Last week, the Nineteenth-Century British Research Seminar at the University of Tennessee hosted Professor Talia Schaffer (Queen’s College CUNY and The Graduate Center CUNY), who presented work titled “Why Lucy Doesn’t Care: Migration and Emotional Labor in Villette.”
In this talk, Shaffer explored what happens if we read Lucy Snowe in Villette (1853) as a migrant caregiver, an early fictional example of a worker in an emerging economic category. Drawing on contemporary sociological studies of caregivers’ experiences with surveillance, cultural disorientation, and visibility, particularly Arlie Russell Hochschild’s theory of ’emotional labor,’ she asked, is it possible to read Charlotte Brontë’s last novel not as a case study of the unique psychology of a baffling individual but, rather, as a proto-sociological account of labor in a new global economy? What might such an approach mean for readings of the novel?
Schaffer has published widely on Victorian familial and marital norms, disability studies, noncanonical women writers, material culture, popular fiction, aestheticism, and late-Victorian texts. Her publications include Novel Craft: Victorian Domestic Handicraft and Nineteenth-Century Fiction (2011) and more recently, Romance’s Rival: Familiar Marriage in Victorian Fiction (2016).
Schaffer’s current work in progress is a book on the ethics of care, a feminist and disability studies philosophy that remains remarkably useful for reading Victorian literature. Through their lived experiences of care relations, Victorian novelists strove to imagine and assess the merits of care, providing us with a series of case studies about the varieties, usefulness, and dangers of caregiving.