In 17th-century London, where women were bound to strict social rules and regulations, those who break free from these strict rules are often viewed with suspicion. Some may even call these women wicked as they stray away from what is expected of them. There was also surge of women committing crimes in this time period, which inspired literature to follow the same trend. Female criminals were often represented as sinful and wicked monsters of the time, showing people exactly what not to do if they want to fit in. However, in several specific literary texts set in 17th-century England these women are portrayed as victims of their circumstances who want to be freed from the shackles of gender norms placed on women everywhere. Moll Cutpurse in The Roaring Girl (1611) is criminalized for her gender bending actions, but she is more than the monstrous creature the public claim her to be as she is entertaining, smart, and helpful to those who are kind to her. Moll Flanders in Moll Flanders (1722) vilifies herself as she tells her story through the lens of a repentant criminal, but upon further inspection, readers can see she is a victim of circumstance and is doing the best to survive her financial struggles. Barbara Skelton in The Life and Death of the Wicked Lady Skelton (1944), a historical novel set in seventeenth century Britain, is tired of doing what everyone expects from her and breaks away as an undercover highway woman who expresses her true self through her newfound hobby. All of these women are seen at times as monsters and villains in their 17th-century contexts, but we can also see these women as victims of their circumstances and more than wicked archetypes.
Dr. Elizabeth Veisz, Thesis Advisor
Dr. Halina Adams, Committee Member
Dr. Kathleen Vejvoda, Committee Member
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Original document was submitted as an Honors Program requirement. Copyright is held by the author.
Resendes, Savannah. (2020). More Than Just Wicked: The Tales of Female Criminals in 17th- Century London. In BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 350. Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/honors_proj/350
Copyright © 2020 Savannah Resendes