Was Lucy killed or raped?

TW: sexual violence

While Lucy’s death is not only extremely brutal and bloody and clearly contains physical violence, we can also argue that she was gang-raped by a group of men. Dr. Seward, Quincey, Van Helsing, and Arthur stand around Lucy’s coffin planning to kill her. This scene seems like a brutal religious ritual because it includes “prayer” and Helsing claims that driving a stake through Lucy’s heart happens in God’s name (230).

Taking a closer look at it, however, we can clearly see hints at sexual violence and even rape. This especially struck me when watching the scene in the film but it also becomes very apparent in the novel. It is striking that Arthur, who wanted to marry Lucy and who felt sexual attraction to her, is the one to kill her. His sexual attraction to her is manifested in the scene in which he can barely resist kissing Lucy. The ritual consists of driving a stake through Lucy. The stake can clearly be read as a phallic symbol that violently has to enter Lucy’s body. Van Helsing functions as a mentor in this scene because he is more experienced than Arthur. He ensures Arthur that the act of violence towards Lucy will be worth it because he would “then rejoice more than [his] pain was great” (230). He proceeds by claiming that he will afterward feel as though he would “tread on air” (230). This emphasizes that Van Helsing is aware that this is an act of extreme violence but that Arthur’s body will reward him with great feelings if he proceeds. Van Helsing emphasizes that the other men are also there, in case Arthur gets nervous. Arthur then wants to know how to proceed as he, (an unmarried man) is not experienced in such manners. He pushes the “mercy-bearing stake” “deeper and deeper” into Lucy (230). Arthur seems to enjoy it because “high duty seemed to shine through [his face]” (230). Lastly, it is odd that Van Helsing tells Arthur to kiss Lucy’s dead mouth after the ritual which is usually an act of love. Additionally, Lucy’s mouth is stuffed with garlic before her head is chopped off (232). Stuffing a woman’s mouth can also be viewed as an act of sexual violence.

While it seems that the passage is about a brutal religious ritual, it becomes clear that there are more nuances to this scene and that sexuality cannot be excluded from the narrative. When analyzing this scene, it seems like an act of sexual violence performed by a group of four men on a young woman. This is especially illustrated by the phallic symbol violently being pushed into Lucy’s body and the description of the orgasmic feeling that Arthur will have after finishing the ritual.




Scene of Lucy’s Death (Youtube)

Coming Out of the Closet – …Or Coffin.

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, many hints to sexuality can be found. While it may seem that this is limited to a heteronormative form of sexuality, the text is not free of homoeroticism. In the passage after the three ladies tried to seduce Jonathan, Dracula shouts: “How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you’ll have to deal with me” (Stoker 46).

This passage proves that Dracula becomes territorial or even jealous when it comes to Jonathan. By forbidding the women to “touch” or even only to “cast eyes on him”, Dracula claims Jonathan for himself. That nobody is even allowed to look at him shows that the count is very sensitive about Jonathan’s contact to other people. The rhetorical questions and exclamation points emphasize that he is very serious and enraged about the women trying to be in close sexual context with Jonathan. It is also revealing that Dracula would forbid the women to have anything to do with Jonathan in the first place. Furthermore, Dracula demands for the women do go back and threatens that they would have to “deal with” him, in case that they would lay hands on him again.

This is followed by a claim from the women that Dracula was unable to love which he denies. That the word “love” is brought up multiple times is surprising because the passage about Jonathan and the women was mainly about desire and fear, as we discussed in class. The shift towards Dracula’s ability to love raises the question of why it is important in the situation and what Jonathan has to do with it. Additionally, Dracula is not specific about the gender of his previous love affairs. The simple conclusion would be: Dracula feels homoerotic love (or at least affection) towards Jonathan which leads to jealousy when Jonathan desires women.

Robert Audley is absolutely heterosexual… right?

“Robert Audley now saw her face clearly for the first time, and he saw that she was very handsome. She had brown eyes, like George’s, a pale complexion (she had been flushed when she approached him, but the colour faded away as she recovered her breath), regular features, and a mobility of expression which bore record of every change of feeling” (Braddon 198).

This passage illustrates Clara Talboy and Robert’s first acquaintance. Robert immediately feels an attraction to Clara. The reason why he feels the attraction, however, is that she resembles her brother, George, very much. Robert especially draws attention to Clara’s brown eyes that look just like George’s (198).

What struck me most, though, is that instead of calling her “pretty” or “beautiful”, he chooses the word “handsome” (198) which I would usually associate with people who identify as “male”. Robert also mentions that he noticed all of these things within a few moments, so, to the reader, it has the effect of a slow-motion. He almost seems starstruck by Clara Talboys. By spending much time with Clara, Robert can both, find out more about George, and remain a certain bond with him, through a person that resembles George very much. In the passage, Robert even claims that Clara’s face reminds him of her brother, thus, being with her would be the closest he could come to a relationship with George. It might even be ideal for him because he could be close to George without having to admit to being homosexual (plus, George Talboys is not around anymore when he meets Clara). Another passage that highlights this is: “[…] but he could see that she was young, and that she was like George Talboys” (189). Throughout the novel, there is usually an ambiguity concerning Robert and George’s relationship.

Throughout the novel, after George’s disappearance, Robert mentions George frequently, almost obsessively. Nevertheless, Braddon leaves enough room for interpretation. The readership of the Victorian sensation novel could also interpret their relationship as a very close friendship, while the sensible contemporary readership notices the nuances that allude to potential queerness.



Lady Audley’s Secret (Drawer)

“There was not much in it; neither gold nor gems; only a baby’s little worsted shoe rolled up in a piece of paper, and a tiny lock of pale and silky yellow hair, evidently taken from a baby’s head. Phoebe’s eyes dilated as she examined the little packet. ‘So this is what my lady hides in the secret drawer,’ she muttered” (Braddon 34).

Phoebe and Luke discover the secret drawer in Lady Audley’s jewel box. This passage juxtaposes the value in the materialistic and the personal. Words, such as “gold”, and “gems” focus on wealth. Here, objects that are widely considered beautiful and rare, stand in opposition with ordinary personal belongings, such as “hair” and “shoe” (34). The passage also focuses very much on the size of the items. The word “little” is used twice to describe the size of the pieces. The lock of hair is described as “tiny” (34). This creates an even more significant gap between the two kinds of items. Although the objects are contrasted, they are also united and combined through the writing. It highlights the value of the simple things by using the word “silky” (34) to describe the lock of hair. While hair is accessible to most people, silk is very expensive, therefore, this collocation can almost be seen as an oxymoron, which contributes to the fusion of simplicity and wealth.

Furthermore, the passage includes the words “lady” and “secret” (34), which is a nod to the title of the novel and suggests that the scene is of importance. The contradictions that can be found in this passage, add to the mystery behind Lady Audley. The revelation of the secret drawer’s content is unexpected to the recipient and creates a nuance of unpredictability with Lady Audley’s character. This contributes to the title of the book that only has the readers ask themselves: What is Lady Audley’s secret?