"For the Dead cannot Shrive me Now”: Gender Violence, Precariousness and the Neo-Victorian Gothic in Katy Darby’s The Whores’ Asylum (2012)

Keywords: prostitution, gender violence, precariousness, neo-Victorian, The Whore's Asylum


Katy Darby’s neo-Victorian novel The Whores’ Asylum (2012) is set in Oxford in the 1880s. The Gothic plays an important role in the process of re-writing the Victorian period as a mirror of our contemporary societies where depravity and lack of humanity co-exist with modernity and civilisation. The protagonists—Stephen, Edward and Diana—are involved in the process of showing sympathy for the lives and deaths of the destitute and the dispossessed. Under the stance of Judith Butler’s theories of mourning and violence, my analysis has a two-fold aim: to discuss issues of the Victorian past such as venereal disease, prostitution and gender violence in the text, and to question to what extent the novel can be an attempt to hear the voices of the victims of sexual exploitation, giving them restoration and agency. However, my conclusion is that the text does not grant the victims of sexual exploitation real voice or agency.


Download data is not yet available.


Arias, Rosario, and Patricia Pulham. Introduction. Haunting and Spectrality in Neo-Victorian Fiction: Possessing the Past, edited by Arias and Pulham, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, pp. xi–xxvi.

Arias, Rosario, and Patricia Pulham. “Material Traces in Neo-Victorianism.” Victoriographies, vol. 9, no. 3, 2019, pp. 213–21, doi:10.3366/ vic.2019.0350.

Bartley, Paula. Prostitution: Prevention and Reform in England, 1860–1914. Routledge, 2000.

Bowler, Alexia L., and Jessica Cox. “Introduction to the Nineteenth Century: Revisiting, Revising and Rewriting the Past.” Neo-Victorian Studies, vol. 2, no. 2, 2009/2010, pp. 1–17, www.neovictorianstudies.com/past_issues/ winter2009-2010/NVS%202-2-1%20A-Bowler%20&%20J-Cox.pdf/.

Butler, Judith. Precarious Life: The Powers of Mourning and Violence. Verso, 2006.

Curtis, Debra. “Commodities and Sexual Subjectivities: A Look at Capitalism and its Desires.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 19, no. 1, 2004, pp. 95–121, doi:10.1525/can.2004.19.1.95.

Darby, Kate. Katy Darby, katydarby.com/.

Darby, Kate. The Whores’ Asylum. Penguin, 2012.

Dearden, Lizzie. “Child Refugees ‘Sexually Abused by Italian Men’ after Being Picked Up While Sleeping Homeless in Parks.” The Independent, 20 Aug. 2016, www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/child-refugees-sexually-abused-by-italian-men-after-being-picked-up-while-sleeping-homeless-in-parks-a7201081.html/.

Finnegan, Francis. Poverty and Prostitution: A Study of Victorian Prostitutes in York. Cambridge UP, 1979.

Heilmann, Ann, and Mark Llewellyn. “Hystorical Fictions: Women (Re)Writing and (Re)Reading History.” Women: A Cultural Review, vol. 15, no. 2, 2004, pp. 137–52.

Hobson, Janell. Venus in the Dark: Blackness and Beauty in Popular Culture. Routledge, 2005.

Hymas, Charles, and Julie Bindel. “I Gave up Drugs to Get out of the ‘Managed’ Red-light Zone—It Was Too Dangerous.” The Telegraph, 21 Nov. 2018, www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/women-and-girls/gave-drugs-get-managed-red-light-zone-dangerous/.

Jericho Online, www.jerichocentre.org.uk/.

Kohlke, Marie-Luise. “Neo-Victorian Female Gothic: Fantasies of Self-Abjection.” Neo-Victorian Gothic: Horror, Violence, and Degeneration in the Re-Imagined Nineteenth Century, edited by Marie Luise Kohlke and Christian Gutleben, Rodopi, 2012, pp. 221–50.

Kohlke, Marie-Luise. “The Neo-Victorian Sexation: Literary Excursions into the Nineteenth-Century Erotic.” Probing the Problematics: Sex and Sexuality, edited by Marie-Luise Kohlke and Luisa Orza, Inter-Disciplinary Press, 2008, pp. 345–56.

Kohlke, Marie-Luise. “Speculations in and on the Neo-Victorian Encounter.” Neo-Victorian Studies, vol. 1, no. 1, pp. 1–18, www.neovictorianstudies.com/past_issues/autumn2008/NVS%201-1% 20M-Kohlke.pdf/.

Kohlke, Marie Luise, and Christian Gutleben. “Bearing After-Witness to the Nineteenth Century.” Neo-Victorian Tropes of Trauma: The Politics of Bearing After-Witness to Nineteenth Century Suffering, edited by Kohlke and Gutleben, Rodopi, 2010, pp. 1–34.

Kohlke, Marie Luise, and Christian Gutleben. “The (Mis)Shapes of Neo-Victorian Gothic: Continuations, Adaptations, Transformations.” Neo-Victorian Gothic: Horror, Violence, and Degeneration in the Re-Imagined Nineteenth Century, edited by Kohlke and Gutleben, Rodopi, 2012, pp. 1–48.

LaCapra, Dominick. “Trauma, Absence, Loss.” Critical Enquiry, vol. 25, no. 4, 2004, pp. 696–727.

Llewellyn, Mark. “Neo-Victorianism: On the Ethics and Aesthetics of Appropriation.” Lit: Literature Interpretation Theory, vol. 20, nos. 1–2, 2009, pp. 27–44.

Mahood, Linda. The Magdalenes: Prostitution in the Nineteenth Century. Routledge, 1990.

Marcus, Steven. The Other Victorians: A Study of Sexuality and Pornography in Mid-Nineteenth-Century England. Corgi, 1971.

Mitchell, Kate. History and Cultural Memory in Neo-Victorian Fiction: Victorian Aftermarriages. Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.

Nally, Claire. “Cross Bones Graveyard: Excavating the Prostitute in Neo-Victorian Popular Culture.” Journal of Victorian Culture, vol. 23, no. 2, 2018, pp. 247–61, doi:10.1093/jvc/vcx006.

Owen, John. “Violence against Sex Workers: ‘He Was There to Kill Me’.” BBC News, 5 Sept. 2017, www.bbc.com/news/uk-41148875/.

Pietrzak-Franger, Monika. “‘Those Ill Things’: On Hidden Spectacles and the Ethics of Display.” Neo-Victorian Studies, vol. 4, no. 2, pp. 21–48, www.neovictorianstudies.com/past_issues/4-2%202011/NVS%204-2-2% 20M-Pietrzak-Franger.pdf/.

Rehm, Jeremy. “Syphilis Cases in US New-borns Spike to Twenty-year High: Nearly 1,000 Babies Were Born with the Infection in 2017.” Nature: International Journal of Science, 1 Oct. 2018, www.nature.com/articles /d41586-018-06910-3/.

Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarchy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. Virago Press, 1992.

Showalter, Elaine. “Syphilis, Sexuality, and the Fiction of the Fin de Siècle.” Sex, Politics, and Science in the Nineteenth Century-Novel, edited by Bernard Yeazell, John Hopkins UP, 1990, pp. 88–115.

Sigel, Lisa Z. Governing Pleasures: Pornography and Social Change in England, 1815–1914. Rutgers UP, 2002.

Spongberg, Mary. Feminising Venereal Disease: The Body of the Prostitute in Nineteenth Century Medical Discourse. New York UP, 1997.

Walkowitz, Judith. Prostitution and Victorian Society: Women, Class and the State. Cambridge UP, 1991.
How to Cite
Romero Ruiz, M. I. “"For the Dead Cannot Shrive Me Now”: Gender Violence, Precariousness and the Neo-Victorian Gothic in Katy Darby’s The Whores’ Asylum (2012)”. ES Review. Spanish Journal of English Studies, no. 42, Nov. 2021, pp. 155-77, doi:10.24197/ersjes.42.2021.155-177.