Womenslaughter Ethics

“Perhaps they took a horrible pride in the enormity of their wickedness; in this ‘divinity of hell,’ which made them amongst sinful creatures” (Braddon 293)


This quote was initially confusing for me, considering the context of the period. A woman wrote this quote, and yet she is contradicting other women who are taking power for themselves. Yes, the women who are the subject are murderers and “wicked” (Braddon 293), but they are also going against cultural norms for women and taking over the patriarchal dynamic. On the other hand however, Mary Elizabeth Braddon may be trying to appease her male audience. A large portion of Lucy’s thoughts would be considered scandalous if she said them aloud, most of them around secrets, murder, hidden lives, and treachery. It is also heavily implied she is psychologically manipulating her husband for an ulterior motive and ignoring ethical boundaries, especially of the Victorian era. Perhaps Braddon was trying to point out the difference between women who use what power they have for evil, and women who use power for good. Lucy clearly has decision-making power in the novel, but the text talks about the root of her motive being sinful instead of good.

Another important part of the quote is who is saying this. Even though this section of the book is from Lucy’s perspective, Lucy herself is neither thinking nor saying this. Instead, it is the anonymous and omniscient narrator. The readers do not know the gender, the name, or the relationship of the narrator, which warrants the question: should we trust what they are saying? The narrator is clearly interjecting their opinion on women who commit sin with the dramatic line of the “divinity of hell” (Braddon 293). It compares women who are, from the Victorian perspective, inferior, because of the first “mistake” Eve made, yet the narrator put “divinity” before “hell” (Braddon 293). This implies that, if women are of the hellish nature, they still have divine power or some sort of speciality about them, more than what meets the eye.

4 thoughts on “Womenslaughter Ethics”

  1. I like how you explored a variety of interpretations of this quote! I think it is very interesting that this novel seems to be painting a bad image of women, despite being written by a woman, but it also portrays women stepping outside of societal norms. It is funny that, in this case, pushing back against the norm means committing murder, which isn’t exactly ideal girlboss behavior. Still, it’s hard to tell if Braddon is trying to push a feminist narrative here or not. I also like what you said about the unknown identity of the narrator. It seems that the instances when women are most scorned are in passages from Robert’s direct point-of-view, which makes sense since he is a canonically mysoginistic man; the mystery of narrator complicates the story since we don’t know if their perspective is that of another character or of Braddon herself. Either way, it fits with the contradictory nature of the Victorian era that we learned about in class.

  2. Dear Gossip Girl,
    That is a very interesting passage which I, frankly, did not think about in such depth before. However, it is definitely worth digging deeper into considering the female author of the novel.
    Especially, since the sensation novel had a large female audience, it is surprising that Braddon would talk about women in such a manner.
    Here, I would like to touch on the discussion in class about the “madwoman in the attic”-theory that female characters in Victorian literature are often painted out to be either angelically nice or devilishly evil (as we see in Lady Audley’s case). This goes well with what you wrote about Eve. That is an interesting thought!
    Your post also makes me question whether the narrator represents Braddon’s own ideas or not. Very intriguing and thought-provoking.

    P.S. I love your username! XoXo

  3. This passage is littered with religious words. “Pride” is one of the deadly sins. “Divinity of Hell” puts women closer to both the divine and the devil. “Sin” is another heavily loaded word in Christian beliefs. It almost seems the narrator views women solely through a religious lens. The use of divine seems to imply that the narrator views women almost as something evil which ought to be worshipped. I think that the heavy religious language leads the narrator to be less trustworthy. They may be someone those in the Victorian era might have been able to relate to, but the steep couching in religious terminology seems to show they aren’t able to think objectively about the subject.

  4. I think it is interesting that you brought up trying to appease a male audience. This reminded me of the Longman Anthology reading on the Age of Reading, during this time authors often did have to censor their content to meet the strict standards of circulating library morality and I’m sure that going against the patriarchy and the cultural norms of having men in power would not be something that publishers would enjoy having their name on. I also enjoy your comment on the narrator. At times, I wondered who they were and why they knew what they knew. The narrator often gave us a preconceived notion of who the character was and made the reader suspicious of them before even truly meeting them (ex: George’s Dad).

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