Wandering Women: Sexual and Social Stigma in the Mid-Victorian Novel

Description:

The changing role of women was arguably the most fundamental area of concern and crisis in the Victorian era. Recent scholarship has done much to illuminate the evolving role of women, particularly in regard to the development of the New Woman. I propose that there is an intermediary character type that exists between Coventry Patmore's "angel of the house" and the New Woman of the fin de siecle. I call this character the Wandering Woman. This new archetypal character adheres to the following list of characteristics: she is a literal or figurative orphan, is genteelly poor or of the working class, is pursued by a rogue who offers financial security in return for sexual favors; this sexual liaison, unsanctified by marriage, causes her to be stigmatized in the eyes of society; and her stigmatization results in expulsion from society and enforced wandering through a literal or figurative wilderness. There are three variations of this archetype: the child-woman as represented by the titular heroine of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Little Nell of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop; the sexual deviant as represented by Miss Wade of Dickens' Little Dorrit; and the fallen woman as represented by the titular heroine of Thomas Hardy' Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Hetty Sorrel of George Eliot's Adam Bede, and Lady Dedlock of Dickens' Bleak House. Although the Wandering Woman's journey may resemble a variation of the bildungsroman tradition, it is not, because unlike male characters in this genre, women have limited opportunities. Wandering Women always carry a stigma because of their "illicit" sexual relationship, are isolated because of this, and never experience a sense of fun or adventure during their journey. The Wandering Woman suffers permanent damage to her reputation, as well as to her emotional welfare, because she has been unable to conform to archaic, unrealistic modes of behavior. Her story is not, then, a type of coming of age story, but is, rather, the story of the end of an age.

Creator(s): Jackson, Lisa Hartsell
Creation Date: August 2000
Partner(s):
UNT Libraries
Collection(s):
UNT Theses and Dissertations
Usage:
Total Uses: 356
Past 30 days: 19
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Publisher Info:
Publisher Name: University of North Texas
Place of Publication: Denton, Texas
Date(s):
  • Creation: August 2000
  • Digitized: July 6, 2007
Description:

The changing role of women was arguably the most fundamental area of concern and crisis in the Victorian era. Recent scholarship has done much to illuminate the evolving role of women, particularly in regard to the development of the New Woman. I propose that there is an intermediary character type that exists between Coventry Patmore's "angel of the house" and the New Woman of the fin de siecle. I call this character the Wandering Woman. This new archetypal character adheres to the following list of characteristics: she is a literal or figurative orphan, is genteelly poor or of the working class, is pursued by a rogue who offers financial security in return for sexual favors; this sexual liaison, unsanctified by marriage, causes her to be stigmatized in the eyes of society; and her stigmatization results in expulsion from society and enforced wandering through a literal or figurative wilderness. There are three variations of this archetype: the child-woman as represented by the titular heroine of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre and Little Nell of Charles Dickens' The Old Curiosity Shop; the sexual deviant as represented by Miss Wade of Dickens' Little Dorrit; and the fallen woman as represented by the titular heroine of Thomas Hardy' Tess of the d'Urbervilles, Hetty Sorrel of George Eliot's Adam Bede, and Lady Dedlock of Dickens' Bleak House. Although the Wandering Woman's journey may resemble a variation of the bildungsroman tradition, it is not, because unlike male characters in this genre, women have limited opportunities. Wandering Women always carry a stigma because of their "illicit" sexual relationship, are isolated because of this, and never experience a sense of fun or adventure during their journey. The Wandering Woman suffers permanent damage to her reputation, as well as to her emotional welfare, because she has been unable to conform to archaic, unrealistic modes of behavior. Her story is not, then, a type of coming of age story, but is, rather, the story of the end of an age.

Degree:
Level: Doctoral
Discipline: English
Language(s):
Subject(s):
Keyword(s): gender | New Woman | Victorian Literature
Contributor(s):
Partner:
UNT Libraries
Collection:
UNT Theses and Dissertations
Identifier:
  • OCLC: 47442949 |
  • UNTCAT: b2304293 |
  • ARK: ark:/67531/metadc2572
Resource Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Format: Text
Rights:
Access: Public
License: Copyright
Holder: Jackson, Lisa Hartsell
Statement: Copyright is held by the author, unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.