Burn the witch!

Throughout the novels and short stories we’ve read, a trend I’ve noticed is how many of the female characters seem to lack complexity. Victorian gender roles heavily influence this characterization. It’s no secret that there was a ton of gender inequality during this era. Dracula reflects this inequality through its portrayals of different female characters.

Early in the novel, Johnathan Harker is almost killed by three female vampires. He details the experience in his journal: “The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal” (Stoker, 42).

The women here are very openly sexualized, seeming to seduce Harker into some sort of trance in which he cannot retaliate. Even though he is promised to Mina, he simply cannot resist their advances. The dichotomy of “thrilling and repulsive” suggests that he both desires and detests them. Harker also directly compares the woman to an animal, depicting the women as less than human because of their sensual nature.

This passage reminds me of a published disquisition from 1486 known as the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches). This text spends a lot of time emphasizing why women are more likely to commit heresy (not abiding by the Church’s values/ beliefs). In one section, it suggests that “From women’s natural physical weakness, there is a mind prone to error, and a disposition susceptible to change and collaboration with evil to achieve the object of her lust” (O’Leary, J., Monash University).

Though more discrete and under the guise of benevolent sexism, I believe Bram Stoker employed many of the same ideas in Dracula. He paints women as inherently weak and easily corrupted, reinforcing the idea that men need to control (or in his words, “protect”) women for their own sakes. To him, femininity is inferior to masculinity. He further proves this by making the male characters fawn over Mina, who “…has a man’s brain, a brain that a man should have were he much gifted, and a woman’s heart” (Stoker, 27). The only acceptable woman is one who serves men and abides by social norms. Still, she cannot be too feminine/ embrace her femininity, as that would give her too much power. A classic double bind. #LucyDeservedBetter

P.S. If anyone would like to read the journal article on the Malleus Maleficarum I mentioned, here is the link:


“Build the wall!” – Bram Stoker, maybe

Throughout Bram Stoker’s Dracula, we are given many detailed descriptions of characters, whether they are important to the story or not. I find Stoker’s descriptions both interesting and confusing. He himself being a foreigner, writes foreigners in a seemingly unfavorable light. One particularly thought-provoking moment is when Dracula shares with Harker his desires to master the English language. Harker recounts the conversation:

“Well, I know that, did I move and speak in your London, none there are who would not know me for a stranger. That is not enough for me. Here I am noble. I am a Boyar. The common people know me, and I am master. But a stranger in a strange land, he is no one. Men know him not, and to know not is to care not for… I have been so long master that I would be master still, or at least that none other should be master of me” (27). 

Words that are repeated more than once include: know, stranger, and master. Dracula cannot live without having power over others. He sees himself as more important and deserving of honor than other people; in fact, he feels entitled to it. He distinguishes himself from humans, conveying how void of humanity he really is. His sole use of masculine pronouns when describing the “common people” suggests that he is only concerned about the opinions of men. He finds manipulating women easier and need not worry about their reactions. 

I think Dracula’s attitude here somewhat reflects the mindset many immigrants (including Stoker) had during that time period. Not much dealing with needing absolute control over others, but to fit in with the general public would make their lives immensely more tolerable. They might have felt entitled to the same treatment native English people received, but unlike Dracula, had no means to change their situation. 

The passage gives the sense that Dracula believes English culture is superior to his own, and himself superior to all others. Perhaps this could help explain Stoker’s true thoughts on foreigners, but it is still very much unclear. Dracula is supposed to be viewed as undeniably pure evil, and his corrupting influence on others could reflect fears of foreign culture replacing English culture. Then again, Van Helsing is also a foreigner, but a force of good. The fact that some foreign cultures are seen as more acceptable than others adds an interesting layer to the novel. 

just guys being dudes

Robert’s feelings towards George were not strictly heterosexual. “It’s comfortable, but it seems so d***** lonely to-night. If poor George were sitting opposite to me, or—or even George’s sister—she’s very like him—existence might be a little more endurable” (Braddon 160). Throughout the novel, we see how obsessed Robert is with George’s disappearance. Grief and anger overtake Robert’s usually laid-back demeanor. Robert compares everything to how things were with George, and is frequently disappointed. The only woman he seems to feel strongly about is Clara, who—shocker—reminds him of George. I think Mary Elizabeth Braddon purposely crafted her story so that it was not overtly homosexual but used subtext to suggest that Robert and George’s relationship was not heterosexual. Robert and George reflected the male relationships Braddon observed in her own life, exemplifying how hypocritical Victorian high society was.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say many relationships between aristocratic Victorian men went far beyond platonic. Of course, homosexuality was considered a scandalous, promiscuous sin at the time, so coming out was almost unheard of. I believe there was a ton of internalized homophobia going on. People lived by strict social rules that decided what behaviors were acceptable or not. If you weren’t caught and followed Victorian social norms, you were assumed heterosexual. It’s like they thought homosexuality was just a bunch of flamboyant deviants running around with uncontrollable lust and low morals. This stereotyping and engrained heteronormativity allowed men to get intimately close with one another while maintaining good social standing. They weren’t gay, they were just realllllly close. At least, that was how they justified their behavior and minimized cognitive dissonance. This way, men could fulfill their social needs and not feel bad about it.

Victorian-era catfish?

“No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have so exaggerated every attribute of that delicate face as to give a lurid brightness to the blonde complexion, and a strange, sinister light to the deep blue eyes. No one but a pre-Raphaelite would have given to that pretty pouting mouth the hard and almost wicked look it had in the portrait” (Braddon 55).

At first glance, the portrait perfectly reflects Lady Audley’s likeness. It conveys in great detail her beauty and extravagance. But strangely, something feels off about it. Upon further inspection, the painter included details about the Lady that only someone with a very careful eye could discern. It gave the Lady an unsettling, evil aura that baffles the onlookers, who saw no such qualities in her themselves.

There is a contrast between the doll-like aesthetics and the malevolent tone befitting the artwork. Before reading, I sympathized with Lady Audley. I thought she probably made a bad decision and was presently regretting her choice. This passage alludes that Lady Audley’s secret may not simply be something she did in her youth. It illuminates the darkness of her true personality, which she has expertly hidden from the outside. In fact, she is so good at maintaining this fake image that observers rather question the artist’s motivations than doubt her sincerity. Pre-Raphaelite refers to a controversial group of painters that “sought to express a new moral seriousness and sincerity in their works” (Britannica, “Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood). The painter was doing his job and painting the subject as it was. This description of the portrait foreshadows Lady Audley’s ulterior motives and later behavior in the novel.