“They are also portrayed [in art] on, or by, bridges, so explicit did the imaginative link seem [to Victorians] between the ‘fallen’ woman and her possible literal ‘fall’ thereafter as she jumps into the water to commit suicide.”

‘The Fallen Woman’ exhibition notes, Foundling Museum 2016



Barely a shock to the cocky mud-larks raking

the river-shore for spoils. Here is a ha’penny,


here a brooch, a snapped stem of gentleman’s

pipe, carved bone clagged with clay, but still


worth the pocketing. The Thames is a pickler,

preserving the city’s detritus in its own juices,


a broth of the unwanted. And here she is, fish

out of water flopped on the fore-shore, silver


skinned and belly up, a twist of saturated skirts

making a mermaid’s tail. Hardly Ophelia, no


weedy bouquets clasped in her un-ringed left

hand, the luxury of grand gestures beyond her


grasp. A proscenium sweep of bridge keeps

her obscenity from offending a god who’d


never heard of her. There is no baptism found

in these waters. No forgiveness gleaned in the


soupy tide. Only limbs, limp; the dampness

of new death: and the river’s uncleansed bride.



Published in The Fenland Reed, issue 3, Autumn 2016


© Sarah Doyle