Doubt in Dracula

Stoker’s use of the different mysteries in Dracula draws attention to the doubt and uncertainty that troubled the minds of many Victorians.  Throughout the last couple chapters, Lucy’s condition seems to be getting worse and worse and the trained medical professionals don’t seem to be able to do anything about it.  In his letter to Arthur on page 121 and 122, Dr. Seward expresses the uncertainty he feels by saying, “I am in doubt and so have…. written to my old friend.”  This could be interpreted as the idea that people might not be able to trust the seemingly most reliable people in their lives, such as their doctors.  There is also self-doubt that plays out in the novel in Dr. Seward’s diary.  He uses phrases like “strange and sudden change” on page 110 and “… but what it is I do not yet know” on page 77 to demonstrate his confusion about the proceedings of the madman at his asylum.  It appears as though Dr. Seward at times is quite confused about the patient and how to help him, questioning his own medical talent.  Many characters are flooded with self-doubt and confusion, which could potentially persuade readers to believe that stronger powers (like the supernatural or in potentially religion in Victorian culture) are really in control and ordinary people can do little about it.  There is also evidence of this on page 171 when Dr. Van Helsing says, “She is dying.  It will not be long now…”.  The men have worked tirelessly to try and cure Lucy, but ultimately it is out of their control and she is going to die no matter what.

Lucy and Mina as “New Women”

Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, compares the idea of the “New Woman” to the traditional roles of women in Victorian society through his two female protagonists. Mina Harker provides an example of what the new woman may appear to be, showing traits of what would be considered masculine within the time period. As well, Lucy Graham initially appears to be a suitable example of how a woman should have appeared during this time period, however later in the novel she has traits opposing these ideals. Stoker writes his two female protagonists, Lucy Graham and Mina Harker, as women who oppose traditional gender roles and behave in ways that may be interpreted as feminist, which provides a window into the ways that gender roles were changing towards the end of the era. Mina Harker values education and has been revealed to have been the one to collect each of the journal entries that have been deemed relevant to the case involving Dracula, and believes that women should be more equal to men. In Mina’s journal, she writes “But I suppose the New Woman won’t condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it, too! There’s some consolation in that” which reveals that she finds comfort in the idea that in the future, some of the gender roles firmly set in the Victorian era would be challenged (Stoker, 100). Mina is portrayed as being like the “New Woman” because she challenges these gender roles through instances like these.
At the beginning of the novel, Lucy Graham appears to be the opposite of the “New Woman” because she is portrayed as excitable, feminine, and eager to settle into married life. Despite this initial characterization, Lucy’s sexuality appears to be different than expected of the Victorian woman, as during this time period women were expected to behave modestly and to exhibit “domestic” and “pure” behavior (Damrosch, Dettmar 1061). Lucy writes “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker, 67) which is a scenario that would have been highly frowned upon during this time period. As well, in the moments before her death, the somewhat posessed Lucy was said to have asked Arthur to kiss her in a “soft, voluptuous voice” which surprised the men in the room (Stoker, 172). The Victorian woman was not expected to express their sexuality in such a manner, which shows that Lucy is also a character who defies traditional gender roles. Stoker therefore writes both women as showing traits of the “New Woman,” as they both defy gender roles in these different ways.

The Not-So-Holy Trinity in Dracula

Bram Stoker’s status as an Irish Catholic manifests itself in Dracula through rosaries, prayers, the sign of the cross, and the power of religious material against the evils of the unrelated supernatural. If the rightness of holy Catholic imagery and objects is confirmed by their presence when opposed to Dracula, their inversion in his support must strike the reader as deeply unsettling. This occurs most notably in the presentation of the three vampiric women as an inversion of the Catholic holy trinity.
The fact that there are three women in the first place immediately throws up religious flags. The Catholic association with the number three is primarily through a belief in the holy trinity, made up of the father, son, and holy spirit. Notably, in this configuration two things are alike (the father and son, being God and Christ, personified as human) while one is not (the holy spirit, abstracted and not often depicted as humanoid). In the same way, Stoker’s three women are split up into a two-similar-one-different configuration. Two of the women “were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count, and great dark, piercing eyes…” (Stoker 44). The third stands out, physically “fair, as fair as can be, with great, wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires,” (Stoker 44) which separate her from the other two.
That the two darker figures stand separately while the fair-haired woman interacts with Jonathan furthers her role as the ‘holy spirit’ figure of the three. The generally accepted idea is that human beings don’t interact with the father or son while on Earth, but the presence of the holy spirit is felt to be physically effective even as humans live. “The fair girl advanced and bent over me…” (Stoker 45) makes her the only one of the three to physically touch Jonathan. Dracula appears and separates him from the women before the other two have contact with him. In doing so, the father and son remain distant—because Jonathan has not died at the administrations of the three women he cannot yet have contact with those two parts of this inverted holy trinity.
Stoker using the inversion of religious imagery as a horror tactic is important because it speaks to Victorian fears surrounding religion. Much in the same way that Victorians feared the misuse of machinery, the perversion of religion was a wide societal concern and the reality that religion is inherently a belief in the supernatural was at odds with the logical ideals of the day. Stoker takes an acceptable belief in the supernatural and twists it to showcase an unacceptable manifestation of the supernatural, hitting a Victorian reader in a particularly twisted way.

Fancy me a cup of three will ya please?

While reading Dracula by Bram Stoker there has been some really interesting points being made about 19th century culture being portrayed in the writing and how social roles are being changed in the book and during the time period as well. However, one aspect of the book has always intrigued me from the start and that is the fact that there are three “witches” that Jonathan Harker meets towards the end of chapter three. I found this very exciting because in one of my favorite plays, Macbeth by William Shakespeare. In this play there’re three witches that lure Macbeth into a quite a horrible person. I get a sense that this will be the case in Dacula because of the first interaction that Jonathan had with them. However, putting aside, the characters for a moment I wanted to focus on the number three for a second. I did some research into why the number three comes up in writing a lot and wheat I found intrigued me. The number three represents in some cultures a beginning, a middle, and an end but what I found most important is the fact that some cultures believe that humans have a spirit, a soul, and a body. After reading this I completely understand why in a text like Dracula and Macbeth why a writer might have the antagonist of the story to have something to do with three because not only could you hide the character in three personalities you could have three different horrific events lead up to a final problem, like a beginning middle and an end. The possibilities are numerous. I’m very excited to see how this book plays out in terms of using the number three. 

Gender Roles in Dracula

Femininity and the role of women is a theme in many Victorian novels and appears in Dracula quite frequently. The idea of the “new women” is described as a woman who does not conform to societies norms. In Dracula, there is a lot of confusion over who is the true “new woman” because although Lucy will be married to Johnathon, she is educated and independent. On the other hand, Mina is unmarried but wishes to settle down into her traditional role as a woman yet proclaims that she would marry multiple husbands if possible (Stoker, 64-65).

Additionally, the three women who live with Dracula are often described by critics as his brides. Although the story never calls them this it would make some sense. Dracula provides a home and food for them and serves the masculine role while they look beautiful. When they try to bite Johnathon, Dracula tells them not to and they obey him (Stoker, 46). The typical masculine and feminine roles seem to be at play until Dracula has a moment of intimacy with Johnathon and tells him, “yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so? Well, now I promise you that when I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will” (Stoker, 46).

In my opinion, Stoker seems to not know how to portray these characters with the changing gender roles in the Victorian era. He wants to portray the “new woman” yet throws in so many moments of traditional women and gender roles. I think he is using Dracula to sort out his own feelings on the changing world, and each of the characters is representing a different level of femininity or masculinity. Characters such as Arthur and Mr. Morris are portrayed as masculine, while Johnathon and Dracula have some femininity. Mina and Lucy switch between the new woman and the traditional woman, as if it is bad to be just one or the other.

The Negative Connotation That Comes With Expression of Sexuality in Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is not afraid to touch on sexuality within the novel, more specifically the outward expression of sexuality. In fact, the novel attempts to show that the expression of sexuality should be avoided since individuals who do so tend to be characterized or confronted with evil and danger. When Jonathon is awakened by the three overly sexualized women he states “There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips” (Page 45). Here, the women’s sexuality is noted as unavoidable and tempting. To describe these women words like “uneasy”, “wicked”, “burning”, and “deadly fear” were used to associate them as evil and dangerous because of their expression of sexuality. Additionally, not only are the women’s sexuality being expressed but they seem to cause Jonathon to express his sexuality too. He expresses a need to kiss their red lips even though he is scared and is engaged. This makes expression of sexuality to be seen as a source for unfaithfulness and the loss of socially acceptable ways of behaving. This word association makes readers think of overt sexuality as a negative personal trait that eventually leads to a terrible fate in oneself and in those one interacts with. Individuals may correlate expression of sexuality with individuals who are wrong-doers, dangerous, or a bad influence to other sexually pure individuals in society. Given that this novel was written in the Victorian era, it is rational to say that the author, and the society he lives in, are fearful of creating a community filled with free expression of sexual desires and sexual identity. Draculaworks well in reinforcing the idea that sexuality is meant to stay private and never exposed in order to avoid being seen as a wicked and a promiscuous person who could potentially rid others of their purity.

Holmes: A God Amongst Men

I’ve always found myself being especially drawn in by intense description. Adjectives and adverbs and similes all give me a great picture in my head when I am reading a text. In my last post I talked about the description in of the mansion in Lady Audley’s Secret. In this post I want to talk about the description of the hound in The Hound of the Baskervilles on page 149.  There is a categorical cluster of words that has to do with fire. Smoldering, flickering flame, hellish, I think are all used on purpose. Conan-Doyle wants us to visually see what Watson and Holmes are seeing. The best way to do that is to give us an ungodly amount of adjectives. So what? What’s different about this description as opposed to the mansion description is that Watson is trying to bring us to Holmes’s level. I think that this is a common theme throughout the book because Watson, the narrator, wants us to know that Holmes is a god amongst men and we can’t understand what is going on. So the way for us to know what is going on is through extensive adjectives and explanations, because we couldn’t possibly understand what the great Sherlock Holmes is experiencing. Sure the passage might be giving the description of the dog, but really I think that this passage is just Watson belittling the audience because he doesn’t believe that we are intelligent enough to know what’s going on.

The Night He Risks It All He Also Risks His Life

“Just as I frequented ball-rooms and opera-houses — because they amused me, and because I had nothing better to do with my leisure hours. But on this occasion, it was very different–now, for the first time in my life, I felt what the passion for play really was. My success first bewildered, and then, in the most literal meaning of the word, intoxicated me. Incredible as it may appear, it is nevertheless true, that I only lost when I attempted to estimate chances, and played according to previous calculation. If I left everything to luck, and staked without any care or consideration, I was sure to win–to win in the face of every recognized probability in favour of the bank. At first some of the men present ventured their money safely enough on my colour; but I speedily increased my stakes to sums which they dared not risk. One after another they left off playing, and breathlessly looked on at my game”

This passage jumped out at me when I first read because of Collins’s interesting use of stream of consciousness. His writing gives the readers a unique way of seeing exactly what the speaker is thinking. Faulkner’s thoughts are short and sporadic. They are often detached from one another, but never straying from the focus of the passage, Faulkner’s game of Rouge et Noir. There is a constant repetition of the words I, My and me. He speaks of the game as though it is his, using possessive words such as, “my colour” “my game” “my success” (Collins 32). The speaker is so self-infatuated that he becomes oblivious to his surroundings. This passage takes place before he is drugged but he still states that the game, “in the most literal meaning of the word, intoxicated me” (Collins 32). Collin’s early references to the speaker’s disorientation and intoxication foreshadows his later on intense experience with drugs. Another passage that reveals Faulkner’s self-infatuation is when the man painting him comments on his appearance, “I shall see your natural expression on your face if I can only get you to talk about that adventure”. At this moment, not only is Faulkner so enthralled with his story that he has forgotten about modeling but also his story is so self-oriented that he would be showing his true self while telling it.

Sensation and Discomfort

Throughout Lady Audley’s Secret and A Terribly Strange Bed there is a theme of overloading, repetitive description of certain domestic and natural spaces that really help shape the novel and short story as sensation pieces of literature. I argue that without these passages of repetitive, exasperated detail the novels would not be nearly as effective as sensation novels. A sensation novel as we discussed in class is meant to make modern day readers nervous and uncomfortable. In the Victorian era, sensation novels not only were made to thrill and make people nervous, they made people very uncomfortable. Sensation novels pushed the bounds of what was discussed publicly, outside of the domestic, private sphere during the Victorian era. The language used in both pieces of literature helps the authors create this suspenseful, discomforting, nervous energy as you read. To point out one specific passage from A Terribly Strange Bed, on pages 35-36, that begins with “I soon felt not only that I could not go to sleep…”. In this passage, there is a repetition of “Now, I…” that goes on without a sentence break for about 9 lines. The passage depicts Mr. Faulkner being very uncomfortable and not being able to fall asleep while in the bed inside the gambling house. As I read this passage, I began to realize that not only was he uncomfortable, I was beginning to get uncomfortable along with him. This sensation I was getting while reading made me think about the genre of sensation novels themselves. They are quite literally made to make you feel something, which was effectively done in this passage by going in to expansive detail about Mr. Faulkner’s thoughts and feelings. Pushing beyond my own feelings and thinking about my knowledge through class about the Victorian period, the most safe places for people were supposed to be the domestic sphere. A passage like this that takes place within a domestic space, where readers of that time would assume he is safe, brings out how unsafe he really is by creating suspense as to what is going on, why he can’t sleep, and what is to come in his future. The suspense created by the repetitive “Now I…” in the passage I touched on above made readers feel unsteady and unsure of what was to come next (little did they know he was about to be (almost) suffocated by the bed itself). Without the repetition and use of such descriptive language, sensation novels would not have been as effective in pushing the bounds of comfortability and societal norms during the Victorian era. Without this style of writing within the sensation genre that we have now seen in a sensation poem, a sensation novel, and a sensation short story, I believe that the sensation genre itself would not be the same, may not exist, may not be remembered or read, re-done, made into movies, shows, etc. still so frequently today, and/or would not be as effective of a genre as a whole.

Despair in The Midst of Opulence:

“I should be preaching a very stale sermon, and harping upon a very familiar moral, if I were to seize this opportunity of declaiming against art and beauty, because my lady was more wretched in this elegant apartment than many a half-starved sempstress in her dreary garret… and all the treasures that had been collected for her could have given her no pleasure but one, the pleasure of flinging them into a heap beneath her feet, and trampling upon them and destroying them in her cruel despair” (Braddon 292-293).

In this passage, while surrounded by her bounty of luxurious possessions, Lady Audley sulks over her hopeless situation following the discovery of her crimes. The “Benvunuto Cellini carvings and the Sevres porcelain” are only a few of her many exotic treasures that, as the narrator explains, suddenly do not “give her happiness.” Ironically, she is more miserable in her “elegant apartment” than “many a half-starved sempstress in her dreary garret.” Lucy’s distress in the company of her opulent room represents a distortion of the Victorian values and desires to have worldly treasures at their fingertips. During the Victorian era, English imperialism was on the rise, and the ownership of ornate foreign items became a new obsession. However, Braddon illustrates the possession of exotic riches in a negative light: “all the treasures that had been collected for her could have given her no pleasure but one, the pleasure of flinging them into a heap beneath her feet, and trampling upon them and destroying them in her cruel despair.” The mere suggestion of ruin and disposal of such valuable riches would possibly shock the Victorian reader, for Lucy’s displeasure represents a rejection of the esteemed upper-class life of grandeur. Furthermore, the narrator uses a sarcastic tone while describing Lady Audley’s elaborate belongings. For instance, the narrator describes “wealth and luxury” as “such plasters” and a “circle of careless pleasure-seeking creatures,” which alludes to the superficiality of a seemingly desirable social status. Furthermore, this demonstrates Braddon’s criticism on the materialistic values of the Victorian Society, as she suggests that happiness does not necessarily come from the enviable and lavish life of wealth and luxury.