Heaven and Hell in “The Picture of Dorian Gray”

Dorian Gray’s decision to show Basil the truth of the portrait is motivated by the same self-serving assurance of acquittal that he has lived throughout the past years of his life. It is spurred on by the way he removes himself from accountability, as established within him when Lord Henry informs him of Sybil’s death. When Basil at last comes to Dorian to confront him about all the rumors, he begs Dorian to deny the truth of them – and says that he himself wouldn’t be able to really claim to know and defend Dorian until he knew the truth of his soul (129).

“There was a madness of pride in every word he uttered. He stamped his foot upon the ground in his boyish insolent manner. He felt a terrible joy at the thought that some one else was to share his secret, and that the man who had painted the portrait that was the origin of all his shame was to be burdened for the rest of his life with the hideous memory of what he had done.

‘Yes,’ he continued, coming closer to him, and looking steadfastly into his stern eyes, ‘I shall show you my soul. You shall see the thing that you fancy only God can see.’” (129)

These lines are representative of the greater themes of the novel – mentioning both shame and the soul – as well as referencing the stagnation of Dorian’s character by describing his actions as “boyish” in unison with the more awful descriptions of his cruelty. His own inner monologue, as he decides to invite Basil into his secret, betrays him – his “terrible joy” at the thought of placing the burden of the “hideous memory” onto the man who painted the “origin of his shame”. These descriptions create an interesting dichotomy of consciousness. It is clear that Dorian is aware that he has things to be shamed for, that to reveal his secrets is to reveal “what he [has] done”. In the same thought he takes none of the responsibility for those actions – there is the “madness of pride” to terrify someone else with the knowledge that haunts him. Dorian says to Basil immediately before revealing the portrait to him: “You have chattered enough about corruption. Now you shall look on it face to face.” His is aware that his soul is corrupted by his choices.

There is also an irony that Dorian thinks Basil will be “burdened for the rest of his life” when he will be dead within minutes by Dorian’s own hand, in turn burdening himself with further corruption (of murder) and freeing Basil, in a sense, from carrying the knowledge of Dorian’s true soul with him. One fascinating thing to notice is the way that both Basil and Dorian mention God in these scenes. Throughout the novel itself there is a curious dismissal of the validity of religious ideology by characters such as Lord Henry and Dorian Gray and others in their circle of influence, while characters like Sibyl – who is considered to be a godlike creature – and Basil reference God freely.

Basil dismisses the idea of being able to see Dorian’s soul at all: “only God can do that”. Dorian scorns that, placing himself, and by association Basil, into a Godlike position, perhaps in yet another indication of Dorian’s arrogance. Yet, it was a prayer that caused the portrait to take on the visage of Dorian’s soul in the first place. “So you think that it is only God who sees the soul, Basil? Draw the curtain back and you will see mine” (131). Here Dorian’s mention of God again places Basil into a position where he assumes the responsibility of divinity: looking upon a soul. This could be another way that Dorian shrugs off accountability; alternatively, Dorian still views Basil as “good”, and places him into the corresponding role.

After the reveal of the painting, Basil begs Dorian to pray for forgiveness, to absolve himself of his sins. He claims that they both are being punished for worshipping Dorian too much (133). Basil also claims that the portrait has “the eyes of the devil”, and immediately after Basil appeals for Dorian to pray with him for forgiveness, Dorian is consumed by “an uncontrollable feeling of hatred [for Basil] … as though it had been suggested to him by the image on the canvas, whispered to him by those grinning lips” (133). Dorian is not in any way immune to being influenced – either by his own cruel habits, Lord Henry’s pretty wordplay, or by the devil manifesting in the portrait of his soul. As Dorian says to Basil: “Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him” (132).

Respecting Man and the Masculine Demands of the New Woman

Gertrude is the driving force behind the Lorimer sisters’ transition from recently orphaned and newly poor to working-class fortune seekers. In her push for their independence, she embodies many of the qualities of the “New Woman”. Gertrude is also deeply intuitive, and cares with her entire being for each of her sisters’ wellbeing, wanting what was best for them within each of their individual means, according to society’s subjective lens. Beyond this, keeping in mind Gertrude’s own relatively young age, she was also reentering into a world from a new location, social class, and motivations. Beyond her protectiveness towards her sisters, she was facing a new understanding of self as someone almost “less-than”, compared to her previous standing and company. This self-consciousness is the beginning of her antipathy towards Sidney Darrell, but not the entirety of it – nor even the true root cause of its further development.

From the first, Gertrude dislikes Darrell, saying to her sisters, “how can one be expected to think well of a person who makes one feel like a strong-minded clown?” (117). Darrell made Gertrude feel lesser for her position and her perceived poverty, and introduced a sense of shame for doing what she had stubbornly made her livelihood. But this is not the only factor in her dislike – from the start, she was suspicious of his character. “He is this sort of man; —if a woman were talking to him of—of the motions of the heavenly bodies, he would be thinking all the time of the shape of her ankles” (110).

This suspicion and dislike are not one-sided; indeed, Darrell describes her to Lord Watergate as the “dragon-sister” when discussing his desire to for Phyllis to sit for a portrait (131). Though not the culmination of their interactions, when Gertrude and Darrell meet at the party when the subject of Phyllis being his muse is brought up, Levy writes: “It was an old, old story the fierce yet silent opposition between these two people; an inevitable antipathy; a strife of type and type, of class and class, rather than of individuals: the strife of the woman who demands respect, with the man who refuses to grant it” (131). It is in this moment that the conflict between them is enlarged and pointed at specifically for the reader; it is in this moment of tense confrontation that their antipathy is made greater than two individuals, and becomes the contradiction between the New Woman and the old guard.

Gertrude, who is described upon first meeting as not beautiful; who is not the oldest or youngest or truly the middle child, but instead the writer and the worker. The one attribute continually accredited to her is “clever”. It is important to note that Gertrude occasionally has unpredictable bouts of propriety, perhaps alluding to the conflict among women at the time on a more internal level than the conflict between each of the sisters and their differing interpretation of the proper social expression of womanhood.

In Gertrude’s silent battle with Sidney Darrell, there is an “inevitable antipathy” – one of “type and type” and “class and class”, where Levy takes us beyond the individual and into broad categorization. Where class is most typically attributed towards the differentiation between wealth and means of access, it can also be related to a sense of propriety – not just according to the social norms of the times, but according to a sense of decency and the elegance (or lack of) associated with it (i.e. “classy”). Type can be a term which differentiates between groups of people: the types of people where one conforms to or embodies one thing, and someone else another. Type could also allude to gender; one type of person can be masculine, and the other feminine.

This “inevitable antipathy”, beyond the individual, as Levy says, is instead between the social standard of interactions between man and woman: “the strife of the woman who demands respect, with the man who refuses to grant it”. This phrasing, which speaks to me as one of the most impactful lines I encountered in The Romance of a Shop, alludes to Levy’s own opinions not just on the controversy surrounding the conception of the New Woman, but on the deeper, social way of interpreting the deference expected of a woman interacting with a man, especially as a new type and class of woman is emerging onto the social scene, appropriating masculine roles in society and the respect that comes with it.

Vampiric Sexuality vs. Victorian Sensibility: Fight!

I believe that re-analyzing Stoker’s Dracula through Christopher Craft’s “‘Kiss Me with Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is an essential part of understanding the novel as a whole. Accounting for many of the other articles we have read for class, providing information relating to the time period and the varied internalized crises relating to the changing time, Craft’s analysis of Dracula through with a focus towards sexuality and gender offers deeper insight into the metaphors and commentaries of the novel. In my previous blog post, I analyzed the ways in which Lucy’s transformation into vampirism corrupted her feminine purity on multiple levels: sexual, religious, and social. Craft delves further into the ways vampirism is a corrupting force on a religious and social level because its first corruption is sexual.

Here, we take “sexual” to be intertwined with sex as a penetrative act and sex as it distinguishes gender: the vampire blurs this boundary of what sex means within the binary of a person, as Victorian England understood a “person” to be. Through the “subversion of conventional Victorian gender codes”, Craft writes, Stoker perpetuates a feeling of anxiety throughout the entirety of Dracula (444). By repeatedly reinforcing that Stoker is creating anxiety, Craft establishes the imagery of the vampiric mouth as the central focus in the confusion of sexuality and gender delivered by vampires.

Where in my analysis of the vampire-Lucy’s confrontation with the Core Four of the novel I initially observed that the focus on her mouth brought to mind sexual undertones, I also attributed it to the vampire’s means of both feeding and spreading her corruption to others. Craft in no way refutes this, but he takes this shallow analysis further, questioning the vampiric mouth in its refusal to obey the gender binary. “Are we male or are we female? Do we have penetrators or orifices? …Furthermore, this mouth, bespeaking the subversion of the stable and lucid distinctions of genders, is the mouth of all vampires, male and female” (446).

Craft sets up the importance of the literal penetration required by vampires to both feed and to spread their vampirism early, referencing Jonathan Harker’s experience with the vampire wives. He emphasizes the ways in which these vampiric women and Harker’s experience with them inverts the traditional male and female roles of penetration, dominance, and submission (444). He goes beyond this inversion to bring attention to Dracula’s fixation on Harker himself, and the way in which this fixation heightens the anxiety Stoker creates throughout the novel, that “Dracula will seduce, penetrate, and drain another male” (446). Craft emphasizes this as “monstrous heterosexuality”, as it uses both the gendered and sexual confusion presented by Dracula as a character to twist the heterosexual normality required by the time; after all, Craft writes, “only through women may men touch” in Dracula (448).

The most crucial part of Craft’s analysis is that he attributes the physical act of penetration as a masculine device. As masculinity was considered the pinnacle of Victorian society in terms of social standing and morality, this attribution is significant. The vampiric mouth, Craft writes, is a form of “deformed femininity” – even in Dracula himself, because the mouth brings to mind imagery of female genitalia. Vampiric penetration is a corrupting force: it sexualizes Lucy Westenra and threatens both her and Mina Harker’s feminine purity. Because of this corruption, the demonic forces produced by it require “corrective penetration”, done by the pious, mortal men (450, italics added).

Van Helsing, like Dracula, is foreign. He is differentiated by his his almost fanatic piety. It is Van Helsing that creates in Mina an almost religious vessel, touting her to be “one of God’s women”, Van Helsing who drives the Core Four in their hunt to rid the vampiric forces from English soil, Van Helsing who carries the primary religious implements crucial in completing the acts of destruction. It is because of Van Helsing’s religious fervor that he is able to utilize parallel penetrative implements to initiate the “corrective penetration” (450). He is able to perform blood transfusions for Lucy (penetrating her via needle), and provides similarly phallic-like objects such as crosses and stakes when it appears that it is necessary to escalate the penetration. Lucy’s “corrective penetration” is viscerally similar to rape; because Lucy has been corrupted in both her gender and sexually, Van Helsing is forced to exorcise the challenge to his ordered, binary understanding of acceptable gender roles that Dracula creates.

Lucy Corrupted: “Oh, God!” No More

Dracula is a fascinating novel, telling of many of the conflicting ideals present in the fin de siècle – within it, Stoker’s indirect commentary on many issues such as foreign presence within England, the social place of a woman, religious ideology and the virtues of spreading technology are very present. As Dr. Seward’s diary describes the vampiric Lucy as he, Van Helsing, Arthur, and Quincey stand over her body to, in Van Helsing’s words, help her to “die in truth” (229), Stoker’s description of Lucy’s body lends itself to a deeper read relating to many of the topics he skirts around.

“She seemed like a nightmare of Lucy as she lay there; the pointed teeth, the bloodstained, voluptuous mouth – which it made one shudder to see – the whole carnal and unspiritual appearance, seeming like a devilish mockery of Lucy’s sweet purity” (228). In this passage, “sweet purity” can relate to many forms of purity, including religious and sexual – additionally, as the proper woman during this time was supposed to be above such base inclinations and revelatory expressions, and Lucy has succumbed to corruption in her transition to vampire. Such focus on her mouth as the means of feeding and transmitting her corruption to others also brings to mind sexual undertones – describing it to have “pointed teeth”, a “bloodstained… mouth” relates it to greed and unnatural hunger, animalistic and inhuman in nature. This connects Lucy again to religious corruption, as she cannot help but to become a gluttonous version of her former pure self; additionally, much like the vampire women Johnathan Harker witnessed at Dracula’s castle, her mouth is described as “voluptuous”, and her whole self as “carnal”. This “devilish mockery” of the former Lucy’s innocence and vivacity creates a sacrilegious departure from “sweet purity” and the goodness of the once-human woman. Van Helsing’s words on page 232: “No longer is she the devil’s Un-Dead. She is God’s true dead, whose soul is with Him!” illustrate quite clearly that those fallen to corruption – that of gluttony, lust, or a departure from Christianity altogether – now, according to the beliefs Stoker is reflecting of his time, belong to the devil.

Here, we are viewing Lucy corrupted: where before she was sweet and pure, now she is a carnal representation of sensuality, greedy desire, and a “devilish mockery” of Christian morality and the “ideal woman”. Where we see this in Lucy’s corrupted form, the opposite of this is now contrasted through Mina’s representation of an ideal woman, as she comforts Arthur maternally on pg. 244-45. She is continuously attributed as being “one of God’s women” by Van Helsing, and other similar praise-worthy descriptors: dear, sweet, kind; additionally, he later says that she is a woman with a “man’s brain… and woman’s heart” (250). Despite this and her considerable contributions in aiding their hunt for Dracula, she is excluded from any information regarding the men’s pursuits in deference towards her woman-ness.

During class, we discussed some of the deeper metaphors behind vampirism in Stoker’s novel. We talked about xenophobia, classism, and immigrants. In this passage, as it relates vampires to the idea of a foreign agent introducing corruption to the good people of England, we see that foreign equals bad things – indeed, it is equated to the devil. Stoker also equates the loss of purity with being corrupted at all, and adds a new level by linking it to an inherent absence of Christian values, as vampires are repelled by a cross.

Stoker takes a political stance on multiple levels. In this case the stance is most visible on the topics of women’s place in society and the disapproval of foreign influence on the English; additionally, Stoker is providing indirect commentary on the benefits of innovation. As the paragraph on page 228 continues, Van Helsing uses his scientific knowledge of doctoral procedures (i.e. science) to prevent Lucy’s continuing “Un-Death”. Although Stoker has married the innovation of the Industrial Revolution with superstition, his moral heroes use modern technology such as railways, medicine, typewriters, and telegrams to begin to coordinate their efforts to stop the foreign influence of the pre-Industrial era: see Dracula’s ship, letters instead of telegrams, etc.