Gender & Class as Observed at Tate Britain and a Note about the Victoria & Albert Museum

George Elgar Hicks, “Woman’s Mission: Companion of Manhood”1863

Roles of the Victorian Woman: Tate Britain

In my past readings of Victorian poetry and prose, the role(s) of women during the Victorian period were a must to consider and deliberate on. At the Tate Britain, our tour guide also mentioned the public’s perception of women. With lectures at GSU and the tour at Tate, there are two defined ends of the spectrum when it comes to Victorian women: the ideal woman and the fallen woman.

The ideal: a woman that conforms with society’s standards of a respectable, married woman Ambiguous to Society (depends on who is considering the woman) The fallen: a woman that is grossly out of line with societal norms.
Domestic, works at home or at a job that supports the husband’s needs (or works alongside him).

If not domestic, a woman of noble birth.

  • Holds good moral values
  • Knows not to give way to lust
  • Knows and supports the idea that the man is the “stronger sex”
The most complicated: somewhere between domestic and adulterous, but probably aligns closer to the domestic woman. This type of woman has a greater sense of independence, and may seek to be an “entrepreneur” or have a job that does not align with that of an Ideal woman. Older unmarried woman would also fall into this category.

  • Values knowledge & independency
  • Does not see herself as the “weaker sex”
Adulterous, works oftentimes as a prostitute.

  • Holds questionable moral values
  • Succumbs (in some way) to the dangers of lust
George Elgar Hicks’ Woman’s Mission Series

Any portrait of Queen Victoria, even though she was an extremely strong leader throughout her reign, I would argue that any woman of noble birth would fall into this realm of societal perspective.

??? I can’t think of any painting that we saw today that would fall into this category, but I am sure one exists some where.

Perhaps John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott (?)

John Everett Millias’ Ophelia

Augustus Leopold Egg’s Past and Present no. 1, 2, & 3

Works with this theme:

Coventry Patmore’s The Angel in the House (ew)

Marriage Manuals


Works with this theme:

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh 

Amy Levy’s The Romance of a Shop


Works with this theme:

George Meredith’s Modern Love

Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market”

  • Rose Maylie, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist
  • Fanny, The Romance of a Shop
  • Gertrude & Lucy Lorimer, The Romance of a Shop
  • Irene Adler, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  • Nancy, Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist
  • The youngest Lorimer, Phyllis in The Romance of a Shop
  • The wives of the jago, who engaged in “coshing” (even though they were oftentimes doing this with their husbands).

Some of the women characters that we have seen do not fall into either end of the spectrum, and there were probably many women in the era that wouldn’t have either. I think the most interesting character (within our reading) that fell into the “fallen” category was Phyllis Lorimer. Throughout the reading, I felt that Phyllis belonged to this category. She was the prettiest of her sisters, and men were always looking at her to comment on her beauty. Her fall, or break of innocence comes when she engages in a relationship with Mr. Darrell, who as it turns out, is married. As we know, she ends up dying as a result of consumption, or tuberculosis. I also think it is interesting to mention that disease is often times associated with the fallen woman. Sickness or disease is a physical decline that parallels the decline in morals that these types of women have. Some other examples of disease with the fallen woman include Algernon Charles Swinburne’s “The Leper” and the symptoms that Laura experiences in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”

I really enjoyed the Tate Britain, and it was probably the largest art museum I have ever been to so far. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood paintings were more stunning than I had imagined, and they were my favorite part about the museum. I’m not sure what the secret skills this group of men had going on, but to me, their paintings are some of the most realistic paintings I have seen from any time period. William Holman Hunt’s “Strayed Sheep” (which I had not seen until today) looks more like a photograph than a painting.


Victoria & Albert Museum

At Georgia State I have taken two world history classes: Survey of World History to 1500, and Survey of World History since 1500. The second course centered around Empire and Imperialism, which helped to give me a frame of reference for our tour through the Victoria and Albert museum. Oftentimes, history is framed by the victors and the wealthy. I didn’t really connect with this idea (specifically with Britain) until our tour today; Britain’s strength as an empire was apparent throughout the tour. I knew that Britain did a lot of trading with India (even during the time of the East India Company), but it was nice to see actual artifacts that were associated with this phenomenon. Indian textiles impacted British fashion during the time, and Indian jewels increased the demand for lavish items in the home.


Unfortunately, there weren’t that many photographs, and we did not get to see the museum’s photography collection. We did see a couple of photographs (and lithographs?) from around the Victorian time period, and it was cool to see the way pictures would have looked like in Levy’s The Romance of a Shop. 



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