Could He Forgive Her?

Nicola Lacey

in Subversion and Sympathy

Published in print January 2013 | ISBN: 9780199812042
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780199315888 | DOI:
Could He Forgive Her?

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This chapter contends that there is a great deal to be learned from Trollope's novels about how women's agency and criminality were understood in the latter part of the nineteenth century. In particular, it argues that, notwithstanding his lifelong literary preoccupation with independent-minded women, Trollope's novels are marked by two attitudes to female self-assertion—whether criminal or otherwise—that are the key to late Victorian understandings of female deviance. The first is a deep ambivalence about women who assert their (acknowledged) intellectual and practical capabilities through acts of independence from men. The second is a tendency to associate female criminal and moral transgressions with a deep-rooted capacity for deception associated with women as such, or with the female social role. Indeed, this image of female falseness provides an important counterpoint to the other, and more widely studied, Victorian tendency to associate female criminality with madness or sexual pathology. In making this argument, the chapter draws out links between the literary images of appropriate and inappropriate femininity under consideration, and both the social and political world that produced them, and the evolving position of women in the criminal and the civil courts.

Keywords: women's agency; criminality; nineteenth century; female self-assertion; deviance; deception

Chapter.  13497 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (19th Century)

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