Venus is the Archetype of Love and Dionea is Her Counterpart

In Michael Field’s poem The Birth of Venus, based on Sandro Botticelli’s painting of the same name, he describes the beauty of the newly born goddess. Venus has emerged from the sea and has come to begin her work as the Goddess of Love. Venus is seen in a pure light, which is represented in the painting by her stark white skin and the light that falls directly on her figure. While Venus may be seen as a pure being, the character of Dionea in Vernon Lee’s “Dionea” is the opposite. Dionea is also a beautiful character, but she has a negative effect on the people around her. The two figures share similarities but differ on love, which leads me to believe that Venus is the archetype of love while Dionea is her counterpart.

If we proceed with this line of reasoning, then Venus is the model for love. The first lines of the poem depict the characteristics necessary for a person in this position. Venus is a “new-born beauty with a tress/Gold about her nakedness” (Field 9-10). These lines state that Venus has just been born, which explains her naked state. The only thing covering her is her beautiful “gold” hair that is wrapped around her, aka the tress. While the reader is first introduced to Venus in this state, her nakedness suggests a level of purity. She has just been introduced to this world so nothing has marred her yet. She is pure and her purity can therefore be used as a model for others to aspire to.

In contrast, when readers first meet Dionea she does not live up to the same standards as Venus. Instead, Dionea is a “poor little waif…who is doubtless a heathen, for she had no little crosses or scapulars on, like proper Christian children…swaddled up close in outlandish garments” (Lee 3-4). This description of Dionea immediately differs from the one of Venus. Dionea is clothed in “outlandish garments” and has no symbols that mark her as a “proper Christian”. These two differences are very important as they signify Dionea as impure. Dionea is not naked or newly born into the world; rather she is wearing ridiculous clothes. She does not have anything marking her purity whereas Venus’s naked form automatically signifies hers. These differences between Venus and Dionea are then translated to their interactions with people and the feeling of love.

At the end of The Birth of Venus, Field describes Venus’s upcoming interactions with people. Venus is a “Virgin stranger, come to seek/Covert of strong orange-boughs/By the sea-wind scarcely moved,-/She is Love that hath not loved” (Field 37-40). These lines represent that Venus has “come to seek” or look for other symbols of purity, depicted in the orange-boughs. Venus has also never experienced love, which is ironic given her forthcoming title as the Goddess of Love. This is important though because Venus has not interacted with people yet, whereas Dionea’s negative qualities are revealed through her interactions with people. The people of the village have begun to tell stories about Dionea and how “where-ever she goes the young people must needs fall in love with each other, and usually where it is far from desirable” (Lee 10). Dionea’s presence around others causes them to “fall in love” with the wrong people. Dionea is affecting the “young people” and is changing their lives in a negative way.

Venus and Dionea are seen as figures that others look to when dealing with love. Both are depicted as beautiful people who are introduced to the reader through the water. Venus is born out of the water and Dionea is found washed ashore from a shipwreck. This is where their similarities end though as Venus is the model representation of Love and Dionea is not. Both characters suggest though that purity is contingent on interactions with others. Venus has not interacted with anyone yet, which is why she is pure. No one has had the chance to ruin her image or corrupt her. Meanwhile, readers know Dionea is supposedly negative or evil because of others interactions with her. This suggests that Venus and Dionea might not be too different as it initially appears they are.


Decadence in England and France

The end of the 18th century and the end of the 19th century were tough times for France and England respectively. France was going through the French Revolution during the late 18th century and had a government that was failing to meet the needs of its people. England was bracing itself for the end of their Queen’s reign in the late 19th century. As a way to cope with the oncoming changes that were to befall both countries, people turned to decadence. During these times, decadence lead to an indulgent lifestyle that focused on the consumption of material goods and experiences that would make a person feel good. The decadent lifestyle that people adopted is present in Sofia Coppola’s movie Marie Antoinette and Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Within Coppola’s movie, Marie Antoinette was the person who was leading a decadent lifestyle. Marie Antoinette, portrayed by Kirsten Dunst, indulged in clothes, food, and a rich, social life as seen in the trailer for the movie. Meanwhile, Dorian Gray indulged in a life of sin. Both characters demonstrate the turn to decadence and reveal the consequences that come with living life in this style.


In the trailer for Marie Antoinette, it is clear that Dunst’s character lives a life of decadence once she becomes Queen. As seen between the 1:00-1:15 mark, Marie Antoinette turns to decadence as a way of coping with her new position. All of the shots in this section of the trailer reveal the different ways Marie Antoinette has turned to decadence in her life. She is consuming things physically through cakes and other pastries, financially through gambling, and materially through the jewelry and multiple pairs of shoes that flash by in the trailer. These three aspects of decadence are seen as luxurious, but this lifestyle is revealed to catch up to the Queen. Between the 1:20-1:25 mark, it is shown that these habits of the Queen have rubbed other people the wrong way. The “people of France are hungry” and the portrait that depicts Marie Antoinette with the phrase ‘Queen of debt’ across it demonstrate the consequences that come with living a life of decadence. While Marie Antoinette is having a fabulous time in her castle, the people she is supposed to be leading are suffering. What the trailer ultimately reveals is that a life of decadence has its limits and that there are negative consequences to every indulgence.

While Marie Antoinette has to face the consequences of her actions, as seen in the end of the trailer with the angry mob, one person who is not ready to do so is Dorian Gray. Once Dorian realizes his portrait can bear the consequences of his decadent lifestyle choices, he jumps at the chance to live a life of sin: “Eternal youth, infinite passion, pleasures subtle and secret, wild joy and wilder sins – he was to have all these things. The portrait was to bear the burdens of his shame: that was all” (117). This is the moment when Dorian is letting go of his responsibility and is passing it to his portrait. Instead of dealing with the consequences of his decadent lifestyle himself, his portrait will “bear the burdens of his shame” for him. The phrases “wild joy” and “wilder sins” reveals the impending life of decadence that Dorian will live. The idea of Dorian partaking in a “wild” lifestyle suggests that there will be nothing to rein in his actions. He is free and loose to do whatever he pleases, an idea that fits well with decadence. There is also no time limit in sight for his lifestyle choices, which is seen through the words “eternal” and “infinite.” Dorian Gray is ready to live a decadent lifestyle, consequences be damned.

The turn to decadence in France and England originated from a place of fear. France was trying to pretend that everything was fine financially and politically when it wasn’t. Meanwhile England was trying to cover up their anxieties over the impending change in reign and the rise of industrialization. Both Marie Antoinette and Dorian Gray partook in the decadent lifestyle through the consumption of food, vice, and luxury. Marie Antoinette demonstrates the consequences that come with living a decadent lifestyle whereas Dorian Gray has yet to face the effects of his actions at this point in the novel.

Destruction of Beauty and Power

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Vernon Lee’s “Dionea” both authors depict women as beautiful creatures. Stoker does this through the three female vampires and Lee achieves this with his titular character. Within these two texts, the beauty of those characters leads to destruction. Stoker depicts this when Van Helsing must murder the female vampires, whose vampirism is visible through their beauty. On the other hand, Lee demonstrates destruction through Waldemar’s failed attempt to capture Dionea’s beauty in his sculpture. Within both of these texts, beauty is used as the conduit in which women are given power over men. However, in order to maintain the social decorum of the 19th century, that power and subsequently that beauty must be destroyed so men can stay in power.

Within Dracula, the female vampires are seen as beautiful as a result of their vampirism. Van Helsing knows that youthfulness and beauty is a characteristic of vampirism, but the female vampires beauty still stops him when he is trying to kill them. Van Helsing recognizes that “the mere beauty and fascination of the wanton Un-dead have hypnotize him” and that if he were to keep dawdling in his task he could become “one more victim in the Vampire fold” (Stoker 393). In this quote, the vampires’ beauty is so strong that it has “hypnotized him” and stopped him from completing his task. The power of the vampires’ beauty demonstrates the potential danger for Van Helsing. If he keeps staring at them, the sun will eventually set, and he will become “one more [of their] victim[s]”. In order to prevent that, Van Helsing must destroy the vampires and their beauty in order to be free from their power. This interaction between Van Helsing and the female vampires shows that the kind of power women had over men had to do with looks. The female vampire would only be successful in turning Van Helsing if he succumbed to their beauty. He is able to prevent that though by killing them, which demonstrates Stoker correcting the power dynamics within the novel by transferring it back to the man.

Vernon Lee’s “Dionea” depicts beauty in a similar way to Dracula. Dionea is seen as a witch or possessing the evil eye, but the doctor always describes her as beautiful. While Dionea’s evilness is never given a name like vampirism, it is clear through her interactions with Waldemar that her beauty has power over men. This is seen when Waldemar is attempting to model a sculpture after her but is not successful: “she is far, far more beautiful than Waldemar’s statue of her. He said so angrily, only yesterday…as he spoke that odd spark of ferocity dilated in his eyes, and seizing the largest of his modelling tools, he obliterated at one swoop the whole exquisite face” (Lee 23). Waldemar knows that his sculpture is not doing Dionea’s beauty justice, which is represented through his saying that in real life Dionea is “far, far more beautiful” than what his sculpture currently depicts. The power of Dionea’s beauty creates an “odd spark of ferocity” within Waldemar, which drives him to destroy his sculpture. While Stoker was able to fix the power dynamics in his novel, Lee is not able to do the same. Instead, Waldemar dies as a result of Dionea’s power and beauty and she is left standing triumphant in the end.

While both of these texts represent beautiful women who are subsequently given power, they have very different results. Stoker corrects the power dynamics in Dracula when Van Helsing successfully kills the female vampires. However, Lee’s Waldemar fails fatally to Dionea’s beauty and power. Both representations of characters though goes against the social codes of the 19th century by giving women power over men, even if it is through shallow descriptions of beauty.

Fulfilling Fantasies in Dracula

One outside text that helps shed light on Dracula is Sigmund Freud’s “Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming”. In this piece, Freud talks about the idea of fantasy and what people will do in order to achieve it. Freud argues that fantasies are an effect of the past, present, and future happening simultaneously. The idea in this article that stands out the most, in relation to the novel, is Freud’s categories for the motives behind fantasy. Freud believes that fantasies “fall naturally into two main groups. They are either ambitious wishes, which serve to elevate the subject’s personality; or they are erotic ones” (Freud 423). While the novel does depict fantasies that fall into these categories, it also shows other categories that Freud’s article has overlooked.

One moment that does represent Freud’s categories is when the three female vampires confront Jonathan Harker in the hopes of sucking his blood. Harker’s reaction to the situation demonstrates an erotic fantasy: “There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips” (Stoker 45). It is clear through the language of this quote, that Harker’s fantasy to have the female vampires kiss him is erotic in nature. The words “longing” and “desire” help represent the sexual tone of the scene. Both words suggest that a part of Harker needs this interaction to occur. There is an underlying force that is driving him to want them to kiss him. That underlying force helps depict Freud’s theory that fantasies are oftentimes created out of an erotic desire.

However, Freud’s categories of the driving force behind fantasies are too limited. Freud’s argument does not allow room for other options, which are clearly present in the novel. One of those moments that help demonstrate another force behind fantasies is when Dr. Seward is studying his patient. Renfield has been suddenly overcome with fits of rage and has escaped the insane asylum and Dr. Seward is at a loss for why. Dr. Seward wishes he “could get some clue to the cause. It would almost seem as if there was some influence which came and went… We shall tonight play sane wits against mad ones. He escaped before without our help; tonight he shall escape with it” (Stoker 118). This quote helps show that fantasies can also be driven by curiosity and the eagerness for knowledge. Dr. Seward just wants to “get some clue” so he can understand why Renfield is behaving like so. He realizes that in order to do so, he should provide an opportunity for Renfield to escape again. Dr. Seward imagines that after this helped escape, he will be able to understand what is affecting Renfield. This fantasy of Dr. Seward’s is purely driven from an academic standpoint. The doctor is being faced with a patient whose problems he cannot understand, so he is creating a controlled experiment in order to learn more. This driving force behind Dr. Seward’s fantasy does not fall into Freud’s categories. It is clear that this does not arise from an erotic nature nor does it serve as a way for Dr. Seward’s personality to rise.

Throughout the novel, many fantasies occur. While some of those may fall into Freud’s two categories, like Harker’s interaction with the female vampires, others do not. Dr. Seward’s study of Renfield shows that academia and a desire for knowledge can be a driving force for fantasy. This helps demonstrate that there can be many driving forces behind a person’s fantasies and it is really up to the individual who is experiencing them to know what that force is.

Animal or Human in The Island of Dr. Moreau

“Now they stumbled in the shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand; their mock-human existence began in agony, was one long internal struggle, one long dread of Moreau-and for what?” (74).

In this quote, Edward Prendick is reflecting on the life of the Beast People that Moreau has created and then abandoned, left to survive on their own. Prendick realizes that the Beast People are caught between two worlds, the animal and the human. Wells demonstrates this struggle of the Beast People through his word choice, which reflects the lack of power the Beast People have over their lives. This ultimately reveals that the Beast People are at the mercy of their creator, Moreau, and that they will forever exist in a realm of otherness as a result of Moreau’s experiments.

Wells uses words that demonstrate the Beast People’s lack of power in all aspects of their life. The Beast People are caught in the “shackles of humanity, lived in a fear that never died, fretted by a law they could not understand” (74). The word “shackles” stands out immediately because it provides an image of the Beast People being enslaved or bound within humanity. This helps illustrate that the Beast People are trapped in the human world physically due to their altered forms. The Beast People are also trapped in the human world emotionally, which is revealed through the feeling of “fear that never [dies]”. The word “fear” suggests that the Beast People are afraid of something, in this case Moreau and being brought back to his laboratory. The Beast People constantly carry around this feeling, which shows the emotional weight of being caught between two worlds. The Beast People are trapped between the animal and the human world in every potential way. Moreau has affected their physical and emotional state and has also managed to gain control over their mental state. This is seen through the Beast People’s inability to understand the laws that govern their community. The use of the word “fretted” shows the worry the Beast People deal with because they are expected to abide by these laws that they unfortunately cannot understand. The reason they cannot understand them is because they are not fully human, much to Moreau’s chagrin. This quote reveals that the Beast People have no control over their lives; Moreau has affected them physically, emotionally, and mentally.

Through this quote it is also revealed that time is an important factor in the lives of the Beast People. The importance of time is also reflected in the Longman Anthology, which discusses how “the Victorians were troubled by Time” (1055). While the Victorians struggled with Time in regards to the Industrial Revolution, the Beast People grapple with Time in terms of their existence. However, the Beast People’s existence is a result of Moreau’s attempts to accomplish a new technology, which was a factor in the Industrial Revolution. The word “long” appears in this quote twice, which shows the reader the existence of time within the novel. The use of the word “long” reflects an extended period of time in which the Beast People suffer. The phrase “never died”, which refers to the fear the Beast People feel, also showcases time; there is no end in sight for the Beast People’s agony.

Moreau has trapped these Beast People between two worlds, the animal and the human. They exist in a space of otherness, not quite animal and not quite human. This is reflected in their “mock-human existence”. They are imitating being human, but cannot fully achieve humanity because of their animal instincts and form. As a result of living in between these two spaces, the Beast People do not have power over their lives because they don’t know which realm they should occupy. Moreau tells them they should be human, but their bodies and natural instincts tell them they are animal. This constant battle is just another way the Beast People are caught in an eternal struggle. If one does not even know what to call themself, how can they live in peace?