The Best of Victorian Scandal

By choosing scandal as our topic we were allowed to express our individual interests in the assigned readings. Whether the scandal involves members of politics, the royal family, or simply the upper class, there was a scandal to write about. These scandals may have revolved around sex, money, and love. These scandals were not always publicly known but if they were, the reaction surrounding them may have differed from what was expected, wither way Victorian Scandal presents the many ideas surrounding Victorian Era.

Since the theme of our group was scandal, we thought this post would be relevant to both our theme and the pictures that were assigned. During the 19th century anything to do with sex was considered scandalous.

Victorian Morality or Hypocrisy is one of the blog posts that our group choose because it portrays our group’s theme of Victorian scandal. This post describes a popular scandal that occurred back in the 18th century involving Prince Albert Victor and his social standing in his kingdom.

When selecting from our various posts we wanted to select a post that truly fit our idea of scandal among members of Victorian society. The power that the royal family possesses leaves them particularly prone to these scandals, for this reason the “Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Royal Families” portrays the exact type of scandal they may have suffered.

In this post, Victorian scandal is extended to a contemporary audience. We chose it to show the differences and similarities in gender expectations as they pertain to sexual relations for the two eras. This post was also chosen for the modern interpretation on an otherwise historical perspective on Victorian scandal throughout the blog.

We selected our final post “The Perks of Being Ruined” because the concept of being ruined during the Victorian era carried a particular shame to it, although many authors had the ability to shine an interesting light on the subject. In this post we dissected the poem by Thomas Hardy called “The Ruined Maid” in which the concept of being ruined in Victorian society may be evolving.

Throughout the course of the past 6 weeks, our blogging style has changed- we have all grown more comfortable with reading older written works, then finding a way to apply it to our own topic. While we all have very different writing styles, we have come to mesh well together. Some blogs are written in an editorial style, in that they are formal and written without any sort of first-person aspect. Those posts tend to be the ones that have the most extensive research, as the writer seems to approach the blog post from a researcher’s standpoint. Other posts, like “The Perks of Being Ruined” are more casually written, and have to do more with interpretation of the writer’s literature than how it could apply to the theme of scandal in Victorian society. (However, Thomas Hardy’s poem happened to fit rather perfectly with our overall theme of scandal in general, as it was written about a prostitute’s descent/ascent into ruin.)  In the future, those of us who write more casually or in a blog-style fashion, will incorporate more research and historical aspects into their posts, and hopefully vice versa, so that we can all come to a more uniform overall style for our blog.


What would we do with out our mothers

Mrs. Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw is kind of a funny story. I think many of us can relate to it. It starts off where a man named Praed comes to call on a woman named Vivie thanks to Vivie’s mother. What kind of mom doesn’t meddle in their child’s business, especially their love life? Praed is impressed with Vivie’s accomplishments for school. She excelled in mathematics. Vivie is a smart young lady and knows what she wants in life. But Vivie goes on to tell Praed that she doesn’t want romance in her life ” Oh yes I do. I like working and getting paid for it. When I’m tired of working, I like a comfortable chair, a cigar, a little whisky, and a novel with a good detective story in it.”

Later on, Mrs. Warren show up, she is the mother I mentioned earlier. She asks Praed what he thinks of her little girl and he says she shouldn’t call Vivie a little girl. They go on to debate this statement. This whole progression was interesting to me because our blog focuses on the Victorian era and the politics of it all. Back in that era, a woman would be looked down upon for having a smart mouth like Vivie Warren does. Women wouldn’t have accomplished as much as she has. Victorian women also want to be married and have a husband. That is what one of their main goals is, so she can bear children and take care of the family and the house work.

Vivie Warren seems like the complete opposite. She took things into her own hands and didn’t let her mother run or ruin her life. She wanted to grow up and learn from mistakes on her own. That’s what us kids do now a days. We have to learn from our mistakes in order to become a mature and responsible adult. That’s why we are at college, getting it all out of system before we enter the real world of money making and adulthood.

Acceptability of Victorian Harlets




After reading “The Harlot’s House” by Oscar Wilde  I came to the belief that he was writing from his own perspective on a particular night he had experienced. The author seems to have a spiteful look on the idea of Harlots and the Harlot House. I came to this conclusion because he talks badly about the women and uses unfriendly words to depict them. For example, he describes them as “slim silhouetted skeletons” which is not how you would describe someone you thought to be socially accepted. The Harlots are skinny and wear silhouettes to seem more appealing to men. Farther down the poem he describes one woman as a marionette outside smoking a cigarette like a living thing. This leads me to assume he is distasteful towards the Harlots. He repeatedly compares the Harlots with things that aren’t living or alive to make them seem like they aren’t people.




Another conclusion I drew after my first read through was that the lady he went there with was his wife or current lover. After the author described her leaving him to join the other girls I thought that maybe she deceived him and was secretly a Harlot as well. After further thinking about the words he used to describe the situation I alternatively thought that maybe he was actually just using the situation to describe how his ex-lover may have left him for another man or left him to become a Harlot. The author uses lines such as “love passed into the house of lust” to describe his situation of losing a lover to prostitution.

By Alex Holtman

Fighting the Power

Prostitution is a career that many women would not choose to pursue nowadays. However, in the 19th century there were not many careers to choose from, and pursuing prostitution was considered a step forward towards women’s rights. The fact that women today can choose to pursue any career is in fact due to revolution started by women in the 19th century.  

Many of the paintings that we have studied in class portray how women felt so ashamed of their mistake, and how they were considered fallen. However in the painting Found by Dante Gabriel Rossetti I think that the young woman is not ashamed of being a prostitute. The way her lips are puckered and how she is looking the other way, gives me the impression that she is trying to free herself. I get the feeling that she does not want to be the ideal women but instead wants to be an independent woman. This idea of being an independent woman was very scandalous. As prostitution started to become more popular, women started to become independent and no longer needed to rely on a man.


Édouard Manet is another artist whom believes that prostitution was becoming a fad. In his painting Olympia, he portrays a demimondaine. The look in her eyes, the jewelry she wears, and the fact that she has a slave definitely supports the idea of women becoming independent.  

As men were not needed as much they began to feel threatened. A new act was passed in the United Kingdom called the Contagious Diseases Acts which would allow policeman to arrest any women who appeared to be a prostitute, and were required to be checked for sexual transmitted diseases. This of course oppressed woman once again.

As women continued to get oppressed they fought to get the act repealed. This act brought feminist together and together they fought for what they believed was right. The act was later repealed in 1886. Prostitution is often frowned upon; however due to it, women are now independent.  


Lipton, Eunice. Alias Olympia: A Woman’s Search for Manet’s Notorious Model & Her Own Desire. New York: C. Scribner’s Sons, 1992. Print.

McHugh, Paul. Prostitution and Victorian Social Reform. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1980.

The Perks of Being Ruined


Thomas Hardy’s “The Ruined Maid”, is a poem telling a story of rags to riches, tainted with a light only those who understand the idea of ‘ruin’ in Victorian society can see. The poem depicts a dialogue between two women, one who was formerly destitute, the other an acquaintance from that former life. In order to understand the underlying message, it is easiest to break it down bit by bit.

“O ‘MELIA, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?”—
“O didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” said she.

The first maid greets ‘Melia’ fondly, and in such a manner that indicates that they have been apart for quite a while. She is surprised to run into her in town, and that she is adorned in fancy clothes and clearly has come into quite a bit of wealth. Melia replies, “didn’t you know I’d been ruined?” Melia says it in such a way that makes it easy for the reader to imagine her tone of voice as snooty, as if her nose is slightly up-turned. However, she says it as if to be ‘ruined’ is in fact a good thing, despite what most people would associate with the word in other capacities.

“You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you’ve gay bracelets and bright feathers three!”—
“Yes: that’s how we dress when we’re ruined,” said she.

The maid goes on to describe the previous life they shared- one that consisted of tattered clothes, no shoes, and a life full of manual labor. She takes note of Melia’s new style, which now includes jewelry and exotic accessories like feathers. Melia simply remarks, “that’s how we dress when we’re ruined”, as if that is simply an understood fact.

—”At home in the barton you said ‘thee’ and ‘thou,’
And ‘thik oon,’ and ‘theäs oon,’ and ‘t’other’; but now
Your talking quite fits ‘ee for high compa-ny!”—
“Some polish is gained with one’s ruin,” said she.

The maid goes on to comment how Melia’s speech changed, and now sounds haughty and “for high company”, and Melia makes a remark that highlights the entire sense of hypocrisy of ‘ruin’- “Some polish is gained with one’s ruin”.

—”Your hands were like paws then, your face blue and bleak
But now I’m bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!”—
“We never do work when we’re ruined,” said she.

Melia’s transformation of not only her wardrobe but her entire appearance is evident to the maid, and she points that out she looks like a true lady, not made for hard labor. Melia responds in what can only be imagined as a condescending tone, “We never do work when we’re ruined”. (How nice she makes ruin sound!)

—”You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you’d sigh, and you’d sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!”—
“True. One’s pretty lively when ruined,” said she.

Melia’s old acquaintance recalls the days when Melia was in the fields along side the other working women, complaining about the life she was living. But now that she is ruined, Melia lives a carefree life, which does not have the same sense of drudgery or repetition.

—”I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town!”—
“My dear—a raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain’t ruined,” said she. —Westbourne Park Villas (1866)

Finally, the maid expresses her envy for Melia’s improved looks and class status, to which Melia basically tells her is a false dream, as only those who are already ruined can fathom their lifestyle. What stands out in this final sentence is the use of the word “ain’t”. Clearly, this reveals Melia’s humble past, which links her to the farm maid in the only way possible since her decision to cross moral boundaries and become a prostitute.

What that line alone indicates is the sense of close-mindedness that the shift in lifestyle brings. Granted, you may wear jewelry and feathers in your hair, and strut around town like you own the place, but at the end of the day, you are confined by your own narrow sights.  Melia throughout the poem clearly has a condescending air about her, indicating that her status as a prostitute is something that she wears proudly, and feels honored to have.

When paired with the sketch entitled “The Great Social Evil”, by John Leech, The Ruined Maid is understood much more clearly. The painting, although from nearly a decade before The Ruined Maid, depicts a similar scene to Melia and the farm maid’s run-in. One woman stands by the door, sporting body language that screams ‘unwelcome’, while another woman (dressed more humbly) faces her. She is holding up her dress which is clearly less grand than the other woman (presumably a prostitute), and is positioned in such a way that hints to a sense of submission. The caption below the sketch reads “Ah! Fanny! How long have you been gay?” Gay, in this sense, does not imply homosexuality, but the status of being a prostitute.  While the poem and painting do not intentionally couple up, they do compliment each other well, as they both communicate the sense of reverence and even respect that prostitutes received in Victorian society. It is quite ironic, really, that in a society that is normally perceived as incredibly strict and poised, women often found themselves selling their bodies to live a more enviable lifestyle. While prostitution is almost universally illegal in the United States, one could argue that there are parallels between society’s expectations now. For example, the woman who works 60 hours a week and is paid generously for giving up all her time to her work, is often glorified in our current greed-driven society. While it is not the same thing as selling themselves sexually, can it not be argued that those women in current society looking to improve their lives by dedicating themselves almost completely to their career, are doing so for the same reasons?

We are all taught to want more, to achieve more, and to be the best we can be at whatever it is we choose to do with our life. We seek status, fame, riches, and the “ideal life”, even if that ideal differs slightly from person to person. But at the end of the day, it can be argued that Melia got what we all want- the prestige that comes with sacrifice.

Seduction of the Century

William Acton wrote in Chapter VI ‘A Modern Harlot’s Progress’ in his book, Prostitution (1857), “And herein are contained three vulgar errors:

1. That once a harlot, always a harlot.

2. That there is no possible advance, moral or physical, in the condition of the actual prostitute.

3. That the harlot’s progress is short and rapid.”  (Acton 52).

William describes the harlots of his time and the hasty growth of the woman populace that ended up becoming a prostitute. In these three observations he explains some very clear social errors about these women. First being that once a girl makes the steps of becoming a prostitute, there is nothing left for her to become but a prostitute. No going back or rising from this, lowest, social standing. Next, stating the actual woman herself, the act of prostitution in which she can never return will only worsen her physical condition over time. Also ‘no possible advance’ in the girls morals seems like a harsh comment, however during this period of time she is committing the one thing that is almost always looked upon as morally unjust. Once you sell your body for someone else’s pleasure it becomes hard to ‘advance’ ones morals, especially in the eyes of their society. Lastly Acton speaks of the actually progress of a prostitute, he describes it as short and rapid. This can be looked at a few different ways, but to me it seems as though the job of a harlot allows her gain a fast amount of money, however this progression won’t last long and her reputation as well as her entire life prior no longer exists.

                I find it interesting that during the mid-nineteenth century there was a sudden explosion of interest in the areas around London and Whales concerning Prostitutes. The participants themselves came from all levels of the class structure, even though being seen around these women were means for nothing but scandal. The hierarchy of the male dominated society made it almost seem as though this idea of legal public prostitution was not only acceptable, but expected. But what of the Harlots themselves? Acton tends to paint these women in a bad light simply because of their job description; however there are also subtle instances when he portrays them as much more. We hear Acton chastising the first style of harlot, the old experienced woman, one who almost seemingly ‘enjoys’ her popularity and self-accomplished prosperity, “the loudest of the loud, in the utmost blaze of finery, looked on as ‘first-rate company’ by aspiring gents, surrounded by a knot of ‘gentlemen’ who applaud her rampant nonsense…Exigcant of respect beyond belief, but insufferably rude, she is proud and high-minded in talk one moment, but not ashamed to beg for a shilling the next” (Acton 55). This style of prostitute seems to be looked upon with the utmost disgust by Acton but there are those in which a sliver of guilt for reaches us threw his writing. These woman are the ones who were forced by some economic or social reason to turn to their last resort, “On the other hand, the sad career in prostitution of the softer-minded woman, in whatever rank she may be, will be marked and affected by that quality” (Acton 56). Further hopes for these girls who usually the younger of the group souly depend on the nights company, “If fortunate enough to have the acquaintance of some quiet men of means, she will not be puffed up with vain-gloriousness, but seeking comfort  in obscurity, and clinging fast to what respect she may gain of others” (Acton 56).

                William continues to write about the societal effects of this social class of harlots, even recording some of the sicknesses that start to spread throughout the cities. Through all of this ‘note-taking’ however we can get a clear depiction of the harlots of this time. The scandals that these women bring about vary from a joke amongst friends to noble blackmail. The position of the harlots are extremely curious considering the widely frowned upon activities which they preform, even though the demand of their beds never decreases. Society shuns them and fully believes that once a prostitute, one can’t become any lower and at the same time retires their possibilities of rising in the class system. Yet even with this in mind poor women becomes harlots because they know that the money will be there.

Illegitimate Sons and Daughters of the Royal Families

The ideas presented in Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell’s “Ruth” are claimed as shocking for her time, but what is the reasoning behind this? The idea of a woman either having an affair or sex before marriage was not taken lightly in Gaskell’s time. In the 18th century women were intended to align with a particular mold of what could be considered a conservative woman. Also social class standing was a supreme ruler of the time period, reigning power over jobs, love, marriage, and child birth. These were some of the barriers that Ruth was set to face throughout her life. The connection shared between Ruth and Mr. Bellingham was considered far from acceptable due to her class standing. Unlike the idealized version of that Disney movies and romantic comedies of the past centuries have taught my generation, love was not the foundation of marriage, although this didn’t prevent Ruth from loving Mr. Bellingham. The struggles that Ruth was forced to face after her relationship with Mr. Bellingham may have been directly related to the social constraints put in place by society during her time, but they were not faced by Ruth alone. I believe this is why Gaskell chose such a character as Ruth, who with guilt and remorse for her actions, can still appear as a simple victim or potentially a heroin to society today.

Ruth’s so claimed indiscretion was so preposterous to those of her time, yet its commonality among society is what could truly be claimed appalling. The secrecy behind sex before marriage, adultery, and illegitimate children was profound in the 18th century not only among the lower classes but also among the royals. Many members of the royal families including Kings were known to have several illegitimate children of which they kept terrifyingly secret to society. In fact it was so common that to this day there is a known society of individuals that call themselves, The Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons & Daughters of the Kings of Britain also known as The Royal Bastards. These members are required to present formal documentation to prove their ancestry of these illegitimate children spawning from royalty. Although their ancestors were probably mocked and shunned simply for where they came from, they are still the decedents of royalty. The list of royal family members is so long that it insinuates all royal families of the 18th century more than likely produced at least on illegitimate child that was most likely hidden from society.

Henry VIII

One of the most famous kings of England was “Henry VIII, who beheaded two of his six wives left four legitimate children and possibly four, but positively two, illegitimate children,” (Ryan). Another was King Henry’s predecessor “King Charles II who was known to have 13 known mistresses and between 14 and 17 illegitimate children,” (Ryan). “George III, whose long reign from 1760 to 1820 included 15 children by his German wife but also four illegitimate ones by a mistress, Hannah Lightfoot,” (Ryan). Then number of cases containing royal families with illegitimate children is truly alarming. In today’s society that would mean a larger royal family then any one truly knows, and possibly more heirs to the throne than imagined. Through truly none of the members of The Descendants of the Illegitimate Sons & Daughters of the Kings of Britain intend to declare in formal rights, I find it interesting that such shame can be placed on women like Ruth when its true commonality among royal familie

George III

s is more apparent.

Charles II










Ryan, Bill. “The Royal Family Tree Sprouts Unofficial Limbs.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 03 Jan. 1993. Web. 21 Sept. 2012. <;.

Ruined at it’s best

Found Drowned by George Frederic Watts RA, is a painting that symbolizes women who are ruined during that period of time. The picture portrays a women who has seem to committed suicide. She is holding heart shaped locket and chain, suggesting that a tragedy having to do with love and heart break has occurred.

Women back then, were not treated as equals. They were known to be invisible. Maybe a there was secret love story behind this painting that did not end up well. You see these types of love stories in an everyday light. Maybe not to that extreme, but you never know what a person with a broken heart can do. Love is a ruined tragedy waiting to happen.

Suicides are definitely dark and ominous. Ruined people think dark twisted thoughts, thoughts we could never imagine. This ties into a love story ending in a tragedy and women getting the lower hand back in the Victorian era. Men held the upper hand and made the decisions for everything and for the women.


Sex Scandalized: Societal Differences in Gender Expectations

The paintings for class today capture a common theme: the fallen woman. The women in these paintings are immortally captured as disgraceful. They are shown as the shame of their families for their sexual digressions, one woman suffering the consequences of infidelity in a three-part series of paintings by Egg and the other shunned from her family because of her illegitimate child. The caption for the Redgrave painting states that this theme was popular as “the twentieth century came to embody a heartless and puritanical Victorian attitude toward sexuality.” Egg’s paintings specifically warn of the dangers of sexual deviations. While I see the themes in these paintings as socially outdated, I don’t think that they are completely obsolete.

There is more freedom in sexuality in contemporary America at this point. Pop culture media, specifically music and film, show this. Burlesque and Chicago sexualized women in an empowering way rather than degrading. Allowing that sexuality didn’t cause scandal like it did in the Victorian era. Instead, it inspired women to express their sexuality. Artists like Rihanna and Nikki Minaj show how culturally acceptable it is for women express their sexuality to the point of being graphic in their songs. As a woman, the lyrics they sing are a little on the vulgar and crass side for me. I think that by talking about sexuality in that way, it’s objectifying your own body which makes it okay for others to do that same.

I have more of a conservative view on sexuality. I don’t want to it to be scandalized, I just would like it to be more of an equal expectation between the genders. All of the paintings showed fallen women, no fallen men. This message is also made in contemporary pop culture. Christina Aguilera’s “Can’t Hold Us Down”, echoes that societal pressure and difference in sexual expectations. She sings, “The guy gets all the glory the more he can score/ While the girl can do the same and yet you call her a whore/ I don’t understand why it’s okay/ The guy can get away with it and the girl gets named.” My friend from back home, Jeff Bethke, makes YouTube videos that have a religious connotation behind them but highlights that same cultural phenomenon.

Men are touted for their sexual conquests while women are defined by theirs. Another pop culture example would be the affair of Kristin Stewart and her Snow White and the Huntsman director, Rupert Sanders. Stewart gets a lot of the heat for the affair, while in reality, both are equally guilty. Sanders, in my opinion, should get more of the blame as he had a wife and children and Stewart only had a boyfriend. He gets almost forgotten while she get demonized. I even had to look up his last name because she is getting so much more attention for the incident than he is. The scandal is her treachery into adultery, not an affair they both had. If any aspect of sexuality should be scandalized, it should be the inequality between sexes, not a question of the moral turpitude of women.


A Picture is Worth 1,000 Words

Scandal is something that intrigues everyone. Whether it is because it is a rare occurrence or because we just enjoying hearing about other peoples’ lives, scandal piques nearly everyone’s’ interest. Usually the people that are involved in scandals are those in society who are role-models for others. A good scandal usually involves two people; as the saying goes, “it takes two to tango”. The artist William Hogarth seemed to enjoy portraying scandal, and Before and After are perfect examples of that theme.


In Before, it can be seen that the gentleman is trying to seduce the young lady. This image might not be considered scandalous. At first glance it just seems that the gentleman is being flirtatious. After further examination of the painting, I noticed the placement of his leg. The leg was placed between her legs and she is blushing. Her hand gestures make it seem like she is saying no, but she is not really trying to stop him. It is clear that what will happen next is something of a scandalous nature.


If the painting After could speak, it would scream “scandal”. Everything about this painting makes spectators want to turn away. For one, the man’s pants are not even pulled up all the way and the woman’s dress is not covering much. Second, their faces are flushed. It is obvious that they just had sexual intercourse. Her gestures have completely changed. Initially, she seemed hesitant to his advances, but her body language in After shows her wanting him to stay with her, in a somewhat clingy gesture.

Hogarth’s enjoyment of scandal can be seen through many other paintings as well. Many of Hogarth’s scandalous paintings were produced around the same time that the trial of Catherine Cadiére was occurring. Catherine was involved in a sex scandal that got the attention of many people. Catherine accused Jesuit Jean-Baptiste Girard of sexually abusing her, as well as using witchcraft. The accusations eventually led to a trial, which warped from sexual scandal into a persecution against all Jesuits. The people who supported Catherine believed that the Jesuits corrupted people and that her testimony was evidence to support their theory. Catherine eventually won the case and the people were happy.

We can relate Catherine’s case to Hogarth’s A Harlot’s Progress. In A Harlot’s Progress, a woman has just moved to London and eventually becomes a prostitute which eventually leads to her death. There are 6 paintings that tell the story but it is in the third painting that we can see the closest relation. There is a witch’s broom and hat hung on the prostitute’s wall.


It is obvious that Hogarth was very interested in scandals. He was also very interested in women as they are the main focus in most of his paintings. It cannot be proven that he was inspired by Catherine Cadiére sex scandal, but since Catherine’s case was the biggest thing around at the time, I believe there could be a connection.


“Carnal Quietism”: Embodying Anti-Jesuit Polemics in the Catherine Cadiere Affair, 1731. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005. Internet resource.

Stephens, Frederick George. Catalouge of Political and Personal Satires, Volume III, part I. London: British Museum Publications, Ltd., 1978