While the concept of emotional labor (the presentation of a feeling as part of a job) is generally applied to a twentieth- and twenty-first-century context—indeed, Arlie Russell Hochschild, who coined the term, explicitly contrasts it with nineteenth-century labor—we can in fact use it to illuminate the particularly gendered labor of Victorian contexts, especially among women of ambiguous social status. This article examines Charles Dickens's Little Dorrit through the lens of emotional labor, focusing on the characters of Tattycoram and Mrs. General, whom this article terms “dependent women.” These two women occupy ambiguous positions, caught between the worlds of emotion and work and required to perform affection and gratitude in order to maintain themselves. While Tattycoram and Mrs. General handle this differently—Tattycoram resents it, while Mrs. General exploits it—examining them both in this light illustrates a continuity between conceptions of feeling and work in the nineteenth century and in contemporary contexts while also highlighting the uncertainties and unique tensions of the dependent woman's position. The presence of emotion makes Little Dorrit's dependent women's lives uniquely difficult by leaving both them and their employers uncertain as to their ultimate status or where they belong.

You do not currently have access to this content.