Man! I Feel Like A Woman!

Throughout our various readings of Victorian literature, we have continued to see themes surrounding love, sexuality, desire, and ambition; these themes largely manifesting in stories about women. One pattern, that is important to note, is that of the varied means in which these women place their goals and desires and how they manifest in their respective stories. One example can be seen in Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem, “The Lady of Shalott”. The poem of “The Lady of Shalott”, follows a woman who is entrapped in a castle during what seems to be Arthurian times, deriving from the legend of Camelot, in which the Lady is forced to weave, isolated from the rest of the world, under the threat of a curse in which she does not know the full consequences of. She is further punished by being prevented from even looking through her window to see life outside of her tower, and is compelled to quell her curiosity for the outside world by looking at a mirror near her loom; only seeing the reflections of those outside of her tower rather than as they truly are. Within the second part of this poem, the Lady notes, “[There] Came two young lovers lately wed; ‘I am half sick of shadows,’ said The Lady of Shalott” (Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Part II). In this moment, we see one of the primary “dreams” of the Lady revealed. She has no knight to “save her”, no person to love, and whether she craves a relationship, that being romantic or platonic, she wants kinship of some kind. The fact that we do not know why the Lady of Shalott is imprisoned adds to the tragedy of this story, as this plot element left unexplained makes it all the more applicable to a myriad of situations, and therefore, all the more relatable to a reader who may feel entrapped in their life in some capacity. 

I am further reminded of this suffocating theme in Christina Rosetti’s poem, “A Pause of Thought”. One stanza reads, “I looked for that which is not, nor can be, And hope deferred made my heart sick in truth: But years must pass before a hope of youth – Is resigned utterly” (Rosetti, 32). A lack of choice, or a wish or dream going unfulfilled, are understandable fears that plague almost, if not, everybody. The concept of complicated desires, goals, and ambitions, is inherently human, and, as emphasized through these two poems, often forgotten when understanding women’s roles in Victorian society. I am reminded of a scene from the 2019 film adaptation of Louisa May Alcott’s novel, Little Women, in which Jo proclaims, “Women, they have minds, and they have souls, as well as just hearts. And they’ve got ambition, and they’ve got talent, as well as just beauty. I’m so sick of people saying that love is just all a woman is fit for. I’m so sick of it… But I’m so lonely.” Jo’s frustration, similar to the frustration expressed in both Tennyson and Rossetti’s poems, manifests from a fear not only of one’s dreams going unfulfilled, but that a choice must be made in order to make those dreams more simple, or attainable in some capacity. The Victorian attributions of simplicity, obedience, and a promotion of binaries, becomes this inherently limiting feature of daily life, and while men may have felt this burden too, Victorian women bore it like no other. 

Blood Is Thicker Than Water

Throughout Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, we see elements and concerns regarding the preservation of blood, the purity of one’s blood, and the effects that might occur when blood transference ensues. One would think that this concern of blood purity does not extend as heavily beyond that of the upper echelons of British Victorian society, or even that of the living, yet we see even our undead titular Count express similar concerns to that of his living counterparts when he recounts his family history to Jonathan Harker. Dracula boasts that, “the Szekelys—and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains, and their swords—can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach. The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told” (Stoker, Ch. 3). In this moment, we see Dracula, albeit in a different manner, reinforce ideas regarding questions of blood, and the parts of oneself that are bound in our blood. 

This is further reflected later in the novel when Lucy receives blood transfusions from four different men. A conversation regarding the men’s blood, in it now being a part of Lucy through transfusion, and the repercussions or feelings that may emerge from this connection ensues. Dr. Seward notes that, “Arthur was saying that he felt since then as if they two had been really married, and that she was his wife in sight of God. None of us said a word of the other operations, and none of us ever shall” (Stoker, Ch. 13). Blood, then, to Dracula, is a reflection of the goals of blood purity and mirrors the Victorian concerns of reverse colonization, and is reinforced by the views of Lucy’s “protectors”, where blood is akin to marriage and sex. How does one further their line? One must marry and have children. The purity and the strength of “the Dracula blood” and the maintenance of “the glories of the great races”, is only “protected” when the “right” people interact with one another. While the British Victorians had fears regarding “intermingling”, and what that may mean for the integrity of the British Empire and “Britishness”, it is clear, much to Jonathan Harker’s confusion, that “the outsiders” have just as much, if not less of a desire to fraternize with the British. We see this reflected, then, in Lucy’s downward spiral after her infection with Vampiric blood, and the failed efforts through transfusions of British blood to combat its infiltration, and eventual overtaking of her system. Lucy, then, as a vampire, is a symbol for reverse colonization, and the Victorian fears attached.

Unsex Me Here

As we have progressed through Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, in concert with our understanding of women in the various other pieces of Victorian literature that we have encountered so far, the age-old motif of, “good versus evil”, continually emerges. This is no better emphasized than in chapter 16 of Stoker’s novel, as Lucy, in her infantile vampiric state beseeches that Arthur,

“Come to [her]… Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!” There was something diabolically sweet in her tones—something of the tingling of glass when struck—which rang through the brains even of us who heard the words addressed to another. As for Arthur, he seemed under a spell; moving his hands from his face, he opened wide his arms” (Stoker, Ch. 16). Lucy, after “enchanting” Arthur, then leapt towards the group of men, only to withdraw when Van Helsing presented his crucifix to her face, revealing her true intentions to harm the men as shown by the distortion and rage in her subsequent expressions. In simple terms, it appears that this passage points out what is obvious, the men, Van Helsing, Arthur, etc. are good and Lucy is representative of evil. After all, Lucy is repelled by the iconography of God, further emphasizing that, as noted in chapter 12, “…the devil may work against us for all he’s worth, but God sends us men when we want them” (Stoker, Ch. 12).

While Lucy may be representative of some sort of evil, as harming children is inherently an evil deed, the simple assignment of good and bad does a disservice to the underlying societal values and harms that disadvantaged Lucy from the beginning. Lucy’s ultimate power, similarly to that of the alleged fairy in “La Belle Dame Sans Merci”, by John Keats, or Lady Audley in “Lady Audley’s Secret”, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon, notes that beautiful women are not only enchanting, but that they are ultimately dangerous. The connectivity between desire and lust; some of the goals of Satan, and the stringent Victorian values that opposed these emotions as “immoral” being ultimately represented in a character like Lucy makes her downfall almost inevitable prior to her turn towards vampirism. I would argue that her night-stalking primarily targeting children is further proof that she is representative of the Victorian fears of what a new woman could look like. In Lucy hunting children, and harming then, she engages in an entirely different set of behaviors than the domestic and caregiving modes that are expected of her. In her soft and tender tones towards Arthur, this “deception”, through engaging in the expected “Victorian woman” mannerisms and countenance, is made all the more troubling when she flips towards her “true” form.

Friends In Low Places

“Instead of making friends and exchanging visits with our neighbours, who had at first been overjoyed to see a Roylott of Stoke Moran back in the old family seat, he shut himself up in his house, and seldom came out save to indulge in ferocious quarrels with whoever might cross his path. Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary in the men of the family, and in my stepfather’s case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long residence in the tropics” (Conan Doyle, 134).

In this passage, from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story, “The Speckled Band”, we see the character of Helen Stoner indulging Watson and Holmes in the background of her stepfather, which is relevant in understanding the unfortunate events that led to her sister’s untimely demise. Similarly, to the story that we find in, Lady Audley’s secret, we see an explicit reference to a potential, “hereditary madness”; for Dr. Roylott found in the men of his line, and for Lady Audley through her mother. In my fascination with binaries in gothic literature, it is interesting to see another example of the binary of wealthy, upstanding professionals/citizens juxtaposed with the concept of “madness”. Lady Audley is a credit to her profession before she is proposed to by Lord Michael, and therefore, her eventual downfall and “alternative side”, is emphasized as all the worse. The same could be said for Dr. Roylott as his stepdaughters wanted for nothing, and he was generally proficient at his job, in conjunction with having lineage of noble standing, that his fits of anger were all the more terrifying to the reader. We can then ask ourselves, what does this mean to the text as whole? I would assert that the authors of both of these works are making claims about the hidden elements of higher society, even the “God-like” standards that we may impart on noble and wealthy individuals, compared to our expectations of madness in those that may come from lower-class backgrounds or of certain undesirable professions. Do we expect those in lower positions to be driven mad by their unsavory conditions and therefore it is all the more shocking when they appear more sane than their privileged and protected counterparts? I think that is a question that emerges throughout gothic literature when characters of different class standing are introduced. Furthermore, we see that Dr. Roylott’s illness is hypothesized to be heightened largely due to his time in India. We can then extend our expectations and reactions from merely class discussions to those of race and place. This “foreign” world is a synonym for danger and madness and the authors expectations of people who fit in these class and race categories defy the behavioral expectations set by Victorian societal standards.

An Omnipotent Robert

“The merry party was so much absorbed in its own merriment as to be deaf to all commonplace summonses from the outer world; and it was only when Robert, advancing further into the cavernous little shop, made so bold as to open the half-glass door which separated him from the merry-makers, that he succeeded in obtaining their attention” – (Braddon, Ch 19). 


When reading this passage, the sarcastic nature and the redundancy of the word “merry” stood out the most to me. Merry suggests a happy situation and these people in particular were noted to be merry a total of three times, though this merriment seems to be perceived as a negative attribute rather than a positive state of being. This passage is also in response to Robert greeting a group of people in the shop, and much to his dismay, the party ignoring him entirely. The passage itself is relatively straightforward to understand, yet it reveals something notably deeper. This passage in and of itself is a binary. We have the juxtaposition of merry people gathered together, versus a very isolated, and what appears to be uncomfortable Robert. The repetition of the word, “merry” and “merriment” is then used to solidify this binary, as a tool to emphasize Robert’s frustration, almost as if he is becoming increasingly more frustrated with his fellow characters with each time the word is used. This section further reveals a potential insight into who the narrator of our novel is. The narrator’s voice, in the increasing frustration of the word “merry”, becomes reflective of Robert’s feelings, therefore alluding to Robert and our narrator having the same mind, opinions, and maybe even personage. In its relevance and relation to the novel as a whole, this passage is reflective of Robert as a character, and his continual failings when delving into investigative matters of his fellow characters.