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date: 05 March 2021

Factory Girl Literature across the Worldfree

  • Ruth BarracloughRuth BarracloughAustralian National University


Factory girl literature emerged as a powerful critique of the culture of industrialization. First appearing in 19th-century Euro-American fiction, from the early 20th century, the form has been dominated by authors writing from Asia. As distinct from industrial and proletarian literature that highlights the agency of working-class protagonists, factory girl literature foregrounds the sexed figure of industrialization. This focus on the gendered experience of rapid development uncovers the true costs of the sexual and class violence of industrial life. A genealogy of factory girl literature reveals the importance of literacy, labor activism, and feminist politics in shaping the internal voices of capitalist societies.

The factory girl is a key economic and cultural figure in industrializing societies. She first emerged in the literature of the 1840s and 1850s as fiction delved into the crises created by laissez-faire industrial development. In works by Frances Trollope, Benjamin Disraeli, Charlotte Tonna, and Elizabeth Gaskell, the factory girl appeared as a vital yet ambiguous protagonist of capitalist society. Excluded from male-centered working-class political movements (such as the Luddites who explicitly banned them) and middle-class notions of acceptable female behavior, factory girls haunted the Victorians’ great “social problem” novels. Death was their common fate. The tribulations of maidservants (Hard Times), seamstresses (Mary Barton), factory girls (North and South), and governesses (Jane Eyre) all underscored the susceptibility of women who must venture unprotected into the industrial revolution’s employment society.

Working-class women struggled to emerge as full subjects of narrative fiction even in the classics of industrial literature.1 This ambivalence, which expressed prejudice about the value and function of working-class women, was shared equally by capitalism’s wage system and literature’s categories of prestige. If Nancy Armstrong’s insight is correct that the history of the English novel is the history of the creation of the modern individual subject, then working-class women are uniquely elided and distorted in this subject-making process.2 We need only recall the contemporary reception of Jane Eyre to re-acquaint ourselves with literature’s hostility toward working women’s lived experiences and the formulation of their dreams and desires. Elizabeth Gaskell’s Life of Charlotte Bronte reveals her fears for and squeamishness about her “beloved genius” Charlotte, worried that “parts of Jane Eyre were, after all, if you came to think of it, a little coarse . . . marks of the pitch that she had been forced to handle.”3

Where industrial and proletarian literatures highlight the agency of working-class protagonists, factory girl literature foregrounds the sexed figure of industrialization. Factory labor was one of the dominant modes of women’s work in the 20th century, yet factory girl literature at first glance appears to have remained a minor literary genre. Anglophone readers may even be surprised that such a category still exists given that the heyday of the British industrial novel was in the mid-19th century. The truth is that factory girl literature has thrived all over the world in the 20th century as a literature largely without translators; the factory girl stories that poured out of sugarcane factories and steel mills from Pakistan to Korea could only be enjoyed by vernacular readers. Rather than seeing this as a problem, we might acknowledge that vernacular readers were perhaps best placed to appreciate the historical and cultural conditions that produced these texts and allowed them to circulate, sometimes in mass market and sometimes in clandestine form.

This article is an attempt to reread classics of factory girl literature from across the world as a truly international phenomenon, to highlight connections where the vagaries of translation politics seem only to show disconnection. Partial and incomplete, skewed toward the Asia-Pacific, this corpus includes memoirs as well as unnamed texts, proletarian feminist science fiction, butch factory blues, and factory novels. The flowering of factory girl literature was as much an historical and economic moment as a literary one.4 The emergence of the factory girl subject was a constitutive part of industrial capitalism, and her surfacing in novels, short stories, and memoirs presented a cultural figure that carried a disturbing mix of hardship, fury, and longing. Because of the proximity of the worlds of industrial and sexual labor, factory girl literature is regularly peopled by sex workers, waitresses, nautch-girls, street vendors, and female drifters. They have a place here too; the factory in industrial capitalism is more than simply a discrete workplace only for manufacturing work. The industrializing discipline inculcated in the original industrial mills has now spread out, turning all places and times of capitalist labor into a “factory.”

World Literature without Translators

Translating old factory girl classics can sometimes rattle accepted notions of a nation’s canonical literature. Translation is both a creative and a political act that takes place against the backdrop of canon wars, ideological rivalries, funding bias, and book market convolutions. It has been well established that over the second half of the 20th century, translation and publishing networks followed Cold War lines of allegiance, distorting what circulated as “national culture” while begetting that spurious but nonetheless revealing category of “world literature.” While the relationship between author and readers was unique to each historical and cultural context, authors of factory girl literature have until recently been denied a larger stage for their work.

Early in the 21st century, two anthologies of translated radical literature from Japan (2016) and Korea (2013) were published by major American academic presses to startled acclaim.5 Bursting with stories of muslin weavers, fishermen, and factory girls, For Dignity, Justice and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature is over 400 pages of new translations of literary fiction and criticism, while Rat Fire: Korean Stories from the Japanese Empire is a collection of twelve short stories by some of Korea’s most famous modern authors. Reviewers soon made clear that these translated volumes were a watershed moment in Korean and Japanese literary history. In his thoughtful appraisal of the Japanese anthology For Dignity, Justice and Revolution, Michael Bourdaghs situates the shock that this volume produces within the structural bias of Cold War world literature that “generated a distorted canon of modern Japanese literature and thought that is only now being rectified.”6 Situating Japanese literature in translation within the broader context of the Cold War culture wars and the compromised place of area studies, Bourdaghs writes that “Japan Studies arose as part of an ideological campaign to situate Japan as a poster boy for successful modernization without revolution. The ‘Japan’ that this discourse created as its object was inherently adverse to Marxism, and any Japanese writer who partook of it was by definition inauthentic.” This shared agreement over what was truly Japanese and thus worth translating (“exotic and apolitical literature”) erased swathes of radical fiction and theoretical texts that are only now being rediscovered and translated for Anglophone readers.

The history of suppression of Korean literary works is even starker. After the division of Korea and the war with the North (1950–1953), the state ideology of anti-communism in the South became entrenched, upheld by several decades of military rule. Literature by writers who had gone north was banned in South Korea, expunging from the canon some of the most distinguished and popular authors of the 1920s and 1930s. The ban on the literature of writers who were deemed communist lasted until the popular demonstrations of 1987 forced the military government to make a series of democratic reforms that loosened decades of anti-communist culture. Since 1988 a huge outpouring of anthologies has hit the bookshops and libraries as literary publishers, scholars, and aficionados found and published volume after volume of colonial-era literature. As Paik Nak-chung notes, many of these works were familiar to literary scholars, but it was only with their general publication that the opportunity for evaluation, critical debate, and incorporation was able to take place.7 Within the space of about five years after 1988, Korean literature seemed to swell by a third.

The distinguished translator of Korean poetry and fiction Kevin O’Rourke wrote of Rat Fire, the collection of translated stories from Korea’s neglected leftist writers, that it “opens a world that those of us who have spent our lives in Korea hardly know.” He goes on: “In the 70s and 80s we knew little about what is now termed colonial literature and less about Marxist literature . . . Marxism in the 60s and 70s simply was not allowed . . . There was always the fear of being taken as pro-communist, or as a supporter of the North Korean regime, and everyone knew that such a conclusion would have dire consequences.”8 The erasure of a tradition of radical industrial literature was axiomatic for countries that wished to vaunt a model of successful anti-communist modernization. In Korea’s case it was a silence within national culture itself, a suppression that distorted South Korea’s own canon generation projects. As Theodore Hughes has noted, after the end of Japanese colonial rule in 1945 and the emergence of separate states in the North and South, the cultural field in South Korea came to be organized around three related disavowals: the ban until 1988 on colonial period proletarian literature, the memory of colonial wartime mass mobilization and collaboration, and the erasure of any cultural products from the North.9

The difficulty that proletarian or industrial literature has faced within its own national cultures is related to the same politics of consecration that inaugurated a carefully curated “world literature.” Rather than repeat the criticisms of categorization and consequent “regimes of consecration” instigated by Cold War cultural networks, let us reflect on the power of literature without translators.10 Passed from hand to hand; photocopied and bound; quoted and absorbed; found, reprinted, and re-embraced—none of this requires translation into English. Both of these anthologies provide important explanatory notes that introduce each text and give an account of the process of their rediscovery. In these books, factory love stories appear, such as that between Kumiko and Kim in Song Yŏng’s The Blast Furnace (1926), where labor solidarity becomes love between a Korean worker and a Japanese factory cafeteria waitress.11 Or Sata Ineko’s 1931 story Prayer, set during the famous Toyo Muslin strikes, which depicts a factory girl’s journey from submissive Christian to labor activist. Disillusioned with the church’s limited capacity to comprehend or empathize with their working-class parishioners, factory worker Tomiyo finds a more generous transcendent vision in shared labor struggle. Taken together, factory girl literature brings together seemingly disparate national histories, linking political struggles of class, indigeneity, and queer work identities.


Classics of factory girl literature intersect with historical events in the most intimate ways, as poverty and gender expose these authors to the full force of social change. Australia has a rich history of labor literature from Jean Devanny’s Sugar Heaven (1936) to Mena Culthorpe’s The Dyehouse (1961), with its collection of women young and old, and Dorothy Hewett’s ‘Bobbin Up (1959). Both Culthorpe and Hewett wrote from their own experiences of Sydney’s inner-city manufacturing industries and had been members of the Communist Party of Australia before they left in the 1950s. Hewett’s interest in and commitment to depicting female sexuality and sexual pleasure got her into trouble in the Party but offers indelible glimpses of working-class sexuality from sexual harassment as courtship on the factory floor to pregnant Beth and her husband Len sharing a loving and erotic union.12

To these classics of Australian social realism can be added newer variations of the form. In 1988, Australia’s bicentennial year, Penguin published indigenous author Ruby Langford’s autobiography Don’t Take Your Love to Town. The book, which took Langford, a clothing machinist, decades to find the time and money to write, became a bestseller in Australia at a time when the full impact of the state and church-sanctioned removal of indigenous children from their families was galvanizing Australian society. Ruby Langford Ginibi had spent part of her childhood in a mission in northern New South Wales where she and other children were mistreated, and she writes about coming to the Redfern neighborhood of Sydney as a young mother and finding work as a clothing machinist. Church and state hover over Ruby and her children, and following the death of her beloved father she is vulnerable:

I thought if I could put the kids in the Church of England homes and go back to machining I’d manage better. I think I must have decided this in the numbness of shock over Dad’s death.” Ruby Langford goes on “A wind was howling and blowing up the stairs, it was so strong it blew the bolt off the door. In my anguish I tossed and turned and was weeping as though my heart would break. Then I could sense my father’s spirit, he was there, I could feel him patting my arm, comforting me. I fell into a deep sleep.13

With this book, Langford became a leading figure in the movement for the recovery and celebration of indigenous culture that emerged in late 20th-century Australia. While white Australia mulled over its complicity in the systemic removal of children from their families in indigenous communities, a practice that led subjects and victims to call themselves a “stolen generation,” Langford wrote of what the destruction of family and culture felt like. The renaissance of indigenous culture in Australia was not a simple or smooth process. The same year that Ruby Langford published her memoir with Australia’s leading literary publisher 1988, the distinguished poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal returned her Member of the British Empire award in protest against the ongoing discrimination that indigenous people faced in Australian society. Ruby Langford Ginibi later said that writing her autobiography, marketed as a representative piece of cultural renewal and reconciliation, “ripped the guts out of me.”14

East Asia

In Korea, the central role that women played in generating the country’s industrial development can be captured in statistical accounts of their workforce participation and via a rollcall of the industries where Korea dominated global production in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s: wigs, clothes, toys, and electronic goods. But they experienced no corresponding value measurable by wage levels or social approbation. Everything that they won for themselves in pay rates, promotion, professional respect, and job protection was by arduous labor disputes, sometimes resolved only decades later.15 Yet even in this inhospitable terrain, a literature of factory girl agency began to emerge. In South Korea’s anti-communist society all talk of labor rights was suspicious. In this context, only the Christians could make headway with their discourse of working-class girls’ suffering and the lure of prostitution to lonely peasant daughters in the big city. Focus upon suffering led to highlighting exploitation as the missionaries themselves were radicalized by the brutal conditions of rapid industrialization they worked within. Eventually, the industrial missionaries who won civic awards as they set up schools for workers in the 1960s would be hounded by the state in the 1970s and 1980s for preaching “communism” (i.e., the terms of the labor law) to unsuspecting factory hands.16

The narrated selves that emerged from factory plants, slum housing, factory libraries, and worker night schools were shaped by the violence of poverty. The time and space to write was stolen from sleep and leisure. These texts’ proximity to the conditions of their production, rather than disqualifying them as works of literature, in South Korea challenged and reshaped literature itself. From the late 1970s to the early 1990s, labor literature—writings by and about working-class people—experienced a boom across reading publics. If bookshops failed to stock these books of autobiography, poetry, and essays—no matter; students, workers, clergy, teachers, the unemployed, released prisoners, and those in exile conspired to distribute these books as clandestine, desirable texts. Whether one read them alone or in reading groups, the lack of officially distribution networks was no barrier, everyone interested in Korea’s politics and society under the generals was reading them.

From the late 1980s, these works of labor literature were augmented by previously banned works of proletarian literature so that readers could finally map Korea’s century of industrial culture. Factory girls sprung from the pages of colonial-era classics such as Kang Kyŏng-ae’s 1934 novel The Human Predicament, which now could be read alongside working women’s autobiographies that, in the 1980s, were being published by some of the country’s most distinguished literary publishers. These acts of publication and authorization were not a distant canonization of neglected long-departed authors but rather the injection into Korean public life of the true cost of rapid late industrialization under colonial and later military government.

Japan’s rich history of proletarian literature intersects with Korea in interesting ways. Japan was the colonial ruler of Korea for thirty-five years between 1910 and 1945, long enough for Korea to be fully absorbed into the Empire’s total war mobilization of 1937–1945. But Japan also was in the 1910s, 1920s, and early 1930s a magnet for Korean students and workers who encountered in the metropole’s classrooms, cafés, and factories a stimulating array of ideas including anarchism, socialism, syndicalism, and fascism. Some of the leading authors of proletarian literature in Japan wrote of café waitresses as much as factory girls. Exemplars of the penetration of capitalism into the countryside to scoop up surplus agricultural labor, factory girls and café waitresses represented two distinct but related archetypes of female working-class life in the cities. But Japan’s proletarian literature also included communist factory girls, written by some of Japan’s most brilliant writers of the Red Decade: Nakamoto Takako and Sata Ineko both of whom were arrested for labor organizing. Their oeuvre has found new readers in translated versions in English and Russian; the short stories and longer fiction flesh out the subjectivity of ungovernable factory girls of the early Showa period.

The United States

Factory girl literature connects readers to a radical past and living present in ways that can be enlightening and even transformative. In the widely acknowledged masterpiece of queer working-class fiction Stone Butch Blues, Leslie Feinburg writes that the journey to becoming a labor organizer and successful writer was cumulative, marked by moments of self-recognition in archives and history books. The path from “I’ve got no language” to Duffy the union friend urging “You’ve got a power you’ve hardly used yet” is painstaking and arduous.17 For Feinburg’s central character Jess, a key moment of self-recognition was discovering in a public library the 1930 obituary of a male butler found upon death to have been a woman passing as a man. “Her body was found in a rooming house. Her name was never mentioned. Nothing more: no diary, no clues . . . I closed my eyes. I would never have the details of her life and yet I could feel its texture with my fingertips. Now I knew there was another woman in the world who had made the same complicated decision Rocco and I made.”18

Along the way, author Feinburg reveals that there are some jobs that hold great meaning for working-class butches such as herself. The largest factories contained small but close-knit communities of butch workers, and as the biggest plants had the most established unions, job security was also greater in these places. In upstate New York, Jess starts off as the only butch in a sweatshop but soon moves to a huge bindery that employs nine butches—enough for a softball team. Their dream is to work in a steel mill, which is hard to explain to their friend Duffy at the bindery who implores them to stay and build the union: “All we got is the clothes we wear, the bikes we ride, and where we work, you know? You can ride a Honda and work in a bindery or you can ride a Harley and work at the steel plant.”19

Jess moves from Buffalo to New York City to undergo the hormone treatment that may allow her to pass as a man.20 But the experience of passing is deeply fraught. As Jess moves through factories, bars, and roadside motels, she eventually finds stable work as a typesetter whose skill and experience allow her to fashion a place for herself in the competitive unskilled and semi-skilled labor market. Jess’s class position is structured by gender as well as class violence, and she drop outs of high school following a brutal gang rape by high school football players that is sanctioned by their coach. Every person who brutalizes Jess or her friends and comrades has their occupation named in the book—thus readers encounter cops, coaches, sailors, and foremen in their most covert moments of violence. Stone Butch Blues has been lauded as the “queer great American novel,” praised by Judith Halberstam, Eve Kofosky Sedgwick, and Alison Bechdel, among others.21 With this book, Feinburg wrote both an activist and an historical text. In scenes of immense violence, Feinburg reveals the isolation of transgender communities in the decades from the 1950s to the 1970s. Feinburg opens the book with the stipulation that none of the violence presented is gratuitous or salacious. In passages that must have been painful to write, Feinburg reveals to readers that it was standard practice for police on raids of transgender bars to brutally rape the butches in custody.

Labor and Literature

The public environments within which working-class women make their way in the world—boulevards, plazas, buses, and movie theaters—are matched by the privacy of their poverty—tucked away in slum lodgings, 24-hour cinemas, railway bathrooms, and tent restaurants. Factory girl literature compels our attention to the rapacious markets for female labor in factories, kitchens, brothels, and on the streets, and their varied form in contracted piece work, sweat shops, steel mills, as street vendors, or distant employees of vast multinationals. While the figure of the factory girl has the capacity to shape our understanding of industrializing societies around the globe, her resentments and the degradations she experiences make up part of her appeal to sympathetic readers. There is a stream of factory girl literature that rages against literature itself and the reproduction of social and cultural capital that it authorizes.

Factory girl literature is often about workers who wish to be writers. But this wish is wrapped in a rage that underscores the chasm between named and unnamed labor, the text and the industrial unit, and has given new forms to factory girl writing. Factory girls appear in feminist science fiction, such as Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, whose heroine Connie works in a box factory in the Bronx and eventually loses her daughter: “Who could ever pay for the pain of bringing a child into dirt and pain? Never enough. Nothing you wanted to give her you ever could give her, including yourself, what you wanted to be with her and for her. Nothing you wanted for her could come true.”22 Working-class women sometimes disappear into other roles—such as the child sweepers and ayahs of pre-Partition Lahore who, after the massacres and dislocation of 1947, regress to the even older occupation of nautch-girls in the old city as in Bapsi Sidwa’s Ice-Candy Man. Or the female drifters who cannot be contained by employment or family, even language evades these nameless women “so at home among all those who were never found and never missed, who were uncommemorated, whose deaths were not remarked, nor their begettings” in Marilynne Robinson’s novel of the vagabonds Ruth and Sylvie, Housekeeping.23

There is also a factory girl literature that chooses literature over factory girls. In the Korean author Shin Kyung-sook’s factory girl classic The Solitary Room, the narrator pens a book to salvage the lives of her teenage friends who, like Shin, spent their formative years working in factories by day and studying for their middle school and high school certificates by night.24 Only literature can compensate them for their anonymous labor: “They, my anonymous friends, have given birth to a piece of my inner world . . . And I, on my part, must give birth, through my words, to their own place of dignity in this world.”25 The agency conferred by literary portraiture acts to replace the agency won through labor politics, a message that coils uneasily through this extraordinarily beautiful novel of factory girl life.

The figure of the factory girl has the capacity to haunt and define industrializing societies around the globe. Yet authors of working-class writing have sometimes felt it imperative to protect their authorial voice in a world of bourgeois culture. Perhaps the most famous example of this is Elena Ferrante, a pseudonym for the anonymous author of the global best-selling Neapolitan novels about two impoverished friends, Lila and Elena, growing up in post-war Naples. In explaining her choice to write using a pseudonym, the author has said it originated in “the wish to remove oneself from all forms of social pressure or obligation. To not feel tied down to what could come one’s public image. To concentrate exclusively and with complete freedom on writing and its strategies.”26 While for Ferrante authorial control is what ensures the integrity of a series of novels that explore the most intimate and painful reaches of lower-class girls’ subjectivity, Leslie Feinburg targets the politics of copyright and derivative use. Feinburg ensured that even after her death Stone Butch Blues would be freely available to those whom it addressed—the entire novel can be downloaded from her website. In stipulating that there should be no adaptations, no movie version, no derivative rights, no money at all to be made from this piece of literature, Feinburg stresses that Stone Butch Blues ‘is not merely a working-class novel—it is a novel that embodies class struggle.’27

New Books, New Readers

Factory girls emerged as central subjects of industrial capitalism and its culture. They became archetypal figures of the 20th century. In Russia, after the Bolshevik revolutionary victory in 1917, they were hoisted to a remarkable prominence as model members of a newly reorganized society.28 In 1940s United States and England, they entered plants and workshops in unprecedented numbers to rescue wartime production and found a new agency in the warehouses of military production. In South Korea in the 1960s and 1970s, they were publicly thanked but privately pitied and despised as the meek and dutiful peasant daughters who would wrench the nation out of post-war poverty into a newly industrialized society. In Japan in the early 20th century, factories were the place where peasant girls became modern city dwellers, and in Australia during the post-war migration boom factories were where migrant women became Aussies. Yet for a long time the part they have played and continue to play in economic development and industrial culture was captured only fleetingly in literary works. Some authors of factory girl literature expressed a deep distrust of literature and its systems of commodification, circulation, and appreciation. That they have been so central to the industrial modernity of the century yet that same epoch’s feature films, novels, and story collections bore little trace of them signaled a deep disconnect between labor and culture.

Discussion of the Literature

The study of proletarian women’s writing has flourished unevenly throughout the world. Recently factory girl literature has benefited from a new interest in radical pasts once dismissed by the premature consensus heralded by the end of the Cold War. In English important new anthologies showcasing working-class women’s writing have appeared, including Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field’s For Dignity, Justice and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature and Rat Fire: Korean Stories from the Japanese Empire, edited by Theodore Hughes, Jae-Yong Kim, Jin-kyung Lee, and Sang-kyung Lee. Samuel Perry’s elegant English translation of the 1934 factory girl classic From Wonso Pond by Kang Kyŏng-ae appeared in 2009. Australia has seen the re-issuing of classic radical texts such as Jean Devanny’s Sugar Heaven (1936, 2002) and Mena Culthorpe’s The Dyehouse (1961, 2016).

The study of factory girl literature and radical women often goes together, such as in Kim Won’s magisterial 1970 Factory Girls: Their Counter History (in Korean), Paula Rabinowitz’s Labor and Desire: Women’s Revolutionary Fiction in Depression America, and Susan Zlotnick’s Women, Writing and the Industrial Revolution. On the analysis of factory girl literature from Britain’s industrial revolution, the definitive work is Patricia Johnson’s Hidden Hands: Working-Class Women and Victorian Social Problem Fiction. The ideal companion volume to Leslie Feinburg’s masterpiece is Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers by Anne Balay. The most exciting new work to bring us up to date in considering the possibilities of an international working-class literature is Sonali Perera’s No Country: Working-Class Writing in the Age of Globalization.

Further Reading

  • Balay, Anne. Steel Closets: Voices of Gay, Lesbian and Transgender Steelworkers. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014.
  • Bowen-Struyk, Heather, and Norma Field, eds. For Dignity, Justice and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016.
  • Denning, Michael. The Cultural Front: The Laboring of American Culture. Verso, 1998.
  • Ferrier, Carole. Jean Devanny: Romantic Revolutionary. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1999.
  • Hughes, Theodore, Jae-Yong Kim, Jin-kyung Lee, and Sang-kyung Lee, eds. Rat Fire: Korean Stories from the Japanese Empire. London: Cornell East Asia Series, 2013.
  • Park, Sunyoung, trans. and ed. On the Eve of the Uprising and Other Stories from Colonial Korea. Ithaca: Cornell East Asia Series, 2009.
  • Park, Sunyoung. The Proletarian Wave: Literature and Leftist Culture in Colonial Korea, 1910–1945. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2015.
  • Perera, Sonali. No Country: Working-Class Writing in the Age of Globalization. New York: Columbia University Press, 2014.
  • Rabinowitz, Paula. Labor and Desire: Women’s Revolutionary Fiction in Depression America. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1991.
  • Sata, Ineko. Five Faces of Japanese Feminism: Crimson and Other Works. Translated by Sam Perry. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016.


  • 1. See Patricia Johnson, Hidden Hands: Working-Class Women and Victorian Social Problem Fiction (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2001).

  • 2. Nancy Armstrong, How Novels Think (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 3.

  • 3. May Sinclair, “Introduction,” in The Life of Charlotte Bronte, ed. Elizabeth Gaskell (London: Everyman’s Library, 1908).

  • 4. Ruth Barraclough, Factory Girl Literature: Sexuality, Violence and Representation in Industrializing Korea (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012).

  • 5. Theodore Hughes, Jae-Yong Kim, Jin-kyung Lee, and Sang-kyung Lee, eds., Rat Fire: Korean Stories from the Japanese Empire (Ithaca: Cornell East Asia Series, 2013); Heather Bowen-Struyk and Norma Field, eds., For Dignity, Justice and Revolution: An Anthology of Japanese Proletarian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016). Although I mention these two books, there are others to add to this list, notably Sunyoung Park, trans and ed., On the Eve of the Uprising and Other Stories From Colonial Korea (Ithaca: Cornell East Asia Series, 2009) and Sata Ineko, Five Faces of Japanese Feminism: Crimson and Other Works, trans. Sam Perry (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2016).

  • 6. Michael Bourdaghs, “Marxist Theory and Practice from Japan, Sayonara Amerika,” Sayonara Nippon (blog), August 26, 2016.

  • 7. Paik Nak-Chung, “The Reunification Movement and Literature,” in South Korea’s Minjung Movement, ed. Kenneth Wells (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1995), 197.

  • 8. Kevin O’Rourke, Acta Koreana 17, no. 1 (June 2014): 517–518.

  • 9. Theodore Hughes, Freedom’s Frontier: Literature and Film in Cold War South Korea (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014), 2.

  • 10. One of the best of which is Andrew Rubin’s recent Archives of Authority: Empire, Culture and the Cold War (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013).

  • 11. Translation by Samuel Perry. Song Yong went North in 1946 and his work was neglected in the South until after 1988.

  • 12. See Dorothy Hewett, Bobbin’ Up (London: Virago, 1985), 28, 16.

  • 13. Ruby Langford, Don’t Take Your Love to Town (Melbourne: Penguin Books Australia, 1988), 101–102.

  • 14. Quoted in Tara June Winch, “On Don’t Take Your Love To Town by Ruby Langford Ginibi,” Griffith Review.

  • 15. See Kim Wonjin, Labour Leaders Cleared of All Charges in 1979 YH Factory Incident,” Kyonghyang Sinmun, January 20, 2017.

  • 16. George Ogle, Dissent Within the Economic Miracle London: Zed Books, 1990).

  • 17. Leslie Feinburg, Stone Butch Blues (Ithaca: Firebrand Books, 1993), 301 and 328, respectively.

  • 18. Feinburg, Stone Butch Blues, 264.

  • 19. Feinburg, Stone Butch Blues, 108. I am grateful to James Holstun for introducing me to the work of Leslie Feinburg.

  • 20. I use the pronoun “her” and “she,” according to Leslie Feinburg’s stated wishes: “For me, pronouns are always placed within context. I am female-bodied, I am a butch lesbian, a transgender lesbian—referring to me as ‘she/her’ is appropriate, particularly in a non-trans setting in which referring to me as ‘he’ would appear to resolve the social contradiction between my birth sex and gender expression and render my transgender expression invisible. I like the gender neutral pronoun ‘ze/hir’ because it makes it impossible to hold on to gender/sex/sexuality assumptions about a person you’re about to meet or you’ve just met. And in an all trans setting, referring to me as ‘he/him’ honors my gender expression in the same way that referring to my sister drag queens as ‘she/her’ does.” Quoted in Leslie Feinburg’s obituary in the New York Times by Bruce Weber, November 24, 2014.

  • 21. Frontispiece, Feinburg, Stone Butch Blues. The phrase is from Holly Hughes.

  • 22. Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time (New York: Ballantine Books, 1976), 274.

  • 23. Marilynne Robinson, Housekeeping (New York: Penguin, 1981), 149.

  • 24. Translated into English in Shin Kyung-sook, The Girl Who Wrote Loneliness Ha-Yun Jung (translator) (New York: Pegasus Books, 2015).

  • 25. Kyung-sook, 365.

  • 26. Deborah Orr, “Elena Ferrante: ‘Anonymity Lets Me Concentrate Exclusively on Writing,’” Guardian (February 19, 2016).

  • 27. Feinburg, Stone Butch Blues, 355.

  • 28. The classic text that notes the discomfiture of working-class men with this development is the 1925 novel Cement by Fydor Glakov (Evanston: Northwest University Press, 1994).