What is art?! What does art mean?! What does Wilde mean?!

My original title was “Art is alive because art reflects life,” but I’ve seemed to go down a rabbit hole and bounce around ideas, so let’s just go with it! 

Casting the fantastical aside, the portrait exhumes Dorian Gray’s evilness and dooms Gray to be beautiful forever. Wilde writes of another piece of art, “who must wear purple and jewels and fine linen that she may hide the pallid macerated body that is worn by the suffering that she seeks for, and wounded by self-inflicted pain.” (128) Gray is describing his art collections, and he names this particular piece “The Bride of Christ,” followed by the previous description that seems to reflect himself. He describes “The Bride of Christ” as a woman who must hide her small, sickly body with beautiful, expensive dress. As mentioned in class, people in the Victorian Era believed that evilness presents physically on the body. Wilde addresses this concept by bringing up the image of “The Bride of Christ,” but ultimately pushes against this ideal through Gray’s beautiful exterior yet immoral, murdering interior. Gray is similar to the woman in that he is hiding something ugly with a beautiful exterior, but unlike the woman he is privileged with natural beauty and does not have to disguise himself in expensive dress, because gray has help from the portrait. The more corrupt and evil Gray becomes, the uglier the painting becomes. 

Gray is not the only person reflected in the painting. The artist himself, Basil, is also reflected in the deteriorating painting, symbolizing both muse and artist’s soul. Unlike Gray, Basil tries to redeem his soul. Although, when he seeks Gray for redemption, he is murdered as a result. Similarly, The Portrait of Dorian Gray is a work of art that ultimately causes his demise and lands him in jail. Gray is inspired by a real person, reflecting Wilde’s personal life as well as his own beauty standards as Gray is especially beautiful. Therefore, Wilde is the artist and, again, Gray is the muse. Gray is a manifestation of Wilde’s art. Through the overly complicated and contradictory The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Wilde asks the reader to consider “What does art contribute to society? Does art reflect life or teach lessons? Can art do both?” Even though Wilde claims “All art is quite useless” in the preface, the rest of the book proves his point wrong through the image of both human and portrait of Gray. Wilde is saying art derives from something; art comes from the soul, therefore art reflects life. 

Madame Irene Adler is a Femme Fatale Archetype

Although Irene Adler is a minor character in “A Scandal in Bohemia” by Conan Dolye, she is described as a femme fatale archetype, which is a cliche of detective fiction. Ironically, her name means “peace” in Greek, which is not what she is to Sherlock Holmes and Watson throughout the short story as his intellectual rival. Within the first page, she is described as “dubious” and the only woman to oppose Holmes. This single detail establishes the power at play against the detective. Holmes is sure of her strong intelligence and will. He states, “She has the face of the most beautiful of women, and the mind of the most resolute of men.” (Doyle, 8) Two characteristics of a femme fatale are seductiveness and to disrupt the patriarchy, causing men to panic. In this quote, Holmes explicitly states that she is very beautiful and that she is cunning, painting Adler as the stereotypical villain-esc femme fatale. 


Mid-way through the story, Adler hurriedly gets married. This action does not align with marriage standards of the time, however the cultural and social expectation that when married, a woman can not own property; therefore the incriminating picture Adler is hiding would technically be her husband’s. Legally, the highly sought after picture is no longer Adler’s after marriage. This is a strategic move on femme fatale Adler’s part; seducing a man to marry her just to use him as jailbait. Also, Adler crossdresses as a man, which is defintutally not the norm in the Victorian Era. Adler’s marriage and crossdressing separates her from any other woman (not that there are any in the stories we read, other than another bride), furthering her as a femme fatale by challenging social concepts. 

Even though Holmes solves the case (which is very Victorian happy ending of him), Adler still gets the best of him, hence her degrading nickname “the woman.” Watson says of Holmes, “He used to make merry over the cleverness of women, but I have not heard him do it of late.” (Doyle, 19) In this quote Watson tells us that Holmes has a specific image of women and often made fun of women’s intelligence. The seductive, daring Adler broke his image. To Holmes, Irene Adler is a dangerous woman that breaks the mold of what he and most of society believes of women, and is therefore her intelligence (and by extension existence) is a threat to his reputation as a detective and man. 

Disease + Xenophobia = Dis-ease

In Professor Seiler’s Feminist Genres course, We are reading Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter, a semi-autobiographical novella written in the stream of conscious style about the influenza epidemic of 1918. The narrator, Miranda, navigates her succumbing to influenza alongside spending her last moments with her lover, Adam, before he goes off to fight in WWI. Unlike Dracula by Bram Stoker, Pale Horse, Pale Rider is a dizzying, busy read; from Miranda’s job at a newspaper office, to rude Liberty Bond salesmen, to funerals, to rendez-vous with Adam, and finally Miranda’s fall to her recovery of influenza. Amidst the war panic, the American government is selling Liberty Bonds to raise capital for war efforts. After a conversation with the pushy Liberty Bond salesmen, Miranda decides, “Everybody was suffering, naturally. Everybody had to do his share… it was just a pledge of good faith on her part. A pledge of good faith that she was a loyal American doing her duty.” (Porter, 273) The pages about Liberty Bonds inflict a sense of nationalism as well as panic and pressure to do the right thing and be a good American, even if you don’t have money for liberty bonds like miranda. The sense of nationalism and fear is reflected in Miranda’s disease induced dream as she is in the hospital. The text states, “…Hildesheim is a Boche, a spy, a Hun, kill him, kill him before he kills you…” (Porter, 309) Here, Hildesheim is Miranda’s doctor, however the atmospheric chaos of the disease and war cause Miranda to be paranoid of her German doctor, hence the terms used in the text and at the time in history “Boche” and “Hun,” both terms that have a negative connotation of a person from outside American, especially during WWI. To add to the atmosphere of disease, Miranda often comments on her dis-ease, for example, “‘There’s something terribly wrong,’ she told Adam. ‘I feel too rotten. It can’t just be the weather, and the war.’” (Porter, 282) In this quote, Miranda acknowledges both fictional atmosphere; the weather, and the tonal atmosphere; influenza and the war. The atmosphere of the novella is that of illness and war panic, and overall dis-ease and discomfort on behalf of Miranda. The same can be said of Dracula

In Dracula, the disease and the threat to nationalism is symbolized through the vampires which creates the atmosphere of dis-ease and fear among the British men. It is a known fact that vampires bite the necks of their victims and suck their blood. A classmate brought up the sexual undertones of this action; thinking about biting, sucking and transmitting disease which can be seen as actions of a fictional character or that of sex. Throughout the novel, vampires are referred to as “monsters” and “evil,” making them outsiders to the group of (mostly) British white men, plus Mina and Lucy. Viewing the Transylvanian, non-British vampires as outsiders is xenophobia. Of course, Dracula is the main outsider, however, in A Capital Dracula Franco Moretti makes the argument that Morris, The American, is an “accomplice” to Dracula and possibly a vampire himself, therefore has to die in the end. Moretti points out Morris is the first character to use the word “vampire” (chapter 21). Moretti writes, “To make Morris a vampire would mean accusing capitalism directly: or rather accusing Britain, admitting that it is Britain herself that has given birth to the monster.” (Moretti, 436) In other words (ignoring Moretti’s analysis of capitalism and focusing on xenophobia/nationalism), assuming Morris is a vampire, Britain would take the blame because, even though Morris is not British, he was in the country and able to breed more “monsters,” possibly as an extension of Dracula according to Moretti. This spreading of vampirism/disease by Morris is demonstrated by the blood transfusion from Morris to Lucy, which Moretti claims possibly caused Lucy’s change into a vampire, which created dis-ease among the men. Although the transmission is not through sexual biting or sucking, the disease of vampirism is spread via blood, similar to a sexually transmitted disease. Even though Morris is a white male from America, he is the foreigner friend of the British group of men, therefore there is still a sense of xenophobia and dis-ease, as Morris is the only man out of the group to die, furthering the theme of British nationality in Dracula.

Beware the “New Woman!”

Like most women written by men, the women in Dracula by Bram Stoker are shallow and lack character development. One can argue that Lucy is a round character, because she turns into a vampire, but is that really character development or a poke at the “New Woman” by Bram Stoker? According to Sally Ledger and Roger Luckhurst in Reading the ‘Fin de siècle,’ the “New Woman” can be interpreted/read two ways: a more positive image of sexual liberation and independence or the negative aspects of breaking social norms such as motherhood and the nuclear family.

In Dracula, Mina is a symbol of what is good about the “New Woman;” she works but is still a dutiful, loving wife, while Lucy symbolizes the moral and sexual corruption of the “New Woman.” Mina writes, “We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit is invoked…” (Stoker, 245) Stoker uses the imagery of the mother to paint Mina positively according to social norms of the time; she always thinks of her husband, she wants to be a mother and she works, but not too much that she neglects her tasks as a woman. He uses the word “spirit” and “invoked” combined with “mother” to further claim that all women have this innate motherly sense, as all humans have spirits (if that is what you believe, if not call it gothic and go with it), which contrasts Lucy’s actions when she eats a child, furthering Lucy as the extreme negative outcome of the “New Woman.” 

A few pages before, Stoker writes, “She seemed like a nightmare of Lucy as she lay there; pointed teeth, the bloodstained, voluptuous mouth – which it made one shutter to see – the whole carnal and unspiritual appearance, seeming like a devilish mockery of Lucy’s sweet purity.” (Stoker, 228) Although the first quote is not a direct description of Mina, the two quotes have very different tones, clearly contrasting the women as the two aspects of the “New Woman.” Specifically, the description of Lucy’s mouth is very sexual, utilizing creepy words such as “pointed,” “bloodstained,” “voluptuous” and “carnal,” harking on the sexual corruption aspect of the “New woman.” In a long winded way, Stoker is saying Lucy is no longer pure. If the reader still did not pick up on the implicit, Stoker explicitly states, “…a devilish mockery of Lucy’s sweet purity,” creating a relationship between the evil and “sweet” Lucy. 

Through the contrast of pure Mina and corrupt Lucy, Stoker cautions against the “New Woman” in the Fin de Siècle era. Stoker uses sensationalism to provoke curiosity of the corrupt imagery of vampires and Lucy-turned-vampire to show the dangers of the abandonment of gender roles, specifically motherhood in the Victorian Era. Ledger and Luckhurst note that the double standard of the “New Woman” brought forth “..productive sites for thinking through the articulation of gender with other significant markers of identity.” (Ledger and Luckhurst, 18) So, some positive social change was made as a result of the “New Woman”, contrasting Stoker’s negative depiction of the movement in Dracula. Although Lucy is not a direct “outspoken attack on male sexuality,” as self proclaimed novelist, Sarah Grand is described as by Ledger and Luckhurst, still Lucy and her vamperic, child eating, motherhood abandoning, sexual advances are a threat to Victorian culture as Bram Stoker knows it. (Ledger and Luckhurst, 17)