The Second Fall: Fallen Women

A key feature of the novel is character development. The typical development is a positive change. The character learns something from his struggle in the plot and improves. The following novels use a downward character progression to examine the character of the fallen woman. In this application, society perceives that a previously innocent woman loses her purity. After this shift, society rejects her. Mill on the Floss, Mary Barton, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles explore the character of the fallen woman. Mill on the Floss depicts Maggie as a fallen woman. When her brother rejects her, she searches for affection in the wrong people. Her brother condemns her, and society upholds his decision. She can only find redemption in the form of forgiveness and affection through death. In Mary Barton, the fallen woman is a side character of the novel. Esther sees herself as a lady. When she falls in love with a soldier, she thinks she will attain that vision, but he does not marry her. Instead, he leaves her behind with an ill child. She turns to prostitution to support herself and her child. Her child dies, and she escapes through alcohol. As a side character, she serves as warning for Mary. Although she saves Mary, she still has to die in order to be reunited with her family. Tess of the D’Urbervilles explores the lack of a woman’s choice in her fate as a fallen woman. Tess’s family puts their future in her hands by expecting her to provide for them through marriage. They send her to live with a woman, whom they believe to be a long-lost relative. The woman’s son, Alec, fails to seduce Tess, so he rapes her. She later has a child who dies. Alec ensures her fate as a fallen woman without any fault of her own.

In Mill on the Floss, Maggie faces the plight of the fallen woman without committing any true sexual misconduct. As a child, “Maggie was always wishing she had done something different” (Eliot 95). Maggie struggles to find the balance between her identity and societal pressures. Throughout the novel, Maggie chooses one over the other, and Tom reprimands her. Either way, she can never live up to his expectations in order to receive his affection. While attaining Tom’s affection remains her goal, she looks for other forms of affection, such as friendship with Philip or romance with Stephen. Both lead Tom to view her as a fallen woman and turn against her. After Tom learns of Maggie’s walks in the woods with Philip, he says, “If your feelings are so much better than mine, let me see you show them in some other way than by conduct that’s likely to disgrace us all – than by ridiculous flights first into one extreme and then into another. Pray, how have you shown your love, that you talk of, either to me or my father? By disobeying and deceiving us” (361). Maggie’s father made his children promise not to be a friend to Philip, and Tom enforced that promise. Maggie’s actions therefore slight Tom on two accounts. She first proves to be disloyal and dishonest by breaking the promise and keeping her actions secret. She furthermore puts the family’s reputation, which Philip’s father puts at risk, in greater danger by being alone with a man in the woods. Tom has worked to redeem that reputation, and he reacts accordingly when he learns she has disregarded it. Together, her deeds ensure that Tom cannot forgive her. Maggie therefore finds unsolicited affection from Stephen, who offers her another form of forbidden love. She unwittingly runs away with Stephen, but she turns away from him without marrying him, which is her greatest sin. When Tom finds out about the affair, he responds, “I loathe your character and your conduct” and goes on to insist that “the world shall know that I feel the difference between right and wrong” (484). Tom believes that Maggie has again done irreparable harm to him and his family through dishonor and deceit. He turns against her for the final time. Society mimics his rejection on a larger scale and ensures Maggie’s demise. She seeks redemption by saving her brother’s life in a flood, but he only forgives her in their death. The last line of the novel is the epitaph on their shared grave, which reads, “In their death they were not divided” (517). As a fallen woman, Maggie had no chance for redemption in the world of the living. It is only through death that she finds forgiveness and affection.

Mary’s Aunt Esther in Mary Barton represents the traditional fallen woman. At the beginning of the novel, Esther thinks of herself as a lady. Her brother-in-law, John Barton, says, “Esther, I see what you’ll end at with your artificial, and your fly-away veils, and stopping out when honest women are in their beds; you’ll be a street-walker, Esther, and then, don’t you go to think I’ll have you darken my door, though my wife is your sister” (38). Esther focuses on material and physical desire rather than social propriety. Her goal is to become a lady, not for its status, but for its financial and emotional security. John aptly predicts her fate when he suggests she will become a prostitute for her behavior in achieving those ends. When John later discovers she becomes a prostitute, he physically rejects her and throws her into the street (173). As in Mill on the Floss, it is the rejection by a male family figure that seals Esther’s fate as a fallen woman. She later shares her story with Jem in order to serve as a cautionary tale for Mary. She follows her lover, a military officer who wanted to marry her but had to leave her, and has a child out of wedlock (215). When the child grows ill, she becomes a prostitute to save her daughter, who ultimately dies. When Jem tries to rescue her, she answers, “God bless you, Jem, for the words you have just spoken. Some years ago you might have saved me, as I hope and trust you will yet save Mary. But it is too late now; – too late” (218). She uses her last days to save Mary from sharing her fate. Though she succeeds, she knew that she could not be saved in life. She returns to her home to find her death bed. When she wakes just before her death, “‘Has it been a dream, then?’ asked she, wildly. Then with a habit, which came like instinct even in that awful dying hour, her hand sought for a locket which hung concealed on her bosom, and, finding that, she knew all was true which had befallen her since last she lay an innocent girl on that bed” (481). Edith finds herself significantly changed though in the same place. She cannot imagine that what she has endured was a reality, but her locket confirms her fate as a fallen woman. She lost her innocence, her lover, her child, and ultimately, herself. Like Maggie, she can only rejoin her family in death. After she dies, “[her family] laid her in one grave with John Barton. And there they lie without name, or initial, or date” (481). Their only identification is a Bible verse from Psalm 53:9, “For He will not always chide, neither will He keep His anger forever.” Edith finds family and forgiveness in death. Her unity in the grave with John Barton nonetheless suggests that her crimes equate that of a murderer. She loses her identity in her death, and the only way she can find redemption is when God’s anger subsides. Even her family succumbs to the judgement of the fallen woman.

Tess in Tess of the D’Urbervilles descends from pure heroine to fallen woman. At the beginning of the book, the narrator states, “Tess Durbeyfield at this time of her life was a mere vessel of emotion untinctured by experience” (Hardy 48). Tess is an innocent girl without knowledge of the world. She exists in nature rather than in society. It is only when society infringes upon her that she loses her innocence. When Alec rapes her, the narrator explains, “Why is it that upon this beautiful feminine tissue, sensitive as gossamer, and practically blank as snow as yet, there should have been traced such a course a patter as it was doomed to receive” (104). Unlike the other fallen women, Tess has no choice in her fall. She was asleep when Alec raped her. In addition, Tess’s moment of lost innocence is vague. This vagueness leads even her to question her role in her defilement. Throughout the novel, Tess is a scapegoat for horrific acts, such as the death of the family horse or her rape. Her family relies on her and uses her as a method of support. Her mother sends her to Alec in he hopes that he will marry her, but she does not teach her daughter about the intentions of men. Tess is left on her own to learn “that the serpent hisses where the sweet birds sing” (105). She loses her innocence through experience because of her lack of knowledge. When she returns home, her mother laments not the loss of her daughter’s innocence, but her loss of income (112). The village is relatively ambivalent toward Tess until the death of her child, which symbolizes a larger judgement of her. Tess leaves the village to seek a new life for herself after tragedy, but she instead finds love. She tries to reject this love from the belief that she is not worthy. When Angel proposes, she tries to tell him her past, but he silences her. After they marry, he tells her of a previous affair, and she reveals her story. Once Angel learns the truth, “he looked upon her as a species of imposter; a guilty woman in the guise of an innocent one” (243). In their relationship, Angel sees Tess in the context of nature, where she is innocent, rather than in society, where she is guilty. He considers her the ideal woman without consideration for her past struggles. When he learns of her suffering, he condemns her. He does not consider his own sexual impropriety because he only upholds the need for female innocence. In addition, he ignores that her transgressions were inflicted upon her. He shows no mercy and leaves her behind with a suggestion that he might return for her. She is again left to endure her own struggles in an effort to provide for herself and her family. She must ultimately turn back to Alec because she does not know that Angel will come back for her. He finds her too late as she has married Alec, whom society views as her true husband. After she sees Angel, she kills Alec and runs away with Angel. They are safe in nature, but society catches up to them, and Tess must pay for her crimes. The novel ends when the narrator states, “’Justice,’ was done, and the President of the Immortals, in Aeschlyean phrase, had ended his sport with Tess” (396) Her death is only justice in that it rids society of the fallen woman. Tess’s death is the one death that is not natural; instead, it comes from society. The quotations around justice suggests that the narrator does not view her death as just, which reinforces Tess as a pure woman according to Hardy’s subtitle. Like the other fallen woman, Tess finds redemption in death alone. Through the character of the fallen woman, Hardy explores the contrast between nature and society. It is society that condemns Tess. As a passive character, Tess is a victim to her surroundings. When she leaves nature to endure society, she falls.

The Ins and Outs of Lady Audley’s Secret

Lady Audley’s Secret uses the sensation genre to question the difference between appearance and reality. One way the novel does this is through the contrast of exteriors against interiors. It uses the domestic setting of sensation novels to explore outward appearance to morality. The book opens, not with Lady Lucy Audley, but with a description of Audley Court even though the first chapter is called “Lucy.” Through extensive description, the house becomes a character of its own. The first three pages exclusively describe the court. To describe the manor, the narrator states, “It was very old, and very irregular and rambling” (3). The word “old” suggests the home’s deeper, invisible history, such as how it was once a convent. “Irregular” ties to the patchwork nature of the place while “rambling” personifies the house as either a drawn-out character or a random growth, both of which fit according to the rest of the description. Yet, the outer appearance of the house differs to its inner character. The narrator goes on to call the house “a noble place; inside as well as out, a noble place” (4). Later passages provide a catalogue of the interior of the house, which contains objects of beauty, specifically paintings, but this section focuses on the religious and aristocratic history of the house as justification for its appearance. While the description of the outside of the home is not characteristically noble or beautiful, the interior beauty and history cover its outer flaws to make it “noble.” Through this image, the author sets up the idea that appearance does not equal character. The tension of the differences arises from the horrible secret the fine, old house holds; Lady Audley’s secret past taints the nobility of the home. One of the main symbols of this is the painting of Lady Audley (107). The painting hints at Lady Audley’s secret within the materialistic context of the house. It also highlights the connection between her extreme beauty and her selfish actions. Through the painting, the narrator reveals how Audley Court takes on and reflects Lady Audley’s sins.

Lady Audley embodies the juxtaposition of interiors and exteriors; her outer beauty masks her inner darkness. The narrator suggests that when Lady Audley was a child, she saw her beauty as “a counter-balance of every youthful sin” (310). From the beginning of her life, her beauty is her sole virtue against all her other sins. The first thing, and sometimes the only thing, people notice about Lady Audley is her beauty, in which she grounds her identity and self-worth. When Robert questions a landlord of a hotel about Lady Audley’s original identity, the landlord responds, she “was much pitied by the Wildersnea folks… for she was very pretty, and had such nice winning ways, that she was a favourite with everybody who knew her” (262). The first thing the landlord comments on is not her character but her beauty. Additionally, the first reference of Lady Audley in the novel is as Sir Michael’s “pretty young wife” (46). Indeed, the majority of the descriptions of her focus on her physical beauty (49). Characters within the novel equate beauty with morality and form their moral judgments on appearance. Lady Audley recognizes societal understanding of beauty and manipulates it to hide her lack of morality. Even after Robert learns her secret, and she receives her punishment, she states, “But even exile was not hopeless, for there was scarcely any spot upon this wide earth in which her beauty would not constitute a little royalty” (387). While Lady Audley claims her beauty as justification for her actions, she also uses it as a way to gain power. She never learns that she needs to change her character instead of relying on her beauty. In the end, she refuses to repent.

The novel’s treatment of the house and Lady Audley condemns the way that their exteriors do not match their interiors, specifically because of Lady Audley’s secret. At the end of the novel, “Audley Court is shut up”; a year earlier, Lady Audley “had expired peacefully at Villebrumeuse, dying after a long illness” (445). Neither the house nor the woman survives the struggle of the book, perhaps because of the discord between their appearances and realities. The secret of Lady Audley’s past destroys the beautiful and noble facades that Lady Audley and Audley Court create. Despite the novel’s critique, the protagonist, Robert Audley, experiences the same disjunction between the way that others see him and his true character. Sir Michael, as well as most if not all of the other characters, “mistook laziness for incapacity” because he had “no occasion to look below the surface” (297). Through Robert’s search for justice, he proves his worth. He reveals his honest and loyal character under the guise of lazy indifference. Clara Talboys, similarly, seems to be cold and unfeeling toward her brother. When she is alone with Robert, however, she reveals her deeper affection for George and her overall virtue. The narrator explains, “This girl, this apparently passionless girl, had found a voice, and was urging [Robert] on toward his fate” (221). Clara forces Robert to confront and question his first impression of her. She therefore comes to serve as a major motivation and model for him. There are also characters within the novel, both houses and people, whose interiors and exteriors match. For example, Harcourt Talboys appearance matches his character, which also matches the appearance and character of his home (205). Later on, however, Robert learns the depths of Harcourt and his home underneath their appearances. In addition, Luke Marks begins and ends the novel as a gruff character, yet he reveals depths to his character, both through his blackmail of Lady Audley and his ultimate treatment of Robert (421). Just as characters automatically favor Lady Audley, they immediately overlook and underestimate Luke for his lower-class behavior, such as heavy drinking. His home, the Castle Inn, mirrors this appearance, inside and out (161). While Lady Audley uses these expectations, Luke rejects them by gaining power over Lady Audley. The novel explores the ways in which exteriors and interiors differ or match to show that the reader cannot rely on either to form a moral judgement of a character.

Maggie’s Punishment

A major theme of the novel is punishment, but there is never a clear sense of justice. Maggie begins the narrative by punishing a doll rather than those who wrong her. In the attic, “she kept a Fetish which she punished for all of her misfortunes” (71). One of her main motivations, even as a child, is to avoid punishing others directly. The narrator describes the doll as “a large wooden doll, which once stared with the roundest of eyes above the reddest of cheeks.” While Maggie claims the doll represents her oppressors, the doll seems to represent the societal standard of beauty, which Maggie rejects. Her opposition of beauty creates injustice against her by those like her family, who uphold these standards. The superlative descriptions represent the unattainable nature of the doll’s beauty. Just as Maggie’s family objectifies her by the emphasis on her appearance, Maggie punishes the doll by “nails driven into [its] head” (71). Maggie reveals her suffering through her punishment of the doll. Driving the nails into its head shows the source of her anger, her appearance, specifically her hair. After Maggie puts a nail in the doll’s head for Aunt Glegg, she “reflected that if she drove many nails in, she would not be so well able to fancy that the head was hurt when she knocked it against the wall, nor to comfort it, and make believe to poultice it, when her fury was abated” (72). She wants the doll to suffer her pain for her, but she also wants to be able to heal the doll. She shows an understanding of the need for forgiveness, but only after her anger fades. She does not find justice because her oppressors never change.

As Maggie matures, she rejects her brother’s sense of justice and turns her desire for punishment inward. She finds a book about “self-humiliation” and punishes herself by rejecting her worldly desires in order to find greater happiness without justice (309). The phrase “self-humiliation” alongside “renunciation” shows the deprecatory nature of her punishment. Up to this point, Maggie has been an emotional and impulsive character. Is her decision another impulse or true dedication? The narrator points out that “she had not perceived… that renunciation remains sorrow, though a sorrow borne willingly” (311). Her punishment continues the cycle of suffering. As Phillip states several times, Maggie never achieves happiness through her self-inflicted punishment because it goes against her nature (420). In addition, the punishment, like that of the doll, exhibits externally (314). Her mother, like Aunt Glegg, forces Maggie to accept her standard of beauty, especially through her hair. As part of her punishment, Maggie accepts beauty and becomes a passive doll, but she does not consider forgiving herself. Could she ever find happiness without escaping the standards her family places on her? What then is the author’s stance on happiness or justice through punishment? Is there an appropriate form of punishment in the novel? Is Maggie’s death another self-inflicted punishment? What does she gain from it?


John Barton as Bathsheba

As a result of Elizabeth Gaskell’s religious background, Mary Barton is full of biblical allusions. For example, the relationship between the rich and the poor echoes the story of David and Bathsheba. David, as king, has everything he could want, including women, yet he sees a married woman bathing and succumbs to temptation by sleeping with her. The factory masters have endless wealth, but they take advantage of their workers by providing meager wages and working conditions. After describing John Barton’s suffering as opposed to that of the masters, the narrator states, “The contrast is too great. Why should he alone suffer from bad times?” (55). The word “contrast” emphasizes the extremities of wealth and poverty. John Barton, along with other workers, suffer “alone” while the masters cling to stability.

After David has an affair with Bathsheba, she becomes pregnant. David sends for her husband, Uriah, who is a soldier, under the pretense of a reward, so everyone will think the child is Uriah’s. John Barton, along with other delegates from the factory workers, goes to London to speak to Parliament about the plight of their class. When he later recounts their rejection, he states, “Th’ morning of taking our petition we had such a breakfast as th’ Queen herself might ha’ sitten down to. I suppose they thought we wanted putting in heart” (145). The reference to the Queen suggests that the upper class, for possibly the first time, treats Barton as an equal, but this treatment is a bribe, which the condescension of the final phrase emphasizes. One of the workers’ main complaints is that they are starving to death, so Parliament uses a meal to assuage their anger and mask the sins of the masters.

Just as Uriah refuses to lay with Bathsheba when David sends him home, the men are unable to eat “when they [think] o’ them at home, wives and little ones, as had, may be at that very time, nought to eat” (145). Uriah will not sleep inside his house because his fellow soldiers are still at war. A key difference is that the workers start to eat. Unlike Uriah’s situation, which is a matter of comfort, the meal is a matter of life and death, but they cannot continue to eat when they remember their families are still starving. The lower class therefore displays a greater understanding of the hardships of others than the upper class ever does.

Because neither Uriah nor the workers succumb to the temptations used to oppress them, their superiors sentence them to death. David has Uriah sent to the front lines and orders the rest of the army to retreat. The masters similarly leave the workers behind to die by ignoring their requests. After John Barton dies, Job Leigh explains that they “kept him at arm’s length, and cared not whether his heart was sorry or glad; whether he lived or died, – whether he was bound for heaven or hell” (471). The masters work to maintain distance, in this case “arm’s length,” between the classes while the workers try to cross that divide. The problem is that the masters do not care about the fate of the poor, so they do nothing to help them. Instead, they make it impossible for them to work to provide for their families then criticize them for their poverty.




The Monster as a Means to an End

Victor Frankenstein’s monster is the manifestation of his morbid fascination with death. When his mother dies, he emphasizes his difficulty realizing that “she, whom we saw every day, and whose very existence appeared a part of our own, can have departed for ever” (72). He shows a sense of communal identity through his pronoun usage despite the isolation he displays throughout the novel. He sees his mother as a part of himself, so when she dies, he loses his sense of self. The form of the sentence itself is drawn out, much like Victor’s grieving process, which covers several pages throughout the novel. In contrast, the reader learns about the mother’s death in one paragraph. The focus of the text is therefore his relationship to death rather than death as an event. One of Victor’s key flaws is his inability to death, which the monster forces him to confront.

At the culmination of his grieving process, Victor creates a living being out of dead bodies. When he sees his creation, he falls deathly ill. Clerval comes to visit Victor, who explains, “I was lifeless, and did not recover my senses for a long, long time. This was the commencement of a nervous fever, which confined me for several months” (87). After disrupting the boundary between life and death, he becomes “lifeless” just like the bodies he turned into a living being. He is “confined,” both to his illness and to his fear of death. He loses his “senses,” which the novel argues are key features of the human life. The “nervous fever” he experiences occurs throughout the novel as he blurs life and death through the monster.

As a result of Victor’s relationship to the monster, he believes death is a form of escape from the horrors of life, but he cannot submit to it until he avenges his lost loved ones. When he passes this burden to Walton, he sees death as a source of peace. Before he dies, he says, “That [the monster] should live to be an instrument of mischief disturbs me; in other respects this hour, when I momentarily expect my release, is the only happy one which I have enjoyed for several years” (216). Victor recognizes he has a responsibility to destroy his creation, but he realizes he can no longer cling to revenge as a source of life. The word “release” encapsulates his ultimate view of death. His death, rather than his wedding, is the one happy moment he experiences after he gives life to the monster. In the end, he joins his dead loves one and finds peace. While the monster pushes Victor toward death, he also allows Victor to accept death as a necessary part of life.