Transgressive Wives: Representations of married women in Victorian popular culture by Lauren Magilton
This article will explore two representations of women as wives from the mid-nineteenth century. Wilkie Collins’ Armadale (1864) presents us with the figure of Lydia Gwilt; bigamist, murderer and fraudster. From 1859, John Leech’s ‘Punch’ illustration Husband-Taming depicts a wife displaying her husband bathing a child in a public lecture theatre. In looking at these depictions the article will explore how the figure of the wife was displayed in print culture during the mid-nineteenth century, suggesting that in the print culture of the 1850s and 1860s the public are presented with the negative figure of the transgressive wife. In addressing these representations as examples of mass culture from the mid-nineteenth century, the article will ask what these depictions of women can tell us about popular opinions on the changing position of women in society. Using Theodor Adorno’s critique of ‘mass culture’, it will suggest that those in control of mid-Victorian culture used these negative images to uphold the patriarchal status quo during a time of instability in the role of women.