The World as a Worldview

Christina Rossetti’s The World tells the story of the narrator being wooed by a woman who in daylight seems beautiful but by night transforms into a devilish creature. At first the title of the poem seems unrelated to the poem itself, but I believe that Rossetti may be describing how she views “The World” or society. In particular, I think that The World serves as an allegory for the experience of a woman growing up in Victorian society. The attractions of participating in society such as companionship, status, and respect are represented in the poem as “ripe fruit, sweet flowers” and the promise of “full satiety.” The gaining of these attractions is contingent upon acceptance which in turn is contingent on conformity to societal expectations. As the narrator starts to realize this, they see the beautiful woman “in the naked horror of the truth:” “Loathsome and foul with hideous leprosy And subtle serpents gliding in her hair.” 

 The narrator engages in an internal debate between giving themselves up to the woman or turning their back on all she has to offer. If the narrator wants to gain access to the fruits of society, they must first become what society expects of them. By conforming to societal expectations, the narrator has to “sell My soul to her, give her my life and youth Till my feet, cloven too, take hold on hell.” Once a woman has sacrificed her freedom, independence, and ability to support herself, she may become accepted as the ideal presentable woman and go onto uphold the societal expectations that she may have once abhorred.  

Lucy: Flirting with Death?

At first blush, Lucy is a figure of girlish innocence who dies pure. However, an alternate reading suggests that Stoker attempts to use Lucy’s promiscuity to justify her fate. She is portrayed as overly flirtatious when, after turning down two proposals, she “couldn’t help feeling a sort of exultation that he was two in one day.” After all three proposals she wonders “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her…?” The idea of a woman not being singularly connected with only one man would have made her “a horrid flirt” and I believe that Stoker intended the audience to view her as such. Many characters view Lucy as the embodiment of purity and innocence, making her ‘promiscuity’ a representation of evil living hidden amongst goodness. 

Lucy attempts to take the traditional (and only socially acceptable) path, a monogamous marriage to a man. She never lives to see her wedding day as she dies shortly after getting engaged. She dies because she has been seduced by Dracula. One of her first encounters with him sees her “waking unclad in a churchyard at night,” which would be the height of scandal for a young lady if anyone other than Mina was to find out. Lucy effectively cheats on Arthur with Dracula. In a world where a one-time blood transfusion is as good as a wedding, Dracula weds Lucy night after night. Only once she is dead do the other characters see her secret inner self reflected on her outer self. Her pristine white dress is stained with blood and “the purity [turned] to voluptuous wantonness.” 

Gendered Blood

When Lucy needs blood transfusions, she is said to require the blood of a man who will provide her with the strength she needs. Van Helsing remarks, “A brave man’s blood is the best thing on this earth when a woman is in trouble.” Stoker is implying that a weak woman needs masculinity in order to balance out the femininity implicit in weakness. When Lucy takes in masculinity through the form of blood, she is less delicate and less vulnerable to working herself into feminine hysteria.  

When Van Helsing states that “the devil may work against us for all he’s worth, but God sends us men when we want them,” Stoker suggests that while men serve god’s purpose, women work against it. In additional service to this point, Dracula drinks the blood of women and is, not unrelatedly, the embodiment of evil and sinfulness in the novel. While taking in the blood of men makes Lucy heartier, taking in the blood of women makes Dracula more depraved. He retains his masculine form and therefore still has physical strength, but his mental strength is degraded and perverse. 

Xenophobia in the Speckled Band


Throughout the Speckled Band it is clear that anything foreign or exotic is dangerous and that can be especially seen in the descriptions of Dr. Roylett. “[T]he wandering gipsies” (135) are instantly the first suspect of Holmes and Watson even though Holmes himself admits, “I see many objections to any such a theory” (140). Despite these misgivings, Holmes continues this line of investigation until it is proven completely impossible. He admits this near the end of the story saying, “The presence of the gipsies…were sufficient to put me upon an entirely wrong scent” (151).  

Additionally, the ultimate cause of death ended up being a “swamp adder…the deadliest snake in India” (150). The knowledge Dr. Roylott used to kill his daughter “would only occur to a clever and ruthless man who had an Eastern training” (151). To Holmes, an eastern education automatically creates an evil, snakelike person who is ready and willing to kill. Foreignness seems to equate to enhanced nefariousness. Helen Stoner claims, “Violence of temper approaching to mania has been hereditary…and in my stepfather’s case it had, I believe, been intensified by his long residence in the tropics” (134).  

I think Arthur Conan Doyle chose to repeatedly portray exoticness as dangerous because at the time the short story was written the British empire was losing power. If England was portrayed as superior to the countries they were losing their grasp on, the British people could still feel superior globally. 

Lady Audley’s Camouflage

The repeated use of grey on page 216 suggests a faded, weathered, oldness to Lady Audley’s surroundings. One may expect Lady Audley to seem out of place in this situation as throughout the book, she is described as young, pretty, and bright, as well as being said “always to be light-hearted, happy, and contented under any circumstances” (Braddon 11). Her main characteristics throughout the novel appear unfit for the somber scene in which Richard finds her, yet her face “had worn an anxious earnestness which made it only more beautiful” (Braddon 216). Lady Audley possesses an ability to constantly adapt to seem picturesque and perfectly suited for any occasion. I believe she has honed this ability in order to cover up her heinous deeds with a mask of beauty that has allowed her to hide in plain sight. She is described as “a model for a mediæval saint” in a “grey old cathedral, unchanged by Reformation” (Braddon 216). Her hair is a “haze” of “gold” (Braddon 216). She wears a “soft” gown “falling…to her feet” and her waist is “clasped” by “a narrow circlet” (Braddon 216.) All these details serve to make her seem delicate, holy, demure, and angelic. The softness of her appearance is a marked contrast to the brutality of what Robert believes she has done. 

Later, on page 216, Lady Audley’s mask of deceit that she has been honing for months finally slips. Upon seeing Richard, her face “faded from its delicate brightness, and looked scared and wan in the lamplight” (Braddon 216). I think that these lines reveal how much power and security Lady Audley has lost. Since Lord Audley is ill and Robert suspects her of having to do with George’s death, the walls are closing in on her. I believe she is starting to feel afraid.