Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: Tristan

Ideas of Transformation and Self-Indulgence in Dr. Jekyll and Dracula

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde takes the idea of transforming into something inhuman and turns it on its head. In Dracula, we see a few different characters become taken by vampirism, in varying ways. Lucy is obviously the most dramatic example of that, turning into a permanent vampire (until she is killed/exorcised with the help of Van Helsing). All of these transformations in Dracula, however, are involuntary, in that they are the direct result of having been bitten (or visited) by Dracula. Meanwhile, in the case of Dr. Jekyll, his transformation is a result of his own experimentation, and after the discovery he chooses to transform into Mr. Hyde whenever he wants to. Although, similarly to Lucy, Dr. Jekyll eventually loses control over his other form, at which point it takes him over completely.

The emphasis on self-indulgence in this novella reminded me of similar themes running through Dracula. We know that Dr. Jekyll transforms into Mr. Hyde specifically for his own pleasure: “The pleasures which I made haste to seek in my disguise were, as I have said, undignified…every act and thought centred on self; drinking pleasure with bestial avidity” (Stevenson 46). I found it interesting how Dr. Jekyll indulges his desires without much thought, while the human characters in Dracula are shown to resist them, such as when Harker is deeply tempted by the three female vampires but does not give in. Also, in Dracula, we see the idea of indulgence with the consumption of blood, and in other words, violence against other people, just like Mr. Hyde attacking that girl or killing the old man.

Anxieties of Sexuality in Dracula

Dracula is, on the surface, a story about scary blood-sucking creatures of the night. But there are many moments in the novel where we see sexual connotations attached to certain characters, as well as to things such as blood. Lucy is a character who displays many of these sexual themes in various ways. Even early on in the novel, we can see hints at Lucy’s open sexuality: “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men or as many as want her and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 96). Lucy is clearly unhappy with the social norm of monogamy, wishing to be with all of her suitors at once. The word “want” is also important here, implying a more sexual tone. This portrayal of Lucy seems to play into one of the main societal fears during the Victorian era: the so-called “New Woman.” This was a term referring to women who were becoming more independent, breaking free of societal constraints. One of these constraints was the idea that women must be virgins, unless they had a husband and were planning to become a mother.

Some saw female sexual freedom as immoral, and fears mounted about rampant female sexuality. Greg Buzwell writes in his article about Dracula and Victorian anxieties, “Those who took a hostile attitude towards the New Woman saw her either as a mannish intellectual or, going to the opposite extreme, an over-sexed vamp.” The novel establishes Lucy as a more “modern” woman in terms of sexuality, and then later we see her descend into vampirism, which seems to be a metaphor for her supposed sexual immorality. This immorality is then corrected when Arthur, Lucy’s fiancé (and thus only suitable lover by Victorian standards) penetrates her with the stake, again providing us with a clear sexual image. It seems Stoker used the sexual anxieties of the time to his advantage – he gave the Victorian reader a sense of satisfaction by presenting this sexual, immoral woman, and then putting her in her place.

Miss Stapleton and Lady Audley

While reading The Hound of the Baskervilles, I could not help but notice some similarities between it and Lady Audley’s Secret. Specifically, Miss Stapleton struck me as very similar to Lady Audley, both in how she is described and through her actions thus far.

Like Lady Audley, Miss Stapleton is described as very beautiful, and almost “exotic”, as we see from Watson’s narration: “I had heard someone describe her as being a beauty. The woman who approached me was certainly that, and of a most uncommon type…for Stapleton was neutral-tinted, with light hair and grey eyes, while she was darker than any brunette whom I have seen in England – slim, elegant, and tall” (Doyle 70). Watson is taken aback by Miss Stapleton’s beauty, and only becomes more shocked when she urgently tells him to go back to London. She tells him she cannot explain why he must leave, and when her brother comes near, she tells Watson to not speak of this to him. Already we can see there is some secret that Miss Stapleton is hiding, and she does not want Watson, or even her own brother, to know what it is (just like Lady Audley wanted to keep her secret from both Sir Audley as well as Robert). Miss Stapleton also shows she is quite capable of lying, when she gives her brother a fake explanation of what she and Watson were talking about.

Clearly, Miss Stapleton is actively interested in keeping her secret, as we see when she runs to apologize to Watson about the mixup. Watson expresses his doubts as she tries to brush off what she told him earlier: “‘Please forget the words I said, which have no application whatever to you.’ ‘But I can’t forget them, Miss Stapleton…Tell me why it was that you were so eager that Sir Henry should return to London.'” (73). This exchange reminds me of when Lady Audley pays a visit to Robert at the inn. Like Lady Audley with Robert, Miss Stapleton wants to make sure Watson does not know too much, but he is very intent on finding out what she is hiding. This idea of a character keeping secrets hidden behind a veneer of beauty reminds me exactly of Lady Audley.


The Tension between Robert and Lady Audley

“I do not believe in mandrake, or in blood-stains that no time can efface. I believe rather that we may walk unconsciously in an atmosphere of crime, and breathe none the less freely. I believe that we may look into the smiling face of a murderer, and admire its tranquil beauty” (Braddon 144).

In this passage, Robert makes it pretty clear to Lady Audley what he really thinks about her, and more specifically, what he thinks happened to George Talboys. In a literal sense, he says that George could have been killed by someone you would never expect to be a murderer, and it could have happened in the room you were just in. In reality, he is alluding to Lady Audley; he uses the words “smiling face” and “tranquil beauty”, which have been used throughout the book (or similar variations) as descriptors of Lady Audley. Robert is basically telling Mrs. Audley that he knows she killed George, and that everyone else may have been fooled by her looks, but that he knows better – all the while admitting that he does not currently have the proof to make anything of it.

While Lady Audley keeps a mostly calm, confident demeanor during the conversation, she does seem to get nervous from some of the things Robert says.  When he tells Lady Audley that he has letters from George’s wife, her initial laughter (at his mention of items George had left behind) turns to silence. She then simply asks the question, “Have you ever seen any of the letters written by the late Mrs. Talboys?” Clearly, the idea of George having seen Mrs. Talboys’ writing causes Lady Audley some distress, signaled by her sudden change in behavior. Personally, I have no doubt in my mind that Lady Audley is the same person as Mrs. Talboys, but even as obvious as it seems to me (and Robert), there is not enough evidence for Robert to mount a case against her. He and Lady Audley seem to be at a sort of standstill; she pretends like she knows nothing and acts confident, yet is worried about Robert being able to prove her guilt, while Robert seems to know for sure what the truth is, but is just as of yet unable to find the right evidence or crack Lady Audley’s facade.

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