in: International Academic Institute, Book of Proceedings: Education and Social Sciences, Hristina Rucheva Tasrev, Editor, International Academic, Barcelona, pp.192-199, 2020
The weakest, most broken and demoralised of society were deemed ‘The Great Social Evil’: the hapless prostitute, historically criminalized and shunned, was ruthlessly disaffiliated through Victorian hypocrisy and hysteria. With unrivaled belligerence, the ‘fallen woman’ is diminished and estranged to a sub-species, and treated as barely human. Patriarchal capitalism as the causative invariable in prostitution, intensified during nineteenth-century industrialisation, when the capitalist mindset determined to generate social and economic stability at whatever human cost. Subsequently there developed a social environment that was autocratic, intolerant and singularly manipulative of the individual across the board. An artificial moral binary was generated to repel all strains contrary to the patriarchal status quo: all diversity was held to be counter to the stipulated norm and perceived as subversive and castigated. The female ‘Other’ was mercilessly categorized and allotted identity conditional to fulfillment of designated sexual role. The prostitute was the female ‘uncontained’, the dangerous transgressor and therefore a threat, if only in principle, to patriarchal ideology. Victorian defense of the prostitute though not absent, existed in a vacuum devoid of social culpability, so that the causative influences of poverty, the drive of masculine appetite and oppression went largely unaddressed as prejudicial to the establishment. This paper will consider the issue of the prostitute as revealed within the confines of the Pre-Raphaelite painter/poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s lyrical poem Jenny (1870). While the oddly fluctuating reception of the prostitute as both perpetrator and innocent victim complicates the argument, an unexpected elevation of the ‘whore’ to equality with the Victorian lady, will be shown to reveal a troubled substructure of masculine fragmentation. While the commodification of female sexuality necessarily urges a Marxist-Feminist reading, an additional New Historicist approach will also be deployed in order to explain the incongruity of opposing sentiments in the representation of the prostitute.
Key words: Binary Opposition, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Nineteenth-century Poetry, Pre-Raphaelite, Prostitute, Victorian