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Wilful Design: The Sampler in Nineteenth-Century Britain

Flower, Chloe

Journal of Victorian culture. Volume 21: Number 3 (2016, July 2nd); pp 301-321 -- Oxford University Press

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  • Title:
    Wilful Design: The Sampler in Nineteenth-Century Britain
  • Author: Flower, Chloe
  • Found In: Journal of Victorian culture. Volume 21: Number 3 (2016, July 2nd); pp 301-321
  • Journal Title: Journal of Victorian culture
  • Subjects: Culture--History--19th century--Periodicals; sampler--female education--textiles--Elizabeth Parker--childhood--life-writing--trauma; Dewey: 306.09034
  • Rights: Licensed
  • Publication Details: Oxford University Press
  • Abstract: Abstract:

    This article recovers the cultural significance of the sampler in nineteenth-century Britain. I argue that this mainstay of female education models a circular shape of development in which the young girl painfully revises earlier experience; the subject is conceived of as perpetually reworking herself without obvious linear progression. Though this article is situated against canonical works of Victorian fiction, it focuses primarily on actual samplers to argue that these pieces of childhood embroidery should be recognized as a form of life-writing. After establishing the conventions of the sampler, I turn to an apparently anomalous example that exemplifies the temporal and affective patterns ingrained by the pedagogical exercise of sampler sewing. My central artefact is an autobiographical sampler from the needle of a 17-year-old Sussex girl named Elizabeth Parker. Currently housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum, this textile from 1830 recounts Parker's childhood experiences in service, and the horrors of physical abuse and sexual assault that led her to contemplate suicide, all compressed into 46 lines of cross-stitch. I argue that the sampler as a pedagogical tool resists the Bildungsroman's model of the self as formed through temporal progression towards self-contained adult agency. Instead, the sampler materially and thematically enforces the recursive temporal dynamics of conversion.


  • Identifier: System Number: ETOCvdc_100035822468.0x000001; Journal ISSN: 1355-5502; 10.1080/13555502.2016.1195765
  • Publication Date: 2016
  • Physical Description: Electronic
  • UIN: ETOCvdc_100035822468.0x000001

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