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“ANGELS IN THE HOUSE”: GENDERED CONSTRUCTION OF “LABOUR” AND “WORK” IN SOME ENGLISH AND INDIAN TEXTS OF NINETEENTH-EARLY TWENTIETH CENTURY

NEERAV DWIVEDI

 “In this world the responsibility for our own husband has been placed into the hands of each one of us women. The task that is our duty is to make him happy and to work strenuously to achieve his well being. Is it small responsibility to add the weight of another life to our own lives…still, be it a hard task or an easy one, it is our essential duty.”[1]

Speculation on labour has an ancient origin. More than two millennia before the British political economists began working on the subject, the Greeks were trying to distinguish “labour” (ponos) and “work” (ergon). Hesiod, for example, found work “due to Eris, the goddess of good strife” but labour, according to him, “like all other evils, came out of Pandora’s box”.[2] This contempt for labour seems to have been all-pervasive among the Greeks: Hesiod, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle were unanimous in their depreciation of labour.[3]  On the other hand, appreciation of “work” in contrast to “labour” is apparent in several languages – Greece, Latin, French, German – “only the equivalents for ‘labour’ have an unequivocal connotation of pain and trouble.”[4] The contempt here derives from the conviction that labour necessitated by bodily needs is slavish. As Arendt puts it, “occupations which did not consist in labouring, yet were undertaken not for their own sake but in order to provide the necessities of life, were assimilated to the status of labour”.[5]

[1] Nagendrabala Dasi, “Woman’s Dharma”, Judith E. Walsh, Domesticity in Colonial India: What Women Learned When Men Gave Them Advice, 1990. 195,

[2] Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, 1998. 83.

[3] However, Arendt notes Hesiod’s line: “Work is no disgrace, but laziness is a disgrace.” She notes too, that in the world of Homer, “no work is sordid if it means greater independence; the selfsame activity might well be a sign of slavishness if not personal independence but sheer survival is at stake, if it is not an expression of sovereignty but of subjection to necessity.” Ibid. 82. 83.

[4] Ibid. 80.

[5] Ibid. 81. 83.

journal of english

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2017-06-27T10:29:04+00:00
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