Prostitution and Victorian Society

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Introduction Prostitution looms large in the Victorian consciousness. The image of the fallen woman reflects the Victorian upper classes' ideas about sexuality, gender and class. The prostitute is a staple of 19th century fiction. Debate about prostitution is also a reflection of cultural anxiety about urbanization. Victorian ideas about fallenness create the ideological assumptions behind the creation of the Contagious Diseases Acts. Through the control of sexuality, the Acts reinforced existing patterns of class and gender domination. They reflected an acceptance of male sexual license. The double standard allowed male access to fallen women and punished only the women. Fallenness as Literary Motif In Oliver Twist, prostitution is alluded to but never named. We may assume that Nancy, as well as Betsy, is a fallen woman by her numerous declarations of regret and her claims of her own irredeemability. Nancy fits the image of the fallen woman although she is not explicitly labeled a prostitute. This may be a reflection of the audience Dickens was writing for. While Nancy may not have been a typical prostitute of the 19th century, she epitomized middle class beliefs about "the great social evil" She was faithful to the Victorian literary myth of the fallen woman. Nancy is the archetype of the whore with a heart of gold. Her character is discreet and domestic. We find her at home with Sikes darning his socks or sewing buttons on his vest. At her meeting with Brownlow and Rose Maylie, she mourns her life while sentimentalizing the virginal purity of Rose. She risks, and loses, her life to save Oliver from a life of depravity. Remorseful, regretful, and essentially good, she still has no possibility of redemption... ... middle of paper ... ...nists were forced to change their approach to claim that regulation helped to reclaim prostitutes. Images of the "fallen woman" had defined both the Regulationist and the Repeal positions. The Regulationist believed that they were a necessary evil and that, since they were already so degraded, further humiliations were of no importance. The Repealer criticized the toleration of male vice that created the fallen woman to begin with. Works Cited Walkowitz, Judith. Prostitution and Victorian Society. Cambridge University Press, 1980 Acton, William. Prostitution, Considered in Its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects in London and Other Large Cities. 1870, 1968(Fryer,ed.) McHugh, Paul. 1980. Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform. New York: St. Martin's Press Winnifrith, Tom. Fallen Women in the Nineteenth-Century Novel. St. Martin's Press, 1994
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