Simple Sally: Arrested Development and Child Prostitution in Wilkie Collins’s The Fallen Leaves

Esther Godfrey

The extreme youth of the junior portion of the ‘street-walkers’ is a remarkable feature of London prostitution, and has been the subject of much comment by foreign travellers who have published their impressions of social London. Certain portions of the town are positively infested by juvenile offenders, whose effrontery is more intolerably disgusting than that of their elder sisters […] whatever the prime cause of their appearance in the streets as prostitutes, it is none the less strange and sad—none the less worth amending, that the London poor should furnish, and London immorality should maintain, so many of these half-fledge nurslings, who take to prostitution, as do their brothers of the same age to thieving and other evil courses, for a bare subsistence.’

William Acton, Prostitution, Considered in its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects (1870) 185–86


While Victorian literature includes the stories of numerous prostitutes, these narratives rarely give these women happy endings.  From Charles Dickens’ Nancy to Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s Jenny, Victorian prostitutes tease readers with sordid suggestions of sex and the streets, but fictional fallen women do not typically fare well, especially when their actions combine both economic and physical desire. Literature reflected and instructed middle-class values, and the fates of literary prostitutes paralleled the disproportionate penalties that nineteenth-century women faced for sexual and social transgressions. Yet Wilkie Collins’ The Fallen Leaves (1879), as with his earlier The New Magdalen (1873), distinguishes the author from his peers by breaking from that literary tradition.  Describing the street life of Simple Sally, Collins manipulates Victorian sympathies surrounding childhood, using Sally’s age, size, and immaturity to argue for her redemption and reclamation into society through her marriage to the novel’s hero, Amelius Goldenheart. Collins justifies his rejection of narrative retribution by excusing Sally’s fallen state on various fronts: she was stolen from her middle-class mother as an infant, she was sold into prostitution, and, when Amelius first encounters her at night on the streets of East London, she is hungry, cold, and recently abused.  Victorian readers would have been familiar with these tropes as codes for compassion, and Collins had crafted similar narratives to depict Mercy Merrick as a victim of society in The New Magdalen.  In The Fallen Leaves, however, Collins adds a new plot mechanism: Collins emphasises Sally’s initial status as a simpleton to underscore the severity of her plight, to forgive her past, and to validate the novel’s unlikely union.  Sally’s ‘arrested development’ and childishness—both physical and mental—are Collins’ primary justification for the novel’s sentimental conclusion.

Expanding the work of Catherine Robson and Hugh Cunningham on the Victorian child, recent scholars have focused particularly on childhood’s thematic potential to address contemporary social concerns.  Adrienne Gavin contrasts Victorian authors’ use of the concept with that of Romantic writers: ‘Childhood in Victorian texts for adults was no longer a state longed for, or inspirational […] it was a vulnerable, often painful, powerless state, frequently lonely, with the child portrayed as a victim of adult power, emotional or physical brutality, social neglect, illness, and early death’ (9).  ‘Street Arabs,’ ‘gutter children,’ and ‘waifs and strays’ appeared in texts throughout the Victorian period—from Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1838) to George Eliot’s Silas Marner (1861) to Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure (1895)—often as martyred victims but sometimes as moral or financial inspirations.  All suffering children demanded compassion, but pragmatic Victorian readers realised that in a society embracing Darwinian capitalism, not all poor children could be saved. The figure of the impoverished and neglected child became wrought with complexity in Victorian literature, necessitating a bifurcated delineation of what Galia Benziman calls ‘the child-as-self’ (and therefore deserving of rescue) and ‘the child-as-other’ (and therefore expendable). This narrative categorising explains why some children, like David Copperfield or Jane Eyre, are saved from the machinations of classism while others, like the Artful Dodger or Father Time, are not (148).  For Victorians, youth may have elicited widespread sympathy, but it did not justify widespread social mobility.  In How Novels Think, Nancy Armstrong thus identifies in Victorian novels a concerted effort to maintain ‘a dangerously fragile social order,’ reasoning that the success or acceptance of a rags-to-riches tale depends on how well the author and reader ‘displace what is a fundamentally asocial desire onto a socially appropriate object’ (8).  This essay explores to what extent the medical diagnosis of ‘arrested development’ could sway late-Victorian readers’ perceptions of a child prostitute as a socially appropriate object and consequently justify that individual’s defiance of class and moral boundaries.

In structuring his novel around the central marriage plot of a prostitute, Collins promotes a narrative that runs counter to literary decorum and social science of the Victorian period. Eighteenth-century fictional prostitutes like Moll Flanders or Fanny Hill celebrated upward mobility and enjoyed happy endings but, as early and mid-Victorian literature increasingly adopted moralistic plots, literary prostitutes appeared on a slippery slope to an instructionally tragic end.  While Dickens viewed prostitution sympathetically and helped to establish Urania Cottage as a refuge in 1846, he did not reward prostitutes in his novels.  Nancy is graphically murdered by Bill Sikes in Oliver Twist, and Emily shamefully emigrates to Australia with her uncle in David Copperfield.  Deborah Logan recognises that Victorian women writers’ depictions of prostitution and fallenness are less prescriptive than those of men but nevertheless concludes, ‘not one of these characters can be said to transcend the circumstances of her oppression, much less to become a self-actualised individual’ (26).[1]  Other literary fallen women such as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Ruth, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Marian, and Thomas Hardy’s Tess are presented with offers of marriage, but their sexual experience prevents them from such social or narrative restoration. Most Victorian social scientists believed that this trajectory was very real. Noting the exception of William Acton, Amanda Anderson demonstrates how the majority of contemporary studies of prostitution, including tracts by William Tait, W. R. Greg, William Logan, James Talbot, and Ralph Wardlaw, inevitably place the prostitute on a ‘downward-path scenario’ in which ‘disease, decay, [and] death (often by suicide) […] inexorably descend on the lapsed woman’ (51, 53).  Even toward the end of the century when George Bernard Shaw famously linked marriage to prostitution in Mrs Warrens Profession (1893), the reformed prostitute was not granted restoration through marriage. Yet in 1873, when Collins introduced prostitution as a principal subject in The New Magdalen, he shocked readers with the marriage of Mercy Merrick to Julian Gray, and, as Nina Attwood explains, this approach ‘represents a major exception to the predominant stereotypical narratives’ (101). Attwood thus finds that ‘it was not until Wilkie Collins cast Mercy Merrick, a former prostitute, as his protagonist that Victorian literature saw the portrayal of a prostitute as both the central focus of a novel and as a character that would outlive the final page’ (104).

Despite the largely formulaic approaches within literature, Victorian society engaged in intense debates about gender and sexuality, and even the prescribed, didactic trajectory for prostitutes reveals contradictions and complexities within an evolving sexual logic. Some reformers pointed to the natural relationship of supply and demand in the sex trade to call out male ‘fornicators’ for their role in the problem, and feminist pushback against the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s helped to highlight gendered hypocrisy within codes of sexual propriety. Any honest examination of immediate personal lives—whether that of Collins’s own relationships with Caroline Graves and Martha Rudd, or his friend Dickens’s affair with Ellen Ternan—reveals that Victorian literary justice was both unfair and unrealistic.[2] Collins understood that there was some sympathy and forgiveness for prostitutes, but he remained unsure about what a readership would tolerate. Thus, while The New Magdalen opened the door to a more nuanced conversation in literature about prostitution, Collins extends his experiment in The Fallen Leaves by making Sally an active, rather than former, prostitute—a significant test of readers’ limits of forgiveness. In both novels, while Collins predictably casts Mercy and Sally as passive victims of men and society, rather than active sexual or economic players, he was ahead of his time in his willingness to consider the inherent complexity of women’s sexual morality and, more importantly, to imagine fallen women’s absolution.

A New Perspective on the Oldest Profession

In constructing Amelius as a young British gentleman raised in America among the Primitive Christian Socialists, Collins encourages readers to dismiss certain social prejudices as they attempt to see the world as Amelius sees it.  A stranger to convention and place, Amelius functions as a Gulliver-like character, appealing to common sense over custom and shining light on illogic and pretence when they appear. While Amelius appears too noble—and perhaps too naïve—to search out and solicit prostitutes, the novel places him by choice or by chance in a notorious area under suspicious circumstances when he first encounters Sally.  Amelius is engaged to marry Regina Farnaby but, according to her uncle’s high standards, Amelius lacks the financial resources to wed and therefore faces the vexing possibility of a ten-year engagement.  In desperation, he has begged his fiancée to elope to a ‘cottage in the country’ and has tried to accrue enough funds for marriage through lecturing about socialism, but both efforts fail.  Clearly frustrated, he parts with his friend Rufus late at night with the stated intent of a four or five-hour walk; Amelius explains, ‘I shouldn’t sleep, if I did go to bed’ (180).  If the potential for sexual deviance does not appear obvious to Amelius, it does to the reader and to the older and wiser Rufus, who prays, ‘Lord send the poor boy may keep clear of mischief this night!’ (180).  Walking swiftly along the east end of the Strand, careless of direction, Amelius finds himself crossing Waterloo Bridge as he ruminates over his postponed marriage—the ‘one prospect he could see of a tranquil and happy life—and its duties and pleasures’ (181).  Amelius is almost killed while crossing a side street because he is so focused on the marital pleasures that he is denied. Dazed, bitter, and aroused, Amelius enters for the first time a street-market for the urban poor.

Amelius’s upbringing on an American commune has done little to prepare him for the sights and smells of London’s worst neighbourhoods.  In Ragged London in 1861, John Hollingshead describes,

dark acres of crime, and covered everywhere with the vilest sores of prostitution, are something like four hundred thousand people, or one-seventh part of the whole metropolitan population. In many respects, its standard of civilisation is lower than either that of Whitechapel or St. George’s in the East, especially in the Southwark and Waterloo Road districts. It has scores of streets that are rank and steaming with vice; streets where unwashed, drunken, fishy-eyed women hang by dozens out of the windows, beckoning to the passers-by. (166–67)

Collins’s depiction is decidedly more sympathetic than that of Hollingshead; Amelius sees ‘furious women’ and ‘drunkard husbands,’ but he also witnesses adults who express ‘noble resignation to their hard fate,’ ‘starving boys and girls’ and ‘pale children in corners’ (184, 183).  After spending all of his small change on food for the poor, Amelius laments his powerlessness to resolve such an overwhelming social problem and briefly entertains spiritual doubts of an all-merciful God before he accepts that all these suffering children cannot be saved. Most, if not all, must be abandoned as ‘the child-as-other.’

Despite the seemingly insurmountable negative consequences of women’s sexual experience outside of marriage, Collins does not prevaricate about Sally’s situation. Attempting to leave this scene, Amelius is approached by Sally, whose question ‘Are you good-natured, sir?’ was a variation of the established line used by prostitutes for propositioning prospective clients (Pearson 23).[3]  Collins makes Sally’s vocation unavoidable, describing her as ‘one of the saddest sisterhood on earth—the sisterhood of the streets’ (185).  Unlike Mercy in The New Magdalen, who has already reformed and is doing penance as a Red Cross nurse when the novel opens, Sally has no temporal distance from her past. When readers meet her, she is presently engaged in her profession.  Sally’s name further places her at the bottom of the hierarchy of Victorian prostitutes; while elite prostitutes enjoyed lives of relative comfort and wealth, ‘Round-the-corner-Sallies’ were some of the least respected women, and least profitable, within the sex trade.  For prospective clients, ‘Sallies’ did not warrant the extra six shillings for a cheap room, and sexual acts were literally performed around the corner, ‘in the ill-lit back alleys and courts of the city’s slums’ (Walkowitz 21). Collins quickly establishes Sally not only as a practising prostitute but also as one of the least valued and most vulnerable in the sex trade.

On the streets or in the news, prostitutes and prostitution were very much in the public eye throughout the 1860s and 70s, and the Contagious Disease Acts of the 1860s both fed and reflected public antipathy for prostitutes.  Despite the work of moralists like William Acton, who advocated for increased regulation of the sex trade, and reformers like Josephine Butler, who advocated for the rights of fallen women, prostitutes, rather than the men who frequented them, were the centre of a social and moral crisis.  The first edition of Acton’s 1857 Prostitution, Considered in Its Moral, Social, and Sanitary Aspects proved so popular that he revised and expanded it into a second edition in 1870.  Citing estimates of London’s prostitutes as high as 50,000–80,000, Acton records that the number of actual prostitutes far exceeded the number of women who registered as prostitutes under the regulation of the Contagious Diseases Acts of 1864 and 1866: ‘Were there any possibility of reckoning all those in London who would come within the definition of prostitutes, I am inclined to think that the estimates of the boldest who have preceded me would be thrown into the shade’ (7).  Deemed ‘The Great Social Evil’ of the period, prostitution challenged Victorians’ perceptions of their own humanity through its blatant expression of economic brutalities and unrestrained sexualities.  Whether fact or fiction, in My Secret Life Walter graphically describes countless encounters with prostitutes, including those who help him rape girls as young as ten, and Acton describes prostitutes in garrison towns who have sex with twenty soldiers per night (Anon, 131; Acton, 5). Explicit descriptions of the sores and lesions associated with syphilis fuelled arguments in favour of the detainment and inspection of prostitutes, or women suspected of being prostitutes, and undermined what advocates like Butler declared were the natural rights of women to their bodies. The label of prostitute proved more likely for a Victorian readership to rob a woman of legal rights and common decency than to elicit sympathy. In The New Magdalen, when Grace learns from Mercy that she was once a prostitute, Grace withdraws her hand, stands up, and walks away.

Collins thus burdens his heroine with plenty of reasons for social stigma, but he simultaneously provides a defence that was both conventional (she is a child) and original (she is a child prostitute). Sally’s entrance into the novel complicates boundaries between disposable and salvageable children and disposable and salvageable adults, challenging earlier literary strictures that suggest fallen women can never be socially redeemed.  Amelius’s ‘heart ache[s]’ as he looks upon Sally, and the hearts of readers are likewise roused to pity; Sally is ‘so poor and so young’ and her ‘pretty little bare hands [a]re reddened by the raw night air’ (185).  Perhaps some of Amelius’s confusion can be attributed to his own arrested development—a particular naiveté stemming from his sheltered upbringing within the Socialist commune—but all readers are encouraged to join him in an ambivalent reading of Sally’s body that troubles their ability to predetermine her narrative fate.  Collins’s description is detailed and infused with perplexing signs for readers: described as a ‘lost creature,’ Sally has apparently

barely passed the boundary between childhood and girlhood […] Her eyes, of the purest and loveliest blue, rested on Amelius with a vacantly patient look, like the eyes of a suffering child. The soft oval outline of her face would have been perfect if the cheeks had been filled out; they were wasted and hollow, and sadly pale. Her delicate lips had none of the rosy colour of youth; and her finely modelled chin was disfigured by a piece of plaster covering some injury.  She was little and thin; her worn and scanty clothing showed her frail youthful figure still waiting for its perfection of growth. (185)

Paradoxically, here, childhood is associated with purity, but also idealised potential in its eventual adult ‘perfection of growth.’ Collins draws upon his own artistic background to offer an aesthetic image that is deliberately ambiguous, poised between sexiness and saintliness, whore and virgin, adult and child: ‘the girl was artlessly virginal and innocent; she looked as if she had passed through the contamination of the streets without being touched by it, without fearing it, or feeling it, or understanding it. Robed in pure white, with her gentle blue eyes raised to heaven, a painter might have shown her on his canvas as a saint or an angel’ (185–86). At this point, only ‘the words in which she had accosted him’ mark her as fallen; otherwise, ‘it would have been impossible to associate her with the lamentable life that she led’ (185).  Collins’ indecisive details make it impossible to determine if Sally is relatable to readers’ understanding of their own lives, and therefore salvageable, or irredeemably other, and thereby disposable.

Sally is not a passive participant in the sex trade, and, as readers see, she actively solicits clients on the street. Collins relates, however, that she is forced into sex work by her violent foster ‘father,’ who shakes his fist as he threatens, ‘You’ve got a gentleman this time. I shall expect gold to-night, or else’ (188).  Sally laments, ‘Father always beats me, sir, if I don’t bring money home.  He threw a knife at me last night.  It didn’t hurt much—it only cut me here,’ pointing to her chin (187).  Another prostitute warns Amelius about Sally’s pimp, ‘He’s no more her father, sir, than I am. She’s a helpless creature—and he takes advantage of her’ (187).  To prove to Amelius how badly Sally is abused, another prostitute encourages Sally to show Amelius her breast, and, what would have been a prostitute’s customary advertising of her body becomes a pitiful display of sexual violence: ‘Over the lovely girlish breast, still only growing to the rounded beauty of womanhood, there was a hideous blue-black bruise.  Simple Sally smiled, and said, “That did hurt me, sir. I’d rather have the knife”’ (187). Feminist historians of the history of prostitution should question to what extent systemic male coercion, inadequate education, and economic injustice allowed any prostitute the alternatives implied by the term ‘consent,’ but Collins makes it clear that Sally, abused, young, and ‘simple,’ is not a prostitute by choice.

Arrested Development and All-Atoning Ignorance

As Acton, Benziman, and Cunningham make clear, age did not clearly correlate with childhood or innocence, especially among the very poor.  Victorians believed that poor environments could lead to sexual precocity, and some MPs employed this logic to argue against raising the age of consent from thirteen to sixteen (Jackson 17).[4]  Acton describes, ‘certain portions of the town are positively infested by juvenile offenders, whose effrontery is more intolerably disgusting than that of their elder sisters’ (185). These prepubescent, ‘half fledge nurslings,’ worked as child prostitutes as young as eight and nine, and James Kincaid suggests in Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture that there were ‘fewer than a thousand child prostitutes known to police; but the problem was very real’ (Acton 185; Kincaid 76).  An 1857 tract on prostitution, The Greatest of Our Social Evils, recounts numerous examples of poor parents who exploit their children by selling them into prostitution ‘like common merchandise,’ and Ellice Hopkins, a Victorian social worker, documented seven-year-old girls suffering from venereal diseases that they had contracted through prostitution (Logan 50).  Victorian indignation about the ‘white slavery’ of child prostitution rings correlated with larger Victorian debates of the 1870s and 80s about child labour, but the overt promiscuity of sex work troubled middle-class Victorians in ways that factory, coal mine, or agricultural labour did not.[5]

Because of work, poverty, and undernourishment, poor children often appeared unnaturally old to the middle class.  Florence Davenport-Hill depicts in her 1868 Children of the State ‘children whose sickly faces and look of premature age betray at once their vitiated descent’ (qtd. in Cunningham 202).  Hugh Cunningham details the disturbing precocity that alarmed reformers documented among the working poor.  Working boys identified themselves as men and became ‘old before their time,’ knowing things they ‘ought not to know.’  J.H.M. Abbott describes children in London’s East End: ‘The little stunted bodies, the thin, white faces, the spindle legs, the lank hair, the sore mouths, the tired, apathetic, listless bearing of them all.  There were old men at five, and aged dames of three, in the doorways and passages’ (qtd. in Cunningham 158).  By the twentieth century, reports on the children of London’s slums were even firmer in their conclusions that poverty deprived the poor of childhood: ‘The slum child is often so old.  It is old at its mother’s breast, wizened from undernourishment and old from the horror and filth in which it was conceived, old from the crime and hopelessness of its forebears’ (qtd. in Cunningham 221-22).  Writing of Dickens’s Artful Dodger and his friends, Liz Thiel explains, ‘Presented as prematurely aged, they are certainly more adult than childlike in demeanour, [and] appear to relish their state and display a predilection for degeneracy that would appear to undermine the notion of essential childhood innocence, a trope central to numerous characterisations of the child in nineteenth-century literature’ (132).  Poor children troubled Victorian conceptions of youth and age as distinct stages determined by chronological time.

Even more confusing were contemporary medical reports of the effects of inadequate nutrition and living conditions on the bodies of poor children since they at times served to age them, as with the ‘aged dames of three’ and ‘wizened’ infant above, but at other times connected them with the diminutive bodies and minds even more readily associated with childhood.  For the poor, severe malnutrition during pregnancy and extreme undernourishment of infants were chronic realities.  The use of opium-derived ‘soothing syrups’ like Godfrey’s Cordial and Atkinson’s Royal Infants Preservative by working-class mothers further contributed to the stunting of children’s physical and mental development (Tanner 158-9).  In her article ‘Explaining the Short Stature of the Poor: Chronic Childhood Disease and Growth in Nineteenth-Century England,’ Pamela Sharpe ties these ‘puny’ children to broader national concerns over the condition of England, finding that ‘the bodies of surviving working-class children showed the burden of hard times’ (1475).  Little Nell, Little Dorrit, the Infant Phenomenon, Tiny Tim, and Father Time are each distinguished by their physical smallness, and Victorian literature abounds with representations of these young arrested bodies.  Speaking of the Artful Dodger and Jenny Wren, Lucy Bending concludes, ‘The stunted bodies of both these children enact the perception, embodied in numerous printed statistics concerning the heights of factory children that began to be accumulated in earnest in the 1870s, that the stressed child failed to grow’ (207).  Not only did the concept of a nation of malnourished children raise practical concerns, like the fitness of Britain’s future military, but it also questioned the values of a growing empire ignoring its most defenceless population at home.

Starvation also related to sex, sexuality, and reproduction. On the one hand, the extreme lack of nutrition that street children faced could quite understandably delay puberty for many girls. Pearson oversimplifies the matter, writing that ‘working class girls in the nineteenth century rarely reached puberty until they were sixteen,’ but this theory was an issue also of interest to Stead, who explains that many of the young girls coerced into prostitution are told by their procurers that they cannot get pregnant the first time they have sex, only to learn differently (30).  Food consumption and the lack thereof did affect girls’ physical development, including amenorrhea and the delay of puberty.[6]  Paul Johnson and Stephen Nicolas document ‘considerable evidence of a pro-male allocation of food within industrial revolution families,’ in which men and boys received both more food and more expensive food, like meat, than women and girls (214-15).  Gendered inequalities of food distribution among the poor that economised food for the potential male breadwinners nevertheless reflected broader cultural influences across class lines. In Mad, Bad and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors, Lisa Appignanesi explains that doctors identified anorexia as a disease in the 1870s, although it had a long history in religious fasting and women’s protest, and that the disease had specific class associations in the bourgeois family where ‘a slim figure and the spirituality which a restrained appetite evokes are useful assets’ (385). Carolyn Day has also recently explored the aesthetics of ‘consumptive chic’ and the trend toward emaciated bodies, especially for women, in Victorian fashion. Thus, some working-class economic realities aligned aesthetically with middle-class ideologies. When Amelius first meets Sally and she is fainting from hunger, he offers the ‘best food that the place afforded,’ but she prefers simple bread and butter, which is viewed as a ‘luxury’ by her (187). He buys a plate from a coffee stall piled high with thick slices of bread, but Sally finds she can only eat one slice before she is full. Sally’s lack of appetite seems unrealistic given her circumstances, but Collins suggests that Sally’s appetite for food is akin to her appetite for sex: undeveloped, if not altogether stunted.

Sally’s infantilising ‘littleness’ counters the narrative’s affective distancing encouraged by cultural associations of precocious children with premature aging, but even as small size facilitated compassion for poor children, it fed paedophilic demand for young girls working as child prostitutes.  Adding to James Kincaid’s work on the erotic child in Victorian culture, Louise Jackson clarifies further, ‘The concept of sexual innocence, which was elevated in the Victorian ‘cult of the little girl’, was clearly dependent on its opposite: the lurking shadow of experience and adult corruption. Furthermore, social purity writers of the 1880s, in buying into this idealisation of innocence, further commodified and, indeed, fetishised it’ (114). In My Secret Life, Walter uses this seemingly inevitable sexualisation of young girls to justify his paedophilic desire for infantile, hairless virgins: ‘[v]erily a gentleman had better fuck them for money, than a butcher boy for nothing. It is the fate of such girls to be fucked young, neither laws social or legal can prevent it’ (566).[7] The erotic tension of reformers like W.T. Stead also played upon the liminality of youth and age, innocence and experience, and even his work for reform titillated readers with the same systemic oppression of young girls that it pretended to denounce.  Within one brothel, he describes,

the childlike, spirituelle beauty of the other’s baby face.  It was cruel to see the poor wee features, not much larger than those of a doll, of the delicately nurtured girl, as she came into the room with her fur mantle wrapped closely around her, and timidly asked me if I would take some wine […] It seemed a profanation to touch her, she was so young and so baby-like.  [Yet] [t]here she was, turned over to the first comer that would pay. (qtd in Jackson 115)

This constructed ability of child prostitutes to project the binary of virgin and whore in their small bodies clearly intrigued Stead, who wrote of dozens of such girls who presented a similar duality of youth and age in his ‘Maiden Tribute’ series. Stead portrays Emily, aged eleven and short for her age, who had already worked as a prostitute in the East End for two years before being sent to a Refuge, ‘with a pleasant face with varying expression: sometimes a fearfully old look, and sometimes with the face of childhood’ (qtd. in Robson 168). Literary child prostitutes like Sally consequently offer scholars an opportunity to trace further implications of what Claudia Nelson calls ‘age inversion’ in her insightful study Precocious Children and Childish Adults, since they uniquely fulfil both of these inverted possibilities at once.

Of course, Collins’s Sally is not only physically small, but the growth of her mind has also been similarly stunted.  An older prostitute explains to Amelius, ‘We call her Simple Sally, because she’s a little soft, poor soul—hasn’t grown up, you know, in her mind, since she was a child’ (186).  Like Collins’s Anne Catherick and, during her illness, Laura Fairlie, Sally is so mentally deficient that she is easily manipulated.  As she ‘dimly’ attempts to understand Amelius’s interest in her plight, her mental disability excuses her initial allegiance to the abusive pimp she calls her father and, Collins suggests, her disability should also rationalise her willing participation in sex work (188).  Sally’s extreme lack of perception associates her further with childhood, and she is ‘filled with a childish interest and surprise’ upon seeing Amelius’s concern for her and eventually ‘put her hand in his, with the air of a child who was ready to go home’ (188, 191).  Thinking is slow and painful for Sally, and Collins repeatedly likens her feelings for Amelius to a dog’s faithfulness to its master. ‘I’m little, and I’m stupid,’ Sally says bluntly (202).

The causes of Sally’s arrested development are not clear.  Even though Sally’s mother was not poor, inadequate foetal nutrition is certainly possible. As an unmarried teenager living in her parents’ home, Sally’s mother hid her pregnancy, so that while she is described as ‘plump,’ she is also ‘pale,’ ‘languid,’ and visibly ‘out of health,’ and her father has no idea that she is pregnant when viewing her body just weeks before she gives birth (2).  When Sally’s biological father kidnaps Sally and sells her to a baby farmer as an infant (failing to send future payments for her care), she enters a Victorian underworld in which unprotected children were passed from adult to adult with no regulatory oversight or support.[8]  Within this world, Sally becomes accustomed to neglect and abuse.  She even tells Amelius, ‘I don’t mind being beaten,’ appealing to her friend for affirmation, ‘We get used to everything, don’t we, Jenny?’ (189).  When Amelius later has Sally examined by a surgeon, he pronounces, ‘the natural growth of her senses—her higher and lower senses alike—has been stunted, like the natural growth of her body, by starvation, terror, exposure to cold, and other influences inherent in the life that she has led’ (313).  The doctor euphemises the effects of sexual excess in his remarks, but hints at Victorian beliefs that sex acts, especially for women, interfered with brain development. Thus, Acton claims, ‘Broken constitutions, sickly bodies, and feeble minds are times out of number the work of the prostitute’ (74).[9]  Prostitutes were often associated with disease and decay, but arrested development in childhood uniquely reverses the prostitute’s path toward mortality back into potentiality.

Sally’s arrested development allows a number of plot developments.  Her inability to comprehend the events around her creates a moral loophole for Victorian readers who would otherwise reject the possibility of a prostitute as a socially appropriate other for the hero’s consideration.  Just as readers forgive Franklin Blake in The Moonstone for stealing the diamond when he is drugged with opium, Sally appears to have been mentally absent during the sex acts in which readers nevertheless imagine her to have engaged and even solicited. While Sally was over the legal age of consent as a fifteen or sixteen-year-old girl in 1879 (her age is only known upon identifying her as the stolen Farnaby baby, since Sally does not know her actual age), the Offenses Against the Person Act of 1861 and Amendment of 1875 brought broader issues of consent to the public eye. Penalties for sexual relations with ‘imbeciles’ would not be formalised until the famous Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, but juries were already creating case law that would criminalise sex with women of any age who were mentally unable to give consent.  In R vs Fletcher (1859) and R vs Barratt (1873), the juries determined that the adolescents, though over the age of consent, were victims of rape on the grounds that they were mentally incapable of giving consent, even though they did not physically resist their attackers.  Both cases are cited in the Criminal Law Amendment Act, which goes into significant detail about the issue of mental disability and consent, specifically addressing the concept of arrested development:

There is a state, scarcely separable from idiocy, in which the mind is capable of receiving some ideas, and of profiting to a certain extent by instruction. Owing however, either to original defect, or to a defect proceeding from arrested development of the brain as a result of disease or other causes operating after birth, the minds of such persons are not capable of being brought to a healthy standard of intellect, like that of an ordinary person of similar age and social position. This state is called imbecility; it is nothing more than idiocy in a minor degree […] In imbecility the physical organization differs but little from the ordinary standard; the moral and intellectual faculties are susceptible of cultivation, but to a less degree than in a perfect man […] In the better class of imbeciles the speech is often easy and unaffected, while there is every grade in between. (48)

The law concludes, ‘Where the jury find that the prosecutrix is incapable of expressing assent or dissent to the act done, the law as to rape would apply’ (49). In the years following the 1885 Amendment and the ‘Maiden Tribute’ scandal, The Times reports other cases of imbecility and consent, but I have not identified examples of arrested development being used as a means of defence in cases of prostitution.

Collins pushes Victorians’ affective limitations in applying growing public sympathy for the mentally disabled to prostitutes, and he uses arrested development to revise existing concepts of fallen women’s remorse and redemption. Anderson details how Greg and others recognised that fallen women’s guilt served as evidence of their virtue but that this personal sense of shame also worked paradoxically to reinforce external social ostracism. As illustrated in numerous Pre-Raphaelite paintings like Rossetti’s Found (ca. 1854) or William Holman Hunt’s The Awakening Conscience (1853), Victorian society encouraged fallen women to police themselves through internalised shaming. Anderson explains that the ‘prerequisite for [the prostitute’s] redemption, a feeling of shame, also guarantees her doom’ (56). Collins seizes upon this component of the prostitute’s downward path and artfully eliminates it through his use of the arrested development plot. Sally, at least until the end of the novel, has no consciousness of her wrongdoing, and thus she feels no shame. Collins suggests that her mental disability preserves her innocence by removing her from both the mental comprehension and physical pleasure of sexual acts: ‘she passed through the contamination of the streets without being touched by it; without fearing it, feeling it, or understanding it’ (186).  For Collins and the reader, the medical diagnosis of Sally’s arrested development becomes key to her purity.

Child Prostitutes and the Marriage Plot

Sally’s childlike simplicity enables Collins to play further with propriety as he moves readers toward his sentimental ending. After determining to help Sally, Amelius discovers that safe and affordable shelters are limited; for various reasons, the workhouse, a brothel, and a lodging house are easily dismissed as viable options, and Amelius takes Sally into his own lodgings for the night as ‘an act of Christian duty’ (191).  Collins teases the reader in his description of the couple’s first evening together.  When Amelius gallantly gives Sally his bedroom and walks into the next room to sleep on the sofa, Sally asks directly, ‘Are you going to leave me by myself?’ (193). Collins clearly enjoys the unseemliness of this situation, and he lingers over the sexual awkwardness that he has created. To defuse some of the sensational indecency, Collins describes, ‘Not the faintest suggestion of immodesty—nothing that the most profligate man living could have interpreted impurely—showed itself in her look or manner, as she said those words’ (193). Cleverly, Collins asks the reader to imagine the impure and then to let go of the thought. It is almost impossible for a reader to suspend disbelief that an experienced prostitute—even one with arrested mental development or one accustomed to sex in back alleys—would have no understanding or memory of beds and bedrooms as spaces connected with sex acts, but Collins directs the reader to consider as Amelius considers. He reasons, ‘Amelius thought of what one of her women-friends had told him. ‘She hasn’t grown up, you know, in her mind, since she was a child.’ There were other senses in the poor victim that were still undeveloped, besides the mental sense.  He was at a loss how to answer her, with the respect which was due to that all-atoning ignorance’ (193). Most Victorians would have dismissed the notion of a middle-class gentleman showing ‘respect’ due to a prostitute, but in this situation, Amelius and the reader possess sexualised knowledge that Sally does not have, and thus, in a poignant reversal, the shame and guilt fall on them instead of her.

Collins makes an important leap here in claiming that Sally’s physical and mental immaturity prohibits her sexual development; yet, just as soon as he establishes her ‘all-atoning ignorance,’ he returns to playing with sexually blurred lines. When Amelius insists on sleeping on the couch, Sally worries that she has angered him and begs him to wish her good night. He does so and takes her hand, but ‘[s]he was not quite comforted yet’ (193). As on the street, Sally solicits him again, with ‘something so completely childlike in the artless perplexity of her eyes,’ to plead, ‘[w]ould you mind giving me a kiss, sir?’ (193, 194). Smiling, Amelius kisses her ‘pale delicate lips,’ and Collins moralises, ‘[l]et the man who can honestly say he would have done otherwise, blame him’ (194).  Amelius does sleep on the couch, but Collins has fulfilled his narrative goal to both sexualise and desexualise Sally through the ‘all-atoning’ rationale of arrested development.

Sally’s lack of sexual desire or sexual understanding runs counter to most Victorian depictions of the precociousness of street children and especially child prostitutes, and Collins continually points the reader back to, as Walkowitz describes, ‘middle-class concern with immorality, city waste, pollution, and infection emanating from the “Great Unwashed”’ (22). Amelius’s landlady does not accept Sally’s overnight visit in Amelius’s rooms as ‘Christian charity’ and promptly evicts him—giving him just one hour the next day to vacate the lodgings.  For many Victorians, neither arrested development nor extreme ignorance removed one from the taint of dangerous sexualities. From this perspective, dirty street children were even more likely to be sexually precocious, because doctors believed that vaginal irritation from uncleanliness could foster sexual stimulation and desire, and as Jackson summarises, ‘The child’s body was supposed to be pure, closed, intact and hence unmarked by other bodies; it was also supposed to be clean […] Dirt was inextricably linked with sexuality, cleanliness with purity’ (86). Sally is a dirty girl. She never gets more than ‘a little pitcher’ of water to clean herself, and sadly laments ‘she has never had as much water as [she] should like’ (192). Amelius allows her to take a bath and buys her ‘new clothes! clean clothes!’ (196), including new underwear, but, for many Victorians familiar with the Contagious Disease Acts of the 1860s, the physical and moral pollution of the street could not be washed off nor virtue purchased.[10]

Collins’s manipulation of narrative romanticism and realism falters at times when he seems to sense the implausibility of his depictions of Sally’s angelic purity in light of what poor girls experienced on the London streets. Mrs. Sowler, the baby farmer who first takes Sally as an infant, knows what life would have been like for orphaned girls on the streets of London, and when she meets the twenty-four-year-old Phoebe inquiring about the sixteen-year-old Sally, she subtracts their ages and asks if Phoebe is looking for her own lost child, even though that would mean that Phoebe gave birth at age eight.  Through characters like Mrs. Sowler, Collins at times acknowledges that these were the sexual brutalities faced by London’s street children.  Sally bluntly admits, ‘little girl, or big girl, it’s only the streets; and always being hungry or cold; and cruel men when it isn’t cruel boys’ (206). It is difficult to imagine Sally as ‘untouched’ after such descriptions, and Collins appears uncertain about how to manage this delicate construction of innocence and experience.

Amelius and his friend Rufus soon place Sally into a refuge for prostitutes not unlike Urania Cottage, but Sally, who is by this point Amelius’s loyal, dog-like ‘pet,’ eventually escapes and returns to him. Inspired by his French servant’s chastisement for living a sexless ‘monk’s’ life, Amelius fantasises about Sally kissing him one night to awaken and find that the dream is real. Sally affects the repentance of a naughty schoolgirl, saying ‘I know I’m a bad girl,’ to which Amelius responds by kissing her ‘again and again’ and calling her a ‘dear good grateful little creature’ before realising the ‘imprudence’ of his physical affection (248). Sally moves back into Amelius’s lodgings, although Collins again takes care to desexualise this arrangement—after all, Amelius is still engaged to another woman—and just as in Walter Hartright’s unmarried cohabitation with Laura Fairlie, their roles are temporarily cast as filial or parental: Sally kisses him ‘as a sister might have kissed him,’ and Amelius judiciously identifies himself as ‘father and mother both’ to his dear child (255, 272).  Expressing her class loyalty and gendered gratitude, Sally declares that her ultimate goal is to become his servant. For some time, they continue happily, and Amelius even reconciles Sally with her biological mother moments before her death. For Sally, life with Amelius is pure ‘heaven,’ and ‘the life of Amelius glided insensibly into the peaceful byways of seclusion, brightened by the companionship of Sally’ (306). This sexless period of playing house resembles in many ways David Copperfield’s first marriage to Dora, and Nelson argues that these platonic arrangements often provided Victorian men like Amelius a space in which they could pretend both were children—removing the financial, emotional, and sexual obligations of adult marriage: ‘to love a girl enables the same appreciation of erotic ‘allure’ as to love a woman, but without the potential for guilt; the innocent girl will not suppose herself a romantic object and thus will neither lose her girlhood nor ask anything of the man’ (130).

But helping Sally inevitably means changing Sally; her development is arrested, but it is only temporarily arrested, not permanently stunted.  The surgeon who initially examines her concludes, ‘With nourishing food, pure air, and above all kind and careful treatment, I see no reason, at her age, why she should not develop into an intelligent and healthy young woman’ (205).[11] When Sally returns from the refuge, there was ‘much left to do’; her eyes still had a ‘vacantly patient look,’ but her ‘wasted face and figure were filling out’ (250). Amelius thus continues the reformation of Sally that had begun at the refuge: he gives her adequate nutrition, he protects her body from sexual abuse, and he provides intellectual and spiritual lessons. The effects are as the doctor predicts, and she advances mentally and physically, becoming less and less childlike in her speech, thought, and appearance.  Sally’s development is necessary for the completion of the marriage plot. Since Collins’s erasure of Sally’s illegitimate sexual past depends upon her childishness, the possibility of her legitimate sexual future must depend upon her maturity.  Sally cannot remain simple and consent to marriage with Amelius.

Sally’s path to maturity is difficult to navigate. Collins warns, ‘The mysterious influences under which the girl’s development was advancing were working morally and physically together.  Weeks might pass harmlessly, months might pass harmlessly—but the time must come when the innocent relations between them would be beset by peril’ (255). Amelius is slow to perceive the gradual changes to Sally’s body, but one morning she comes into the sitting room in her dressing gown. Her body has ‘filled out’ to the extent that Sally must let out her dress, and she worries that Amelius will no longer like her now that she is ‘getting fat’ (309). The adage in her copybook cautions that ‘Change is a Law of Nature,’ and Sally and Amelius begin to experience the ramifications of Sally’s progress (310). She expresses romantic jealousy over a pretty woman in the park, and she is troubled by memories of her former exploitation on the streets. Sally’s physical and mental development is doubly painful when she begins to consider the prospects before her as fallen woman rather than an abused child. ‘That’s the worst of learning,’ she laments, ‘one knows too much, and there’s an end of one’s happiness’ (310-11). Later that day, they happen upon a wedding of an older man to a younger woman, and an onlooker compares the new bride to a prostitute, selling her body in ‘the house of God’ (315). While Collins is making a radical comment here about the systemic traffic in women, this incident has a conservative effect in the novel. The woman’s direct reference to prostitution inspires panic in Sally, who is now fully cognizant of the social stigma associated with her former life, as well as the impropriety of her current living arrangement with Amelius. Worried that this woman will somehow be able to identify her as tainted, Sally exclaims, ‘I am one of those creatures she talked about. Is the mark of the streets on me after all you have done to rub it out?’ (316). Newly aware of her shame, Sally is at this point of the narrative dangerously close to the ‘downward-path scenario’ of Victorian literary prostitutes and fallen women before her.

Rufus returns in the narrative as a voice of Victorian society: Collins casts Rufus as a character who can see the hypocrisy of Sally’s social ostracism but who nevertheless contributes to it. He tells Sally that she will be forgiven by God, but that the world has ‘a religion of its own’ and that it will ‘do everything for you except taking you back again’ (327). Rufus acknowledges that her punishment is based more on concern for the rights of property than morality, and that these economic motives are disguised by a ‘veneer of benevolent sentiment’ (327). Nonetheless, as if predicting the response of readers who will condemn the novel’s ending despite evidence of Sally’s innocence, Collins places Rufus as an unsympathetic friend and the instigator of Sally’s return to the streets.  Rufus feels sorry for Sally, but he falls short of forgiving her past and supporting her return to mainstream society. In an effort to separate her from Amelius, Rufus offers to take her to America and find her honest employment, but he reinforces the message that she must always be a disgrace to Amelius. Justifying his actions to himself, he reasons that ‘the world is hard on women’ (330).

Realising her ‘fallenness’ and fulfilling the narrative expectations for prostitutes (even reformed prostitutes) in Victorian fiction, Sally runs away from Amelius’s home in self-destructive disgrace and returns to the London streets. She is quite conscious when she chooses to replace her clean, respectable dress for her old ‘miserable rags,’ and Amelius is ‘unmanned’ when he realises that ‘[s]he had gone back, in the old dress, to die under the cold, the hunger, and the horror of the old life’ (333, 334). Growing up, for Sally, brings a self-awareness of how society judges her and a sense that she must also judge herself by those standards. It is unclear to what extent she reverts to her former life in her newfound shame, but when Amelius finds her, she is out of her mind with a fever and being cared for by her prostitute friends. Certainly, if we read these chapters as Sally’s relapse into prostitution, then the novel’s ending is even more surprising, as Sally is now twice fallen—the second time by her own conscious accord and in actualisation of a self-fulfilling prophecy. But Collins returns (somewhat unevenly) to the defence afforded by mental incompetence, and he offers Sally’s fever and illness as a short-lived and symbolic return to her former arrested development and mental oblivion: the ‘all-atoning ignorance.’ The doctor reports that Sally has been ‘out of her senses, and not in the least responsible for what she did at the time when she did it’ (346–47). Fortuitously, while Sally is ill, news of Amelius’s cohabitation with Sally reaches his fiancée in Paris, and Regina abruptly ends their engagement. Once again, Amelius helps to nurse Sally back to health, and, this time when she is recovered, he marries her.

Collins’s atypical construction of this sentimental ending was troubling for conventional characters within the novel, like Rufus, as well as for many Victorian readers and critics, who lambasted Collins for both subject matter and indelicacy.[12] While this perspective was by no means universal, it was clearly prevalent among critics and upper middle-class readers, leading Philip O’Neill to label The Fallen Leaves as Collins’s ‘least successful book’ (32). Suggesting that criticism of the novel was both elitist and un-Christian, Collins defends his writing and his characters in the dedication to Jezebel’s Daughter the following year. He calls on the ‘best and noblest sympathies of Christian readers’ in granting redemption to Sally, an ‘innocent victim of infamy, rescued and purified from the contamination of the streets’ (iv). Collins implies that when cheaper editions of the novel reach the general public, they will respond more favourably and that he will write the second volume at that time. That positive reception did not come, and Collins never wrote the sequel to The Fallen Leaves that he originally planned.  Although Sally is a rare example of a Victorian literary prostitute who finds narrative atonement through the marriage plot, her recovery is not complete, and, among Victorian readers, even arrested development proves an inadequate explanation for sexual promiscuity. Nonetheless, the mysteries of what caused and alleviated arrested development allow Collins enough room to shift literary boundaries defining what were acceptable outcomes for prostitutes’ lives, as well as to explore paedophilia, disability, and desire.


Works Cited

Acton, William. Prostitution, Considered in its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects. 2nd ed. 1870. Reprint. New York: Routledge, 1972. Print.

Anderson, Amanda. Tainted Souls and Painted Faces: The Rhetoric of Fallenness in Victorian Culture. Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1993. Print.

Anonymous. My Secret Life: An Erotic Diary of Victorian London. Abr. ed. Ed. James Kincaid. New York: Signet, 1996. Print.

Appignanesi, Lisa. Mad, Bad, and Sad: Women and the Mind Doctors. New York: Norton, 2008. Print.

Armstrong, Nancy. How Novels Think: The Limits of British Individualism from 1719-1900. New York: Columbia UP, 2005. Print.

Attwood, Nina. The Prostitutes Body: Rewriting Prostitution in Victorian Britain. New York: Routledge, 2015. Print.

Bending, Lucy. ‘From Stunted Child to ‘New Woman’: The Significance of Physical Growth in Late-Nineteenth-Century Medicine and Fiction.’ The Yearbook of English Studies 32 (2002): 205–16. Print.

Benziman, Galia. Narratives of Child Neglect in Romantic and Victorian Culture. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print.

Collins, Wilkie. The Fallen Leaves. 1879. London: Chatto and Windus, 1889. Print.

—. ‘Dedication.’ Jezebel’s Daughter. 1880. London: Chatto and Windus, 1901. Print.

The Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885. London: Shaw and Sons, 1885.

Cunningham, Hugh. The Children of the Poor: Representations of Childhood Since the Seventeenth Century. Blackwell: London, 1991. Print.

Day, Carolyn. Consumptive Chic: A History of Beauty, Fashion, and Disease. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2017. Print.

Gavin, Adrienne E. ‘The Child in British Literature: An Introduction.’ The Child in British Literature: Literary Constructions of Childhood, Medieval to Contemporary. Ed. Adrienne E. Gavin. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print. 1–18.

Hollingshead, John. Ragged London in 1961. London: Smith, Elder, and Co., 1861. Print.

Jackson, Louise A. Child Sexual Abuse in Victorian England. London: Routledge, 2000. Print.

Johnson, Paul and Stephen Nicholas. ‘Health and Welfare of Women in the United Kingdom, 1785-1920.’ Health and Welfare During Industrialization Ed. Richard H. Steckel and Roderick Floud. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1997. 201–49.

Kincaid, James R. Child-Loving: The Erotic Child and Victorian Culture. New York: Routledge, 1992. Print.

Logan, Deborah. Fallenness in Victorian Women’s Writing: Marry, Stitch, Die, or Do Worse. Columbia: U of Missouri P, 1998. Print.

Nelson, Claudia. Precocious Children and Childish Adults: Age Inversion in Victorian Literature. Baltimore: John Hopkins UP, 2012. Print.

O’Neill, Philip. Wilkie Collins: Women, Property and Propriety. Totowa, NJ: Barnes and Noble, 1988. Print.

Pearson, Michael. The Age of Consent: Victorian Prostitution and Its Enemies. Plymouth, Great Britain: David & Charles, 1972. Print.

Robson, Catherine. Men in Wonderland: The Lost Girlhood of the Victorian Gentleman. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2001. Print.

Sharpe, Pamela. ‘Explaining the Short Stature of the Poor: Chronic Childhood Disease and Growth in Nineteenth-Century England.’ The Economic History Review 65.4 (2012): 1475–94. Print.

Tanner, J.M. A History of the Study of Human Growth. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981. Print.

Thiel, Liz. ‘Degenerate ‘Innocents’: Childhood, Deviance, and Criminality in Nineteenth-Century Texts.’ The Child in British Literature: Literary Constructions of Childhood, Medieval to Contemporary. Ed. Adrienne E. Gavin. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012. Print. 131–45.

Walkowitz, Judith R. City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1992. Print.

[1] Christina Rossetti’s Laura in Goblin Market (1862) could be read as another example of a fallen woman who is redeemed, although female speakers in ‘An Apple Gathering’ and other Rossetti poems suggest that such redemption is rare.

[2] The Fallen Leaves is dedicated to Caroline, a nod to the validity of ‘fallen’ women.

[3] Victorians understood the underlying meaning of this query. Michael records the standard phrase to be ‘Charlie, are you good natured, dear?’ and the song ‘Are You Good Natured, Dear?’ emphasises the foolishness of a young country man’s experience in the city with a prostitute and pickpocket with this refrain. See The Universal Songster vol. 2 by George and Robert Cruikshank (London: Fairburn, Simpkin, and Marshall, 1826).

[4] The 1875 Offenses Against the Person Act had recently raised the age of consent from twelve to thirteen. It would not be raised to sixteen until 1885.

[5] As regulations increased regarding children’s work in the factories in the 1870s, reformers placed more attention on documenting the ages of child workers.  Charles Roberts conducted a large-scale survey of body sizes of factory boys and girls in an attempt to correlate body size with age.  See J. M. Tanner’s A History of the Study of Human Growth (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1981) 172–5.

[6] See Louis P. Cain’s and Donald G Paterson’s The Children of Eve: Population and Well-being in History (Chichester, West Sussex: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).

[7] Attwood commends Walter for depicting prostitutes as self-determining individuals with healthy sexual appetites and personal agency, whose sexual exchanges are predetermined by class, but not entirely different from the negotiations of all women regarding sex and money. Attwood does not discuss Walter’s encounters with child prostitutes. Walter describes having sex with prepubescent girls ‘half [his] height’ who appear to have been in the sex trade for ‘twenty years’, but he also recounts raping young virgins through trickery, coercion and intoxication (362, 290–97). Walter further brags that he is familiar with the sexual organs of ‘females of all ages between six and fifty’ (521).

[8] Sharpe cites the story of James Hillocks, who describes a childhood stunted by negligent adults: ‘The wet nurse to whom I was sent was a heartless woman.  To this day I suffer from the sad effects of her base treatment. Her wilful [sic] neglect and rash drugging made me a smaller and weaker child’ (1481).

[9] Similar arguments about the linkage between brains and vaginas emerged later in the century surrounding debates about the New Woman.  J. Compton Burnett attempted to argue against the mental development of New Women by asserting that ‘the girl’s brain saps the pelvis of its power.’  See Bending, 215.

[10] See the chapter ‘Syphilis’ in Mary Wilson Carpenter’s Health, Medicine, and Society in Victorian England (Santa Barbara: Praeger, 2010): 71–90.

[11] Although Victorians understood to some extent that ‘catch up growth’ was possible, Sharpe contends that there was little incentive to properly nourish the bodies of the working poor since factory work preferred smaller bodies that fit ‘as cogs in the industrial machines.’ Industrial capitalism provided a ‘harsh yet practical justification for the stuntedness of children’ (1486).

[12] Collins received similar feedback from The New Magdalen, which suggests that adding arrested development as a justification for prostitution did little to change public opinion on the subject.

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