'Murdered at the Breast'

Maternal Violence and the Self-Made Man in Popular Victorian Culture

in Critical Survey

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.