Dracula & Stoker: Birds of a Feather?

The juxtaposition of Dracula’s tender love for Jonathan with his aggressive control over the female vampires simultaneously questions and reinforces Victorian notions of sexuality and gender roles. Stoker pushes against heteronormativity while maintaining the subordination of women, potentially suggesting an expression of his own homosexuality within a patriarchal society. Dracula vehemently scolds the female vampires’ advances on Jonathan, marked by a cluster of violent words including “fury,” “strong,” “power,” “rage,” “wrath,” “hurled,” “beating,” and “beware.” (p. 46). These threatening descriptions boldly contrast with the cluster of caring words surrounding Dracula’s feelings towards Jonathan, such as “love,” “attentively,” “soft,” and “passion” (p. 46). Thus, Stoker creates a binary between Dracula’s love for Jonathan and his animosity towards the female vampires, both rejecting and supporting Victorian gender roles. Dracula’s obstruction of romantic/sexual encounters between Jonathan and the female vampires and his affirmation that he is capable of love after “looking at [Jonathan’s] face attentively” (p. 46), defies Victorian propriety about sexuality by suggesting homoerotic attraction. However, Dracula’s use of physical force to control the females, exemplified when “with a fierce sweep of his arm, he hurled the woman away from him, and then motioned to the others, as if he were beating them back…” (p. 46), seems like a step backwards, and detracts from prior progressive ideas of sexuality by conforming to age-old practices of female oppression.

By exploring new paths of sexuality while perpetuating patriarchal values, Stoker may be projecting himself onto Dracula, expressing his own homosexuality while reinforcing his masculine power. After Dracula tells the female vampires, “I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past,” he immediately follows with the question “Is it not so?” (p. 46). This might be risky, but I think that under the assumption that Dracula is a projection of Stoker’s sexuality, Dracula (and Stoker) may be insinuating that they’ve previously been with women, but now question their sexuality. This interpretation puts Dracula’s prey on Lucy in tension, and makes me wonder if Dracula is using Lucy to force a rekindled love for women, perhaps paralleling some aspect of Stoker’s personal life. Alternatively, Stoker may be implying bisexuality. In any case, Dracula’s contrasting treatment of love towards Jonathan and aggression towards the female vampires produces a simultaneous challenging of and conformance to Victorian gender roles, while also raising questions about Stoker’s own sexuality. 

Gone with the Wind

Passage: “The wind had has its own way with the Castle Inn, and had sometimes made cruel use of its power. It was the wind that battered and bent the low, thatched roofs of out-houses and stables… it was the wind, in short, that shattered and ruined, and rent, and trampled upon the tottering pile of buildings, and then flew shrieking off, to riot and glory in its destroying strength” (115)

This passage repeats the phrase “it was the wind” 5 times, each time to describe some kind of damage the wind inflicted on the Castle Inn. The language Braddon used to describe the relationship between the wind and the Inn is eerily similar to the language used to describe abusive relationships. I interpret this passage as a metaphor for domestic violence, with the wind representing the abusive partner (statistically, likely a male) and the Inn representing the victim (statistically, likely a female). Under this view, Braddon could have used this passage both to describe the physical deterioration of the Castle Inn and to sneak in a commentary about Victorian gender roles and politics. We know from Browning’s “The Last Duchess” that women were treated more as objects for men’s pleasures than sentient beings in their own right (given the Duke’s strong interest in ownership and control of the Duchess), which is supported by the Longman Anthology’s insight that “The ideal Victorian woman was supposed to be domestic and pure, selflessly motivated by the desire to serve others rather than fulfill her own needs” (p. 1061). Thus, it’s plausible to conclude that Braddon may have hidden a deeper meaning beneath this passage to commiserate the gender dynamics between Victorian husbands and wives. Given Luke’s new role as landlord of the Inn, and his history of threatening and harming Phoebe, the metaphor extends to the novel’s characters, with Phoebe as the Inn and Luke as the wind. 

The wind/Inn dynamic could also represent a potential relationship between a ghost and the Audley Estate. The physical properties of wind make it similar to a ghost, and the Inn’s function as a residence makes it similar to the Estate. We’ve discussed some theories in class about some sort of phantom presence surrounding Lady Audley, which this passage may be foreshadowing. Ultimately, the passage goes beyond description of the Castle Inn’s deterioration by establishing a metaphor for abusive husbands and a potential hint at a spiritual presence. 

Pronouns, Patriarchy, and Predictions

 

Passage: “Why, I have seen her under my wretched canvas tent, sitting by my side, with her boy in her arms, as plainly as I had ever seen her in the one happy year of our wedded life”  (26)

George’s description of his and Helen’s son as “her boy” instead of as “our boy” (26) suggests that he has trouble connecting with his son, and doesn’t claim him as his own. Braddon could also be hinting that the child is not George’s, but the product of an affair — which would align with the typical drama of sensation novels. The use of “her” instead of “our” also speaks to the role of women in the Victorian era. Due to separate spheres ideology and patriarchal values, George likely views his son as Helen’s responsibility, since child-rearing was a traditionally female role. I noticed that in ch. 7-13, after Helen’s death, George refers to his son as his own, which suggests a shift in character based either on his perceptions of Georgey or an assumption of responsibility that was only appropriate (based on gender roles) after his wife’s passing. George’s emphasis on their “one happy year” (26) is also significant, as it foreshadows that Helen’s death would prevent the couple from experiencing beyond that year. 

The visions George mentions occurred while Helen was in England and he was in Australia. This might be a stretch, but I have a theory that Lucy is actually Helen, and that Helen never really died. If true, this passage might pave the way for a reunion between George and Helen/Lucy in which George’s apparent sighting of her could be reduced to a mere vision, akin to the kind he had while in Australia. In essence, this passage foreshadows the end of Helen and George’s marriage as well as a poor relationship between George and his son. This foreshadowing is coupled with a nod to historical notions of patriarchy and an early prediction about Lucy’s identity and how that may emerge within the context of the Talboys.