Past and Present 1

Left: Ophelia by Arthur Hughes. Right: The Infidelity Discovered, part 1 of Past and Present by Augustus Egg

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood questioned Victorian conceptions of femininity and proper female comportment. Paintings such as Augustus Egg's Past and Present series and Ophelia by Arthur Hughes, depict woman as capable of sexual desire and passion, which usually results in untimely deaths (sometimes in the form of drowning as in the above-mentioned paintings.) although they have committed moral transgression in these paintings, women are portrayed as betrayed by their lovers and are, therefore, the victims. In Egg's series-painting, he chronicles the breakdown of a family after the mother's infidelity is discovered. In the first painting, she strews herself across the floor with her face buried in the carpet. Her helpless is shown through her paralyzed figure and her bracelets, which look as though a pair of handcuffs is attached to her wrists.

Left: Return From the Long Crusade by W. B. Scott

William Bell Scott's Return From the Long Crusade (1861), however, depicts the mother as the protector of the family. In this painting, the husband returns home from war and is unrecognized by his wife and child. The mother blocks her son from the strange man by standing with her arms out showing her courage and readiness to sacrifice herself for her child. Her long white dress and clear complexion allude to her purity and piousness, which contrast with her husband's long beard and seemingly disconcerting appearance.


1.What does the role (if any) of urbanization and modernity play in depictions of Victorian women?

2. Does the difference in paint (watercolor in Scott's and oil in Egg's) add to the different atmospheres?

3. How does Scott's painting of another woman in Fair Rosamund in her Bower change the analysis of Return from the Long Crusade?

Last modified 29 September 2006