Victorian culture centered around the adherence to social customs of restraint, decency and honor, and violation of these terms resulted in severe consequences. Bram Stoker’s Dracula raises questions regarding social and religious anxieties about what happens when traditional institutions fail. While Stoker’s honorable quartet contemplates the finishing of the beast of their conquest, Mina Harker examines the implications of her own vampiric experience. Mina voices her concerns: “I am not worthy…I am unclean to His eyes, and shall be until He may deign to let me stand forth in His sight as one of those who have not incurred his wrath” (Stoker 344). Mina wrestles with her right to exist not only in a man’s presence, but in the sight of God himself. Throughout the rest of the novel, the interactions between Dracula and the women of his objectification are laced with undertones of sexual assault, a highly ignored topic of Victorian consciousness. The men blame Dracula for this sin, yet Mina blames herself. She worries for her own purity and cleanliness because it is so valuable for the only offices afforded to her as a woman in the time period: a wife and mother. As a wife, Mina fears for the sacred bond of holy matrimony that binds her to Johnathan and therefore to society. God is originally at the center of the holy ties which bind man and woman together in marriage, (the basis of Victorian society) and Dracula’s infiltration of this sacred establishment amplifies Victorian concerns about the breakdown of traditional institutions.
If the audience takes Mina to be a paradigm of chaste Victorian woman, the anxiety which Dracula’s violation causes her is justified because it challenges her entire existence. Moreover, because of Victorian attitudes toward religion were in such turmoil at the time, the challenge to the favor of God is particularly interesting. Not only would Dracula’s intrusion into sacred bonds challenge the institution of marriage, but it also confronts the issue of personal salvation. Mina directly addresses this concern in her exclamations, but it also holds truth toward the ideas of the era. Dracula raises the question of whether progress is the will of God, or if deviating from social constructions founded on heavenly principles is actually a violation of His mandate, making humans unworthy of his favor. These constructions of evil challenge traditional truths of faith and institution, exemplifying Victorian anxieties in the era.
Victorian society praised conformity in their ridged ideas of gender roles. In this passage of Dracula by Bram Stoker, Andrew Holmwood arrives just in time to provide his fiancée, Lucy Westenra with blood that she needs to recover from her latest encounter with what the audience can only assume to be Dracula. The men who accompany the scene, Drs. Seward and Van Helsing worship his sacrifice of blood for Lucy’s revival. In this text, the over-glorification of the man’s position in a woman’s life is evidenced by Van Helsing’s coercion based the premise that he “can do more than any that love, and your courage is your best help” (Stoker 115). Though the science of blood transfusion was still in its more experimental stages, Van Helsing’s argument that his courage would be the most important asset of the blood is interesting. The interaction between the lovers upholds the rigidly structured gender roles of society based on the theoretical premise that a woman needs a male rescuer, and in a more severe sense that Lucy’s imminent peril can be solved by a man’s life-giving substance in order to be revived into her formerly youthful and vibrant self. There is a gradient of involvement at play in this passage in that Van Helsing is suggesting that the slightest gift of a man’s courage would be enough to save his fiancée from the horrible tortures that lie in death.
The melodrama of this haunting scene depicts Andrew as a valiant champion of love. At the mere suggestion that he provide aid, he proclaims enthusiasm: “‘My life is hers and I would give the last drop of blood in my body for her…If you knew how gladly I would die for her you would understand-” (Stoker 116). The result of Van Helsing’s diminishment of his sacrifice and amplification of his youthful merit cause a dramatic, desperate response. Andrew’s masculinity is the asset which makes this sacrifice worthy because, ultimately, Lucy is to become his property, so he would naturally see her as a part of himself. This raises questions about autonomy and the construction of gender roles around masculinity as a saving entity within a Victorian setting. In this display of passion comparable to Shakespeare’s Romeo’s passionate ballads, Andrew proclaims his duty to Lucy as a man, fittingly exemplifying the supremely Victorian virtue of melodrama manifested by his glorified masculinity.
“Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea. The most feminine and most domestic of all occupations imparts a magic harmony to her every movement, a witchery to her every glance…To do away with the tea-table is to rob a woman of her legitimate empire” (Braddon 222).
The Victorians cultivated rigid social structure, despite the time period of mounting social questioning of fronts such as women’s rights. This passage portrays the picture of domesticity embodied by Lady Audley, entertaining in her husband’s court. Lucy prepares tea under the scrupulous eye of her nephew, Robert. Because this passage is observed from the perspective of a man, it is quite telling of the expectations and unconscious biases that Victorian men hold with regard to their female counterparts. Robert’s choice of descriptors such as the repetition of the word “pretty” show a surface level of understanding of women, and reinforces the idea that he views her as an ornament for his uncle’s domestic pleasure. Within the private confines of his mind, and interestingly within the confines of the same sentence, he presumes that a woman being “feminine” and “domestic” are integral aspects of a home’s harmony. These adjectives indicate that it is a woman’s ability to be submissive that gives her value so to take this from her would be to rob her of her entire purpose, as suggested by the tea table empire. If a man gives a woman the world in the form of a tea table, it is quite a small sphere is which he expects her to live.
What is interesting about this passage as well is the comparison of feminine harmony to witchcraft in the second sentence. In a way, this choice of word is poignant because, to mention the idiom, Lucy appears to have “cast a spell” upon her husband. He is compliant to her whims because she is the perfect domestic socialite – the pinnacle of femininity and the epitome of perfection. Throughout subsequent chapters, it is by her delicate pining and gentle pleading that Lady Audley is able to manipulate and misdirect audiences. This realization speaks volumes about the novel as a whole, and though it may sound crazy, it is possible that Lady Audley uses her femininity as a means of deception, which is in direct opposition to the common conceptions about female gentility. Lucy’s actions in subsequent chapters suggest a mask that she uses in public, and a more private desperation for control which lead her to manipulate her position as a beautiful, ornamental wife. It also poses the question to her character is a critique of seemingly archaic womanhood in contrast to broader historical context showing an evolving female character.
Paragraph beginning “That one quiet evening had sealed Sir Michael’s fate…” and ending “Sir Michael Audley had fallen ill of the terrible fever called love” (Braddon 12-13).
This paragraph begins with the description of Lucy Graham, a charming governess beloved by all for her quiet beauty. Sir Michael Audley, upon meeting Miss Graham, wrestles with the complexity of his emotions. He sees her largely in a gentle light and recognizes her femininity, yet this is almost immediately and violently juxtaposed with the tumultuous conflict over love which occupies his mind. Michael cries (inaudibly), “Destiny! Why, she was his destiny! He had never loved before” (Braddon 12). This phrase indicates that Michaels sees love not as a relationship between people, but as a means of ownership and submission between those who partake in the marriage vow. He also places the value of his happiness on her by saying that she alone is what his future holds. This view of ownership and power dynamics is further substantiated by the description of his wrestling thoughts. He describes his definition of love as a, “fever, this longing, this restless, uncertain, miserable hesitation; these cruel fears that his age was an insurmountable barrier to happiness” (Braddon 12). The emotions of a man are seen in this passage as a plague or something to be pitied. Both the presentation of Lucy Graham and Michael Audley’s view of love and emotion seem to fall within typical expectations between sexes: the female being sweet and silent; a beacon of light in a dark world, while the male is vocal and dominant. This passage appears to be about a man’s ability to express emotion, as Michael Audley repeatedly struggles with his emotional desires, his age, and his past marriage. Because of the strength of the words being expressed, but only within the confines of Sir Audley’s mind, this passage implies an apparently typical emotional alienation and the invocation of a public mask to protect private life.