Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Page 3 of 28

Reseting the Normal in the End

Throughout Bram Stokers Dracula, gender roles and the definitions of masculinity and femininity have been pushed to the limit for a Victorian reader. Many of the characters exhibit characteristics of both a man and a woman, such as Mina with her, “man’s brain – a brain that a man should have were he much gifted – and woman’s heart” (Stoker, 250). Additionally, the seemingly masculine men, such as Dracula and Arthur, have moments of femininity. Arthur has a moment of weakness, “with a sob he laid his head on my shoulder, and cried like a wearied child, whilst he shook with emotion” (Stoker, 245) showing his more feminine, emotional side not typically exhibited by men. Additionally, Dracula makes Mina drink blood from his breast, an allusion to breast feeding. All these instances and more upset the typical gender roles in the Victorian era and leave the modern-day reader wondering why Stoker would write a novel that pushes the limits in this way. In most Victorian novels, including Lady Audley’s Secret and the Hound of the Baskervilles, the author uses the ending to restore the normal and save their readers from feeling too uneasy after reading. Originally, I felt that Stoker was using Dracula to express his own feelings about the roles of women and men in the Victorian era, but because of the ending, I now propose that he was experimenting with his own feelings in the novel. In the end, the men are gallant and have saved Mina and defeated Dracula. Mina has a child and runs the household and lives the typical life of a woman. Since the end of Victorian novels is used to reset the normal, and since Stoker ended with the typical gender roles in place, it seems like he was no trying to make a huge statement, but rather trying to learn his own feelings on gender through Dracula. I think that in Dracula, the gender roles are so fluid and interchangeable, as are the definitions of masculinity and femininity, which gave Stoker freedom to see what a masculine woman or feminine man would do to Victorian society.

 

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.

Seductive Savages

There seems to be conflicting emotions about the status of foreign people in Victorian culture and this is extremely evident in Dracula.  In “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization”, Stephen Arata claims that the “savage”, “primitive” foreign people are “dangerous, but also deeply attractive” (624).  This is definitely evident in the scenes with Dracula.  He has the potential to kill his victims, making him extremely dangerous, but during most of his “feeding” scenes the characters seem to be in very intimate positions.  Dracula always seems to be towering over his victims or clutching them, such as in the scene with Mina when Dr. Seward describes her as “kneeling”, while Dracula “gripped her by the back of the neck” and “held both Mrs. Harker’s hands” (300).  There is also intimacy in the location of his attacks, the neck, as well as the chest, where he made Mina drink from him. This seductive quality to the monsters in the story is also demonstrated in the scenes with Jonathan and the three women at Castle Dracula.  There is something frightening yet enticing to Jonathan about them because he uses words like “shivering” “supersensitive” “ecstasy” and “touching” when describing their interaction (45-6).  These scenes and the article about Dracula help explain the conflicting emotions of many Victorians.  It seems as though they fear the influence or invasion of foreigners, but these people are described in such a way that makes them also seem appealing to the reader.  The decision to describe foreign people this way could also be a tool that Stoker is using to try to persuade Victorians to be open to the idea of foreigners in England, since he himself is from Ireland.

The Idea of 3

The number three is significant in so many aspects of Victorian and in modern life. In the Hindu, Buddhist, Christianity faiths the number holds great importance, on top of this, every sect of the Christian faith believes that three symbolizes the Holy Trinity. On a more secular level, the number can represent the three acts of existence birth life and death. While Dracula is riddled with allusions to the Bible and the Christian faith, Stoker uses the idea of three to also reinforce Victorian gender roles. The symbol of three first presents itself in Dracula on page 44 when we encounter the female vampires. Even though these characters are introduced in an attractive and sexual manner, Stoker quickly characterizes them as the monsters they are. At the end of chapter IV on page 61, Harker even states that “They are devils of Pit!”. At this moment, the Vampires begin hunting for Jonathan, as they want to drink his blood and take his life. Just three pages later Stoker introduces a foil of the lady vampires, the three men who propose to Lucy. While the vampires look to take lives by draining the blood of their victims, these three men do the opposite. Each time Lucy’s blood was drained by Dracula they voluntarily give up their own blood to regain her own health. Even though Jonathan was attacked by three vampires he still managed to escape with little to no help that we know of. Jonathan did not accept his fate, he was not a feeble victim, some of his last words were “I shall try to scale the castle wall farther than I have yet attempted… I may find a way from this dreadful place.” Jonathan is able to evade the female Vampires alone, Lucy on the other hand, is depicted helpless. Dracula can easily control her and she stands no chance alone, Lucy’s only chance to survive comes from her male companions. Stoker contrasts Jonathan and Lucy, Jonathan is able to escape from three female vampires, while Lucy stands no chance against one male vampire. This not only highlights the differences between John and Lucy, but also the difference in strength between the male and female vampires. Reinforcing Victorian beliefs that men were more competent than women.

Representations of Illness and Madness in Dracula

In Dracula by Bram Stoker the Victorian era fear of illness and madness penetrating their society is drawn upon at every turn. Much like Lady Audley’s Secret, focus on Lady Audley’s madness and isolating her from society once she is considered mad, that same fear and concept is manifested throughout Dracula. In Dracula, almost every character at some points questions their sanity, and in Dracula’s case, he is feared due to his “illness”, “madness”, or “insanity”. Not only is Dracula looked at as being mad or ill, he continuously mentions madness throughout the novel, highlighting the Victorian eras fear and hyperawareness of madness and insanity.

After Jonathan’s arrival to the Count’s castle, he begins to question his sanity when he says, “When I look back after a few hours I think I must have been mad for the time, for I behaved much as a rat does in a trap” (Stoker 34). Throughout Chapter 3, Jonathan mentions frequently, almost begging, that he hopes while he is living with the Count that he is able to stay sane. He continues later on in the chapter journaling, “God preserve my sanity, for to this I am reduced… Whilst I live on here there is but one thing to hope for, that I may not go mad, if, indeed, I be not mad already…” (Stoker 43). At this point, Jonathan is praying that his sanity remains throughout the rest of his stay with the Count. This passage highlights the fear of the Victorian era of becoming mad and being seen as mad by others. This would usually result in being placed in an asylum and due to the societal fears of madness, that was a great fear of that time period.

The entire diary entry of Dr. Seward’s about Renfield, is another interesting passage surrounding madness and illness. Dr. Seward is a doctor in an asylum and in the novel, the audience gets multiple journal entries about Dr. Seward’s patient, Renfield, all referring to his growing madness. Throughout the passage Dr. Sweard was having glimpses of hope surrounding the improvement of his patient. Then suddenly, “His face fell, and I could see a warning of danger in it, for there was a sudden fierce, sidelong look which meant killing. The man is an undeveloped homicidal maniac” (79).  This is where Dr. Seward begins to classify Renfield and label him as mad. He begins, “My homicidal maniac is of a peculiar kind. I shall have to invent a new classification for him, and call him a zoöphagous (life-eating) maniac” (Stoker 79-80). This is a great example of needing to label someone with a specific madness and illness, even if that means inventing something new. Dr. Seward fears what Renfield can do and by giving him a diagnoses it warns people of his capabilities and continues the societal norm that these patients can’t necessarily be helped.

This theme of madness and the possibility of going mad from the circumstances you are placed in is brought up continuously in other parts of the novel as well. Lucy in some ways is a character that is highlighted as going mad and needing to be isolated due to her increased illness and madness. This begins with her sleepwalking and continues more as this behavior and other behaviors escalate. Dracula is also stereotypically represented as someone who is ill and mad throughout the book, used to perpetuate the Victorian eras thoughts surrounding madness and illness and how those things impact society. It is a constant theme throughout the book thus far, and I am sure will continue to be as we read.

A Foreign Vampire Walks Into A Country….

One of the overarching themes that’s been presented so far in the novel is the idea of a conflict between the East and West. The main representation of this comes between Jonathan Harker, a British protagonist and his allies whom are also all British or American, versus Dracula, someone residing in the middle of nowhere in Eastern Europe.

“The impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East; the most western of splendid bridges over the Danube, which is here of noble width and depth, took us among the traditions of Turkish rule.” (Stoker Ch 1) This line right at the beginning of the novel shows us how distinctly Stoker wants us to acknowledge the differences in the East and West. When Harker is in Transylvania, he enters a world of unfamiliarity marked with superstition and darkness, it is there he first deals with the horror that is Dracula the vampire, and he is warned before to go back and given protection in the form of superstitious religions charms that he reluctantly accepts.

But upon returning to Britain as a setting, we are given the idea of how much purer it is. We know that modernity and civilization exist here, and we are made to think we are away from the danger — until of course, the monster himself arrives, and he brings with him death. The ship Demeter loses all its lives on its arrival, and the language used shows how Dracula brings with him the Eastern darkness from earlier: “Woke up from few minutes’ sleep by hearing a cry, seemingly outside my port. Could see nothing in fog. Rushed on deck, and ran against mate. Tells me heard cry and ran, but no sign of man on watch. One more gone. Lord, help us! Mate says we must be past Straits of Dover, as in a moment of fog lifting he saw North Foreland, just as he heard the man cry out. If so we are now off in the North Sea, and only God can guide us in the fog, which seems to move with us; and God seems to have deserted us.” (Stoker Ch 8)

And lastly, Dracula’s own heritage that he discusses with Jonathan while trying to learn about British culture.  He discusses his ethnic history and how they conquered, a plain contradiction as far as Western history is concerned, where the conquerors are the Victorians and their British Empire. The idea we are given is that Dracula is a stark spit in the face of Western culture here, and that his ways, despite being almost similar are in fact one of evil and detrimental to Western culture.

So maybe in essence, this dichotomy tell us something about the British at the time, and how at the sunset of the British Empire, British people were afraid of losing their power and being colonized themselves, and Dracula’s arrival in British territory and how he starts his rampage just leads into that idea even more.

Maybe even the Victorians were feeling a little Brexit in them since before Brexit was even a thing, who knew?

Dracula in the Age of Doubt

Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in an Age of Doubt, in which industrialization challenged the religious beliefs and traditions of society. In the novel, there are many references to the Catholic faith, such as the instances of people crossing themselves (Stoker 10), the use of the crucifix, and the representation of the antichrist. Catholic symbolism represents an attempt to reconnect with faith in a society that has seen rapid industrial growth and, in turn, less emphasis on the relationship with the church.

The crucifix is a holy symbol that appears throughout the beginning of the novel, as it serves as a means of comfort and protection for Jonathan Harker during his stay at Dracula’s castle. For example, when Dracula notices the blood on Jonathan’s chin, his eyes “blazed with a sort of demonic fury, and he suddenly made a grab at (his) throat” (Stoker 33). The “demonic fury” represents the attributes of satan, the evil in the world that many Victorians feared if they lost touch with their religion. Furthermore, Jonathan states, “I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there” (Stoker 33). The crucifix is what protects Jonathan while he faces Dracula. This represents the significance of embracing the Catholic faith, for the crucifix is a representation of the religion, itself, and it is this symbol that protects Jonathan from Dracula, the antichrist in the novel. Therefore, this further implies that religion has great power and, possibly, necessity in a society that is losing touch with its religious background. The crucifix acts as a shield against Dracula in the same way that religion is meant to protect its worshippers from evil. In fact, Jonathan begins to realize the power of the crucifix, for he states, “Bless that good, good woman who hung the crucifix round my neck! For it is a comfort and a strength to me whenever I touch it” (Stoker 35). Jonathan, a protestant with less religious values, does not begin to appreciate the crucifix until he is exposed to Dracula’s evil. This suggests that faith should be embraced once again in the Victorian society, or otherwise the evil, represented through Dracula, could potentially harm a country that has lost connection with its religious background.Dra

 

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 New Role

Dracula thus far has been a captivating read. There is so much suspense and mystery that goes on throughout the text. One thing that I have noticed while making my way through the novel is that women have a significant role in the story like no other book we have read so far, even Lady Audley’s Secret. This seems unusual for a 19th century Victorian era novel, especially when an Irish-Catholic male is the one writing it and putting these new details out there. Dracula, a male character, even is depicted as having female qualities. He is described to have red lips and an emotional state of mind. “I too can love,” is a statement Dracula makes that shows his emotional side. An interesting letter to read in this novel full of letters is when Lucy writes to Mina about her proposals. “My dear, it never rains but it pours. How true the old proverbs are. Here am I, who shall be twenty in September, and yet I never had a proposal till to-day, not a real proposal, and to-day I have had three. Just fancy! THREE proposals in one day! Isn’t it awful! I feel sorry, really and truly sorry, for two of the poor fellows.” She is surprised to have received three marriage proposals in one day. There is plenty of repetition of “three proposals” that tells us that we should pay attention to this. Having three proposals gives some kind of power to Lucy, who is a woman. She has the power to make her life the way she wants it by picking who she marries. This concept is new to the Victorian era. We see Lucy Graham get a proposal from a Michael Audley in Lady Audley’s Secret and she takes it right away. Now Lucy (from Dracula) has three different proposals, which gives her the power to control her own destiny, rather than have one man decide it for her like the rest of the Victorian era dwellers.

The “Evils” of Feminine Sexuality

In Dracula, the incessant conflict between good and evil manifests itself in the form of female sexuality. Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra, being chaste and pure in the eyes of Victorians, represent the good, while the “trinity” of vampire women represent evil.

Mina and Lucy embody values which have been regarded by Victorians as proper for women of society. Both are innocent and—in the beginning, at least—uncorrupted by the apparent evils of the world. Both women are devoted to the men to whom they are bound: Mina “helping to nurse” (Stoker 109) Jonathan back to health, and learning shorthand so as to attend him at work, and Lucy, looking forward to settling “down soberly into [an] old married [woman]” (Stoker 64). Thus, these women are deemed virtuous, or “good” by Victorian standards. They are not a threat to anyone as of yet.

The three vampiric women are a completely different story. All three are “voluptuous,” “coquettish,” and cause a feeling of “longing” and a “burning desire” within Jonathan (Stoker 43). Stoker provides ample imagery to describe their lips, their figures, and the eroticism that they exude. They are threatening—to men, and more specifically to Jonathan. This experience was more sexually thrilling for Jonathan than anything he had experienced with Mina, or ever would in her present chaste state. Jonathan lost his head, and therefore considered the women “evil,” as he had no power over them. Instead, they possessed the power over him.

The balance of good and evil begins to shift as Lucy is corrupted by Dracula. The reader can see her subtle transformation from virtuousness to sinfulness. She becomes more forward with her sexuality, asking Arthur to kiss her in a “soft, voluptuous voice,” which until now, had “never been heard from her lips” (Stoker 172).

The novel seems warn Victorian men to avoid women who are open and comfortable with their sexuality, for fear that–through no fault of their own–she will force them to lose control over themselves. And when men cannot control themselves, they cannot exert power over women.

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