Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: Andrea

The Marriage Market in Victorian Society

Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” brought to surface many ideas and expectations that surrounded women in Victorian culture. Laura specifically resembles women who too easily give in to their sexual desires and take the fruit of these different men. Lizzie represents women who wait to have sex until marriage and who maintain their purity. Both sisters are  tempted by the calling of the goblin men but only one gives in too quickly and engages in sexual activities with the goblin men. This market represents the marriage market that Victorian women were prepared for in order to marry a prosperous suitor. Laura is no longer able to hear the calls from the goblin market because she engages inappropriately with the marriage market by having sex with multiple men. This implies that being promiscuous and having multiple partners calls for a woman to lose access to the marriage market and good suitors. After Laura can no longer hear the goblin men and their calls from the market she becomes incredibly ill, “sullen”, in “exceeding pain”, and “dwindled”. Laura also feels “as if her heart would break” (line 268) and it appears that “her hair grew thin and grey” (line 277). The inability to have access to the marriage market means Laura cannot have a husband and so this leads to her astonishing decay. This implies that women without husbands are infertile, ugly, and physically decayed. Without eligible bachelors then Laura might as well be dying because she has no future of husband and kids, which is what Victorian society expected from women. This poem exemplifies how women’s sexual desires were suppressed in Victorian society through the fear of imaging never finding a husband or having kids and slowly dying. Victorian society made the marriage market selective because it was only meant to be open to women who had followed the strict and constraining rules of society. Thus, promiscuous women, with no apparent chance of a husband,  were made to believe that they would receive life with pain and heartbreak since men were seen as the source to a woman’s happy future.

Mina’s Return to Purity through Religion

In Dracula, religion becomes something extremely important to the characters because it brings safety and cleanliness in a world tainted by Dracula. When Lucy was turning into a vampire, she never recognized god and never asked for religious help. After Lucy appeared to pass away she did not go to heaven and instead become the embodiment of evil and sucked the life out of children. This ultimately led to her rejection of the host, or any other religious symbol, and her gruesome murder by Arthur. On the contrary, Mina recognizes god and his judgement of her when she states “I am not worthy in His sight. Alas! I am unclean to His eyes, and shall be until He may design to let me stand forth in His sight as one of those who have not incurred His wrath” (Stoker pg 385). The capitalization of H represents god because it is not a regular man Mina is talking about, it is the all-powerful religious figure she praises. The continued repetition of His also means that only god can save and allow Mina to become a pure woman again. The words “eyes” and “sight” are important because as Mina is becoming a vampire it entails that she will also become voluptuous and sexual like the three sisters we see in the novel. Women are supposed to express themselves conservatively and with a calm demeanor but becoming a vampire would make Mina appear the complete opposite. If god saw Mina in an oversexualized appearance, it would be much harder for him to forgive her and see her as pure again. When Mina is forgiven and rid of Dracula’s evil when he dies it shows that her ability to acknowledge and rely on god allowed her to be saved. This ultimately shows that the Victorian society feared the repercussions of leading a life without the guidance and approval of god, or religious leaders. For a society that was so loyal to their religious practices, there was an immense amount of fear of what life would be if they steered away from it. Steering away from religion was in fact what was occurring in Victorian culture as science started becoming more influential in how we saw the natural world. Thus Bram Stoker’s Dracula reinforces the importance of being pious by installing fears into society of what they would become if they were not devout. Some fears include being overly sexual, immoral, blurring gender roles, evil, madness, and death which were all clearly seen as negative characteristics in the novel.

The Negative Connotation That Comes With Expression of Sexuality in Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not afraid to touch on sexuality within the novel, more specifically the outward expression of sexuality. In fact, the novel attempts to show that the expression of sexuality should be avoided since individuals who do so tend to be characterized or confronted with evil and danger. When Jonathon is awakened by the three overly sexualized women he states “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” (Page 45). Here, the women’s sexuality is noted as unavoidable and tempting. To describe these women words like “uneasy”, “wicked”, “burning”, and “deadly fear” were used to associate them as evil and dangerous because of their expression of sexuality. Additionally, not only are the women’s sexuality being expressed but they seem to cause Jonathon to express his sexuality too. He expresses a need to kiss their red lips even though he is scared and is engaged. This makes expression of sexuality to be seen as a source for unfaithfulness and the loss of socially acceptable ways of behaving. This word association makes readers think of overt sexuality as a negative personal trait that eventually leads to a terrible fate in oneself and in those one interacts with. Individuals may correlate expression of sexuality with individuals who are wrong-doers, dangerous, or a bad influence to other sexually pure individuals in society. Given that this novel was written in the Victorian era, it is rational to say that the author, and the society he lives in, are fearful of creating a community filled with free expression of sexual desires and sexual identity. Draculaworks well in reinforcing the idea that sexuality is meant to stay private and never exposed in order to avoid being seen as a wicked and a promiscuous person who could potentially rid others of their purity.

The Underlying Fears of Victorian Era in A Terribly Strange Bed

“The frightful apparatus…in all its horror.” (Collins 40)

Within the passage on page 40 of A Terribly Strange Bed, as Mr. Faulkner observes the movement of the bed that was close to suffocating him, there is an unavoidable emphasis on the silence of both the bed and the room. The bed is described to move with “the faintest sound”, “no creaking” and the room develops a “dead and awful silence”. These descriptions easily induce sensations of fear and danger to readers because the story is occurring within a realistic place that readers often find themselves in, a bedroom. The passage induces these emotions in readers not only by describing the environment but by also describing the reactions of the characters. In the passage, Mr. Faulkner states “I could not move, I could hardly breathe” which are reactions that readers may incorporate and express while reading the story. This is important to notice because this is what the sensation genre does; it presents a story to the reader that brings to life underlying fears of society and induces sensations of terror and fright. The sensations of fright are easily reproduceable in readers because, prior to reading the story, readers already carry the fears that the story is simply bringing to life in the text. A fear that this sensation story is bringing up is the fear of machinery as the Victorian era is incorporating more industrial achievements into its communities. Victorian societies feared the unknown that came with machinery and this short story is giving readers a terrifying and outrageous possible outcome to a fear they already have, as the sensation genre does. Essentially this solidifies the fears and emotions the Victorian Era was feeling during its changing times.

Extended Close Reading – Lady Audley’s Secret

Book Passage Pg 77 “It was one of those…and tendril.”

The passage I chose is describing the morning after a storm that clearly startled both George Tallboys and Lady Audley. In the passage there are many calm words describing nature around the Audley home. Words such as lovely, sung, yellow, cheerily, proudly, fluttered, joyous, and uplifted show a peaceful environment just after the storm. Yet, the passage has contrasting words as well that relate back to the turmoil the past storm brought on such as sharp tussle, beat down, heavy, cruel, clustering, and shaking. These opposing details are most likely describing the behaviors of both George and Lucy. The morning after the storm their demeaners are completely uplifted and void of any negative effects the storm may have had on them. It is unlikely though that their thoughts about the storm, or any unpleasant event in their lives that intensified the negative emotions, have been forgotten or resolved. The binary seen within nature is important to notice because this can be related to how a calm demeaner from the characters is covering up for darker emotions within them. Additionally, these contrasting cluster of words could mean that darkness will always be paired by lightness in a variety of aspects of the novel such as character behaviors, actions, and nature. Yet, given that darkness being paired with lightness is unstoppable in nature, this could also possibly mean that it is uncontrollable within the characters as well. Thus meaning that a character’s impression on the reader and other characters, even if it is endearing and beautiful, should not be taken seriously. Most likely underneath there are some dark emotions and intentions to some degree.

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