Date of this Version
The George Eliot Review 25 (1994) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/
Focusing on the figure of the 'fallen woman' in nineteenth-century fiction, Tom Winnifred’s Fallen Women in the Nineteenth-Century Novel examines the sexual mores of fictional characters in the context of nineteenth-century sexual values generally, as well as in light of the personal conduct and reputations of authors who span the century. Winnifred looks sweepingly at the novels of Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot, William Makepeace Thackeray, Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy. A chapter is devoted to each of these authors, while Mrs. Henry Wood, the focus of the Introduction, serves throughout as a whipping girl and emblem of stereotypical 'Victorian' values. Winnifred judges her harshly, taking a jab at those twentieth-century critics who would revive our interest in Victorian popular literature, and concluding, 'it is difficult to take Wood seriously as a novelist and it is now time to relegate her to her position as a Victorian wallflower and let others take the floor'(5).
While the novelists examined here are hardly in danger of being eclipsed, in scholarship or in the classroom, by Mrs. Henry Wood, this concentration on the subject of sexual mores through a systematic evaluation of particular works, will be illuminating to students of the period. Winnifrith starts with the assumption that students today have a difficult time understanding nineteenth-century attitudes to sex and sexuality and that they are inhibited in their understanding of nineteenth-century novels by received clichés about Victorian prudishness and by the totality of the very different social code by which they themselves live. His book, he hopes, will enable students today to see the complexity of opinions and the diversity of factors which influenced the perspectives of those canonical authors which they are still most likely to encounter.