Date of Award

2005

Level of Access

Campus-Only Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

History

Advisor

Stephen M. Miller

Second Committee Member

Alexander Grab

Third Committee Member

Mazie Hough

Abstract

This thesis will examine a variety of Victorian media to better understand the influence that negative portrayals of fallen women and prostitutes had on the creation of the Contagious Diseases Acts (CD Acts). The CD Acts were introduced in the 1860s and allowed for the medical and police inspection of prostitutes in garrison ports and towns. At the very core of these regulations was the desire to prevent the physical and moral decay of the Empire’s military. The gender stereotypes that the Acts reinforced left a lasting impression on the social climate of the Victorian era. Oil paintings, poetry, literature, and other forms of popular entertainment were used as influential tools for social commentators to voice their opinions on such topics as women’s rights, politics, and gender issues: all of which were instrumental to the debates over the validity of the Acts. This thesis explores how the passing of time and the progression into newer forms of entertainment did not change the cultural perceptions that surrounded the fallen woman; she was a character worthy of pity and disapproval and undeserving of social or moral redemption. The imagery created by artists, poets, authors, and other social commentators was often representative of the stereotypes, restrictions, and anti-feminist notions that were associated with or inherent to the CD Acts. The works of Charles Dickens, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Thomas Hardy, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are used as pieces for examination of these trends. Gender restrictions directly attributed to issues of patriarchy are addressed through the male/female relationships that existed in each of the entertainment genres. This thesis concludes that a connection existed between artistic portrayals of the fallen woman, the enactment of the CD Acts in the 1860s, and their eventual repeal in 1886. These portrayals, both written and drawn, and their dissemination to the public played an influential role in the creation of the CD Acts but they had little to do with their actual repeal. In the decades leading up to 1886, the fallen woman continued to be represented as she had been in years prior; it was only the venues of the portrayals that actually changed. A fuller understanding of the fallen woman, her representation in nineteenth century media, and the corresponding gender stereotypes encouraged by the CD Acts occupy important places in history; viewed together they have the potential to provide further insight into feminist issues of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

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