Motherhood, for the Victorians, was seen not just as an organic phase
of womanhood, but a responsibility that required a constant system of
behavioural actions or inactions to make it a success rather than a
danger. In this essay, I explore mid-nineteenth-century formulations
of maternity through the ‘work’ of two women: Mary Ann Brough
and Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Both women played a significant role
within the era’s popular culture. In 1854, Brough notoriously cut the
throats of six of her children, killing them all, and then attempted
suicide by cutting her own.1 From 1862 until her death in 1915,
Braddon was one of Britain’s most popular and prolific novelists.
Through analysis of the correlations and inconsistencies between
non-fictional reactions to the crimes of Mary Brough and representations
of dangerous maternities in the early fiction of Mary Braddon,
this piece aims to explore the period’s biological and social ideas of
motherhood in relation to emerging ideas on male professionalism
and class mobility.