinarily popular leisure activity in Victorian Britain, especially amongst middle-class women. Craftswomen pasted shells onto boxes, stitched fish scales onto silk, scorched patterns into wood, cast flower petals out of wax, and made needlework portraits of the royal spaniels. Yet despite its ubiquity, little has been written about this curious hobby. Providing a much-needed history of this under-studied phenomenon, Talia Schaffer demonstrates the importance of domestic handicraft in Victorian literature and culture. Novel Craft presents what Schaffer terms the "craft paradigm" -- a set of beliefs about representation, production, consumption, value, and beauty that were crucial to mid-Victorian thought. She uncovers how handicrafts expressed anxieties about modernity and offered an alternative to the conventional financial, political, and aesthetic ideas of the era. Novel Craft reveals how this mindset evolves in four major Victorian novels: Gaskell's Cranford, Yonge's The Daisy Chain, Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, and Oliphant's Phoebe Junior. Each chapter centers on a scene of craft production that expresses the novel's ideals and also interrogates the novel itself as a form of craft, and each chapter highlights an influential craft genre: paper crafts, pressed flowers, knitting, and hair jewelry. The book closes with a coda on the current resurgent crafts movement of Etsy.com as a fresh version of a Victorian sensibility. Featuring illustrations from two centuries of domestic handicraft, Schaffer deftly combines cultural history and literary analyses to create a revealing portrait of a neglected part of nineteenth-century life and highlights its continuing relevance in today's world of Martha Stewart, women's magazine crafts, and a rapidly expanding alt craft culture.
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