Society was so cautious about giving sexual freedom to women, because it thought that the fundamentals of family life would crumble with female sexual freedom. Great stress was laid upon marriage and a woman without marriage was abhorred.
"Taught that a husband was essential to their existence, and all their training directed to the art of catching one, they had the choice of being relegated to the ranks of abnormality if they did not marry, or being forced into what many regarded as degrading sexual competition, in which the losers faced economic hardship as well as social obliteration," Foster (1985, p.7).
Condition of women was difficult and constricted. Either they were idealised or discarded. There was never a middle path. It was an age of transition from medieval to modern times when the prudish society was at the throes of giving birth to a more modern social order. The Victorian society is described beautifully here:
"Middle-class outlook: Protestant work ethic, pragmatism, respectability, sobriety, frugality, industry, chastity, honesty, independence, etc. Commitment to the idea of pursuing social duty instead of personal pleasure Struggle over role of women: icons of ideal English daughter, wife, & mother vs. fallen woman, spinster, New Woman, femme fatale" http://www.public.iastate.edu/khickok/victoriannovel.html
The sexual morality of the era was rooted in late 18th and early 19th century societies. As the literature of any period would reflect the society itself, Victorian literature too presents itself in the societal framework. Fallen woman and prostitution had often been subjects of Victorian literature. Fallen woman in those days was the woman who had, or presumed to have had sexual relationship outside marriage. Fallenness did not come only because of prostitution, but even the unmarried mothers, needlewomen, women without any means of living and earning, women coming from very low working class, demented women, alcoholics, childless, spinsters, slaves, anorexic and even the harem women were all treated by society as fallen women.
"Generally the term 'fallen woman' is used indiscriminately by the Victorian middle classes to describe any woman who has lost her chastity: the common prostitute, the 'kept' woman, the woman whose prostitution supplemented an insufficient wage and the innocent victim of a single seduction - all were categorised under this single heading regardless of the finer identifiable personal and social differences between each group," Morris (1993, p.49).
The discrimination comes mainly because they could not reach the social and sexual standards set by the society of the day. Society had rigid norms and rules for its female population and some of the writers of both the sexes did try to make a difference.
"When Jane Austen taught that sensibility without moral sense was dangerous, she was taking up a theme that was at the heart of a number of novelists. As later novelists would emphasize duty, writers of this earlier period were very much concerned with balance, a rational moderation that avoided extremes of action or feeling," Calder (1976, p.18).
. Victorian literat