The drowned woman in Victorian art and literature

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Committee Member

Ross C. Murfin, Committee Chair


Victorian art, poetry, and fiction exhibit a gradual ambivalent misogyny. The didacticism of the early artwork and poetry gives way to a mixed portrayal of the drowned woman as both victim and victimizer, particularly as her sexuality becomes less passive and more ravening. The fiction of the period incorporates much of the iconography of female misery exhibited by the paintings (particularly that associated with urban corruption), but develops a more sophisticated and telling thesis concerning both the sexuality of the women characters and the sexuality, fear, and ambivalence of the authors. Woman as feared sexual creature who will pull man down to her watery lair is most fully developed in Winnie Verloc, in The Secret Agent, who synthesizes the ambivalences inherent in Little Emily and Martha Endell (David Copperfield), Maggie Tulliver (The Mill on the Floss), and Eustacia Vye (The Return of the Native).


Fine Arts; Women's Studies; Literature, English

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