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 ...
Date: August 2000
Creator: Jackson, Lisa Hartsell
Partner: UNT Libraries