This short, moralistic reflection on ‘The Needle’ was published in popular weekly children’s magazine Chatterbox in 1874. Concluding ‘truly, no one but ourselves can tell what the needle is to us women’, it emphasises the significance of the needle and sewing to women’s domestic role in the 19th century.
Describing the needle’s uniting presence in childhood, marriage and motherhood, it is a prime display of 19th century gendered codes of behaviour that were built into men and women’s lives from birth. As this piece portrays, the needle was a reassuring sign of traditional womanhood.
The significance of the needle in Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh
From a gender perspective, this text offers an interesting point of comparison with the representation of the needle in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s epic poem, Aurora Leigh (1853). Literal and metaphorical needles and sewing can be traced throughout the poem. Anne D Wallace estimates that in the first two books there are over 50 such references. In Aurora Leigh, the needle is not always ‘wonderful brightener and consoler’ or ‘our pleasant friend at all times’ but, instead, a symbol of women’s oppression. The poem also exposes sewing as a means for women to earn an income, and thus raises difficult, controversial issues around women as labourers and poor working conditions. In contrast, Chatterbox portrays the needle’s sanitised, purely domestic role, literally locating it within a middle-upper class home, where women are financially provided for by their husbands and fathers.
- Article by:
- Simon Avery
- Gender and sexuality, Victorian poetry
Dr Simon Avery considers how Elizabeth Barrett Browning used poetry to explore and challenge traditional Victorian roles for women, assessing the early influences on her work and thought.