The Life Writing of Hannah Cullwick

By Sarah MacDonald.

Published by The International Journal of Literary Humanities

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The Diaries of Hannah Cullwick stand out as one of the very few examples of diary writing by working class women of the Victorian age. Not only is the very fact of a diary unique for a woman of Cullwick’s situation, the volume and content of the writing make it truly a valuable text to explore for various disciplines and purposes. It is this uniqueness that creates a certain dilemma when discussing Hannah Cullwick and invariably Author Munby as well. How does one place this anomaly in a particular category? Should it be read as a feminist text that shows the strength in Hannah Cullwick, a vehicle to discuss Munby’s fetish tendencies, or something else altogether? The scholars that have attempted to discuss these diaries have all framed the text in a particular way to suit their needs and agendas. The impetus of most of the scholarship dealing with Cullwick stems from the work of Liz Stanley. Stanley was the first, and only, scholar to go through the huge collection of writings and create a manageable text for publication. The introduction to this text is unique in that she sets up Cullwick as a proto-feminist who fought against her life circumstances the best way she could. Many scholars, after reading the text, find this characterization hard to except. What becomes of this is the framing of Cullwick’s text as either a feminist story or one of oppression. By analyzing the autobiographical fragments, I argue that Cullwick both had control of her text and was controlled by outside pressures.

Keywords: Diaries, Victorian, Life Writing, Framing

The International Journal of Literary Humanities, Volume 10, Issue 3, pp.25-39. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 429.189KB).

Sarah MacDonald

Teaching Fellow, English Department, Kent State University, Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, USA

I am a PhD candidate at Kent State University and currently am writing my dissertation on working women's life writing in the 19th and 20th century. I focus mostly on British writers. My interest is in how the voices of these working women achieve legitimacy through other means than those available to middle class writers.