We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. By continuing to browse this repository, you give consent for essential cookies to be used. You can read more about our Privacy and Cookie Policy.

Durham e-Theses
You are in:

Sympathy and the ‘Fallen Woman’ in the Victorian Novel, from Elizabeth Gaskell to Thomas Hardy

WATANABE, YURIE (2022) Sympathy and the ‘Fallen Woman’ in the Victorian Novel, from Elizabeth Gaskell to Thomas Hardy. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis focuses on the significance of sympathy in representations of the ‘fallen woman’ in the Victorian realist novel. Beginning with Gaskell’s Ruth (1853) and ending with Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895), I explore the ways in which authors sought to encourage their readers to feel sympathy towards the fallen woman, and moreover, how the nature of sympathy is shaped by the writers’ narrative strategies and prevalent cultural attitudes towards women and their sexuality. Critics have typically argued that Victorian novelists adhered to Adam Smith’s model of sympathy – which understands sympathy as essentially self-reflexive – and are thus sceptical of sympathy leading to acts of kindness. However, this thesis argues that ‘fallen woman’ novels present a more complex case. In their fascination with the difficulty of sympathy, such texts evoke the reader’s sympathy in the act of struggling to understand the ‘fallenness’ of these characters.
The thesis examines novels that are notable for the diverse ways in which the fallen woman is placed within their narratives. Gaskell’s Ruth, Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles (1891), and Moore’s Esther Waters (1894) are centred on their fallen woman heroines, while in Eliot’s Adam Bede (1859), and Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd (1874) and Jude the Obscure, the fallen woman is a minor or secondary character. In doing so, I reveal how these novels function to extend the reader’s sympathy to those outside of their familiar group, drawing upon Raymond Williams’s concept of the ‘knowable community’. The concluding chapters explore how the transition at the end of the nineteenth century from the ‘fallen woman’ to ‘New Women’ fundamentally reshapes the dynamics of sympathy: Moore complicates questions of agency, morality and choice, while Hardy challenges the reader to engage with one of the period’s most challenging fictional characters, Sue Bridehead.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:Sympathy, Victorian novel, empathy, fallen women, new woman
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > English Studies, Department of
Thesis Date:2022
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:25 Nov 2022 10:49

Social bookmarking: del.icio.usConnoteaBibSonomyCiteULikeFacebookTwitter