The actor, as a reminder of personal mutability, has always provoked the condemnation of absolutist philosophers and churchmen. Historically, this anti-theatrical prejudice has pressed even harder on the actress, for in her case ‘personal’ connotes sexual mutability. In Victorian times, when purity was enjoined on Woman for Man's sake as well as her own, the actress's situation was further complicated. In the following article, Julie Hankey examines the treatment of actress-characters in certain novels of the nineteenth century – Wilkie Collin's No Name, Geraldine Jewsbury's The Half-Sisters, George Eliot's Daniel Deronda, and Henry James's The Tragic Muse, among others – exploring in particular their peculiarly physical system of representation, a system which reproduced the social and moral attitudes of the day on a more visceral level of irrational prejudice. Irrespective of their artistry or sympathies, authors were remarkably consistent in their use of the same relatively narrow but at the same time powerful range of signals – dress, pose, interiors, gardens, flowers, and so on – clearly confident that by this means the actress could be adequately expressed. Julie Hankey is presently co-editor of the ‘Plays and Performance’ series, now published by Cambridge University Press, and has herself prepared the individual volumes on Richard III and Othello.