Friday, 18 March 2016

The 'Fallen Woman'.

The ‘Fallen Woman’.

The Victorian Era was one obsessed with social status, young women and their virtue. During this period the perfect picture of domesticity had been created.

It was found that if a woman was found to have given into temptation, thus losing her innocence, to any vice, she was categorised as ‘The Fallen Woman’. The ‘Fallen Woman’ is considered to be a complex term. The way in which it is known now, is that it was women who were placed at the bottom of society and treated as if they were the lowest of the low. Just because they gave into temptation and did not follow society’s rules, did they deserve to be treated as if they were less than human?

The  ‘Fallen Woman’ in Marriage

 Victorian England created the perfect picture for domesticity and marriage. It held perfect, devoted mothers and wives, hard working husbands and adorable children. The key figure for this being Queen Victoria. Her marriage to her husband was seen as the very staple of marriage as it had a large amount of love and respect.  However their marriage did not show the hidden, dark side of marriage. It exposed the double standards of men and women within Victorian society. It had been hidden for years but was supposedly accepted nonetheless.

The darker side of marriage was the hidden morals of the men and women within the marriage. Married men were having affairs as well as married women. The men were however able to escape the scandal of an affair mostly unscathed, the woman however was not. The wife would commonly be ostracized from the family home and society as a whole, earning the title of ‘The Fallen Woman’. Why was it one rule for men and another for women?

Figure 1: William Holman Hunt, 'The Awkaneing Conscience
Many of the married men that were in affairs, had two houses. One house had his wife and their children, whilst the other house would contain his mistress, and their love children if there were any.

Robert Browning subverts the role of the accepting, forgiving wife with his poem “The Laboratory”, the wife wishes to gain revenge on her husband and his lover “Which is the poison to poison her prithee?” (L. 4). She wonders which is the best poison to kill her husband’s mistress, which one would cause her the most pain. This wife was not one that should be messed with. She thought that they should pay for humiliating her in such a way that could not be forgotten. Would she become a fallen woman due to committing murder?

Figure 2: Augustus Leopold Egg, 'Past and Present, No. 3'
Anatomical museums were created in the hopes of  warning the public against illicit sex, they showed what genitalia of both sexes would look like once they had contracted a sexually transmitted disease. Even Mrs Beeton contracted syphilis on her honeymoon! It was though that she had contracted due to her husband having an affair.

Victorian literature was notorious for depictions of ‘The Fallen Woman’. Even in art she painted as  a desolate, hidden away in the dirty depths of the world. A 'Fallen Woman' is  typically presented as being mute and an enigmatic icon. She is an enigma because many would wonder what exactly caused her fall.

 The ‘New Woman’

Essentially the ‘Fallen Woman’ is seen as someone that could never be redeemed, this is evident in paintings and in some literature, as the ‘Fallen Woman’ nearly always dies. However there were ideas of the ‘New Woman’, coming around in Victorian England. A ‘New Woman’, was considered as someone who was able to indulge in sinful activities whilst not being openly judged for it. The ‘New Woman’ is seen as being part of the new world that Victorian England was going into. The ‘New Woman’ represented two things. One being a sign of promise, as in something good could have be happening. An example would be moving the desolate young ladies to Australia, they were able to start a new life leaving their old one behind. However a ‘New Woman’ also presented danger, they had the element of being mysterious. It was not known what could happen to these woman. Arabella in Thomas Hardy’s Jude The Obscure, is presented as a ‘New Woman’, she is a social climber. She commits acts that would have essentially classed her as a ‘Fallen Woman’, such as being promiscuous but is not judged for it and abandoning her child, she is still able to be part of society. She is not an outcast like many others were. Whereas Sue was treated as if she were a ‘Fallen Woman’, due to having children out of wedlock and separating from her husband.Why were the differences of how Sue and Arabella treated so vast?

Also in Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market, the girl is saved from committing sin due to her sister. It is her sister that stops her from eating anymore of the goblin’s fruit: “Would tell them how her sister stood,/ In deadly peril to do her good,/ And win the fiery antidote:/ Then joining hands to little hands/ Would bid them cling together,” (L. 557-561). It was the love of her sister and her sister’s determination that stopped Laura from going further into temptation.

Misconceptions of the ‘Fallen Woman’

The ‘Fallen Woman’ has fallen to misconception. In Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles, the character Tess is a misinterpreted fallen woman. She was raped by her cousin and told no one of it. As a result when people have found out she is an outcast from everybody else. Regardless of the fact that she had been raped, Tess is classed as a ‘Fallen Woman’ and is seen as an outcast. Is it fair that she is an outcast over something that was beyond her control? However after telling her husband of her ordeal he claims to need ‘space’ to accept her news, whereas Tess was supposed to be fine with the fact that her husband had slept with many women before her.

Those categorised as a ‘Fallen Woman’, were treated in the most hideous ways. Their treatment highlighted the double standards that were held in Victorian society, it was one rule for men and another rule for women. Even now the differences between men and women is still vast. Compared to Victorian society what a ‘Fallen Woman’ was then, is different to what a ‘Fallen Woman’ would be now. In the modern era the term ‘Fallen Woman’ is mostly unheard of.  For example, if woman was to have a child out of wedlock now, she would not be viewed as ‘fallen’, she is still treated the same as before she had the child. How would you class a ‘Fallen Woman’?

 Works Cited

Auerbach, Nina. “The Rise of the Fallen Woman” Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1982. 150-184, Print.

AQA GCSE English and English Literature Anthology. “The Laboratory”. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. 52-52, Print.

Milona Rikos, The Victorians Home Sweet Home BBC Documentary History. YouTube, 2015. Web. 15 March 2016.

Text of Rossetti’s ‘Goblin Market’, ENG040C114Y. Web. 13 March 2016.

Winnifrith, Tom. “Hardy” Fallen Women in the Nineteenth-century Novel. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan, 1994. 113-131, Print.

Images Cited

Figure 1: Hunt, William Holman. “The Awakening Conscience”. TATE. 1853. Web. 16 March 2016.

Figure 2: Egg, Augustus Leopold. “Past and Present No. 3”. TATE. 1858. Web. 16 March 2016.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Hello,

    I like the way you have addressed the issue of the 'fallen woman' in regards to now and the hypocrisies regarding the term.

    I also like the way you have addressed the differences between males and females in this term.


  3. Really enjoyed reading your blog! Very interesting and insightful. I like that you explored the misconception of the fallen woman.


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