The Morose Reality of the Feminine

Throughout the text of Stoker’s Dracula, one can gather that the cost of being a woman extends farther than the immediate concern of being a target of the vampire himself. We have spent the duration of this class discussing how the female identity severely incapacitates the possibilities a woman may have in her current society, and that the true power was found through the passive manipulation of men around her. We have seen this in Dracula, in Lucy’s power in having multiple lovers, but also in texts such as Lady Audley’s Secret, where Lady Audley was able to better her social status in marriage through her natural beauty. Dracula also highlights instances in which women must remember their place in the unfortunate reality of current society. As Jonathan and Mina speak over breakfast about killing Dracula, the page 334 finishes with Jonathan saying, “‘Because […] ‘he can live for centuries, and you are but a mortal woman. Time is now to be dreaded-since once he put that mark upon your throat.'” Aside from the literal interpretation of the text, which is that Mina is now in danger given that she has been bitten, this also is testimony to a larger theme of how a woman is never truly free from the male grasp. While Dracula can literally live for centuries, it also speaks to the fact that a name can live forever, as we have learned in My Last Duchess where the Duke proclaims his name has lived for hundreds of years. A woman’s name, and therefore her identity, is fleeting under the patriarchal rule, and will only last as long as her own life. Finally, the fact that Mina is not only physically “marked” by Dracula when he bit her, but also that she is marked with stigma further supports that the power a man has over a woman’s identity during this time will always be looming over any efforts a woman may make to escape it.

Happiness: A Double-Edged Sword

   Between pages 67-68 of Stoker’s Draculathere is an in-depth look at how the role of women and sexuality interact not only with the text, but also with the time of the Victorian EraThe passage is a letter written by Lucy, to her dearest friend, about her stream-of-consciousness regarding male suitors of this time. In particular, the last two paragraphs of the letter on page 68 underscore the young woman’s conflicting views on not only her miscellaneous male suitors, but also on her relationship to men as a wholeThis correspondence is a testament to how Stoker depicts the subtlety of Lucy’s vanity lying under the surface of a tearful letter; a successful weaponization of sexuality that was a popular theme in the texts of the Victorian Era. Lucy begins the letter with discussing her fear about becoming an old, settled-down married woman, while pairing this gripe with the additional anecdotes about her multiple requests for a hand in marriage. This raises the question of whether these statements are a progressive, feminist standpoint or the complete opposite. On the surface, one could say the idolization of men in her letter could be aligned with how women were expected to perceive men during this time, but the claim is that this is a condescending statement on Lucy’s part, who is actually gathering power from her gender. Lucy laments about how each man responds to her denial in a hand in marriage, with a repeated notion of “happiness.” This could be about the happiness Lucy is experiencing, or the lack thereof presented by her suitors. Lucy contradicts herself repeatedly when sharing the heartbreak of her lovers, and complaining about the inability to have multiple lovers at once by sharing the strength that men have and to see them in pain breaks her heart, but also repeatedly shares that she is happy. In the end of the letter, Lucy finishes with, “My dear, this quite upset me, and I feel I cannot write of happiness just at once, after telling you of it; and I don’t wish to tell of the number three till it can all be happy.” (68) This statement is followed immediately with a further telling about her third suitor, implying that this happiness she speaks of is present, but will not let herself express it externally out of guilt or perception of others. This reinforces the idea that Lucy is secretly aware of her power as a woman against men, and revels in it by consistently proclaiming the strength of men. Therefore, if she is able to harm a man, she is inadvertently more powerful than him. 

Secrets of the Heart

“Nobody ever remembered getting upon what is popularly called the blind side of Harcourt Talboys. He was like his own square-built, northern-fronted, shelterless house. There were no shady nooks in his character into which one could creep for shelter from his hard daylight. He was all daylight. He looked at everything in the same broad glare of intellectual sunlight, and would see no softening shadows that might alter the sharp outlines of cruel facts, subduing them to beauty. I do not know if I express what I mean, when I say that there were no curves in his character—that his mind ran in straight lines, never diverging to the right or the left to round off their pitiless angles. With him right was right, and wrong was wrong. He had never in his merciless, conscientious life admitted the idea that circumstances might mitigate the blackness of wrong or weaken the force of right. He had cast off his only son because his only son had disobeyed him, and he was ready to cast off his only daughter at five minutes’ notice for the same reason.” (Chapter 3) 


   This paragraph is a perfect example of how Mary Elizabeth Braddon uses subliminal messaging in order to foreshadow a strong parallel in defining characteristics between characters. This also speaks to the idea of what is idealized or “correct” during the Victorian era. We begin the text with a deep, agonizing description of the Audley estate, and how the complexity in both architecture and nature creates a home for darkness and secrets underneath. Whenever a new setting is introduced, it is not only establishing a scene, but pushing to identify potentially revealing components of the characters it holds. The instance that was chosen is right before Robert visits Harcourt Talboys, the father of the missing George Talboys. Robert goes to George’s father looking for answers, not only regarding his disappearance, but to see how his absence is affecting his father’s emotional state. By describing not only where Harcourt lives, but also using this as an opportunity to describe his emotional tendencies, Braddon is setting up the reader’s expectation of how the father will respond. Harcourt is described as sharp, and brutal. His house is described as shelterless, and completely unveiled from darkness. There is not a single detail left to be disregarded, and this is presented as a cruel, incorrect way of handling situations, such as the alienation of his son. This way of handling family situations is presented as unappealing, as during this time, the secrecy and lies were not only much more comforting to the ego, but also soothes the fear the one’s reputation will be squandered.  

   This is important to understanding the text as a whole as it aligns with the Victorian mentality regarding the emotional self at this time. The Victorian era was a time where the self, emotions, and decisions are dissected in great deal through creation of countless poems and texts. The straightforward approach of analysis wouldn’t suite the display of extravagant wealth and power that was allowing the people of this time to thrive, and can only be shown through mirroring the extravagance of drama in secrecy and lies. These dramatic components create layers of a person as a whole, aside from just the plot. 

Consider the Calm After the Storm

The passage I chose can be found on pg. 77, and describes the bright, natural beauty surrounding the estate after a dreadful storm. The passage can be found to use multiple different dichotomies that we have discussed as a class, but in particular the idea of light/dark, and using nature to facilitate an understanding of what is secretly happening within the lives of those so close by. The emphasis on nature is an objective passive way of making commentary on the lives in the estate. This could be connecting to current issues, or foreshadowing for the future of the text. There is not only descriptive imagery, but also usage of certain colors that evoke a specific emotional response. For example, the commentary on the color of the corn is more for the reader to see happiness or positivity will soon be following after a storm, inferring a conflict. This conflict could be within the self or interpersonal, but regardless the same point is illustrated. Using this same imagery of the bright corn, their stalks also lift high to the sun after missing it dearly in the storm, being battered by the elements. This might be a little crazy, but potentially the stalk is supposed to represent how the the “core” or inner self is seeking a greater good, is yearning for a newfound brightness in life, but also “brighter” qualities. When light and dark are brought up as a theme, this can be seen typically as a conflict between the two, but I’m challenging that in the instance of the Audley estate, the two actually exist in a parallel fashion. that although there may be calm in one aspect, there is a brewing storm in another. The “so what” of this is that it further bolsters the idea that the author using nature as a reflection of what is going on with the characters of the text.