Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis


Best Senior Thesis in Gender Studies

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Second Department


Reader 1

Lisa Forman Cody

Reader 2

Christine Crockett

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Rights Information

2019 Danielle T Dominguez


During the Victorian age, the law and society were in conversation with each other, and the law reflected Victorian gender norms. Nineteenth-century gender attitudes intersected with the law, medical discourse, and social customs in a multitude of ways. Abuse and gender violence occurred beneath the veneer of Victorian respectability. The models of nineteenth-century social conduct were highly gendered and placed men and women in separate social spheres. As this research indicates, the lived practices of Victorians, across social and economic strata, deviated from these accepted models of behavior. This thesis explores the ways that accepted and unaccepted standards of female behavior manifest in Victorian legal discourse and literary sources. The three tropes of female behavior analyzed in this thesis are: “the angel in the house,” “the mad woman,” and “the fallen woman.” Victorian men repeatedly failed to protect their wives, daughters, and companions and were often the sources of abuse and violence. Women, in turn, were unable to shape themselves to fit the accepted model of Victorian womanhood. This thesis suggests that widespread Victorian gender attitudes and social causes that are taken up by politicians are reflected in the legal system. This thesis unearths the voices of Victorian women, both literary and historical ones, in order to tell their stories and analyze the ways that their experiences are a result of social conventions and legal standards of the nineteenth-century.