Portrait of a Prostitute: A Feminist Analysis of The Victorian Sex Worker in 19th Century Art and Literature
Despite their deplorable reputation in the conservative eyes of Victorians, prostitutes became the subject of numerous literary pieces and visual artworks. The comparison between characterizations of the sex worker by male writers versus female writers highlights the distinct intentions of both genders. The prestigious Pre-Raphaelite writer and artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti exhibits a dramatic presentation of his male savior complex in both his poem “Jenny” and his painting “Found”, along with its accompanying poem. In contrast, feminist writer Augusta Webster provides her prostitute speaker, Eulalie, with a voice that allows her to articulate how agency plays a role in her work as a fairly successful sex worker, as well as to point out the glaring flaws and hypocrisies that poisoned Victorian society. By comparing the work of these two writers, the distinction between male and female ideas of sympathy for sex workers can be perceived. One can observe that while female feminist writers such as Webster utilize the figure of the sex worker to incite critical conversations about gender roles and culture, the work of male writers such as Rossetti reinforces the harmful stereotypes that these women seek to undo.
Dr. Halina Adams, Thesis Advisor
Dr. Joyce Rain Anderson, Committee Member
Dr. Kathleen Vejvoda, Committee Member
Merlino, Marissa. (2022). Portrait of a Prostitute: A Feminist Analysis of The Victorian Sex Worker in 19th Century Art and Literature. In BSU Honors Program Theses and Projects. Item 556. Available at: https://vc.bridgew.edu/honors_proj/556
Copyright © 2022 Marissa Merlino
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