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    The fallen woman

    Nead, Lynda (2016) The fallen woman. [Show/Exhibition] (Unpublished)

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    Victorian Britain is characterized by the growth of an urban industrial economy and the emergence of a powerful and dominant middle class whose identity was built on an ideal of moral respectability. The notion of female chastity was an important aspect of public morality and throughout the nineteenth century the differences between the ‘respectable’ and the ‘fallen’ were continually defined in an attempt to create clear social and moral boundaries. The ‘fallen woman’ refers to a particular kind of moral identity; neither a prostitute, nor an ideal wife and mother, it implies that the woman had been respectable, might still possess some traces of respectability, but that she has dropped out of respectable society through her experience of sex outside of marriage. It was precisely these women whose illegitimate babies were accepted into the Foundling Hospital in the Victorian period. The stereotype of the ‘fallen woman’ recurs throughout Victorian culture in painting, literature, social investigation and religious publications. Although unmarried mothers in this period did not inevitably become outcasts and made many different arrangements to look after their children, the stereotype of the ‘fallen woman’ nearly always imagined them as abandoned and desperate, trapped in a downward spiral that included prostitution, suicide and, perhaps, infanticide. This exhibition explores the mythology of the ‘fallen woman’ as it is represented in the visual arts of the period and sets these images against the life-stories told by the unmarried mothers who applied to have their babies taken into the Foundling Hospital. They do not always show and tell the truth but they are powerful and moving and tell us much about the social and moral beliefs of the Victorians.


    Item Type: Show/Exhibition
    Additional Information: Exhibition at The Foundling Museum curated by Lynda Nead
    School: Birkbeck Faculties and Schools > Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > School of Historical Studies
    Research Centres and Institutes: Nineteenth-Century Studies, Centre for
    Depositing User: Administrator
    Date Deposited: 04 Feb 2016 12:39
    Last Modified: 02 Aug 2023 17:18


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