Discuss the 'Fallen Woman' as a Familiar Feature of Victorian Writing

In: English and Literature

Submitted By Cat678
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Pages 12
Discuss the 'Fallen Woman' as a Familiar Feature of Victorian Writing Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton may be characterised as a 'social problem' novel. Basch (1974: 263) states, 'Mrs Gaskell's impure women came from ... the work and exploitation which she knew, relatively speaking, better than other novelists.' Gaskell was the wife of a Unitarian clergyman in Manchester. She devoted her time to setting up homes for fallen women, and after Mary Barton women became her central characters, her novels primarily seen through women's eyes. Thomas Hardy, since his career began, has been notably associated with his portrayal of female characters. Erving Howe even writes about 'Hardy's gift for creeping intuitively into the emotional life of women.' (Boumelha 1982: 3) From this point of view, I intend this essay to establish a comparison between Gaskell's 'fallen woman' in Mary Barton and the way in which Thomas Hardy frames his central female character in Tess of the D'Urbervilles.In the context of the nineteenth century, there emerged an increasingly ideological 'rethinking' of sexuality, particularly of the female. Darwin's Origin of Species in 1859 and The Descent of Man later in 1871 argued that men and women were somehow mentally different. Darwinian sociology led to sexual stereotypes such as Clement Scott's 'men are born "animals" and women "angels" so it is in effect only natural for men to indulge their sexual appetites and, hence, perverse, "unnatural" for women to act in the same way.' (Quotation from Boumelha 1982: 18). The centrality of the female characters in both novels brings into question the problems concerning the female nature.The first time we are introduced to the 'fallen woman' character - Esther - in Mary Barton is on learning of her disappearance. John Barton and George Wilson, two mill workers in the industrial town of Manchester, are discussing the...