Behind the Veil: Women in Court

  • Anthea Trodd
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Victorian Literature book series


This is the reflection of Esther Lyon, heroine of George Eliot’s Felix Holt (1866), just before she rises to make an unpremeditated and decisive intervention as character witness on behalf of the accused Felix in his trial for manslaughter. The episode is an example of a scene recurrent in the nineteenth-century novel, where a female character makes a sensational appearance in the witness-box or dock, and decisively influences the outcome of the trial. There are several features common to the representations of this scene. The court is a masculine institution in which the female presence is anomalous; the entrance into visibility by the woman in the court, usually marked by unveiling, creates a sensation; the court remains in a state of unusual excitement throughout her testimony; the evidence she adduces is emotional rather than factual; the particular relation of femininity and truth is canvassed; the female intervention has a decisive influence on the final outcome. The episode is a traumatic personal experience for the heroine, and is also perceived as redefining relations in the community.


Public Sphere Female Character Private Sphere Female Intervention Woman Writer 
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Copyright information

© Anthea Trodd 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Anthea Trodd
    • 1
  1. 1.University of KeeleUK

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