Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Women in “The Lady of Shalott” and ‘Dracula’

While looking at the texts of “The Lady of Shalott and Dracula, I notice a similarity between the depiction of women through a lens of female sexuality. In Dracula, Lucy demonstrates an inability to resist the temptation of an attractive man. Lucy’s beauty and flirtatious personality attracts multiple men. Following three suitors’ proposal, Lucy writes Mina, “why can’t they [Victorian society] let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 67). Lucy’s promiscuity is in some ways a curse because Dracula views her as an easy target and Lucy is vulnerable to his evil powers and vampirism. Stoker depicts Lucy to regularly demonstrate a lack of control around men.

In “The Lady of Shalott,” the Lady fails to resist the sight of the Knight of Camelot. When the Knight arrives with his gang in Shalott, she disregards the mirror and leaves the confines of her limited tower walls. The Lady believes that if she goes down to Shalott and makes contact with the Knight, he will fall madly in love with her. After “She look’d down to Camelot,” the Lady cries, “The curse is come upon me.” As soon as the Lady leaves her weave, she is cursed to death. This represents the VIctorian idea that women should be confined to the domestic sphere and should not be sexual beings seeking love and lust. Lord Tennyson portrays the Lady as defiant and profane once graced with the Knight’s presence.

Both Lucy and the Lady are temptresses and attempt to tempt men even though it leads to their deaths. Both Stoker and Lady Tennyson depict women to be uncontrollable and obsessive when around men.

5 Comments

  1. I appreciate how you focused on the topic of women in both your texts; however, I’m not sure I agree with your claim that Lucy was “obsessive when around men” in regard to the moment you focused on. You reference Lucy’s promiscuity in regard to “why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 67); however, I believe Lucy handled this instance rather well. Instead of leading on all of her suitors simultaneously, she lets them down easily and recognizes that she’s missing out on being with a potentially great husband. However, I do agree with your claim of women being temptresses in regard to Lucy’s “voluptuous wantonness” (Stoker, 225) once she takes on her undead form.

  2. Personally, I did not interpret the Lady of Shallot as a temptress. Instead, I read her more as an example of a woman asserting her free will. The Lady of Shallot reminded me a lot of Lot’s Wife from Genesis. In Genesis, Lot’s wife looks back at her home and is turned to a pillar of salt because she betrayed God. However, many feminists interpret Lot’s wife’s decision to look back as an act of defiance and free will. I think the Lady of Shallot can be interpreted similarly. The original meaning of the poem might have been that women who think for themselves will be punished. However, I think the Lady of Shallot’s decision can be interpreted as resistance against a male dominated society. Because it is better to think and live for yourself and die than to be alive and not thinking.

  3. I agree with your ideas that women are punished for showing attraction to men. Perhaps Stoker hoped to punish Lucy for her ability to attract multiple suitors by killing her off and over-sexualizing her following her death. Despite her efforts to lure the men towards her in the graveyard, they are repulsed by her sexualness, and the memory of Lucy is disgraced by her newly lustful self. Similarly, as you pointed out, the Lady of Shalott fails in her efforts to attract the King, and evidently dies. Perhaps the authors intended to convey how sexual women are an embarrassment to society and should be punished for disregarding gender roles.

  4. I agree with your point and I would go as far as to argue that as a result of their sexual nature, both Lucy and the Lady of Shalott are condemned to death. Although, I also think that even though The Lady of Shalott ultimately dies, she dies on her own terms. She refuses to conform to the domestic sphere, and so she leaves the castle and dies willingly. In the case of Lucy, her promiscuity, or perceived promiscuity, is certainly a factor in her ultimate death. The way she is murdered, too, demonstrates a taming of sexuality. A stake is driven through her and her reaction is that of an orgasm, but that is her last encounter. Much of Lucy’s sexuality and promiscuity is not even that of her own choice, she is does not choose to have three men proposed to her and her interactions with Dracula are not consensual. So I would definitely agree with your claim that sexuality is indeed a curse, and not necessarily a choice for these two characters.

  5. I am not sure if I agree with your assessment of the Lady as a temptress, on the other hand there is no argument when it comes to Lucy being a temptress. The Lady in the poem has not been exposed to the real world therefore I believe that she has no conception of how to tempt a men. She is the epitome of what Victorian women are supposed to be until the moment she overwhelmed with desire and looks out into the world and meets her demise. She is kept locked up in this tower reserved and away from men. She does not seem to be aware of how desire can take control of you which is why she ends up looking out into the real world when she sees a man she desires through her mirror. The Lady is unlike the characters of Lady Audley and Lucy from Dracula, because these women understand how desires works, they know how to play on the desires of men. Whereas in the case of the Lady desire plays a trick on her.

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