The interlacings of Mary Magdalene and prostitution in Victorian Britain

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Pickard, Megan

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University of Guelph

Abstract

Mary Magdalene's elusive identity has allowed her representations to be transmuted throughout history. Consequently, an examination of these representations in a particular culture can reveal the needs and concerns of that society. In the Victorian era, prostitution was a pressing social concern, and the prostitute was constructed in British culture as a deviant woman. Mary Magdalene became the figure most commonly associated with prostitution during the nineteenth-century, and her representations were used as a platform in British culture for the middle class to explore their assumptions and ideologies regarding female sexuality, Christian charity and institutional reform. By exploring her representation as a prostitute in Victorian art and literature, this thesis argues that Mary Magdalene's transformation from sinful woman to loyal disciple allowed her representations to be used simultaneously with representations of prostitution and the prostitute to help conventionalize prostitution as a topic of discussion, and the prostitute as a worthy object of charity.

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Mary Magdalene, prostitution, Victorian Britain, female sexuality, Christian charity

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