Christina Rossetti, like many other Victoria writers, seems to have complex and conflicting thoughts on the role of women. Many of her poems in Goblin Market and Other Poems center around women, or feature a female speaker. In one poem in particular, “A Triad”, Rosetti writes of three women, 2 of whom are not fit to be wives, and a third who is but dies. This poem ends with the line, “All on the threshold, yet all short of life” (Rosetti, 18). The word life stands out as a potential comparison for love and marriage. Without marrying this man, without him falling in love with each of these three women, they all fall short of having a life. It is so interesting that Rosetti writes about these women needing a man to have a true life, yet only a few pages later she published “No, Thank You John”. This poem is about a headstrong, independent who would, “rather answer “No” to fifty Johns Than answer “Yes” to you” (Rosetti, 31). In this poem Rosetti gives the women power in allowing her to say no to a mans proposal of marriage. Only a few pages before she was saying there was no life without marriage, yet now she is countering that argument. Without marrying a man in the Victorian era, a woman would have no income, no way to support herself, and would not be fulfilling her duty to reproduce and start a family. It truly was unheard of for women to reject a proposal, because they in general would have an easier life if married. The woman speaker in “No, Thank You, John” is clearly breaking the societal rules for women, as is Rosetti for writing about this. These two poems show two conflicting views that Rosetti has written about and may be thinking. We have seen time and time again that the views on women in the Victorian era are complex, and the intelligent men and women who write the novels and poems question the rules through their writings.
Reseting the Normal in the End
Throughout Bram Stokers Dracula, gender roles and the definitions of masculinity and femininity have been pushed to the limit for a Victorian reader. Many of the characters exhibit characteristics of both a man and a woman, such as Mina with her, “man’s brain – a brain that a man should have were he much gifted – and woman’s heart” (Stoker, 250). Additionally, the seemingly masculine men, such as Dracula and Arthur, have moments of femininity. Arthur has a moment of weakness, “with a sob he laid his head on my shoulder, and cried like a wearied child, whilst he shook with emotion” (Stoker, 245) showing his more feminine, emotional side not typically exhibited by men. Additionally, Dracula makes Mina drink blood from his breast, an allusion to breast feeding. All these instances and more upset the typical gender roles in the Victorian era and leave the modern-day reader wondering why Stoker would write a novel that pushes the limits in this way. In most Victorian novels, including Lady Audley’s Secret and the Hound of the Baskervilles, the author uses the ending to restore the normal and save their readers from feeling too uneasy after reading. Originally, I felt that Stoker was using Dracula to express his own feelings about the roles of women and men in the Victorian era, but because of the ending, I now propose that he was experimenting with his own feelings in the novel. In the end, the men are gallant and have saved Mina and defeated Dracula. Mina has a child and runs the household and lives the typical life of a woman. Since the end of Victorian novels is used to reset the normal, and since Stoker ended with the typical gender roles in place, it seems like he was no trying to make a huge statement, but rather trying to learn his own feelings on gender through Dracula. I think that in Dracula, the gender roles are so fluid and interchangeable, as are the definitions of masculinity and femininity, which gave Stoker freedom to see what a masculine woman or feminine man would do to Victorian society.
Gender Roles in Dracula
Femininity and the role of women is a theme in many Victorian novels and appears in Dracula quite frequently. The idea of the “new women” is described as a woman who does not conform to societies norms. In Dracula, there is a lot of confusion over who is the true “new woman” because although Lucy will be married to Johnathon, she is educated and independent. On the other hand, Mina is unmarried but wishes to settle down into her traditional role as a woman yet proclaims that she would marry multiple husbands if possible (Stoker, 64-65).
Additionally, the three women who live with Dracula are often described by critics as his brides. Although the story never calls them this it would make some sense. Dracula provides a home and food for them and serves the masculine role while they look beautiful. When they try to bite Johnathon, Dracula tells them not to and they obey him (Stoker, 46). The typical masculine and feminine roles seem to be at play until Dracula has a moment of intimacy with Johnathon and tells him, “yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so? Well, now I promise you that when I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will” (Stoker, 46).
In my opinion, Stoker seems to not know how to portray these characters with the changing gender roles in the Victorian era. He wants to portray the “new woman” yet throws in so many moments of traditional women and gender roles. I think he is using Dracula to sort out his own feelings on the changing world, and each of the characters is representing a different level of femininity or masculinity. Characters such as Arthur and Mr. Morris are portrayed as masculine, while Johnathon and Dracula have some femininity. Mina and Lucy switch between the new woman and the traditional woman, as if it is bad to be just one or the other.
Inspiration of a Painter
“I have been trying to catch your likeness; and, while telling your story, you have unconsciously shown me the natural expression I wanted to ensure my success” (Collins, 46)
This passage in Collins’ A Terribly Strange Bed makes readers consider the act of painting a portrait in the Victorian era, and what it took to elicit a natural expression from the sitter. After reading this passage more carefully I could not help but think of a passage in Braddons Lady Audley’s Secret when Alicia is telling Robert about the painting of Lady Audley.
“I think that sometimes a painter is in a manner inspired, and is able to see, equally a part of it, though not to be perceived by common eyes. We have never seen my lady look as she does in that picture; but I think that she could look so” (Braddon, 73).
In this passage Alicia explains how the painter may have seen a look on Lady Audley that she has never seen. Alicia explicitly states how a painter can see a side of the sitter that is less obvious to the untrained eye, but until reading Collins’ story I had not considered how the artist is able to see this look. Potentially Lady Audley had been telling the artist the “secret of her life” or had told the artist a different story altogether. It seems that the artist was able to capture the madness within Lady Audley far before her family was able to see it. This passage foreshadows the ending of the book as does the painting itself. The passage repeats the words look, expression and see/seen. Alicia is clearly hung up on the look and expression on Lady Audley’s face, and finds it strange. I believe Alicia has always been slightly suspicious of Lady Audley and her background and intents. Robert tells Alicia to not be German after she say all of this. From the clues in the surrounding pages it seems being German is to be rude, and Robert is telling Alicia to not be so blunt and rude toward Lady Audley’s appearance.
Overall, this passage was an important clue in foreshadowing the ending to this book, and the connection because quite clear after reading A Terribly Strange Bed.
What is Lady Audley’s Secret?
In the novel, Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Brandon there have been many secrets and mysteries that have presented themselves throughout the course of volume one. Aside from the disappearance of George Tallboys, one of the largest mysteries is what exactly is Lady Audley’s secret? A passage on page 91 leads me to believe she had something to do with Georges disappearance, and that the two huge secrets in this novel are intertwined. “It was not one, but four slender, purple marks, such might have been made by the four fingers of a powerful hand that had grasped the delicate wrist a shade too roughly…Across one of the faint purple marks there was a darker tinge, as if a ring worn on one of these strong and cruel fingers had been ground into the tender flesh” (Brandon 91). This passage originally struck me as interesting because it contained a clue to one of the mysteries. Sir Michael Audley is narrating this passage and has noticed these marks on Lady Audley’s wrist. She protests that it was only a ribbon that caused them, but her determination to make everyone believes this leads me to believe she is trying to hide something. The contrasting language in the passage, such as powerful, strong and cruel, vs. tender and delicate as well as the repetition of fingers and four point to the main idea of the passage- four rough fingers left the marks on Lady Audley, not a ribbon. I believe the fingers belong to George, who was last seen at Lady Audley’s house before his disappearance and potential murder. I assume he would have been wearing a ring because of his long-standing love for his late wife.