Revoking Victorian silences: Redemption of fallen women through speech in Elizabeth Gaskell's fiction
3. To Victorian society, female purity was of special significance. For a woman to be deemed pure and thus marriageable, she had to be ignorant of sex. To achieve this innocence, Victorian society enacted silence, deeming any subject regarding sex as taboo. However, the silence did not merely protect women. Because they were unaware of the true nature of sex, women were naïve and vulnerable to the false intentions of men. The consequences of this naivety often proved severe. Women were harshly criticized and ostracized for sexual transgression, while their seducers often remained unaffected. Elizabeth Gaskell understood the impossible situation of women and wrote critically of the pharisaical society that simultaneously perpetuated and condemned fallenness. In her three texts, Mary Barton (1848), "Lizzie Leigh" (1850), and Ruth (1853), Gaskell illustrates the ways in which society's silences perpetuate sexual transgression through female naivety. She further offers a solution: honest, open dialogue.