Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Author: plainjane16

The Color Red and Promiscuity

Christina Rossetti’s “A Triad” depicts the story of three women searching for love. The first woman was seen as too promiscuous for the time period. She was described as having “lips crimson” and “cheeks and bosom in a glow.” The physical description of her “crimson” lips insinuates that she has desires too forward and strong for those seen as acceptable for women in the Victorian time period, causing her to “shame herself in love.” We saw a similar description in Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess”, where the wife was described as outwardly flirtatious and having desires. The husband, a powerful man with a strong 900 year old family name, was angered by what he believed was his wife having an affair, although he had no proof. It was in her face that her apparent affair was seen, as it was not “Her husband’s presence only, called that spot Of joy into the Duchess’ cheek.” Similarly to “A Triad”, the description of the rosy, blushed cheeks is used to depict a woman as being too promiscuous and flirtatious for the time. During Victorian time, the color red was representative of sex, passion, and lust, which is why the emphasis on the rosy cheeks made the women seem too outwardly sexual. During Victorian time, women who had sexual desires were seen as undesirable and immoral, and they were condemned for their actions. This was in an effort to discourage other women from doing the same in order to maintain society’s order and rigid traditions.

The Threat of Female Sexuality in Dracula

Throughout Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there is a question of gender roles and a threat of female sexuality. In Victorian society, there was often a repression of female sexuality that was dictated by the strict traditions and rigid gender roles. A woman was either a virgin who was seen as pure an innocent, a wife and mother, or she was a whore. Lucy, one of the most outwardly sexual female characters, had at one point wondered “why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (63). She questions traditional sexuality through her desire to have multiple husbands. When Dracula turns Lucy into a young, ravishing vampire the men see no other option but to destroy her and return her to her pure state. When Stoker kills off Lucy, one of the most powerful female characters, and it causes the readers to draw the question of whether this was because of the threat of female sexuality she imposed on the novel. The three female vampires at the beginning of the novel were outwardly sexualized and seen to be very beautiful but very dangerous women. Stoker displayed their sexuality as a threat through physical descriptions of their physical attributes and the type of mental and emotional trance that they put their victims in. The vampires beauty and sexuality is what drew in their victims and is also what lead to the danger of their victims. This can be seen as Stoker warning the readers of the threat of powerful female sexuality, as too much of it leads to harm and downfall. This theme is seen as far back as Adam and Eve, where a woman’s desires lead to the downfall of humanity.

Questions of Sexuality

The question of sexuality is evident in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the novel, three very beautiful women with “brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips” approach Jonathan Harker. Dracula enters to fight off the women, and is then accused of never having loved. He studies Jonathan’s face as he replies “yes, I too can love.” This brings to question Dracula’s sexuality because despite being in the presence of beautiful women, his only focus is of Jonathan. Given the context, the Count’s interest in Jonathan causes the reader to wonder if his attraction is directed towards him. The idea of a homosexual desire would defy all beliefs of the Victorian time period as only heterosexual relationships were seen as acceptable. In the scene leading up to Dracula’ fighting off the women, the Victorian ideals of sexuality are contested as “The fair girl went on her knees and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal… I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there.” (45,46) The exaggerated type of sexual energy and desire displayed here questions the Victorian ideas about the function of sex. In the Victorian time, sex was solely seen as procreative, but here there is a desire that is not driven by the idea of procreation, solely pleasure. The three women are able to act on their sexual desires, unlike the men and women of the Victorian time period. Through the questions of sexuality throughout Dracula, Stoker displays the coming of the “New Woman” and a changing time period.

A Terribly Strange Night in A Terribly Strange Bed

In Wilkie Collins “A Terribly Strange Bed, ” many of the fears of the Victorian time period are portrayed. The paragraph that stood out to me was on page 45, when the police explained to Mr. Faulkner how the discovery of the machinery in the gambling house explains the death of many drowned men they have found in the river. In the passage, there is emphasis on how Mr. Faulkner closely escaped his death. As the police reiterate to him “Do I know how many of those men entered the same gambling-house that you entered? Won as you won? Took that bed as you took it?” the Victorian fear of the domestic is displayed. The bedroom is supposed to be a peaceful place to relax, but instead it was the site of many murders in the gambling house. The emphasis on how common it was for so many before him to follow the same routine and be murdered, makes it realistic to everyday life. The repetition of how close Mr. Faulkner was to death brings feelings of discomfort and fear in the readers, and did the same to the readers in  the Victorian era. The sensation novel evokes emotions and thoughts in the readers that cause them to question their safety in the evolving world around them. In addition to the fear of the domestic, this passage also contains the fear of machinery from the Victorian time period. The machinery that had killed so many before him was hiding in the floorboards of a bedroom, integrating the fear of machinery into everyday life and the domestic. This idea that machinery could be in the floorboards and could bring death displayed how the Victorians were fearful of the evolution and advancement of machinery.

Blog Post #1

One paragraph that stood out to me in Lady Audley’s Secret was the first paragraph on page 57. In what seems to be an act of foreshadowing, Braddon is describing a beautiful countryside in comparison to cruel murders. Tranquil words such as “quiet”, “rustic”, “sweet”, and “calm” are used in comparison to cruel words such as “agonies”, “poisoned”, and “violent.” The words murder and peace are repeated throughout the paragraph, juxtaposing the beauty of nature and peace with the violent nature of man. The “spreading oak, whose very shadow promised – peace” is juxtaposed with “sudden and violent death by cruel blows”, displaying the antipode ideas of peace and chaos. Braddon describes a meadow on a quiet summers day contrasted with the murder and betrayal of a young woman by the man she loved and trusted, introducing the idea of evil in what seems to be a tranquil place. The contrast between chaos and peace is perpetuated by the lengthy, vivid crimes, ending with just one word – peace. By incorporating the emotions of chaos and peace into the same sentences, Braddon juxtaposes the images of violence and beauty. This suggests that chaos and beauty are not exclusive from each other. This idea of beauty and tranquility hiding dark, cruel secrets and the suggestion that chaos and beauty are not exclusive may be indicative of Lady Audley. Throughout the book, she is continually described as being an unmistakably beautiful girl, but this passage may be suggesting that she is hiding darker secrets

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