Throughout Victorian literature, women have been depicted with a dangerous beauty that seems to lure men into a trap, as if beauty is not a good thing but instead something to be feared. In the era of the emerging New Woman, unrestricted female sexuality had become a concern and often was the point of criticism as women were making a point of leaving their domestic sphere.
In Michael Field’s The Birth of Venus, Venus the goddess of love, sex, and beauty is depicted as having coiling hair. Yet coiling hair is a characteristic of Medusa, who comes from similar mythology, yet holds a very different symbolism than Venus. Medusa is a monster in which has coiling hair that takes the form of snakes, each curl it’s own individual snake. Any person who gazed upon her face would thereby turn to stone, left to face a dangerous fate. As Venus is depicted as having this same coiling hair it can be inferred that she is hailed to have a similar lure of danger within her.
Yet this fear of the sexually free woman was not a new concept, as it is depicted in many Victorian tales, such as Dracula and Dionea. In Bram Stocker’s Dracula, the female vampires are held to a similar level of fear despite their seductive lure. The fear of women with unrestricted sexuality is shown through Stocker’s descriptions of the women as “repulsive” yet “voluptuous” and hand in hand the two seem to be implied as intertwined adjectives that do not come without the other.
Yet in Dionea this contrast seems even more clear, as Dionea is depicted as being, “an amazing little beauty, dark, lithe, with an odd ferocious gleam in her eyes, and a still odder smile, tortuous, serpentine” (9). Once again beauty is compared to snakes, leaving both Dionea and Venus in a similar resemblance of Medusa and beauty that needs to be feared.
In The Birth of Venus, there is a woman standing behind Venus, ready to cover her naked body and hide it from the view. The lines “In possession of the wind, Coiling hair in loosened shocks, Sways a girl who seeks to bind New-born beauty with a tress” symbolize the binding sphere that women were expected to exist in, the domestic sphere that women were not expected to diverge from (lines 6-9). In both Dionea and The Birth of Venus the beautiful woman ends up being trapped in one way or another, as Dionea is trapped inside her statue, and Venus is trapped by the clothing that the woman is bringing towards her.
During the era of the emerging New Woman, this seems to be an odd pretext set by Michael Field, especially as Michael Field is two female writers taking the name of a male. At first glance it seems to be a criticism of the New Woman, noting that despite their efforts they will be contained by society and stuck in their domestic roles. Yet on a deeper look, it reflects the choices that they themselves had to make to publish their work. Katherine Bradley and Edith Cooper although wonderful writers, were restricted to a role that did not include writing as women were not expected to exist within that sphere of literature. Just like in the terms of Dionea, the female vampire and Venus, their sexuality and perhaps aspirations were contained by society, restricted to a certain mold that they were unable to break out of. No matter how amazing of writers they were they were forced to write under the context of a male name, only making their fame as a single male writer as male writers were allowed to exist within the sphere of literature, while women were not.
(Fuse ODG writes of a dangerous love, the woman’s beauty described as dangerous as a gun. Beauty is seen as a tool that strengthen’s women to give them a power that other women do not have, making them dangerous.)