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Giving Women: Alliance & Exchange in Victorian Culture

By Jill Rappoport
Altruism and self-assertiveness went hand in hand for Victorian women. Gift transactions allowed them to enter into economic negotiations of power as volatile and potentially profitable as those within the markets that so frequently excluded or exploited them. They made presents of holiday books and homemade jams, transformed inheritances into intimate and aggressive bequests, and, in both prose and practice, offered up their own bodies in sacrifice. Far more than selfless acts of charity or signs of their suitability for marriage, such gifts radically reconstructed women’s personal relationships and public activism in the nineteenth century. Giving Women examines the literary expression and cultural consequences of English women’s giving from the 1820s to the First World War. In fiction and poetry by Brontë, Barrett Browning, Gaskell, and Rossetti , periodicals, and political pamphlets, Rappoport demonstrates how female authors and fictional protagonists alike mobilized networks outside of marriage and the market. Through giving, women redefined the primary allegiances of their everyday lives, forged public coalitions, and advanced campaigns for abolition, slum reform, eugenics, and suffrage.
Oxford University Press, 2012
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