Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: nekhbet

A New Role for Women in A Pause of Thought

The poem entitled A Pause of Thought by Christina Rossetti details the feelings of a poetic voice that longs for something yet feels as though she may not ever have it. The voice states that she is “foolish” for continuing to endure the pain of not having what she wants (Rossetti, 33). Despite the suffering caused by wanting something that may be impossible to have, the narrator remains hopeful and continues to want that which she cannot have. The object of desire is not made explicit, and may be unrequited love or a sense of agency, which were two of the most important things that women during the Victorian era longed for yet could rarely have. The idea of marriage for love was a relatively new idea for women during this time period, as women were supposed to marry for good financial and social standing instead of for love. As well, women were not thought to have the agency of men during this time period, and so the idea of a woman longing for true love and having such freedom in her life was an unpopular idea. The narrator states “And hope deferred made my heart sick in truth: But years must pass before a hope of youth / Is resigned utterly” in the first stanza of the poem, which contains the idea that knowing that the pursuit of agency and love may be fruitless is repeated throughout the poem, as is the narrator’s unwillingness to abandon hope (Rossetti, 32). The poem may be thought to acknowledge the difficulties of a woman’s position during the Victorian era with a sense of doubtfulness that things would change for the better, however it also includes a sense of hopefulness about the status of women in the future. The poem may express the idea of women having their own freedom and agency in love and in life much like the exclusive status of freedom and brotherhood held by the men that Rossetti knew during this time period.

Motherhood in Dracula

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mina Harker, Lucy Graham and Dracula are given roles in which they act as mothers. Mina Harker acts as a mother to Arthur after he loses his wife, and feels strongly about the idea that women have a matriarchal instinct as shown the quotation “We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit is invoked; I felt this big, sorrowing man’s head resting on me, as through it were that of the baby that some day may lie on my bosom” (Stoker, 245). Van Helsing believes that Mina has the intelligence of a man and the heart of a woman, and that this is a good combination. Mina acts as the perfect caretaker for many of the characters within the novel, including her husband after he returns from Transylvania ill. Despite believing in the idea of the “new woman” in the beginning of the novel and defying the gender stereotypes of the time period, Mina returns to stasis and becomes an example of the ideal Victorian woman as she settles down and becomes a mother.
Lucy Graham, originally presented as the ideal Victorian woman who would have loved to enjoy married life with her husband, opposes this stereotype. When she becomes a vampire, she takes life from children instead of nurturing them, as found in this quotation “With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone. The child gave a sharp cry, and lay there moaning” (Stoker, 226). Once turned into a vampire, Lucy rejects the role of a mother entirely. As well, in becoming a vampire, Lucy received blood transfusions from multiple men which was described as something similar to bigamy, as Arthur believed that he felt truly married to Lucy after he gave his blood to her. For Lucy, becoming a vampire meant rejecting the roles of the Victorian wife and mother.
As well, when Dracula interacts with Mina Harker, he takes on the role of the mother, forcing her to drink his blood from his chest as found in the quotation “With his left hand he held both Mrs Harker’s hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare breast…” (Stoker, 300). Dracula has repeatedly shown signs of femininity throughout the novel, such as his fascination with Jonathan and that he expresses emotion by telling the women in his home that he is capable of love, further connecting him to the theme of female sexuality. When placed in roles suggesting motherhood, vampires such as Lucy, the three vampire women in Dracula’s home, and Dracula himself demonstrate horrific behavior. Vampires appear to be representative of the idea of women expressing their sexuality during the Victorian era, which was something, according to the novel, was meant to be feared. Vampires reject monogamy, chastity, and motherhood, and are thought to be impure and dangerous to society, much like the idea of the Victorian woman doing these things.

Lucy and Mina as “New Women”

Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, compares the idea of the “New Woman” to the traditional roles of women in Victorian society through his two female protagonists. Mina Harker provides an example of what the new woman may appear to be, showing traits of what would be considered masculine within the time period. As well, Lucy Graham initially appears to be a suitable example of how a woman should have appeared during this time period, however later in the novel she has traits opposing these ideals. Stoker writes his two female protagonists, Lucy Graham and Mina Harker, as women who oppose traditional gender roles and behave in ways that may be interpreted as feminist, which provides a window into the ways that gender roles were changing towards the end of the era. Mina Harker values education and has been revealed to have been the one to collect each of the journal entries that have been deemed relevant to the case involving Dracula, and believes that women should be more equal to men. In Mina’s journal, she writes “But I suppose the New Woman won’t condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it, too! There’s some consolation in that” which reveals that she finds comfort in the idea that in the future, some of the gender roles firmly set in the Victorian era would be challenged (Stoker, 100). Mina is portrayed as being like the “New Woman” because she challenges these gender roles through instances like these.
At the beginning of the novel, Lucy Graham appears to be the opposite of the “New Woman” because she is portrayed as excitable, feminine, and eager to settle into married life. Despite this initial characterization, Lucy’s sexuality appears to be different than expected of the Victorian woman, as during this time period women were expected to behave modestly and to exhibit “domestic” and “pure” behavior (Damrosch, Dettmar 1061). Lucy writes “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker, 67) which is a scenario that would have been highly frowned upon during this time period. As well, in the moments before her death, the somewhat posessed Lucy was said to have asked Arthur to kiss her in a “soft, voluptuous voice” which surprised the men in the room (Stoker, 172). The Victorian woman was not expected to express their sexuality in such a manner, which shows that Lucy is also a character who defies traditional gender roles. Stoker therefore writes both women as showing traits of the “New Woman,” as they both defy gender roles in these different ways.

Victorian Opinions in Sherlock Holmes

Within the story “The Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, some of the true thoughts of Victorian people about other cultures and ethnicities are brought to light. A topic constantly mentioned within the story is the topic of foreign people, especially Indian people. The act of traveling to “the tropics” was thought by the female protagonist to have changed her stepfather, making his behavior more violent and strange, and the “Indians” in the backyard are also thought to be uncivilized (Doyle, 42). As well, the “speckled band” was really a snake from India, further continuing the idea that Victorians did not find comfort in things considered to be foreign. As the Victorian Era was also known as an age of conquest in Britain, many of the citizens believed that their country was the only country that was truly civilized, and looked down upon other peoples as being savage. This idea is explored within Doyle’s story, as characters such as Helen say lines that are unkind towards others, such as “It must have been those wretched gypsies in the plantation” (Doyle, 44). The sensation genre was known to try to elicit strong reactions within the readers of these stories and novels, and so a story involving foreign people from a different continent may have elicited fear and a sense of wonder about these people. The story involves the notion held by many that foreign people and their lands were uncivilized, and so including a foreign animal as the murder weapon may have caused the people reading in Britain to further validate their opinions that foreign lands were dangerous and their people uncivilized.

Lucy After the Storm

I have chosen to analyze the third paragraph on page 78 of the novel that details Lady Audley’s behavior after the storm. This passage describes the sharp contrast between the frightened Lady Audley and her behavior after the storm that caused her to behave strangely. The passage parallels the passages on the previous page, which detail George Talboys’ similar reaction after the storm. In this passage, Lucy is compared to fresh flowers and birds. Her cheeks were described as being pink, indicating passion and liveliness, and she was described as beautiful and joyous in the same way that the birds were. This imagery comparing her to birds is continued when the author describes her singing as warbling. The passage is full of imagery of nature, flowers, and light. Nature is a common motif throughout the novel, often used as further indication of how a character feels. The passage shows how Lucy’s behavior contrasts how she felt during the storm, as she felt much happier in the safety of the daylight. In the next paragraph, her husband recounts, “Do you know, Lucy, that once last night, when you looked out through the dark green bed-curtains, with your poor white face, and the purple rims around your hollow eyes, I had almost a difficulty to recognize my little wife in that ghastly, terrified, agonized-looking creature,” which sharply contrasts the imagery in the paragraph before it (Braddon 78). Like a child, Lucy is afraid of the storm as well as many other common fears in childhood such as dogs and even cows. This passage reveals to the audience that Lucy has odd, childlike behavior and yet is similar to George in that they were both terrified of the storm and recovered beautifully afterwards. This passage foreshadows a possible link between Lucy and George to be explored later in the novel, and uses imagery of nature to convey Lucy’s emotions.

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