Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

‘Dreadful Beyond Description’: Mary Carpenter's prison reform writings and female convicts in Britain and India

Schwan, Anne



Mary Carpenter (1807-77) was one of mid-Victorian England's most prolific social reformers, starting her career with a focus on the reformation of juvenile offenders. This article considers Carpenter's writings on female convicts in Britain and India and illustrates how her ideas about criminal reformation become discursively connected with a larger project of building a coherent nation as the basis of a powerful empire. Carpenter constructs the bodies of women convicts in Britain and India as a threatening influence on future generations and the Empire as a whole and calls on white middle-class women to reform such 'alien' bodies. The essay explores the intersections of domestic female-led reformism and the imperial project of control over foreign bodies. It demonstrates that imperial history, the history of crime and punishment and gender history must be brought together in order to explore fully the convergence of ideologies of gender, class and racial identity in the mid-Victorian period.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Aug 3, 2010
Publication Date 2010-08
Deposit Date Jun 20, 2011
Journal European Journal of English Studies
Print ISSN 1382-5577
Electronic ISSN 1744-4233
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 14
Issue 2
Pages 107-120
Keywords Mary Carpenter; prison reform; convicts; femal prisoners; Britain; India;
Public URL
Publisher URL