The Prostitute and the City in Literature Comparison Essay

An analysis of the relationship between the prostitute and the city in Charles Dickens' "Oliver Twist" and Pat Barker's "Blow your House Down".
# 151758 | 2,170 words | 9 sources | APA | 2011 | GB
Published on Sep 23, 2012 in English (Analysis) , Literature (Comparative Literature)

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This paper discusses how it is possible to see the ways in which city spaces, or discourses surrounding the city space, construct our moral and social understanding of the position of the prostitute in society. The paper further examines how, in "Oliver Twist", Nancy's affiliation with urban, visible space should be considered alongside Victorian ideologies of female sexuality, and the spheres of the public and the private. Her status as a visible, 'public' woman renders her position as prostitute in both absolutist and irreversible terms due to the system of binaries upon which Victorian ideological 'spheres' were based and also due to fact that the urban space was imagined as both corrupting and monstrous towards women. In comparison, the paper also looks at how in Pat Barker's "Blow your House Down", surveillance and policing work around a similar set of binaries which depict the prostitute as belonging to inherently 'bad' territory, thereby ensuring her marginalisation from rational society.

From the Paper:

" Nead suggests that at the end of eighteenth century there emerged a set of middle class ideologies concerning female roles in society, imagined in order to "maintain social order" (Nead, 1989: 240) Whilst the ideal 'private' woman was unseen, static and a domestic Angel of the House, the prostitute or fallen woman was linked to the 'public' sphere and associated with errancy, restlessness and condemnable visibility. In Oliver Twist, whether we hear of Nancy wandering the city streets or not, what is always present is her relation to the visible, public sphere. She is "free with her manners" "stout and hearty" and "rather untidy about the shoes and stockings" and so makes herself both visible an audible in a way that a private woman would not (Dickens, 2002: 71). Similarly, Rose Maylie does not always have to be materially occupying domestic space in order for us to know that her "sweet voice and gentle manner" renders her the embodiment of the unseen private woman (Dickens, 2002: 335). Oliver Twist features a dichotomy between the public/private spheres, or the 'street and the hearth' which is played out both ideologically and literally through the characters of Nancy and Rose. "

Sample of Sources Used:

  • Barker, P (1990). Blow your house down. London: Virago Press.
  • Brannigan, J. (2005). Pat Barker. Manchester: Manchester University Press
  • Chialant, M, T. (2000) 'Nomadic Subjects: Streetwalkers and sexual wanderers in Dickens and Gaskell' Reading Dickens. [Online]. Available at: [Accessed 31 March 2012]
  • Dickens, C. (2002). Oliver Twist. London: Penguin Books.
  • Gilbert, P, K. (1997). Disease, desire and the body in Victorian women's popular novels. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Cite this Comparison Essay:

APA Format

The Prostitute and the City in Literature (2012, September 23) Retrieved May 18, 2021, from

MLA Format

"The Prostitute and the City in Literature" 23 September 2012. Web. 18 May. 2021. <>