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Why are there so many fallen women in Victorian literature?

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Introduction

Why are there so many fallen women in Victorian literature? To look at the reasons why there are so many fallen women in Victorian literature it is imperative to look at the history of the time and the social issues surrounding it. The Victorian period lasted for over 60 years and in that time the Victorians saw rapid change, which brought industrial revolution and great social transformation. There was a mass exodus from the country to the towns, which started in the late Georgian period. This brought about great wealth and great poverty, which affected all classes. This mass change of population distribution highlighted many social issues, prostitution being one of the major ones. Even within this context however, police figures demonstrate that prostitution was stable in 19th century England and probably even falling because of the growing urban populations. "Jeffrey Weeks suggested that working class sexuality was increasingly the object of middle class scrutiny and attempts at 'colonisation', which is how he describes systematic campaigns for the 'moralisation' of the poor."i Prostitution and women's rights was an issue forced by Josephine Butler who fought vehemently for the repeal of the contagious disease acts in the 1860's.The role of women and the women's movement was beginning to gain support and speed. Women were beginning to push the boundaries and asserting themselves as individuals with rights. In the early part of the Victorian era, Anne Knight had founded a Female Political Association in 1847 to demand votes for women. Also Harriet Taylor Mill, who in 1851 argued for women's suffrage, in the Westminster Review. ...read more.

Middle

This idea that the woman is passive and almost enfeebled by her looks and her sexual desires is a prevalent theme. In Jayne Eyre, Jayne portrayed herself as a plain self-contained woman in direct contrast to Bertha Mason who was described as "tall dark and majestic". The connection between sexuality and morality is clear and reflects concerns about the threat of female emancipation. In Mary Barton, both Mary and her aunt Esther were described as being very pretty and well aware of this. Living in the centre of the slums in Manchester made it almost imperative to find a better life for them rather than submit to the grinding poverty surrounding them. Mary had seen both her young brother and mother die in poverty and was determined to use her looks to help her pull herself out of the slums. "So with this consciousness she had early determined that her beauty should make her a lady."x Mary believed that this fate had reached her aunt and the silence and censure that surrounded the subject meant that she was in great danger of unknowingly repeating the mistake. With little guidance, she is left defenceless and ignorant in the perils that lay in such liaisons as that with John Carson. However the mistake that both Esther and Mary committed was loving and trusting a man from a higher social class than themselves. Aspirations in either sex in the working class, was frowned upon, but from a female it was seen as particularly unpardonable. ...read more.

Conclusion

or professional career forced them to marry for financial support, which amounted to legal prostitution; and the 43 percent of women with no man to support them lived in poverty which led many to succumb to casual prostitution." xv In creating their often-tragic heroines, the authors tried to bring the plight of fallen women to the attention of the Victorian public. The women, often stereotypical aided the authors in conceptualising the many changes that were taking place in society in Britain. Through these characters they challenged public thinking on gender roles, men and women's sexuality, women's rights and the conditions that a large percentage of women had to endure to survive. Such issues and complex problems were not solved but brought into open debate by the authors and their novels. i http://www.warwick.ac.uk/fac/arts/History/teaching/courses/gender/prostitution.htm ii Gaskell.E. (1848), Mary Barton, p 148. Penguin. iii Gaskell.E. (1848), Mary Barton, p 149. Penguin iv Gaskell.E. (1848), Mary Barton, p.370. Penguin v C.Dickens (1841-1865), An Appeal to Fallen Women. The Victorian Novelist (1987). Croom Helm. viButler. J E. Social Purity, Morgan and Scott. London. Victorian Women Writers Project. vii Lee E. (1997), Victorian Theories of Sex and Sexuality. The Victorian Web. viii Elliot. G. (1880), The Mill on the Floss. P 561. Penguin. ix Hardy T. (1891). Tess of the D'Urbervilles. P.262. Penguin. x Gaskell.E. (1848), Mary Barton, p 23. Penguin xi Gaskell.E. (1848), Mary Barton, p 306. Penguin xii Hardy T. (1891). Tess of the D'Urbervilles. P.18. Penguin. xiii Gaskell.E. (1848), Mary Barton, p 129. Penguin xiv Hardy .T. (1891), Tess of the D'Ubervilles. p 331. Penguin. xv Bodican.B. (1857), Women and Work. The Victorian Web. ...read more.

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