Abby Scribner, “‘Grim, metal darlings’: The Automated Women of Charlotte Brontë’s Shirley” (pp. 257–285)

In this essay, I argue that Charlotte Brontë’s industrial novel Shirley details the consequences of the Marxist critique of industrial subjectivity in the feminized domestic and sexual realms. It does so by showing how structures of repetition—familiar from many accounts of mechanized male subjectivity in the mid-Victorian period—shape the subjective forms of three of its female characters: Caroline Helstone, the domestic woman; Miss Mann, the old maid; and Mrs. Pryor, the mother. By focusing on female automatons in a novel putatively about the Luddite riots, Shirley introduces a tension into its own conservative ideal of the domestic sphere as the compensatory counterpart to the world of work. Despite its overt adherence to paternalism as the solution to social unrest, the novel gestures at an understanding of the home as a space that partakes of one of the major structures of capitalist modernity—repetition as dehumanizing, dysfunctional, and exploitative.

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