Charles Dickens
May 2, 2007
The Victorian Era produced one of the most interesting literary concepts, the image of the fallen woman.   Victorian writing depicts the fallen woman as a mute, enigmatic icon.   In the eyes of Victorians, female pre-marital sexual experience was a precursor to ruin and prostitution.   Men’s sexual activity was inevitable and understood, while the ideal woman had to be asexual and domesticated.   This difference between the Victorian man and woman was not simply a sexual one, but echoed the active and passive roles they assumed in every sphere of life.   Dinah Craik explains this approach in his work entitled “A Woman's Thoughts About Women,” stating,   “The difference between man's vocation and woman's seems naturally to be this — one is abroad, the other at home: one external, the other internal: one active, the other passive.   He has to go and seek out his path; hers usually lies close under her feet” (7).   This image of the fallen woman is prominent in the works of Charles Dickens, who at times broke from the conventional image to present a more sympathetic view, as in David Copperfield, yet also in Oliver Twist resorted to the negative portrayal.   To understand the role of the fallen woman in Dickens’ work, one must first consider the development and nature of the popular competing images of the idealized woman versus the fallen women, and then compare the different manifestations of the fallen woman within the works of Dickens.
In Victorian Britain, the images of both the idealized woman and the fallen woman arose from a communal view of the role of women, which was shaped not only by cultural norms, but also by legal standards that codified her subordinate status.   Essentially, Victorian women were second-class citizens.   They had few legal rights and almost no political rights.   By law, a married woman was the property of her husband, and her possessions, even her children, belonged to her husband (Auerbach 27).   Before...