‘One More Unfortunate’: How Illustrations of Thomas Hood’s ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ shaped attitudes towards Waterloo Bridge Suicides in the Victorian Era

by Cecilia Neil-Smith

Cecilia is entering her second year of PhD study in Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Exeter. Her project focuses on mermaids and sirens as figures of indeterminate gender in the art and literature of the late Victorian Era. Having previously studied English (BA) and Victorian Literature, Art and Culture (MA) at Royal Holloway, University of London, Cecilia took a break from academia and taught English in a secondary school in London for a year, before returning to pursue a PhD.

During the Victorian era there was a host of images and literature addressing the issue of the famous ‘Waterloo suicides’. Sparked by Thomas Hood’s ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ in 1844, the interest in depicting fallen women leaping from the bridge was taken up by writers such as Charles Dickens and James Greenwood, and many eminent artists including Frederick Watts, Augustus Egg, John Millais and Gustav Doré. What most representations had in common was a tendency to romanticise the demise of such women with thematic motifs, such as the idea that the suicide victims were motivated by lunacy or love. However, crucially, they all in some respect used the setting of Waterloo Bridge to highlight the moral judgement placed upon fallen women at the time. I intend to focus on two depictions of scenes from Hood’s famous poem, John Everett Millais’ The Bridge of Sighs (1858) [see Fig. 1] and Gustav Doré’s One More Unfortunate (1870) [See Fig. 2]. I hope to demonstrate, through the use of these images, that despite changes in the law and a better social understanding of the causes of prostitution, judgemental, romanticised notions of prostitute suicide prevailed over truthful renditions of the hardships of London’s sex workers. The river, the landmark of St Paul’s Cathedral (a symbol of Christian virtue), and the bridge itself, all acted as visual markers in reflecting and shaping condemnatory attitudes towards the city’s prostitutes and their supposedly inevitable deaths.  

Fig. 1. John Everett Millais, The Bridge of Sighs, 1858, etching on paper, 117 x 93mm, Victoria & Albert Museum, London. Source: V&A Collection.
Fig. 2. Gustav Doré, One More Unfortunate,  1870, Wood engraving, 431 x 482 mm, The British Library, London. Source: The British Library Collection.

The publication of Hood’s 1844 poem ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ was a pivotal moment in establishing public interest in the ‘Waterloo suicides’, and set up key themes and motifs that were to be found in subsequent representations addressing the same topic throughout the century. The ballad focussed on a fallen woman who had drowned herself by leaping from Waterloo Bridge, combining speculation as to the tragically sinful life she might have led with the symbolic notion that the river had cleansed her of her impurities. It was said to be inspired by the heavily publicised case of Mary Furley, which occurred only a few weeks before the poem was composed; Mary was a poor seamstress who attempted to drown herself and her two young children in The Regent’s Canal. She succeeded in drowning one child before she was rescued from the water and arrested; she was sentenced to hang but public sympathy for her act of desperation resulted in a lesser sentence of seven years of transportation. The case was heavily documented in the press, with the Punch describing it in melodramatic terms as an event which ‘had sent a shuddering horror through the heart of the kingdom’. (1)  Hood saw his chance to take advantage of the sudden public interest in the suicides of fallen women. He released ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ in his monthly journal Hood’s Magazine and Comic Miscellany, and though the magazine until this point had been far from popular, this particular edition flew off the shelves. The poem ‘caused a sensation’ and was received to great acclaim: it was ‘enormously popular and influential’, and Robert Browning even claimed that the work was ‘alone in its generation’ in terms of capturing the hearts of a nation. However, though in part inspired by the incident at the Regent’s Canal, much of the poem’s success is owed to Hood’s divergence from Mary Furley’s case. (2) He promoted false ideas about prostitution, suicide and Waterloo bridge itself in his work, suggesting that women leapt due to love or lunacy, and that they did so frequently from his chosen location.

One of the key differences between Mary Furley’s case and ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ is that Hood’s protagonist is a prostitute, rather than a seamstress, placing her firmly into the category of fallen women. She has no child with her to force death upon, but she is already tainted by sin:

Owning her weakness,

Her evil behaviour,

And leaving, with meekness,

Her sins to her Saviour! (3)

Her profession is not explicitly referred to, but allusions to her ‘weakness’ and ‘evil behaviour’ condemn her as a fallen woman, whilst her ‘meekness’ in sacrificing her life is regarded as praiseworthy: it is heavily implied that it is better to die than live a life of sin. The term ‘fallen woman’ could at the time incorporate unmarried women and adulterous wives, but was largely used to refer to the mass of street-walkers found in this part of London. It is therefore safe to assume that Hood’s troubled female is one of the 80,000 prostitutes that were said to inhabit the capital during the 1840s. (4) He does not name her, and does not go into the details of her life or backstory as an individual, allowing her to become a representative figure for a whole community of London sex-workers, about which so little was known:

Who was her father ?
Who was her mother ?
Had she a sister ?
Had she a brother ?
Or was there a dearer one
Still, and a nearer one
Yet, than all others ? (5)

This string of questions leaves the lady in question’s past open-ended, addressing the many possibilities that could have led the nameless woman to such a death. Hood was thus able to romanticise his protagonist’s potential reasons for such a leap in his endless speculations, here mentioning the possibility of a lover or, as he puts it, a ‘dearer one … than all others’. The idea of a woman throwing herself into the river, having had her heart broken by a male lover, was one that captured the Victorian imagination: among other nicknames, including ‘The Bridge of Sighs’, after Hood’s poem, and ‘The Arch of Suicide’, Waterloo Bridge was also referred to as ‘Lover’s Leap’ on account of such a notion. (6) The romantic narrative promoted by Hood had bled into the general terminology of the time, conflating myths with reality. Allowing themselves to perceive the poem as a piece of fiction absolves readers of any guilt they may feel in allowing these women to come to such an end. They like to imagine women jumping to their deaths from a broken heart, but would not want to face the fact that these women were committing suicide due to the flaws of their own society: terrible conditions in workhouses and factories led the poor to seek alternative employment, and many contracted venereal disease or simply did not have enough to live on. Their suicides were acts of desperation to escape a life full of hardships that were not addressed by society or the law. 

Another fancy that Hood encouraged was the possibility that, rather than acts of desperation or of love, female suicides could be a result of insanity. In his epigraph he quotes Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, exclaiming that Hamlet’s former lover Ophelia is ‘Drowned, Drowned!’. Ophelia is most famous for her madness, and it is this that leads to her suicide; such a reference implies that Hood’s protagonist is also suffering from the ‘female malady’, and like Ophelia is driven to drown herself by her lunacy. (7) Later in the poem he returns to the idea, mentioning her ‘burning insanity’, implying that it was a strong ‘burning’ force in her decision to plunge into the Thames. She is described as ‘mad from life’s history’, and Edgar Allen Poe even goes so far as to suggest that the unusually fast-paced, almost cheery rhythm juxtaposed with the serious contemplation of death is, itself, a sign of madness:

The versification, although carrying the fanciful to the verge of the fantastic, is nevertheless admirably adapted to the wild insanity which is the thesis of the poem. (8)

To claim that insanity is the ‘thesis of the poem’ is a bold statement, considering the many other themes incorporated, but there is truth in the fact that suicide and insanity were perceived to be closely related. By the 1830s, coroner’s juries had begun to exploit a loophole in the law and found more and more suicides ‘temporarily insane’. (9) Without such a verdict, all the property of a suicide victim would revert to the Crown rather than to the victim’s family, because self-murder, as it was then termed, was seen as an immoral crime that ought to bring shame upon the family name. However, if the individual was pronounced to be ‘temporarily insane’ they were deemed to have committed the crime unknowingly, whilst not in their right mind, and therefore any possessions reverted to the family.  Gates tells us that middle-class families in particular ‘took pains to conceal self-destruction’, often involving doctors in cover-ups to push for an insanity plea, due in part to the financial benefit but also to protect their pride. (10) Though it was frowned upon to have a case of insanity in the family, it was far worse to have a proven intentional self-murder. Therefore suicide and insanity were often claimed to be inherently linked, and Hood feeds the assumption by presenting his suicide victim as a troubled Ophelia. However, though endorsed by suicide cover ups and romantic notions, the idea that women jumped to their deaths from a broken heart or from an addled mind was ludicrous. It may have eased the guilty consciences of a self-absorbed society and provided a more thrilling narrative, but the truth was, as Julie Matthias aptly summarises,

Suicide was the result of systematic and institutional failings in society brought about by rapid change rather than due to the pathology of a discreet individual. (11)

In fact, as true as it was that women were unlikely to commit suicide as a result of insanity, it was also true that women were unlikely to commit suicide at all. The implication that Hood’s fallen woman was simply ‘one more unfortunate’ in a long line of prostitute suicides was simply not the case. Though there were a few documented instances of such an occurrence, men were almost four times as likely to commit suicide in the capital than women, and of the few women who did take their own lives, few engaged in prostitution. (12) William Acton’s 1857 study entitled Prostitution: Considered in Its Moral, Social and Sanitary Aspects discovered that prostitution was generally a temporary solution to a sudden decline in social and financial circumstances, after which women would return to more respectable occupations:

Acton had found plenty of evidence to show that prostitution was a transitory state. Otherwise, he argued, where on earth did all those women go?[…] They were not all struck down in mid-career by suicide, alcoholism or venereal disease[…]After a maximum of four years, any sensible woman by then would have made a ‘dash at respectability by marriage’ or sunk her savings into a milliner’s shop or a lodging house. Emigration to the colonies, with the promise of a fresh start, was also a popular choice. (13)

However, through his depiction of prostitute suicide, Hood cements the falsehood into the Victorian psyche that prostitution always ends in death. As Catherine Arnold points out, ‘the popular notion was that a fallen woman was always fallen’, and there was no coming back from such a lifestyle. Hood was by no means the first writer to propose such a view (14). In Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist (1837), for instance, prostitute Nancy expresses her belief that she is certain to die, drowning herself in the Thames, as a result of her immoral ways:

“I am chained to my old life. I loathe and hate it now, but I cannot leave it. I […] have gone too far to turn back. Look before you, lady. Look at that dark water. How many times do you read of such as I who spring into the tide, and leave no living thing, to care for, or bewail them […]  It may be years hence, or it may be only months, but I shall come to that at last.” (15)

As advocated by Dickens and Hood, it was assumed that to live such a life of sin must have fatal consequences, as a punishment for such deviance from morality. Judith Walkowitz claimed that ‘the overarching Victorian belief about fallen women, and specifically prostitutes, was that ‘the wages of sin was death’. (16) Despite the inauthenticity of such a claim, Hood did nothing but encourage this idea from the very first verse of his poem: 

One more Unfortunate
Weary of breath,
Rashly importunate,
Gone to her death ! (17)

However, arguably the poem’s most influential promoted falsehood was the location itself. Whilst Mary Furley’s attempt to drown herself took place in the Regent’s Canal, Hood notably moves his suicide to Waterloo Bridge – a place in the centre of the city, in the shadow of the iconic dome of St Paul’s Cathedral. Aesthetically and architecturally it had been described as ‘the finest bridge in the city,’ and it therefore provided a far more symbolic and conspicuous site for such an act, drawing the woman’s plight to the heart of the capital where it could neither be ignored nor forgotten. (18) The bridge had in fact already gained a reputation for female suicide: the fact that it was a toll bridge meant that it was not as busy as other bridges in the city, and the privacy this afforded allowed women to complete the deed undisturbed, and with greater chance of success. There was indeed a spike in deaths at the bridge at one time. In 1840 around 30 women had leapt from the parapet, accounting for approximately 15% of all registered London suicides in that year. (19) However, this statistic is an anomaly in relation to the general frequency of suicides there. Though the location did boast a few suicides, its reputation became vastly exaggerated in light of Hood’s poem. Westminster and Blackfriars were equally common sites, but none were as popular as the lake in Hyde Park. According to L.J. Nicoletti, ‘far more suicides took place in the Serpentine than from Waterloo Bridge’, and thus Waterloo’s reputation was wholly ‘undeserved’. (20) In fact, it was such a problem in London’s most frequented park that preventative measures were put in place by the 1860s:

Wooden platforms were added to the Society’s boats on the Serpentine in 1861, allowing resuscitation to begin immediately after a body was recovered. (21)

This may have had much to do with the fact that the lake, unlike the bridges of the Thames, was unmanned. At Waterloo, as described by Charles Dickens and James Greenwood in their accounts of London night walks, toll masters were employed through the night to stop such acts taking place and policemen were frequent visitors. However, Hood’s desire to address ‘Waterloo and its suicides’ (22) heightened the bridge’s dark reputation and sparked an obsession with the site within the arts:

Because of the success of the poem, Waterloo and its suicides acquired mythic status. The poet’s combined imagery of a fair, forsaken woman, the ‘dark arch’ of Waterloo bridge, and ‘the black flowing river’ was incorporated into representations of prostitution throughout the century by visual artists influenced by the familiar work. (23)

The ‘mythic status’ Hood had given Waterloo’s suicides was just that – mythic, without substance or substantiation. 

Therefore, Hood’s decision to use such a venue, rather than originating in truth, was more due to the fact that the bridge, in relation to his subject matter, held both geographical, symbolic and religious significance. It would seem a convenient spot for a prostitute suicide, as it was in the heart of the streetwalking district, known affectionately to some gentlemen as ‘Whoreterloo’. (24) Many prostitutes had lodgings south of the river along the streets of Lambeth, which were renowned for housing hundreds, if not thousands, of young girls in crowded conditions. When they were ‘on the game’, these women would travel across Waterloo Bridge in the evening to the busy theatres and music halls of the Haymarket, where they could attract gentleman clients; on their journey home, they would have to travel back across the bridge to their lodgings. (25) This meant that the bridge itself was therefore the focal point of their route, lying between the wealthy high-life they had caught a glimpse of in Westminster and their own unpleasant lodging houses to the south – a bridge, both literally and metaphorically, from one way of life to another. It was a passage from what might have been to their current reality, or as Linda Nochlin puts it, from ‘virginal past to fallen present’. (26) Such a place would therefore seem a fitting precipice for prostitute suicide in the Victorian imagination:  

The Bridge of Sighs’ crystallized the middle-class notion of Waterloo Bridge, linking sordid Lambeth with opulent Westminster, as being the most likely edifice in London from which repentant prostitutes seeking a watery grave would leap. (27)

It was believable, aesthetic, melodramatic and, of course, romantic – the perfect combination of attributes to appeal to a Victorian middle-class readership.


The legacy of ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ gained momentum as the century wore on, but changed little, despite shifts in societal and legal attitudes towards prostitution. Josephine Butler, an eminent feminist activist, launched a campaign to improve conditions for prostitutes and to get them into respectable work. She launched the Social Purity Alliance, which encouraged men to abstain from prostitution, and exposed men’s part in the spread of venereal disease. By highlighting the difficulties of sex-workers, she evoked some sympathy for their plight, which bled into the art of the period. However, not everyone wanted their poorer counterparts on their conscience. The moralistic tone of the paintings of the late 1840s onwards– all notably painted by men with little knowledge or feeling of the group of individuals they depicted – acted to absolve their audience of any guilt. Spectators did not want to see gruesome workhouses or depictions of poverty; they wished to cling to some, albeit not all, of the myths established by Thomas Hood, and therefore continue through life with a clear conscience by blaming the women for their immoral ways. 

Interest in prostitute suicide became more and more pronounced, and artists, writers and directors took advantage of the trend. Charles Selby’s London by Night, first performed in 1844, and W. T. Moncrieff’s The Scamps of Londonwere both west end hits which ran throughout the 40s, and which had an actress playing a fallen woman who commits suicide by leaping from a bridge. Both were extremely popular; audiences loved to watch dramatic and romanticised renderings of real-life tragedies in the city in which they supposedly take place on a nightly basis. George Cruikshanks’ The Drunkard’s Children appeared in 1848 – a series of etchings telling the tale of a girl and boy left destitute by their father’s alcoholism, which ends in the young girl leaping from Waterloo Bridge in despair. However, it was not until the 1850s and 60s that the topic achieved its climax in popularity within the art and literary worlds. With Millais’ Ophelia (1852), Dickens’ ‘Down with the Tide’ (1853), Egg’s Past and Present (1858) and Watts’ Found Drowned (painted in 1848 but exhibited in 1862), the subject of female suicide by drowning was constantly present in the minds of consumers. 

Augustus Egg’s triptych Past and Present [see Fig. 3] tells the story of an adulterous wife who is cast out by her husband to work as a prostitute. The first image shows her husband’s disdain and her eviction from the middle-class family home, and the second, set several years later, her two daughters looking out of the window and pondering upon the whereabouts of their mother; the third depicts the lady in question cowering under the arches of Waterloo Bridge, destitute with a tiny illegitimate child.  The dark and lonely atmosphere of the third in particular does elicit pity for the now homeless woman and her innocent offspring, but the symbols of adultery and female sin in the first image – namely the Edenic apple sliced in two and the novel by Balzac (a writer specialising in adultery) supporting a falling house of cards – suggest that it was wholly self-inflicted. The woman is blamed and punished for her crime, and Egg exploits the already established relationship between immorality, prostitution and Waterloo Bridge.  In this respect Waterloo becomes an object of fear, as a warning to young women that the river will take them if they stray from their husbands or from virgin purity.  

Fig. 3. Augustus Leopald Egg, Past and Present, No. 1,2 and 3, 1858, oil on canvas, 635 x 762mm each, Tate Britain, London. Source: Tate Collection. Available from: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/egg-past-and-present-no-1-n03278 Last accessed: 10/10/22.

Found Drowned [see Fig. 4] had a slightly more sympathetic tone. Though painted by Frederick Watts in 1848, it was not exhibited until the 1860s and was more in tune with the marginally more progressive sentiments of the late 1850s and 60s. The work was enormous, at over two metres long, and would have had a huge impact on any gallery visitors. It was part of a series of four social realist paintings that Watts completed from 1848 to 1850, including another entitled Under the Arches which depicted an older, poverty-stricken woman huddled beneath Waterloo Bridge, but they were not ready to be received until the public were more willing to heed the messages conveyed. Watts was inspired, as were most other works on the topic, by Hood’s ‘The Bridge of Sighs’, with the painting depicting a beautiful young woman washed up on the banks of the Thames, in the shadow of the bridge from which she had fallen to her death. In some ways Watts did adhere to the fictional and romantic notions presented in Hood’s poem: the lady is beautiful and her dress seems miraculously clean and undamaged by her spell in the filthy river, suggesting that she has been cleansed of her sins by the water and ‘death has left on her/only the beautiful’. Also, in her left hand she is clutching a locket, suggestive of a lover who had broken her heart and led her to suicide, taking up Hood’s false ideas that women jumped due to heartbreak rather than poverty. However, in some respects Watts is more understanding than Hood, and is certainly less judgemental; unlike other representations of Waterloo Bridge, there is no sign of the morally symbolic dome of St Paul’s, and despite the arch above her potentially acting as a barrier to heaven, the light shining upon the woman’s features create a halo effect and seem to suggest that she is not destined for the darkness.

Fig. 4. Frederick Watts, Found Drowned, 1867, oil on canvas, 1194mm x 2134mm, Watts Gallery, Surrey. Source: Watts Gallery, https://web.archive.org/web/20130115204704/http://www.wattsgallery.org.uk/learning/teachers-resources/found-drowned Last accessed: 10/10/22

Later into the nineteenth century, artists were still producing works that sat uncomfortably between sympathy and moral judgement. A close comparison between two illustrations of ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ demonstrates its continual grasp on the Victorian imagination, and the continued promotion of the Waterloo myth. In 1858 the Junior Etching Club published an illustrated volume entitled Passages of the Poems of Thomas Hood. The Etching Club consisted of a series of eminent artists including Henry Moore, Gerald Fitzgerald and, most notably, John Millais. Each artist could choose a poem to illustrate, and after much deliberation and missed deadlines, Millais settled on ‘The Bridge of Sighs’. Though he had tackled the drowned woman before in the fictional Ophelia, he had now chosen to focus exclusively on the topic of the Waterloo Suicides and fallen women, which as Alison Smith explains, was something of a surprise:

Millais rarely attempted subjects of deep social significance and, unlike Dante Gabriel Rossetti who devoted a number of poems and pictorial works to the subject of the fallen woman, ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ was unique in his ouvre. (28)

Unlike his fellow Pre-Raphaelites Rossetti and Holman Hunt, who both produced well-known paintings on the subject of the fallen woman – Found (1854) and Awakening Conscience (1853) respectively – Millais had focused on images based on fiction or the Bible. The fact that in 1858 he chose to tackle a growing social issue in the capital is curious; perhaps he felt remorse for encouraging an obsession with female madness with Ophelia and wished to depict a more realistic view of women who drowned themselves. However, though in his illustration he strays from the assumption that women who contemplate suicide are driven by madness, he clings to the tropes of moral and religious judgement. 

The etching, entitled The Bridge of Sighs [see Fig. 3], depicts a lady on the banks of the Thames, with a shawl wrapped around what one assumes to be a small child. She is in the shadow of Waterloo Bridge and seems to be considering her fate; though faint, the dome of St Paul’s is visible to her left, acting as a symbol of religious judgement upon her lifestyle. Her face is turned away from the cathedral, indicating the fact that she has strayed from morality. She is shrouded in darkness, but is romanticised by her beautiful features and the aesthetically pleasing lights of the bridge reflected in the river. It is a dark yet mythical scene, making viewers feel for the young beauty yet simultaneously reminding us of her sin with the looming dome of St Paul’s and the suggestive bulge of her cloak. The black of her clothing almost looks as though she is in mourning for her own impending demise. The image is thus full of symbols and relates to Hood’s poem as a work which similarly romanticises and judges the fates of London’s fallen women. However, what is of greatest significance is the way in which Millais actually strays quite drastically from the text he is supposedly illustrating:

Contrary to Hood’s poem, which does not mention a child being with the woman … [but] Millais suggests that a bastard child is the cause of her rejection from society. (29)

The protruding cloak and the lady’s body language do suggest that she is indeed holding a baby in her arms. The fact that Millais brings a child into the mix in 1858 is an interesting turn of events – possibly an attempt to elicit a greater sense of pity and urgency with regards to tackling the social issue of female poverty and the plight of fallen women. Though still inclined to judge a sexually deviant woman, spectators are less likely to find fault with an innocent child. As a symbol of new life and a new generation, a baby is a warning that action must be taken for the youth of the day not to end up in the same dire circumstances as their mothers. Another key difference between the poem and Millais’s illustration is the location of the woman: she is not on the parapet of the bridge, about to jump. In fact, she is inactive and composed, as she stands on the bank merely contemplating her fate. This is a more realistic take on the women of Waterloo: few actually made the fatal leap, as James Greenwood later reveals in his journalistic exposé on the subject in 1875, but many stopped mid-journey to perhaps reflect upon the infamous legends. Millais’ image is less dramatized than Hood’s poem, representing the shift between romantic notions of the lives of working-class women and the ever more apparent realities. 

However, others were less sympathetic and wished to cling to romanticised notions of the sinful, lovelorn fallen woman. Another edition of Hood’s poems were published twelve years later in 1870, illustrated by Gustav Doré.  Gustav Dore’s illustration to ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ (1870) which, despite the momentous shifts in attitude taking place between the original publication of Hood’s poem in 1844 and the completion of his drawing in 1870, seems to cling to outdated perspectives. He was not the only one to do so: ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ still remained a popular poem, suggesting that readers wished to escape from the new-found realities of prostitution and continue to view their lives in the context of a fictionalised romance. The illustrated publication was released in the same year as Doré’s famous work London: A Pilgrimage, which included rich illustrations of different aspects of London life, with a particular focus on the poor. However, his wood-engraving for ‘The Bridge of Sighs’, entitled One More Unfortunate after the first line of the poem, strays from this slightly in that it is not his usual documentary-style piece: it is not an attempt to picture reality, but employs the same stylised motifs of love and religious damnation littered through the works of his predecessors. Doré was one of the most successful illustrators of the nineteenth century and, employing over 400 woodcutters and running his own gallery in central London, had total artistic autonomy over his work: 

He was responsible for all aspects relating to iconography and divided the subjects up between his engravers […] Doré corrected the proofs submitted to him, but the wooden matrices and the metal stereotypes produced from them to facilitate reprinting remained the property of the publisher. (30)

He collaborated with many publishers to produce illustrated editions, but all projects were of his own imagining, and despite legal stipulations regarding ownership, he was fully in control of his output. It therefore seems strange that he would stray so far from the documentary style work of London: A Pilgrimage, to produce something so fanciful and so faithful to Thomas Hood’s outdated notions expressed in ‘The Bridge of Sighs’. The fact that he chose to produce illustrations of Hood’s work at all, thirty years after its conception, shows that he believed there to still be an audience keen to consume romantic falsehoods relating to the Waterloo Suicides.

In Doré’s main illustration for his volume, entitled One More Unfortunate, the lady is young and beautiful, with long curled locks, a perfect figure and a simple but unstained dress, reminiscent of the women depicted in Watts’ Found Drowned and Millais’ Ophelia. Of course, it is unlikely that a woman of her profession and position in society would look like this. Doré has presented her as the heroine of a tragic tale – too well dressed and untouched to be a prostitute, and therefore seeming more likely to be a slighted lover or a mad Ophelia. However, the most notable harkening to the past is the large and looming presence of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral, which as in Millais’ etching acts as a symbol of religious judgement; it has been moved from its original location, which is slightly further along the river, in order to be placed directly behind her on the bridge. Such a calculated move is not a coincidence: it is an inescapable dark figure relating to the ‘evil behaviour’ described in the poem, and relates to her position with the message that the only way to escape such a sinful existence is to jump from the perch on which she stands. The gap in the clouds, from which the woman is subtly lit, could even be a metaphor for God, who is watching down upon her in disapproval; both promiscuity and suicide are sins according to Christian teachings, and yet for her there is no other option. Her soul is damned either way. Though wood engravings are dark by nature, this image is particularly haunting: the majority is black or in shadow, reflecting the darkness of the deed she is contemplating, as well as the darkness of the life she currently lives.

Thus, as an image it is not progressive: it still presents a romantic heroine, perhaps motivated by love or lunacy, judged by God for the presumably frequent crime of leaping from Waterloo Bridge. Though Millais was more sympathetic and realistic in his depiction of the fallen women, whilst Doré is undeniably fanciful and melodramatic, it is the similarities between the two images which are of the greatest importance here. Both employ the religious symbolism of St Paul’s Cathedral, and the cleansing waters of the Thames, to place judgement upon London’s prostitutes. The motifs established by Hood are thus still highly recognisable in the art world by the 1870s; such ideas are so embedded in the cultural narrative of prostitution that they remained present right up until the end of the nineteenth century. Though progress had been made with established rehabilitation homes for fallen women, laws increasing the age of consent for girls, and the success of the Social Purity Alliance, the desire to judge the romantic Nancy-esque figure never entirely disappeared. She represented everything a prudish Victorian society could crave but never engage in – sexual deviance and promiscuity, a rejection of Christian teachings and a large dose of Victorian melodrama. 

  1. ‘The Case of Mary Furley’ in Punch, or the London Charivari, 1st June 1844, p233. Accessed from: https://link-gale-com.ezproxy01.rhul.ac.uk/apps/doc/DX1901543772/GDCS?u=rho_ttda&sid=GDCS&xid=b5fadc29 Last accessed: 28/08/20.
  2. Barbara T. Gates, ‘Not Choosing To Be: Victorian Literary Responses to Suicide’ in Literature and Medicine, vol. 6 (1987), p135.
  3. Thomas Hood, ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ in Poems by Thomas Hood: Illustrated Edition (New York: G. P. Putnam and Son, 1872), p30, lines 102-106. 
  4. Catharine Arnold, City of Sin: London and its Vices (London: Simon and Schuster, 2010), p167.
  5. Hood,p28, l36-43.
  6. Judith Flanders, The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London (London: Atlantic Books, 2012), p419.
  7. Elaine Showalter, The Female Malady: Women, Madness and English Culture, 1830-1980 (New York: Pantheon Books, 2000), p68.
  8. Edgar Allen Poe cited by Robinson, p257.
  9. Gates, p77.
  10. Gates, Victorian Suicide: Mad Crimes and Sad Histories (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988), p39.
  11. Julie Matthias, ‘Victorian Attitudes Towards Self-Murder’ (2019). Accessed from: https://oldoperatingtheatre.com/victorian-attitudes-towards-self-murder/ Last accessed: 09/07/20.
  12. Flanders, p418.
  13. Arnold, p194.
  14. Ibid., p164.
  15. Dickens, Charles, Oliver Twist (Suffolk: Penguin Classics, 1986), p415.
  16. Judith Walkowitz cited in Julia Skelly, Addiction and British Visual Culture 1751-1919: Wasted Looks (London: Routledge, 2017), p119.
  17. Hood, p24, l1-4,
  18. Allan Scott-Davies, Death on the Waterways (Gloucester: The History Press, 2011), p147.
  19. Scott-Davies, p149.
  20. L. J. Nicoletti, ‘Waterloo Suicides’ (2013). Accessed from: http://www.skydive.ru/en/londons-bridges/353-waterloo-suicides.html Last accessed: 8/8/20. 
  21. Nicoletti, ‘Downward Mobility: Victorian Women, Suicide and London’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’’ in Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2004). Accessed from: http://www.literarylondon.org/london-journal/march2004/nicoletti.html Last accessed: 8/8/20
  22. Gates, p135.
  23. Michelle Elizabeth Allen, Cleansing the City: Sanitary Geographies in Victorian London (Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2008), p64.
  24. Angus McLaren, A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr Thomas Neill Cream (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995), p12.
  25. McLaren, p12.
  26. Linda Nochlin, ‘Lost and Found: Once More the Fallen Woman’ in The Art Bulletin, vol. 60, no. 1 (1978), p150.
  27. McLaren, p12.
  28. Jason Rosenfeld and Alison Smith, Millais (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2008), p120.
  29. Rosenfeld and Smith, p120.
  30. ‘Gustav Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination’ (2014). Accessed from: https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/events/exhibitions/archives/exhibitions-archives/page/0/article/gustave-dore-37172.html?S=&cHash=19a00c278c&print=1&no_cache=1& Last accessed: 24/08/20.


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Gates, Barbara T., ‘Not Choosing To Be: Victorian Literary Responses to Suicide’ in Literature and Medicine, vol. 6 (1987).

‘Gustav Doré (1832-1883): Master of Imagination’ (2014). Accessed from: https://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/events/exhibitions/archives/exhibitions-archives/page/0/article/gustave-dore-37172.html?S=&cHash=19a00c278c&print=1&no_cache=1& Last accessed: 24/08/20.

Hood, Thomas, ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ in Poems by Thomas Hood: Illustrated Edition (New York: G. P. Putnam and Son, 1872).

McLaren, Angus, A Prescription for Murder: The Victorian Serial Killings of Dr Thomas Neill Cream (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995).

Nicoletti, L.J., ‘Downward Mobility: Victorian Women, Suicide and London’s ‘Bridge of Sighs’’ in Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Vol. 2, No. 1 (2004). Accessed from: http://www.literarylondon.org/london-journal/march2004/nicoletti.html Last accessed: 8/8/20

Nicoletti, L. J., ‘Waterloo Suicides’ (2013). Accessed from: http://www.skydive.ru/en/londons-bridges/353-waterloo-suicides.html Last accessed: 8/8/20.

Nochlin, Linda, ‘Lost and Found: Once More the Fallen Woman’ in The Art Bulletin, vol. 60, no. 1 (1978).

Rivers, Bryan, ‘’Tenderly’ and ‘With Care’: Thomas Hood’s ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ and the Suicide of Harriet Shelley’ in Notes and Queries, Vol. 53 (2006).

Rosenfeld, Jason, and Smith, Alison, Millais (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 2008).

Scott-Davies, Allan, Death on the Waterways (Gloucester: The History Press, 2011).

‘The Case of Mary Furley’ in Punch, or the London Charivari, 1st June 1844. Accessed from: https://link-gale- com.ezproxy01.rhul.ac.uk/apps/doc/DX1901543772/GDCS?u=rho_ttda&sid=GDCS&xid=b5fadc29 Last accessed: 28/08/20.

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