Fallen Women in the Nineteenth-Century Novel
Nineteenth-century sexual conduct was not all that different from its twentieth-century equivalent, but the conventions under which this conduct was recounted were very different. Fallen Women in the Nineteenth-Century Novel examines the way in which the great nineteenth-century novelists managed to say something new and true and important about sexual behaviour in spite of, or perhaps because of, rules which dictated that the recording of this behaviour should combine the utmost discretion and deep disapproval. Austen, Bronte, Eliot, Thackeray, Dickens and Hardy had no great sympathy with this degree of discretion or disapproval. They fought to reveal the truth as seen in the events of their own lives. On the surface their fallen heroines like Hetty Sorrel or Little Emily or Tess Durbeyfield seem to suffer the conventional cruel fate of the erring female, death or Australia or both. Tom Winnifrith examines ways in which the great novelists continued, unlike their inferior contemporaries, to portray the complexities underlying the simple division of women into angels and whores.