The Fallen Angel: Chastity, Class, and Women's Reading, 1835-1880

The Fallen Angel: Chastity, Class, and Women's Reading, 1835-1880

The Fallen Angel: Chastity, Class, and Women's Reading, 1835-1880

The Fallen Angel: Chastity, Class, and Women's Reading, 1835-1880


This book discusses the figure of the unchaste woman in a wide range of fiction written between 1835 and 1880; serious novels by Dickens, Mrs. Gaskell, Meredith, and George Eliot; popular novels that provided light reading for middle-class women (including books by Dinah Craik, Rhoda Broughton, and Ouida); sensational fiction; propaganda for social reform; and stories in cheap periodicals such as the "Family Herald" and the "London Journal," which reached a different and far wider audience than either serious or popular novels.


My examination of a single motif in a wide variety of early and mid‐ Victorian fiction has two aims. The first is to trace changes in the popular image of woman's nature and woman's role. During the years covered by the study organized feminism had its birth and achieved its initial successes; the crusades for education and employment had borne fruit and nearly all the legal battles except that for the franchise had been won by 1880.

The second aim of the study is to examine the variations in theme, moral intent, and literary style of fiction written for different audiences. The reading public changed in both size and nature between 1835 and 1880. The economic and social factors which influenced the publishing trade did not, in all cases, juxtapose neatly with transitions in the feminist organization of the argument. Thus the time periods covered by successive chapters overlap roughly rather than neatly.

All quotations from novels, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the first edition in volume form. Citations from books generally available either in recent editions or in later nineteenth-century one-volume editions are identified by chapter (numbered consecutively throughout the book) rather than by volume and page.

Some of the material in chapters 1 and 2 appeared in a different form in "The Forgotten Woman of the Period: Penny Weekly Family Magazines of the 1840's and 1850's," A Widening Sphere: Changing Roles of Victorian Women, edited by Martha Vicinus, © 1977 by Indiana University Press and in "Lost Women: Implications of the Fallen in Works by Forgotten Women Writers of the 1840's," University of Michigan Papers in Women's Studies (June 1974), 110-24, © 1974 by the Women's Studies Program, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Scattered paragraphs in the conclusion are adapted from "Sentiment and Suffering: Women's Recreational Reading in the 1860's," Victorian Studies, 21 (1977), 29-45.

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