Student Research Projects

A River Coursing Through: Representations of Infanticide in British Fiction and News

Student Melissa Hazen '15 (English)
Faculty Mentor(s)
Department English
Course English 492: Independent Research


I explore representations of the river in selected Victorian novels and poems, specifically, “David Copperfield,” “Trail of the Serpent,” “Adam Bede,” and “The Bridge of Sighs”. In many, if not all, of these stories, the river is given a life of its own, and it emerges, in some way, as its own character. Many of the rivers in Victorian novels are considered polluted, and this links with the polluted bodies of the women, often unwed mothers who commit suicide in rivers. I also explore representations of women deviating from social norms and as socially marginalized figures. For example, in “The Bridge of Sighs,” when a woman jumps off a bridge, a symbol of civilization and social norms, she departs from social norms, into the river below, representative of nature and the wildness attributed to women who and whose bodies weren’t policed by men and society. Martha, in “David Copperfield,” identifies with the river into which she tries to throw herself, as a defiled and fallen entity, and the Anonymous Woman of “Trial of the Serpent,” and Hetty Sorrel of “Adam Bede” find themselves looking to the river as a source of solace and escape from the social stigma to which they find themselves privy. This trope existed throughout the nineteenth Century in Victorian fiction, and it manifests social attitudes toward the plight of unmarried women and illegitimate children.