«Verfasserin Julia Lackermayer angestrebter akademischer Grad Magistra der Anglistik und Amerikanistik (Mag.phil) Wien, im Oktober 2008 ...»
It seems that the reasons for the submission to immoral behaviour are very thought to be very much alike for female representatives of both categories if one compares the features of some of the plays’ main characters with William Acton’s account of the motivations leading to prostitution, which he considers to be linked to the vice of women. In his treatise on prostitution,73 published at around the same ‚Es ist [...] symptomatisch für eine thematische Präokkupation der viktorianischen Literatur, daß die Frauenfigur, die gegen die moralischen und sexuellen Normen des religiös stilisierten Leitbildes von der Frau als „The Angel in the House“ verstößt, oft als fallen woman (seltener fallen angel) oder Magdalen gekennzeichnet wird‘ [‘It is symptomatic of the thematic preoccupation of Victorian literature that the female character who violates the moral and sexual norms of the religiously stylised model of the woman as ‘the angel in the house‘, is often labelled fallen woman (more rarely fallen angel) or Magdalen’, [my translation]] (Klein, 267).
Cf. Acton, William. Prostitution Considered in Its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects in London and Other Large Cities and Garrison Towns with Proposals for the Control and Prevention of Its Attendant Evils. 1857. London: Frank Cass, 1972.
- 35 time as Phillips’ Lost in London, Acton saw the vice of women as occasioned by
the following causes:
As the analysis of the first two plays in particular will show, some congruence between the respective playwrights’ ideas and Acton’s enumeration quoted above will manifest itself.
4.2.1. Lost in London – Nelly Armroyd In accordance with the scheme laid out in the introductory historical outline, Nelly Armroyd, the main character of Phillips’ melodrama Lost in London, which was first performed at the Adelphi in 1867, can be regarded as a true Fallen Woman.
Her status as immoral woman is even emphasised by the genre of melodrama with its stock characters and clear-cut binaries of vice and virtue.74 Therefore, psychological nuances are of no importance, which means that a fallen, in this case seduced, woman is sinful and deserves death as the appropriate punishment.
According to Elin Diamond, this course of events was specifically a feature of the 1860s. She argues that
[i]nterestingly, in the 1860s, domestic melodrama, which vied for popularity with nautical and romantic varieties, offered a variation on the long-suffering heroine: the heroine who dies of sin. (Diamond, 10-11) In this connection, she particularly draws attention to the plots of Lost in London and East Lynne, a popular novel written by Mrs Henry Wood and published in 1861, which was also performed in a dramatic version. The narrative is about an upper-class woman who leaves her husband and children in order to elope with her aristocratic suitor.75 Later, she returns to the household unrecognised as a governess and dies of a broken heart in the end.76 Lost in London shows many elements that are typical of melodrama.77 According to Frank Rahill, the melodrama can be understood as [a] form of dramatic composition in prose partaking of the nature of tragedy, comedy, pantomime, and spectacle, and intended for a popular audience. Primarily concerned with the situation and plot, it calls upon mimed action extensively and employs a more or less fixed complement of stock characters, the most important of which are a suffering heroine or hero, a persecuting villain and a benevolent comic. It is conventionally moral and humanitarian in point of view and sentimental and optimistic in temper. (Rahill, xiv) In Phillips’ play, the melodrama with its mixing of genres, stock characters, musical elements, tableaux and strong emphasis on the emotional and sensational, is intermingled with the conventions of the domestic tragedy dealing with the middle- or working-classes and evolving around a hero, or in this case heroine, whose fall from morality is presented.
Discontented with her life as wife to the honest, hard-working Job Armroyd, a miner many years her senior, Nelly, a Lancashire beauty, runs counter the idea of Cf. Diamond, 11.
For a further discussion of East Lynne, see: Birch.
For a further discussion of melodrama, see Schmidt or Brooks. Schmidt argues that the ‘melodramatic’ can be understood as a ‘besondere Form eines Inszenierungsmodus, der visuelle, akustische und sprachliche Zeichen in eine emotionssteigernde Organisation raum-zeitlicher Kategorien stellt, innerhalb derer eine Polarisierung und Intensivierung der von ihnen angestrebten Effekte erreicht wird’ [‘a particular form of staging-mode, where visual, acoustic and verbal signs are organised according to spatial and temporal categories in order to augment emotions. Among these categories a polarization and intensification of the desired effects is achieved’ [my translation]] (Schmidt, 28).
- 37 the Angel in the House by eloping to London with the young and fashionable mine-owner Gilbert Featherstone. The play centres around the virtual fall of the heroine, who does not find happiness but repents her deed immediately. From the very first page of Lost in London, there is a strong sense that Nelly longs to break out from the monotony and tedium of her everyday life. As a consequence, she is readily talked into escaping with Gilbert Featherstone. In a soliloquy, she maintains that
Throughout the play, the general notion seems to be that Nelly can never fully be held responsible for what happens to her. She is a woman and thus more prone to go astray than men. Weakness is presented as inscribed in the very nature of women. Therefore, Nelly cannot resist temptation even if she knows that it is wrong, and, when left alone, she characterises herself as follows: ‘oh! fool! fool!
That I have been to listen to the voice of the tempter, and oh! accursed vanity of woman that gave the voice such power!’ (Lost, I.ii, 217). Her weakness and passivity cannot solely be accounted for by her female character traits, but is, according to Booth, one of the characteristics of heroes and heroines in melodrama in general, where the villains, in this case in the shape of Gilbert Featherstone, tend to play the more active roles. It is ‘the villain who acts while the hero and heroine react’ (Booth, 160). Moreover, she goes away to the big city, where vices appear to be aggravated as, in the words of Job, ‘[i]t be a dreadful and a dreary place, this Lunnon, for them as are weak an’ wi’ no hand to guide ‘em’ (Lost, II.iii, 244-245).
Nevertheless, Nelly constantly senses that what she does is fundamentally wrong from a moral point of view.78 It could be suggested that her status as an orphan and the lack of the role model of an angel-like mother, who would set a good example of the domestic virtues and duties of a wife, play some part in this context. Nelly is Cf. ‘Surely, of all bad women I am the worst’ (Lost, I.ii, 219).
- 38 also denied any form of happiness after her arrival in London. She ‘does nothing but mope’ (Lost, II.i, 230) and feels that she is gradually dying of a broken heart.79 In the end, Job comes to claim Nelly again simply on the apparently selfexplanatory grounds that she is his wife. After her elopement, he has not lost his sense of duty and righteousness and has started to look for her in London. In contrast to Nelly, he ‘[has] but one road to take, an’ that’s th’ straight one’ (Lost, I.iii, 225).
The heroine’s honour can not be restored because a fall from virtue has permanent consequences. She is not only ‘lost in London’ in a geographical sense, but also in a moral one. As she herself states towards the end of the play, she is ‘lost to [Job] – to [her]self – to everything’ (Lost, III.i, 262). This loss of morality is regarded as a sin and a state even more grievous than death.80 Penitence seems to be of no use and any form of atonement impossible, not even after Job has forgiven her.
Consequently, death is what really befalls her just before the curtain drops. In this final scene, she appears to be almost transfigured and Job’s last words insinuate that Nelly shall be delivered in heaven, which is the utmost concern: ‘Though lost in London (he indicates by a gesture the city now bright with moonbeams), I shall foind her theer. (He points upwards with a bright, hopeful look.)’ (Lost, III.i, 269).
That this moral message was positively received by the contemporary audience, can be deduced from Alfrida Lee’s comment that ‘success for the play was expected’.81 It ran for 48 nights and was also positively received at its performance in Philadelphia in 1866.82 The American author and critic William Winter, however, had quite a low opinion of the merits of the play as he found the inherent portrayal of vice insupportable even if it served as a deterrent for the audience.83 Cf. Lost, II.i, 237.
Cf. TIDDY (with an outburst of grief). She’s gone, Job! She’s gone!
JOB (staggers back as from a blow and drops the lamp which he has been holding). Not dead!
She’s not dead?
TIDDY. Worse nor that! – far worse – she be gone wi’ – wi’ – […] Wi’ Mester Gilbert! She be gone wi’ Mester Featherstone!
(Lost, I.iii, 224) Cf. http://www.emrich.edu/public/english/adelphi_calender/hst1866.htm [26 November 2006] Beasley, 57.
‘Winter’s review of the play is an essay setting forth his opinion that the representation of vice, even for the purpose of teaching virtue by showing how ugly vice actually is, cannot be tolerated by responsible members of the community. He felt that there is no place on the stage for ‘sickening details of weakness and sin,’ and he whole-heartedly condemned this particular piece for representing evil by unsuitable means, in wrong perspective, and in violation of the principles of good taste’ (McGraw, 116-117).
- 39 Considering the reception of the play, Lost in London should nowadays be appreciated as a social document of the Victorian era rather than for its quality as a dramatic work.
4.2.2. The Dancing Girl – Drusilla Ives The Dancing Girl, written by Henry Arthur Jones and first performed at the Haymarket in January 1891, also deals with the endeavours of a young and beautiful woman to break free from her assigned lot. Even though its heroine, Drusilla, can be categorized as a Fallen Woman, she differs from Nelly Armroyd in many points. The main difference between them has to do with the fact that the latter is repentant whereas the former is not. The play is about the daughter of a Quaker, Drusilla, who has been brought up in a village on a Cornish island and begins to lead a double life as a dancer, a dubious profession, calling herself Diana Valrose in London, while her father believes her to be employed as a governess.
Like Nelly, she also has an admirer who is at the same time her father’s landlord, the Duke of Guisebury. Being rather careless in business matters, though, the Duke loses all his money. He asks Drusilla to marry him and to live moderately and quietly, but she refuses on the grounds that ‘[t]o live cheaply in a little continental town – […] it would be purgatory! [She] must have [her] London, [her] Paris, [her] theatre, [her] dancing, [her] public to worship [her]’ (Dancing Girl, II, 328).
Following this assertion, Guisebury forms the plan to commit suicide after one last reception at which Drusilla should dance. Having found out about his daughter’s impious doings, her father interrupts the feast and comes to fetch her while showering her with curses and denouncements because of her lack of repentance.
Nonetheless, Drusilla remains determined. Contrary to Nelly, her reasons for turning her back on her former restrictive life persist, as she tells her father that ‘[his] mean, narrow life stifled [her], crushed [her]! [She] couldn’t breathe in it!
[She] wanted a larger, freer, wider life – [She] was perishing for want of it’ (Dancing Girl, III, 344). Her wish for self-fulfilment is even strong enough to break with her family and to set out completely on her own without any regrets. It
- 40 is also interesting to note that Drusilla – like Nelly – has grown up without a mother who could have set her an example of moral conduct.
In the further course of the play, it is reported that ‘the dancing girl’ went on to earn her living as a public dancer in New Orleans, where she dies unrepentant to the very last. Arguably, this very fact turns Drusilla into a worse kind of Fallen Woman than Nelly as, according to Penny Griffin, the former is not led astray. She chooses her path in life willingly, without shame or remorse. […] Drusilla, in her heartless flippant way, is evil – a moral emblem shown to the audience. (Griffin, 32) Worse still, she not only does harm to her own morality, but also attempts to lure others from the path of virtue and godliness. On the one hand, she is at least partially responsible for Guisebury’s failing to attend to his village’s needs and his spending all his money on pleasure. On the other hand, she tries to find an ally in John Christianson, an upright Puritan and former devotee of hers, and to make him act against his convictions by lying and not telling her father about her whereabouts.84 In this respect, she almost appears to equal a biblical figure, an Eve or Salomé.
Besides, her punishment through death in the end, was then generally considered to be justified by the Victorian audiences.85 A huge success, The Dancing Girl ran for 310 nights and was performed in New York in the same year. It was received approvingly by the audience as well as the reviewers and among those congratulating the playwright on his achievement was, incidentally, also Herbert Spencer. Concerning the reviews, Doris Arthur Jones points out that [t]he notices, with one or two exceptions, were extremely favourable. The Sunday Review said, “A great play comes only about once in a generation;
but Mr. H.A. Jones has nearly written one in The Dancing Girl,” though the writer added: “A feebler fourth act has rarely tested the patience of the audience.” (Jones, Life and Letters, 114) The question whether Drusilla had been repentant before her death or not is most pressing for her father when he meets the nun who had nursed his daughter in her