The End of the Fallen Women

Many novels deal with the idea of the fallen woman and her fate. The Mill on the Floss, Lady Audley’s Secret, and Tess of the d’Ubervilles each do just that. While the respectability of the women and their ends differ in each, there is an idea of the woman being replaceable, or at least being unnecessary to the other characters, in all three of the novels. The endings for these fallen women show how they were viewed. While writers garnered sympathy for their characters, in the end they had to be disposed of, and life had to carry on.

In The Mill on the Floss, Maggie is deemed to be a fallen woman after her extended boat ride with Stephen. When she returns, she is rejected by most of society, including her brother. While Phillip, her mother, and others do take her side, most of society sees Maggie as someone to avoid, even though she did not actually do anything with Stephen. However, this is enough not only to gain the ill will of the town she grew up in, but also for her to have to die. When the flood comes, she and her brother Tom die in each other’s arms, their ship sunk by debris in the water. Maggie had to die despite not actually doing anything wrong. In the end, Maggie is dead, and Stephen has moved on to be with Lucy. Life carries on, and while Phillip is sad and alone and Stephen visits her grave, the rest of the world doesn’t seem to care about the fate of this fallen woman.

Things are worse in Lady Audley’s Secret, however. When Robert discovers that Lady Audley is the wife of his friend, George Talboys, he exposes her to his uncle Michael Audley. Lady Audley’s fate for marrying two men is not death like Maggie. She instead gets sent off to a sort of mental institution where she cannot bother either of her husbands anymore. She is just shoved out of the story at the end, despite all the sympathy the narrator tries to make the readers feel for her. While she is not replaced by either George or Michael, she is shown to be unnecessary to either. George lives with his sister and Robert, and Michael has his daughter to depend on. Everyone seems to get along fine with Lady Audley out of the picture, almost as though she never existed at all, save for the melancholy of the men who had married her.

In Tess of the d’Urbervilles, however, the main character is actually replaced, at her own suggestion. Tess is a fallen woman because of what Alec did to her. She keeps what happened to her a secret, however, and by doing so is able to marry Angel. Once he finds out about Alec, he wants nothing to do with Tess, leaving her to fend for herself and eventually to be drawn back to Alec’s side. When he comes back for her though, Tess longs to be with him, murdering Alec so that she can. She is caught and persecuted for this crime, and interesting change from being punished for being fallen. Lady Audley of course did try to kill people, but Tess here is punished solely for her murder of Alec. She too though is replaced, this time by the younger sister whom she told Angel to be with when she was caught eventually. Tess’s death is in line with getting rid of a fallen woman, but the sister getting with her husband, at her own suggestion, is not. Still, however, to most of society Tess was a fallen woman, so she had to die in the end.

Tess of the d’Ubervilles stands out from other novels about fallen women because Tess is killed for a different, though related, crime and because Tess is replaced by her younger sister. Tess being killed for murder shows that the real crime was that she was influenced into taking such measures after all the terrible things that had happened to make her fallen. Her being replaced by her sister shows a form of sympathy for her, trying to have Angel be with Tess, or the closest thing to her, while still getting rid of the fallen woman who has no place in society. So while all these novels deal with fallen women, giving them bad fates and showing that they are unnecessary to the people in their lives, Tess of the d’Ubervilles goes farther, showing that the fallen women are only criminals because of the extreme situations wrongly forced upon them. It demonstrates that, if the woman had not done the one thing that made her fall, she would have been able to have a good life like readers can presume Tess’s sister can have with Angel. The way this novel deals sympathetically with the fallen woman sets it apart from others and makes it a novel truly worth studying.

Neglected Georgey

One of the main concerns for the characters in Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s novel Lady Audley’s Secret is that of how Lady Audley left her son and husband to go and start a new life. Little Georgey, however, was not only abandoned by his mother, but neglected by almost everyone he came across, showing how this ideal for women was one that men could ignore without any consequence.

Lady Audley herself admits to not having a connection with her son. In telling her story to Robert and Sir Michael, she states “my baby was born, and the crisis which had been fatal to my mother arose in me” (Braddon 361). Of course, not all mothers are happy to be so when they first become mothers and have to readjust to their new lives, but Lady Audley here never does. She sees her child as “a burden upon [her] hands” and seems to have no trouble leaving the boy with his father, even though she knows that Mr. Maldon has used up her money in going to bars (Braddon 364). She eventually does check up on her son, but only after she is forced into seeing her father by the return of the elder George Talboys. Gerogey himself never knows this woman as his mother, or at least does not remember it, and therefore is neglected by her.

The men in the novel blame Lady Audley for leaving her son, even if it seems to be only an addition to her leaving her husband, but they also neglect the boy. Mr. Maldon does not take great care of the child, as seen by his house being “shabbily furnished, and disorderly, with a child’s broken toys scattered on the floor, and the scent of stale tobacco hanging about the muslin window curtains,” (Braddon 79). That coupled with Maldons repeated sale of little Georgey’s watch to get money proves that this certainly was not the best environment for the child [Braddon 191]. Of course Mr. Maldon is poor and stuck in bad habits, but this does not excuse the fact that he is bringing up his grandson in a poor environment, even if he loves the lad.

The boy’s father, however, does the same. When George gets home from being in Australia, he is stricken to learn about his wife’s alleged death. He does not, however, think of his son until he actually sees him. In fact, at first George is only talking to his father-in-law before little George speaks, and only then does the father call out “my darling! My darling! … I am your father” (Braddon 83). He even leaves Georgey with Mr. Maldon since the boy “is very fond of his grandfather” (Braddon 83). There is no thought of how the environment is bad for the boy. !t is only when Robert, now the boy’s guardian, sees a child’s coffin being carried out of the neighborhood that Georgey is removed from it (Braddon 188). Neither George or Robert are criticized for leaving, neglecting, or otherwise not doing right by the child, however, unlike Lady Audley.

Lady Audley did wrong by leaving her son, especially in the care of her father who vexed her so much with his money issues and bad habits that she herself left. However, George did the same, leaving his wife and son to live with Mr. Maldon. Maldon himself did not take proper care of the lad, even though he did love him, and Robert Audley, the boy’s guardian, did not start protecting him until he realized the lad could die. None of these men are criticized for leaving or neglecting Georgey in the way that Lady Audley is. Only George has to bear some criticism for leaving, but he is often forgive for it mush quicker than she is. In the end, it is the woman who is blamed for leaving while the men don’t concern themselves too much with the needs of the child. Thus this standard of making women and only women in charge of the children leads, through one woman not living up to her gender norms and several men not stepping in to fill that roll, to young Georgey being neglected.The gender norms lead to an innocent child being neglected, and so the novel displays how these norms can be harmful.

Mary Barton and Manly Tears: Why Women Should Stay Home and Men Shouldn’t Cry

“But he stayed long there, nad at last his sturdy frame shook with his strong agony. The two women were frightened, as women always are, on witnessing a man’s overpowering grief….Mary’s heart melted…putting her hand softly on his arm, said:

‘O Jem, don’t give way so; I cannot bear to see you.’

Jem felt a strange leap of joy in his heart…when her soft hand’s touch thrilled through his frame…he could almost hate himself for it; with death and woe so surrounding him, it yet was happiness, was bliss, to be so spoken to by Mary” (Barton 78-79).

Jem, you better not be crying! I'm the only one allowed to pout in this novel!

Gaskell’s portrayal of sensitive men and acute women is a strange flipping of tables throughout Mary Barton. The first half of the novel — though concerned with the plight of the poor and the sad, frequent deaths of those without luxury — spends a considerable amount of time creating sensitive men and hardened women.

Gaskell gives ’em tears and pouts, none of which do any good. It is as if an industrial town and the forced awareness of economy creates men and women incapable of becoming their fullest selves through experiences that challenge and change their accepted, gendered behavior in subtle ways. The two most obvious examples are Mary’s vanity and Jem’s tears. Now, plenty of the women in Mary Barton are a bit vain, but Mary’s vanity is encompassing and self-deluding, softened only by Gaskell’s repeated attempts to remind the reader that Mary will cry when a baby dies (this is so she can save Mary at the end for the reader). In contrast, the men are sensitive and generous, and cry. Alot. The men are always weeping, and though they are manly tears, they are frightening to the women (which is within the scope of a properly gendered reaction to manly tears).

A tender young woman aspires to a higher match and is cruel in the face of manly tears. The poor young gallant is stricken with grief, and still can’t get laid. These mildly warped genders are the sign of a society warped by political economies gone bad, and by the inclusion of both sexes in a system Gaskell finds to be broken and unnatural. Where men must nurse the poor while the women meet rich young dandies in the lane, Gaskell’s novel is a portrayal of the evil an over-participation in the economy can be for women, and the unnaturalness of a system in which men cannot properly care for their families or pursue love. Industrial work, bone-breaking hours and the avoidance of them through dressmaking and marriage, the terrible terms of a contract for women’s labor and apprenticeship, men faced by repeated deaths of children and fainting women, by fires, and economic frustration — these are the conditions under which society crumbles into sad, genderless chaos.

The scene above, in which Mary tells Jem she cannot bear to see him cry (though she herself weeps a-plenty at his family’s deaths), and he — in his moment of grief — experiences a rather revolting (though perhaps natural?) emotional-physical arousal at her comfort, is the exact example of a situation which in any other Victorian novel would result in Mary swept into the tear-soaked arms of Jem and discussing when they should break the news of their engagement to the family mourning twin boys. But no, not here. The unnaturalness of Mary’s situation in her motherless existence, her lack of empathy, her vanity and materialism, and her proximity to industry create a situation in which her womanly instincts are perverted and cause pain, rather than comfort. A match which is so natural to the community is scorned by the upstart wench who values her looks and pouts at the mention of a match between her and the sweetest, manliest scalawag Gaskell could conjure.

Ultimately, Gaskell takes her dear sweet time in the first half of the novel to build a confused pathos, one in which all the readers may be horrified — but empathetic — at the sight of the Vainly Sympathetic Mary Barton and the Valiantly Weeping Jem Wilson. The havoc industry wreaks on the natural order of things is highlighted by the “acutely” intelligent and sallow-faced industry girls, and the economically frustrated, crying men.

And what Gaskell really wants to say is, fix that economy, because ain’t nobody got time for all that…