Emily Wilce

Project title: Representations of the fallen woman in nineteenth-century art and culture

Found Drowned (1848-50), George Frederick Watts

email: eew13@le.ac.uk

My thesis aims to explore why the theme became so popular in the art and literature and social, legal and medical debates of the period, and how the notion of fallenness was used to underpin nineteenth-century gender stereotypes.  Due to the popularity of the theme during the Victorian period, the portrayal of the fallen woman in visual culture is highly varied. Therefore, I intend to question the extent to which nineteenth-century representations of the fallen woman found consensus and whether artistic depictions of the figure can reveal a conflict in contemporary attitudes towards her.

In order to achieve this, my thesis will explore how the increasing accessibility of art through the development of printing for mass audience bases challenged traditional notions of artistic respectability. Illustrations of the fallen woman in contemporary novels, the popular press, philanthropic publications and medical and legal debates will, therefore, be researched alongside art works intended for gallery display or critical response. This will allow the extent to which these representations correlated and contrasted in how they presented female fallenness to be assessed. It is hoped that this will reveal how the medium in which the fallen woman was portrayed, and the audience for which the depiction was intended, influenced how she was presented. From this, we may then discover if a lack of consensus in attitudes towards the fallen woman existed in Victorian society despite the presumption that once lost, she could never find redemption.

Victorian attitudes towards gender, class, morality, respectability and the purpose of art will be integral to this study, as will discussions concerning artistic and institutional censorship.  It is my intention that this research will reveal the impact which visual depictions had upon attitudes towards female fallenness and will also help to ‘lift the veil’ on how she was really viewed by various facets of Victorian society.

The Woman With A Trouble (26th August 1893), published inThe Darkest England Gazette

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