An Infectious Vessel: The Nineteenth-Century Prostitute Undressed
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AbstractThis dissertation serves as a literary ‘undressing’ of the nineteenth-century prostitute. It examines representations of the prostitute as both a physical and moral vessel of infection. To do so, the dissertation analyses representations from the common streetwalker to the prestigious courtesan, in both French and English novels including: Nana and L’Assommoir by Emile Zola, Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens, The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell, Mrs Warren’s Profession by George Bernard Shaw and La Dame aux Camelias by Alexandre Dumas Fils. The work analyses and deconstructs stereotypical depictions of the prostitute. It also examines societal anxieties concerning the prostitute’s status as an infectious vessel and source of contamination. Additionally, the work incorporates and examines artistic interpretations of the prostitute by French and English artists. The dissertation uses the aforementioned depictions to analyse how manipulation of external appearance disguised the prostitute’s true ‘infectious’ status. The work ascertains that clothing, body and behaviour were deliberately ‘dressed’ by the prostitute to convey respectability and morality. The dissertation establishes that this masquerade enabled the prostitute to avoid societal detection, condemnation and criminalization. It reveals that the prostitute was able to and did avoid any traits that revealed her true status. The work demonstrates that through the adoption of disguise, the prostitute was able to infiltrate and infect rigid social hierarchies. It analyses how societal corruption was made possible by deliberate adjustments to appearance and behaviour. The dissertation establishes that the prostitute could successfully mislead and corrupt ‘respectable’ society through a calculated guise of moral decency.
CitationGeary-Jones, H. G. L. (2017). An Infectious Vessel: The Nineteenth-Century Prostitute Undressed (Master's thesis). University of Chester, United Kingdom.
PublisherUniversity of Chester
TypeThesis or dissertation
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