Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: nolanc

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.

How the Decline of Moral Virtue Led to the Rise of Infiltrating Foreign Diseases

Bram Stoker’s Dracula presents the character of Dracula as a metaphor for the cultural paranoia of physical and moral decay surrounding syphilis and the author’s own experience with the debilitating illness. Social changes such as the emergence of “the New Woman” and progressive ideas about gender roles prompted a societal fear of declining female virtue and chastity. Syphilis was most prominent in Whitechapel, a district in London notorious for its high levels of prostitution and made famous by the Jack the Ripper murders. Many 19th century scientists believed that prostitutes conceived syphilis in their sexual organs as a result of their promiscuity. While encompassing society’s disapproval of prostitution, Dracula also demonstrates Stoker’s belief that swapping fluids with a stranger at night leads to a life of misery. The likeness of vampirism to syphilis are similar in their foreign origin, the way they spread, and the effects on the victim. Stoker demonstrates how a lack of a moral values leads to contracting foreign disease.


Both vampirism and STDs are believed to have started outside of London and arrived in London via ship.  According to Mark Rose, syphilis has New World origin and was transported across the Atlantic back to Europe following Columbus’ visit to the New World. Vampirism originated in Transylvania and was transported via Dracula to London by ship. Dracula arrives in England and “has succeeded after all, them, in his design in getting to London” (Stoker 200). He moves throughout the streets of London, undetected. Dracula appears as any other Londoner: “a tall, thin man with a beaky nose and black moustache and pointed beard” (Stoker 183). Syphilis could lay dormant for up to 25 years, so someone could have syphilis but no one would know.  Both vampirism and syphilis lurked in the streets of London and could be unnoticed.


Mina’s idea that “some of the ‘New Women’ writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting” posed a shocking and progressive proposition upon conventional Victorian marriage norms (Stoker 99-100).  Upon receiving three marriage proposals on the same day, Lucy expresses her frustration that she cannot engage in polygamous marriage and marry all three of her suitors. 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). Due to Lucy’s promiscuity, Dracula views her as an easy target and Lucy is vulnerable to his evil powers and vampirism. Conversely, due to Mina’s chastity and her “traditional Victorian qualities of determination and loyalty towards her husband,” she is protected against the risk of contracting Dracula’s lure to vampirism (Buzwell).  British society frowned upon both parties involved in prostitution, that being the prostitute herself and the man likely cheating on his wife to engage in the exchange. Stoker believes that if one lacked moral values to prevent falling to the sexual lure of adultery, one would contract a sexually transmitted disease as a result. Stoker, whose writings demonstrated signs of guilt and sexual frustration within his marriage, likely had sex with a prostitute and contracted syphilis himself.

The similarities between syphilis and vampirism demonstrate Stoker’s belief that moral virtue will protect one against the harm of foreigners.


Works Cited

Buzwell, Greg. “Dracula: vampires, perversity and Victorian anxieties.” Discovering Literature: Romantics     and Victorians, British Library, 15 May 2014,

Rose, Mark. “Origins of Syphilis.” Archaeology Archive, version 50, revision 1, Archaeological Institute of America, Jan. 1997,

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Penguin Group, 1993.


Works Referenced

Hall, Lesley A. “’The Great Scourge’: Syphilis as a medical problem and moral metaphor, 1880-1916.” Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, 23 May 1998,


Defining Insanity via Beast

Defining Insanity

Bram Stoker’s Dracula presents a cunning relationship between man and beast. The novel seems to be about the supernatural, but is also about the monster inside of humans. The novel contains multiple instances of humans demonstrating animalistic actions and having animalistic qualities. While looking at the relationship of man and beast through a lens of insanity, Dracula poses a question on the Victorian notion that one can identify insanity in a human based off physical features such as one’s face and body. When a human displays physical and psychological animalistic qualities, the character is immediately assumed to be insane opposed to a belief that the supposed lunatic is simply demonstrating primal animalistic tendencies.
Jonathan Harker describes Count Dracula using animalistic language to describe his appearance, clothing, and movement. For example, when Harker witnesses the Count climbing down the castle’s wall, he describes Dracula as a “lizard” as well as some creature “with great wings,” like a bat or a bird (Stoker 41). Harker observes the animal-like features then questions “what manner of man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of man?” (Stoker 41). Harker questions whether Dracula is a monstrous beast that looks like a man or if he is simply insane. In response to Dracula’s bizarre actions, Harker believes that Dracula is either crazy or an animal. In either instance, Harker uses non-human characteristic to describe Dracula in an attempt to dehumanize and disassociate Dracula with conventions accepted in daily society.
Additionally, Dr. Seward’s patient Renfield presents an interesting counterargument to Dracula’s monstrous appearance and actions. The notion that Seward looks at Renfield’s face and “see(s) a warning of danger” of a “sidelong look which meant killing” demonstrates Seward’s belief in physiognomy, the ability to assess character or personality from a person’s outer appearance. According to Seward’s notes, Renfield is a “zoophagous [life-eating] maniac” (Stoker 79). Similar to Dracula consuming human blood, Renfield consumes live organisms. Humans are mammals. Carnivorous mammals instinctively kill and eat animals lower on the food chain. Renfield, a mammal, feeds animals to a predator higher on the food chain and eats the highest predator. Here lies an example of how animalistic actions in humans render insanity in Dracula even though humans are technically animals.
If animalistic nature innately lies inside humans and demonstrating animalistic nature means a person is insane, then Seward’s claim that “all men are mad” is true (Stoker 129). Human beings can look normal but actually be a monster or insane. If a monster can have humanistic qualities to make everyone think he is human then inversely, a human can have monstrous qualities to make everyone think he is a monster.

Light vs. Dark between Texts

“The fresh beauty of the following morning did something to efface from our minds the grim and grey impression which has been left upon both of us by our first experience at Baskerville Hall. As Sir Henry and I sat at breakfast the sunlight flooded in through the high mullions windows, throwing watery patches of color form the coats-of-arms which covered them. The dark panelling glowered like bronze in the golden rays, and it was hard to realize that this was indeed the chamber which has struck such a gloom into our souls upon the evening before.” (Doyle 62).


When comparing the text of The Hound of the Baskervilles with that of Lady Audley’s Secret through a lens of theme and night/day language, I notice similarities between their depictions of night versus day.  In the night, the atmosphere surrounding the country estate carries a scary, secretive, and murderous vibe. But as the daily cycle continues and the sun rises, a happy vibe accompanies its return.  In Lady Audley’s Secret, darkness and night time cast a shadow over the mysterious Lady Audley’s hidden secrets. But as daytime returns, Lady Audley appears to be a frivolous and happy woman. In The Hound of the Baskervilles, as Watson and Sir Henry approach Baskerville Hall in the night time in the “dark against the evening sky,” they sense a dark and evil atmosphere (Doyle 61). Sir Henry hopes that “things may seem more cheerful in the morning,” just as Lady Audley appears more cheerful in the daytime, but ultimately is the same person in day and night.

A difference between these two texts include the secrets which characters are hiding. Even before we read the first page of Lady Audley’s Secret, we can infer that Lady Audley has a secret from the title.  But in The Hound of the Baskervilles, we know that there are secrets being hidden but we don’t know who is withholding what information. I have suspicions about Dr. Mortimer, who was present the night of Sir Charles’ death.  

#twinning: Lady Audley & Phoebe’s Relationship

“The likeness which the lady’s-maid bore to Lucy Audley was, perhaps, a point of sympathy between the two women. It was not to be called a striking likeness; a stranger might have seen them both together, and yet have failed to remark it. But there were certain dim and shadowy lights in which, meeting Phœbe Marks gliding softly through the dark oak passages of the Court, or under the shrouded avenues in the garden, you might have easily mistaken her for my lady.” (Braddon 108)

Lady Audley and Phoebe bare slight resemblance to each other and can be mistaken for one another in the dark.  Both blonde women come from similar financial backgrounds, but one is now higher in society than the other.  Phoebe is more than just Lady Audley’s maid; Phoebe is Lady Audley’s go-to for gossiping, reading and discussing books, and completing the Lady’s mysterious tasks.  The association of dimmed lighting, shadows, and darkness with Lady Audley and Phoebe’s relationship infers the type of mysterious relationship the two share.


I believe that sometimes Phoebe may pretend to be Lady Audley in the dark hours while Lady Audley is away doing other things.  Lady Audley asks Phoebe, “Do you know, Phoebe, I have heard some people say you and I look alike?” (Braddon 60).  Lady Audley claims Phoebe to be a paler, less colorful version of herself and that with a “pot of rogue,” Phoebe could “be as good-looking” as Lady Audley “any day” (Braddon 60).  During the day, Lady Audley is colorful; but, in the night, dark and pale imagery describes Lady Audley’s face and surroundings.  Sir Michael recalls looking at Lucy the previous night and seeing her “poor white face and the purple rims round your (Lady Audley’s) hollow eyes.  I (Sir Michael) has almost a difficult to recognize my little wife in that ghastly, terrified agonised-looking creature” (Braddon 78).  With following day, the sun returned Lucy’s “rosy cheeks and bright smile” (Braddon 78).  Does nighttime turn Lady Audley into a ghostly figure or is it possible that it was Phoebe in Lady Audley’s bed?


Language within this passage displays the deceit that lives in “the two women(‘s)” relationship (Braddon 108).  The illusion to dark imagery using phrases such as “dim and shadowy,” “shrouded avenues,” “dark oak passages,” and “mistaken” reveal the evil, fear, and mystery that lies within Lady Audley and Phoebe’s relationship (Braddon 108-09).  Lady Audley’s interest in retaining a relationship with her ghostly twin rests within the mischievous events that have happened at Audley Court.

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