To Conquer or to be Conquered?

After finishing Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I’ve come to the conclusion that Stoker incorporates reverse colonization into the plot as a result of Victorian era politics inducing feelings of guilt and pride.  As the excellence and superiority of Britain begins to come under question, many Victorian authors turn their colonizer characters (white British people) into the victims.  In Stoker’s book, Jonathan and Mina Harker, Dr Seward, and other protagonists are under attack by a foreign entity, or Dracula.  Dracula is portrayed with many of the imperialistic traits associated with Britain at the time.  For example, when Jonathan hears about the vampire’s family history, Dracula describes his people as a “conquering race” as he lists their bloody victories (Stoker 36).  He and his bloodline are written to be imperialists, and Dracula’s plan to move to England and feed on its people makes him the conqueror of the story.  The choice to make such a character the antagonist reveals that many Victorians feel guilt over defeating other countries to grow their empire.  Hence, the traits Britain possesses are seen in evil characters.  However, rather than admit to this fault, I believe Victorians manifest this guilt as fantasizing about being the victim.  And so, in the world of fiction, where anything is possible, Stoker makes his British characters the “good guys” who are justified in defeating their enemy because he deserves it.  He gives them an excuse to be the conqueror once again.  In this way, Stoker and other Victorian era authors smother their guilt by desperately justifying the actions of British characters as a result of their pride.  According to Stoker, Britain may be imperialistic, but only because they are superior and others deserve it.

Because of the nature of the antagonist, it seems as though Britain views imperialism as a negative and evil trait, however, it does not hide the fact that in the end, the white British characters come out on top.  Stoker’s pride far outweighs his guilt.  At the end of the novel, the British protagonists are the ones who “shear through the throat” of Dracula, birth a baby and are each “happily married” (Stoker 400) (Stoker 402).  Of course, with the one non-British character dying an honorable death.  Although Stoker allows some of the Victorian’s cultural guilt to seep into the book via Dracula’s characteristics and family history, when Victorian era Britain’s superiority is waning, Stoker’s pride inflates, as if to compensate for it.  Consequently, he cannot bring himself to suggest that British people could possibly be the bad guys, much less the losers.  He wants Britain to retain its image of grandeur, and uses this novel to reach that goal.

Sexy Women are Evil

          In reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula, I have reached the conclusion that through his depiction of the three vampiric women who attempted to suck Jonathon Harker’s blood, Stoker believes that Victorian women having power, especially sexual power over men, is unnatural.  As Jonathon wakes to find three women talking about “kissing” him, he first describes them to be fair and beautiful, but then claims that something about them makes him “uneasy,” and he feels an uncontrollable “longing” and “deadly fear” (Stroker, 45).  The three women have a strong sexual allure that makes Jonathon want to receive their kisses, but this uncharacteristic yearning also terrifies Jonathon.  He has a fiance, and would never wish to be involved with any other woman.  I believe that in writing this scene, Stoker intends to portray women who are seductive as evil beings who can convince perfectly honest men to leave their wives/girlfriends/etc.  To drive home the point that they are evil, he writes the goal of the vampires to be obtaining blood, rather than just having a sexual experience. 

          As one of the women descends upon Jonathon to suck his blood, he notes that she possesses a “deliberate voluptuousness…both thrilling and repulsive,” and she behaves “like an animal” (Stoker 45).  Stoker emphasizes the point that women who exercise sexual power are unseemly when he includes how the vampire’s actions repulse Jonathon.  This quote also hints that not only are seductive women evil, but in Victorian society, a woman who can cause a man’s loyalty to waver is inhuman.  In comparing the lady to an animal and making her a vampire, Stoker insinuates that the only type of woman who could actually influence a man could not possibly be human, because in Victorian society, men have all the authority.  In addition, Stoker seems to believe that Victorian men are loyal and morally sound people, so cheating on their significant other could only be the fault of some unnatural force produced by an inhuman woman, just like how Jonathon appears to be under hypnosis when he has thoughts of kissing the vampires. 

          I believe this inclusion to the book is a result of Stoker’s fear of changing gender roles in the Victorian era.  Women who gain more influence during this time must be witches or vampires, and Stoker worries that men will become adulterous, and innocent, proper Victorian women will get cheated on.  


Clara is NOT Like Other Girls

Page 200, “‘Then I will do it myself…my brother’s murderer?'”

This passage portrays Clara Talboys as very stubborn, independent, and strong-willed.  It is an excellent example of her characterization, in which readers realize how much she loved her brother and how resolute she is about finding him, to the point of telling Robert “shall you or I find my brother’s murderer?” (Braddon 200).  In the Victorian era, such brash behavior by a woman would normally be seen as unacceptable, but to Robert, it’s actually appealing, as it is for a just cause.  He thinks that her passion makes her even more beautiful, and that she is unlike all of the other women in his life because of it.  This leads me to believe that the author is attempting to push the idea that strong, self-sufficient women should be the norm over typical Victorian women who are complacent with their role as a man’s accessory.  Mary Elizabeth Braddon is unsatisfied with the treatment of women for that time period, and portraying Clara as the most atypical yet attractive female character is her way of speaking on this.  However, this passage also reveals that Clara can only act this way because of her wealth.  She tells Robert “I have money left me by one of my aunts,” so she can hire people to help her search for George.  It is made clear that in this era, a woman can only have power, or act without a man, when she is rich.  This point goes back to what the author is trying to prove, adding that it is unfortunate that in the Victorian era, women can only flourish and be their most attractive when money frees them from dependency.

Extended Close Reading of Lady Audley’s Secret

The passage I selected is on page 72, “Yes…in the portrait.”

The passage describes a portrait of Lady Audley painted by a pre-Raphaelite.  The narrator emphasizes this type of painter’s ability to render even the smallest of details, and it shows in “every glimmer of gold” and “every shadow” (Braddon, 72).  With this talent, the painter gives a “lurid lightness” to her “blonde complexion”, a “sinister light” to her “deep blue eyes”, and a “wicked look” to her “pretty pouting mouth”.  The juxtaposition of the darker attributes against the otherwise pleasing features of Lady Audley leads me to believe that she intentionally hides an ominous side underneath her beauty and fair appearance.  In addition, the repetition of mentioning that “no one but a pre-Raphaelite” could bring this side of her to light means that only someone with an immense aptitude for spotting the subtleties of a subject would be able to detect these aspects of Lady Audley (72).  This declaration in turn proves that there actually is a dark side and suggests that Lady Audley works hard to hide it successfully.  Until this point, Lady Audley’s hidden side had only suggested a big secret.  For example, when Phoebe and Luke find a baby’s shoe and lock of hair in a secret drawer belonging to the Lady on page 34.  However, I think this painting is an indication of her secretive side actually being an evil one, giving Lady Audley potential to be the unexpected antagonist of the story.  Her big secret will reveal a dark past, and her attempts to keep it hidden will combat the protagonist or plot’s efforts to divulge the truth behind her picturesque facade.