Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/4254
This essay discusses Charles Dickens’ portrayal of the so-called “fallen” women in two of his works, Oliver Twist and David Copperfield. The issue of “fallenness” was a matter of great concern in Victorian society as it was widely believed that any woman who lost her sexual innocence and, therefore, violated the much-revered feminine ideal would inevitably lose her respectability and be forced into a life of prostitution. However, while most women were led into prostitution as a cause of their financial necessities and only practiced the trade for a short period of time, the tragic image of the fallen woman formed part of a salient mythology which was created by the increasingly concerned middle-classes who felt that their moral values were under threat from the radical social and economic changes that had taken place following the industrial revolution. As with many other social issues, Dickens concerned himself with the hardships faced by these women and in the 1840s he participated in the establishment of Urania Cottage, an asylum which was dedicated to the reform and rescue of fallen women and prostitutes. He was also intent on changing people’s perceptions of fallen women through his literary work and deviated in many aspects from the common representations by portraying his fallen female characters in an uncommonly sympathetic manner. However, despite Dickens’ sympathetic outlook and participation in Urania Cottage, he nevertheless punished his characters for their transgressions and depicted their fall as a transforming event which leads to the permanent loss of respectability. Therefore, as this essay will seek to demonstrate, by employing aspects of the middle-class myth in his works, Dickens helped maintain the common misconceptions that surrounded the life of the fallen woman in Victorian society.