The Palgrave Encyclopedia of Victorian Women's Writing

Living Edition
| Editors: Lesa Scholl (Editor-in-Chief)

Fallen Woman

Living reference work entry


A common term describing a woman who has “fallen” from grace usually by means of an unsanctioned sexual relationship. While the term’s application may be fluid to a degree, the designation of “fallen” also conveys a sense of irrevocable damage and loss. Persistent in literary depictions of sexually deviant women is this notion that their reputations cannot be redeemed once they fall. Furthermore, writers throughout the Victorian period expose the greater burden women bear in comparison to men when engaged in sexual or romantic relationships outside or at the edges of respectable society.


The fallen woman is a common character-type and topic in Victorian literature and prose-writing composed by women and men. Generally speaking, the term refers to a woman who has “fallen” from grace by means of an unsanctioned sexual relationship, but as various historians and literary critics have noted, the term is fairly fluid. Amanda Anderson writes in Tainted Souls and...


Female sexuality Gender Sexism Patriarchy Misogyny Character type 
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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Pennsylvania State UniversityHarrisburgUSA

Section editors and affiliations

  • Emily Morris
    • 1
  1. 1.St. Thomas More CollegeUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada