Sibyl & Dorian’s intertwined deaths

In the novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, the main character Dorian is responsible for the death of his ex-lover, Sibyl. He states, “I loved you because you were marvelous, because you had genius and intellect, because you realized the dreams of great poets and gave shape and substance to the shadows of art,” (Wilde 74). In this scene, Dorian’s anger gets the best of him and foreshadows his own fate. After Dorian says this to Sibyl, she takes her own life. The words he uses surrounding her are things that do not have to do about their relationship, instead, they are just beautiful words to describe someone that he may not have even known very well. By using the word art in this line, it can be taken as a nod to the own art that exists of Dorian, the portrait that hangs in his house. In this way, his fate is sealed.

After Sibyl dies, Dorian states “the birds sing just as happily in my garden” (Wilde, 85). This lack of empathy towards her death shows that Dorian saw her as no more than just his muse and his “one love.” This mirrors the way that Basil views Dorian, as his muse, his only muse. Much like Sibyl, Dorian is no more than a blank canvas where people paint their own ideas onto it. Unfortunately for Dorian, both Lord Henry and Basil painted their ideas on his canvas which turned him into a muse with both good and evil. Ultimately, because he is just a muse to Basil, Basil or himself must die to escape the tragedy of Sibyl’s fate. Luckily for Dorian, he kills Basil, his creator. Muses cannot live without the admiration of their creator; they live off the attention and approval of their artist. They give “substance to the shadows of art.” In this way, Sibyl and Dorian are both very similar and their deaths are equally as tragic. While Sibyl is pure and a beautiful canvas that gets splashed by a paint bucket of hate, Dorian is a canvas that was equally splashed, a fight between good and evil artists.

If Dorian and Sibyl are both just muses of other people, then this makes them character that only exist due to the other characters in the novel. While Dorian is the main character, he would not exist without Henry and Basil. During this time, there were many outside influences, fake protectors like Sherlock, scary stories like Frankenstein, and the soulful horror of Dorian Gray. The novel shows the readers that everyone can be influenced, art influences the reader, and everyone is connected by the way they influence each other, we are all a canvas to be imposed upon. This is important because it shows that Dorian is not a character on his own, “it is the spectator, and not life, that art really mirrors” (Wilde, Preface).

Help! I’m trapped in a painting!

In the novel, Romance of a Shop, Gertrude wants to be loved for who she is. While this does not seem too much to ask, apparently it is. The quote that I will mostly focus on for this post is one about respect and love intertwining. “Lord Watergate might have loved her more if he had respected her less, or at least allowed for a little feminine waywardness. Like the rest of the world, he had failed to understand her, to see how weak she was, for all her struggles to be strong” (Levy 294). In this passage, there is the idea that if she was less known by him then she would be loved by him. If this is viewed through the lens of the poem, “In an Artist’s Studio” by Christina Rossetti, it is made clear that men only want women that can provide what they want her to be. The last two lines of the poem state “not as she, but was when hope shone bright; / not as she is, but as she fills his dream” (Rossetti 13-14). The poem is about how a woman is not truly seen, she is nameless and on canvases for men to enjoy and build up an idea of who she is in their own imagination. Much like Rossetti, Gertrude also feels this as she holds onto the idea that Lord Watergate would not love her because he has this respect for her, while he does not know all her weaknesses and struggles, he knows her more than she believes he does. This lens is important because it shows how Gertrude wants to be viewed, part of her wants to be mysterious and not respected so he will love her and the other side of her wants him to know her inside and out and still choose her. However, her story does not end there. Unlike the character in Rossetti’s poem, Gertrude is loved by him, at the end it is important to note that she looks into “the lucid depths of his eyes,” (Levy 297). She finds this depth in him and while it does not say that he also finds this depth, it can be implied in the way that he takes her into his arms. Rossetti’s poem is important because it shows how Gertrude viewed her sisters and herself, as either a painting to be admired or a woman who was too respected to truly love. The new woman and the “old woman” both fail, they both are either left with no love at all or a shallow one. This reflects on the time as the new woman was seen as someone who would never marry, never have children, and be independent. While Amy Levy shows this stereotypical new woman through Gertrude, she adds a sense of humanity and longing for love to her that breaks the stereotype. Levy leaves women who feel like the new woman and also those who want to escape the canvas a seed of hope that they too can be loved as a full person, weaknesses, personality, struggle, and all.

A Painting of Christina Rossetti made by her brother (Dante Rossetti). 

Dracula: heartthrob or monster?

Since its original publication, Dracula has been changed and so have vampires in general. In class, we discussed a lot about sexual repression in the novel, particularly surrounding Lucy. In the 1992 adaptation of Dracula, “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” with Gary Oldman, there is light shed on the sexual repression. In this post I will be focusing on the movie poster (at the bottom of the post) as the setup of it is a lens itself. In the poster, the main spotlight is Dracula holding Mina with her head tilted back and eyes closed. On the poster she is seen in a dress that is very low on her shoulders and shows a lot of skin. This showing of skin shows her freedom from sexual repression as she is now open about her clothing and under her it says, “love never dies.” In this regard, the poster shows this idea that Dracula grants Mina sexual freedom. Viewing the novel from the lens of the movie poster, it can be interpreted that Dracula was in fact freeing the women and giving them their desires instead of holding them back or “killing” them. Using the catchphrase “love never dies,” vampires themselves (the undead) can be interpreted as love. In the novel, Lucy states “being proposed to is all very nice and all that sort of thing, but it isn’t at all a happy thing when you have to see a poor fellow, whom you know loves you honestly, going away and looking all broken hearted” (Stoker 65). In this scene, Lucy is writing to Mina about how she turned away from two of her suitors and had to reject them. However, when Dracula bites her, she fully gives in and tilts her head back for his bite. In this way, she desires Dracula and while the men may see this as a “magic power” he must seduce them, to Lucy she does not have to see a poor fellow go away sad because she wants this fellow. Also, her use of the word “nice” when talking about being proposed to is a very soft word, seeing Dracula as a lover instead of an evil monster, this word has a deeper meaning. While these human men are “nice” and “ok,” Dracula is passionate and especially according to this movie poster based on choice of actor, he is a “heartthrob.”

Another quote by Lucy furthers this idea that Dracula is a representation of love, especially one that grants sexual freedom. “I suppose that we women are such cowards that we think a man will save us from fears, and we marry him” (Stoker 66). This quote can be read as the fear of their own sexuality. In Victorian times, women were seen as pure and not sexual beings. Lucy, however, is very sexual as she says previously that if she could marry multiple men, she would do that. Even later in the novel, she has the blood of four men in her (which means she belongs to all of them). Instead of putting blood in her like the men do, Dracula takes it out of her, therefore claiming her and having her inside him. By being the one with her blood in him, he takes the role of the bride and grants Lucy her sexual freedom instead of her belonging to him. He also does the same to Mina and if we read Dracula through this lens of erotic and sexual freedom like the movie poster hints at, he is sort of a hero in our standards. Instead of taking away their freedom and trying to keep them pure, he lets them suck his blood and sucks theirs as well. Instead of forcing a blood transfusion on them, he gives them a choice and Mina and Lucy decide to love him and find their freedom in this way. Not only this, but he does not appear in mirrors, he does not have to face himself and have “morals,” instead he can choose to act and not necessarily have remorse. Dracula viewed through the lens of the 1992 poster is less scary and more so alluring and attractive unlike older depictions where he is hideous and purely evil. When looking at the poster, you feel drawn to Dracula and Mina’s life does not seem completely unpleasant.

Lucy and her Reckless Freedom

In the book Dracula, Lucy Westenra is turned into a vampire. Lucy before her vampire days was truly a pure woman in the eyes of society. She had three marriage suitors who she wished to marry because she did not want to make any of them sad. She is the daughter of wealth and Dracula’s first English victim who falls under his spell of vampirism. When four men first see her form, she is described as “sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (225). In this description there is the obvious indicator of who she was before, sweet, caring, and pure. This vampirism turned her into the opposite of what she once was, pure turned impure. Using the word adamantine, there is the connotation that Lucy now has her own authority. She has made up her own mind and will not be persuaded. Instead of wanting to pick three men to marry, she instead now wants to likely destroy them all. Seeing her autonomy as a negative word, due to the way the setup of the sentence is with good to bad adjectives, there is the idea that men do not like a woman with their own autonomy. Not only this, but the men also see her as “heartless” and with “wantonness.” Wantonness means having a reckless sort of freedom which Lucy now possesses as she does not have the constrictions of time and mortality as the humans have. She also now does not have to be tied and married to a man. Instead, she can be free. The fact that the men in the story view this as reckless also goes to show that they are unsure if she can make her own choices correctly. Like the “new woman” we discussed in class, Lucy has total freedom and autonomy and the men in the story are intimidated by it. Lucy takes on this “new woman” form and through the eyes of men she is seen as evil. Not only this, but the element of purity is also mentioned a few times on page 225 when the men of the story are witnessing her new form in the graveyard. “The lips were crimson with fresh blood, and that the stream had trickled over her chin and stained the purity of her lawn death-robe” (225). Purity is mentioned as something that has become stained and taken away from her due to this vampire that lurks. It is even seen in her story that she is killing children and this is likely where the blood came from, an obvious pushback against the idea that all women should have children. The children that she killed are the source of the stain on her purity. To the men, she is a completely different woman and one they would likely not marry. The idea of purity in a woman goes far back in time, even in looking at medieval romances. In French medieval romances, there is the depiction of women as either Mary or Eve, pure or evil and tempting. In this vampire form, Lucy becomes Eve and continues this dichotomy of women as only one of two things in the eyes of men. “at that moment the remnant of my love passed into hate and loathing” (225). Through the writing of her character, Lucy goes from seeing herself as unworthy of men but being wanted by them, to realizing she does not need them and being hated by them. Lucy writes to Mina in the beginning part of the book “why are men so noble when we women are so little worthy of them?” (67). This is a sharp contrast to her later on when she tries to lure Arthur to her vampire form, once again displaying this idea of a tempting woman. Lucy is a very interesting character to read as she changes from one extreme to the other, she displays the only view that men had of women during the Victorian era, either a “new woman” or their pure view of a woman who bends to the will of men. Women were pushed into one category and there was not much room to be in-between.