Was 19th-century British philanthropy the ""truest and noblest woman's work"" and praiseworthy for having raised the nation's moral tone, or was it a dangerous mission likely to cause the defeminization of its practitioners as they became ""public persons""? Volunteer work seemed a natural extension of women's domestic roles, but many assumptions about gender roles, the connection between charitable and domestic work is the result of specific historical factors and cultural representations. This volume examines the ways in which novels and other texts that portrayed women performing charitable acts helped to make the inclusion of philanthropic work in the domestic sphere seem natural and obvious. Although many scholars have dismissed women's volunteer work as merely patriarchal collusion, this book argues that the conjuction of novelistic and philanthropic discourse in the works of women writers was crucial to the redefinition of gender roles and class relations. It explores how literary works contribute to cultural and historical change, exploring the philanthropic discoures in 19th-century literature.