The Woman Painter in Victorian Literature

Antonia Losano


Feb 2008
Literary criticism/European/English
300 pp., 25 illus. 6x9

$29.95 paper 978-0-8142-5736-4
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The author recommends the following links:

Gender, Sexuality, and the Visual Arts in the Age of Victoria (The Victorian Web)

Women Artists (Victoria and Albert Museum)

Victorian and Edwardian Women Artists

Bibliography of Women Artists

Victorian Women Writers Project


“This book is a significant contribution to interdisciplinary work in art and literature because it focuses attention on the woman artist as an important presence in nineteenth-century literature. The woman painter was not merely a desirable body or a biographical or psychological extension of the writer. Of interest to art historians as well as literary scholars, Losano’s book demonstrates that significant aesthetic and social questions came into play when a nineteenth-century woman writer put a brush, pencil, or engraving tool in the hands of her characters.” —The Journal of Pre-Raphaelite Studies

“My chief criterion for calling a work of criticism ‘good’ is that it should change the way I think about texts I thought I already knew. In The Woman Painter in Victorian Literature, Antonia Losano has done just that, and I believe the book will do so for other readers of Victorian women’s fiction.” —Robyn Warhol, professor of English and Director of the Humanities Center at the University of Vermont

“The Woman Painter in Victorian Literature deftly explores the fraught material conditions surrounding Victorian female professionalism and aesthetic production.” —Rachel Teukolsky, assistant professor of English, Pennsylvania State University

The nineteenth century saw a marked rise both in the sheer numbers of women active in visual art professions and in the discursive concern for the woman artist in fiction, the periodical press, art history, and politics. The Woman Painter in Victorian Literature argues that Victorian women writers used the controversial figure of the woman painter to intervene in the discourse of aesthetics. These writers were able to assert their own status as artistic producers through the representation of female visual artists.

Women painters posed a threat to the traditional heterosexual erotic art scenarios—a male artist and a male viewer admiring a woman or feminized art object. Antonia Losano traces an actual movement in history in which women writers struggled to rewrite the relations of gender and art to make a space for female artistic production. She examines as well the disruption female artists caused in the socioeconomic sphere. Losano offers close readings of a wide array of Victorian writers, particularly those works classified as noncanonical—by Anne Thackeray Ritchie, Margaret Oliphant, Anne Brontë, and Mrs. Humphrey Ward—and a new look at better-known novels such as Jane Eyre and Daniel Deronda, focusing on the pivotal social and aesthetic meanings of female artistic production in these texts. Each of the novels considered here is viewed as a contained, coherent, and complex aesthetic treatise that coalesces around the figure of the female painter.

Antonia Losano is associate professor of English and American literatures at Middlebury College.