An Example of Writing as an Instrument of Agency: the Letters from the Mothers to the London Foundling Hospital in Victorian London




Agency, Letter-writing, Foundling Hospital, Fallen women, London


From painting to newspapers, from literature to homiletics, Victorian culture stigmatised the figure of the ‘fallen woman’ as it was considered a dangerous menace for a respectable society. For this reason, especially in the working class context, the mothers of illegitimate children were often marginalised even within their family circles. The Foundling Hospital aimed to house their ‘blank children’, teach them to read and prepare them for manual work, on condition that the mothers severed every link with their sons and daughters. Starting from the definition of ‘agency’ given by Anthony Giddens, this paper aims to demonstrate how letter writing became a powerful instrument of agency for the mothers who had their children admitted at the Foundling Hospital in mid-XIX century London. Letters became for them a way to overcome the strict rules of the institution and reaffirm their individuality in a context that considered them passive subjects. 





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