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F1430Illegitimacy was tragic truth in Victorian society. Born out of wedlock were stripped off rights to inherit properties and titles. Caroline Graves, one of Wilkie Collins’s mistresses, also born an illegitimate child and lived an assumed name as a young widow when earning her bread in a low-mercantile occupation. In The Woman in White, Sir Percival Glyde forged the birth entry, which befell misfortunes on Anne Catherick and domestic household of Fairlie’s. In No Name, Magdalen and Norah Vanstone were invalidated inheritance from parents, which induced Magdalen to contrive plots and disguise to restore the rights.

amelia-dyer-paper2Around that time, there might be refuges for such entities, for instance, the Foundling Hospital, which operated in admission bases from balloting to general reception. Although illegitimacy was admission criterion in the nineteenth century, only mothers born of good names and be present at porter’s lodge (entrance to the Institution) were considered. In this case, many resorted to baby-farming under straitened circumstances – businesses of sole entities taking illegitimate children for lucrative purposes; their lives were under peril of negligence. Mixture of syrup and laudanum called “Godfrey’s Cordial” was often used as sedation. The serial killer, Amelia Dyer, was an infamous baby-farmer convicted of infanticide by dislodging bodies into the Thames in 1896.

Wilkie Collins pointed out bastard children’s destinies in The Fallen Leaves. Simple Sally was adopted out to Mother Sowler for “six weeks’ keep of ten shillings a day” for the family’s reputation. After that, she wandered into the “sisterhood of the streets”. Although she was received into “the Home for Friendless Women” by Mrs. Payson (similar to Urania Cottage by Angela Burdett-Coutts), he pointed out the plain truth of Fallen Women at the time: charity was calculated by costs in modern-day society. “The world has invented a religion of its own, it’s a religion with the pride of property at the bottom of it, and a veneer of benevolent sentiment at the top.” References of good characters were needed for future employments; the wounded and the lost could never be guaranteed for their lives; with only “cold and hunger and ill-treatment sometimes be merciful friends”.

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