You are currently browsing the monthly archive for October 2012.

Victorian art and literature are full of  stories about the fallen woman, defined as any woman who loses her reputation by having sex while unmarried or with a man not her husband. George Eliot’s Hetty Sorrel in Adam Bede, Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton, Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, as well as Dickens’s Nancy in Oliver Twist, Little Em’ly and Martha Endell in David Copperfield and Lady Dedlock in Bleak House all qualify.

Suicide was the approved means of atonement. “The Bridge of Sighs,” a poem by Thomas Hood published in 1844, features a fallen woman fished out of the Thames after flinging herself in.

Hood’s  poem was so popular  an illustration of it was carved on his tombstone.

George Frederic Watts based his painting Found Drowned (1849-50) on Hood’s poem.

Hablot Knight Brownes’s etching of Martha Endell, the fallen woman in David Copperfield, shows her at the river. We know what she’s contemplating.

The Outcast (1851) Richard Redgrave                                                              “Sisterly/brotherly,/Fatherly, motherly/Feelings had changed;”

The Lost Path (1863) Frederick Walker                                                                                                “O, it was pitiful!/Near a whole city full,/Home she had none.”

The Awakening Conscience by Pre-Raphaelite William Holman Hunt was initially inspired by Mr. Peggoty’s redemption of Little Em’ly’ in David Copperfield. Hunt , however, wanted to show the redemption as coming from within the woman herself. Playing and singing “Oft in the Stilly Night” (see the sheet music on the piano), a song about happier times, the woman in Hunt’s painting is struck by a spiritual revelation. (Or has her lover just indulged in a rude grope. You decide.)

The Awakening Conscience (1853-54) William Holman Hunt (Tate)               Notice the absence of a wedding ring on her finger and the symbolic details scattered about, such as the castoff glove.

Adultery was as bad, if not worse, than simple fornication. A series of paintings by Augustus Leopold Egg, originally untitled but now called Past and Present, I, II, III (1858, Tate), portrays the discovery and dire consequences of a wife’s fall–a stern warning to any woman tempted to infidelity.

The triptych includes a fictional diary entry that reveals and comments on the whole sad story: “August the 4th–have just heard that B–has been dead more than a fortnight, so his poor children have now lost both parents. I hear she was seen on Friday last near the Strand, evidently without a place to lay her head. What a fall hers has been.”

The infidelity is discovered. This painting too is replete with symbols, such as the apple next to the anguished woman’s body and the children’s house of cards.

Five years later, the daughters, older now and alone, struggle to survive in this bare garret room.

On the same night, by the light of the same moon, the fallen woman cowers under an arch near the Thames, the fruit of her sin–dead or dying–clasped in her arms.

But there was a lighter side to all this gloom and doom. Not every fallen woman killed herself or took to the streets. As Thomas Hardy points out in his 1866 (published 1902) poem “The Ruined Maid,” being ruined could have its compensations.

Hardy may have been inspired by this Punch cartoon.

(In the 19th century gay referred to prostitution, not homosexuality.)


Mary Hogarth was much better looking than this only surviving image suggests.





Mary Hogarth was the younger sister and closest companion of Charles Dickens’s wife, Catherine. Her sudden death at seventeen broke Charles’s heart. To him she was an angel who inspired him throughout his life.


Mary died here at 48 Doughty Street.






Catherine and Charles Dickens with newborn Charles, Jr. had moved into 48 Doughty Street in April of 1837. Mary died, suddenly and unexpectedly, one month later. “Thank God,” Charles wrote to a friend, “she died in my arms and the very last words she whispered were of me.”


Today, 48 Doughty Street is home to the Charles Dickens Museum. Now undergoing renovations, the museum will reopen in December 2012.


Charles arranged to have Mary buried in London’s Kensal Green Cemetery and composed her epitaph.







Charles planned to be buried beside Mary, but five years later her brother died and was buried there instead. Charles wrote that “the thought of being excluded from her dust was like losing her a second time.”

Mary’s tombstone. Her parents were eventually buried here as well.


Rose Maylie in Oliver Twist is the first of many Dickens characters based on Mary. “She was not past seventeen. Cast in so slight and exquisite a mould; so mild and gentle; so pure and beautiful; the earth seemed not her element, nor its rough creatures her fit companions.”

Like Mary, Rose is struck with a sudden deathly illness. Unlike her, she survives.

Charles rejected the illustration George Cruikshank provided for the final scene of Oliver Twist and insisted he replace it.


The canceled plate shows Rose, Oliver, Mrs. Maylie, and Henry, Rose’s fiance.

The scene Charles preferred: Oliver and Rose alone together lit by a heavenly glow.