In mentioned, there were adovacates ot the fallen woman

In the 19th century __a new__ conception
of femininity emerged. Trapped in the private sphere of the house, the woman
was expected to be a provider of love, a caring mother to her children and a
figure of purity and chastity who unconditionally loved and supported her
husband, submitting to his every wish and desire. In other words, she was expected to be the perfect Angel in the
Any woman that threatened the role imposed to them by the Victorian society
turned into/became a fallen woman. She
was expelled from her own home and ostracised
by the society, becoming a pariah whose only destiny was to die. Therefore,
a myth emerged around/surrounding this woman during this time: once a woman
lost her virtue and innocence, Victorian conventions dictated that salvation
could no longer be found in life. Most commonly, she would find redemption in a
watery grave.

In this essay, I will be discussing
that despite of the efforts of some Victorian painters of mercifully portraying
fallen women, in the end, they perpetuated a myth that was created “by a
neurosis of a culture that…feared female sexuality and aggression” (Auerbach

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As mentioned, there were adovacates
ot the fallen woman among the artistic Victorian community. Painters such as
Augustus Leopold Egg and George Frederick Watts “recognized the complex emotions within the fallen woman and her
situation” (Lee) and depicted this woman in a compassionate way. Through
their representations of falling women lying dead on the shores of the Thames
not only did these painters brought this Magdalene back to the saintly pedestal
she had fallen from, but also denounced
the hypocrisy of the Victorian society which proclaimed righteous without
offering none of it. The fallen women was a victim of a moral righteous and
unforgiven society.

Why drowning? Self-drowning was not the principal method women chose to end their life
in Victoria era, but poison look for reference and add.

Death by self-drowning was
connected to madness and love melancholy. As argued by Gates “if men had been
their main reason to exist…losing them meant indifference to life” (Lovelorn Suicidal Women). Victorian thought
drowning was associated with the idea of drowning was associated with baptism.
Water, a powerful Christmas symbol, associated with the washing of the sins, symbolizes
spiritual cleansing. Moreover, in the nineteenth century Victorian society,
water was strongly associated with femininity.

The fascination with
female drowning can be related to the Victorian patriarchal society. Drowning
was seen as a passive and non-violent way of ending one’s own life. Even in
death women were described as meek and feeble creatures. Thus, “the Victorian iconography of female
suicide by drowning can be regarded as an important discourse, through which
such ideas were propagated” (Messen 104).

One of the most famous
representations of female suicide is John Everett Millais’s Ophelia
(1851-1852), which was inspired by Shakespeare’s Ophelia from Hamlet. Shakespeare was extremely popular with the
Victorian audience, hence, it is no surprise that Ophelia was the subject of so
many Victorian painters.

In his painting, Millais captures
the moment of Ophelia’s death. Hamlet’s tragic heroine is submerged in the
water of the brook, the garland made of “crownflowers, nettles, daisies, and
long purples” (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 7,
line 165) floating by her side, surrounded by the beauty described by Gertrude
in the play during her recount of Ophelia’s death to Laertes.


“There is a willow grows aslant a

That shows his hoar leaves in the
glassy stream.

There with fantastic garlands did
she come

Of crowflowers, nettles, daisies,
and long purples,

That liberal shepherds give a
grosser name,

But our cold maids do “dead men’s
fingers” call them.

There, on the pendant boughs her
coronet weeds

Clambering to hang, an envious
sliver broke,

When down her weedy trophies and

Fell in the weeping brook. Her
clothes spread wide,

And mermaid-like a while they bore
her up,

Which time she chanted snatches of
old lauds

As one incapable of her own

Or like a creature native and indued

Unto that element. But long it could
not be

Till that her garments, heavy with
their drink,

Pulled the poor wretch from her
melodious lay

muddy death.”


the play, after her father’s murder at the hands of Hamlet, the lover who abandoned
her due to her loyalty to her family, overtaken by madness, Ophelia lets her
body be taken by water. She walks passively to her death. Ophelia can be seen
as the archetype of the fallen woman in the mid-Victorian era. Having lost her
innocence – as Valerie Messen points out
“throughout the play Hamlet there are some indications that Ophelia has lost
her innocence” (30), such as one of the ballads intoned by her/the self that
can mirror her own situations since it’s about the seduction of a young maiden
-, as any fallen woman, only in death can Ophelia now find comfort.

clue that leads to believe that Ophelia was indeed a fallen woman is one of the
expression used by Gertrude to describe the
drowning. She used the expression “mermaid-like” – “her clothes spread
wide,/And mermaid-like a while they bore her up” (Hamlet, Act 4, Scene, line
172-73). Ophelia singing reinforces the
comparison to a mermaid or that she was mermaid-like. In Victorian
imagination, the image of the mermaid symbolized the fear of feminine
sexuality. In a sense, the mermaid and
the fallen women are alike since they are “a watery setting, they put their
bodies on display, and they were the objects of a judgemental gaze” (Cooper

following paintings that I shall discuss were all inspired by Thomas Hood’s
poem The Bridge of Sighs (1844), a poem
that describes the suicide of a fallen woman who threw herself from the Waterloo
Bridge. As Barbara T. Gates argues “in
visual arts the Thames and its bridges came to represent the end of the line
for such desperate women” (Gates).

Found Drowned2
(1849-50) George Frederick Watts depicts a lost Victorian Ophelia driven to a
watery suicide out of guilt and remorse. The painting shows the body of a woman
lying stretched on the shoes of the Thames, beneath the Waterloo Bridge/the
same bridge of Hood’s poem. In the gloomy sky of industrialized London, a
glowing star shines down on the dead fallen woman, her the only source of the
light in the dark hues painting. The locket in her hand suggests unrequited
love or the abandonment of a lover. In Watt’s painting, there is a religious symbolism:
the fallen woman in stretched in a Christ-like form, martyr to Victorian
morality. The painter shows that eve a fallen woman can find redemption. This
scene is echoes in the third painting of Augustus Egg’s 1858 series, Past and Present (1858).

Egg’s Past and Present triptych acts as a critique to the Victorian society –
it questions the patriarchal institutions that punish the fallen woman, and her
daughters/children too, so severely. Eggs triptych follows the discovery of a
wife’s infidelity by her husband and her aftermath. In
the first panel, the husband learns of his wife’s betrayal, exiling her from
the family home. In the second scene, set five years later, the father has
passed away, leaving the daughters orphan. The two girls are all lone even
though their mother is still alive – Victorian law denied maternal custody rights.
comparison with Eve

the final scene, the mother holds on her arms a child, born of her infidelity,
under the Adelphi arches, a place common
for prostitution and criminality at the time. She has fallen from her
position of a respectable middle house-wife, not
having been given the chance of atonement. Behind the mother, it can be seen a poser with the word “victims”
written on it, revealing that the painter’s sympathies lie with this woman.
She is staring at the moon, symbol of “virginity and chastity” (…) partly through its
connection with virgin goddesses Artemis or Diana and partly because its
light is cold (130), waiting for the river
water to wash her away – “if the tide is out of for the moment, it will not be
for long; the woman’s beloved moon will see to that” (Gates, Found Drowned).
The fallen woman is passively waiting for her death, in hope to find the
expiation that she could not find in life.

               A woman passively walking to her
death can also be seen in Millais’s The Bridge of Sighs. An illustration
from Passages
from the Poems of Thomas Hood, it depicts a young fallen woman, throw
out of her home after an illegitimate pregnancy, standing on the bank on the
Thames. The tall bridge behind her was popularly known as the Bridge of Sighs
because so many people chose to commit suicide there. Comparison with
The Outcast

painting where Shakespeare’s Ophelia influence can be seen is in Drowned! Drowned!3
by Abraham Solomon. The painting takes its title from Gertrude’s lament when
she tells Ophelia’s brother, Laertes, that she drowned. Solomon’s recreated/painted/depicted/
the moment of discovery of the drowned angel. The girl is surrounded by people,
her face illuminated by a bullseye lantern. In this painting, Solomon went a
step further, by painting the man who ruined the woman’s life (the man standing
near the dog) and his new conquest (a woman standing by his side) that is
unaware of what is happening – unware that she may be the next girl found

the whole, the fallen women depicted are surrounded by an aura of peacefulness
(what all painting have in common) and quietude. There is a sense of tranquillity.
The bodies of the drowned angels were unharmed by the tumultuous waters.
Through death, beauty and innocence were restored and these fallen women became
once again angelic figures. never speak ill of the dead.

the paintings analysed, these Victorian painters depicted the fallen woman
under a sympathetic light and accused the Victorian society that would rather
ban women that didn’t live up to the ideal from their homely haven into the
murky and cold waters of the Thames than showing compassion. Thus, instead of
dispelling the myth of the fallen woman (many women shoved by the society would
end up finding their way in again), and turn the generalized idea that females
were passive and submissive figures, they ended up reinforcing a myth that was “invented” by the
Victorians in order to remind all women of the eventual demise of those who
could be categorized as sexually transgressive and threatened to destabilize
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