Coming Out of the Closet – …Or Coffin.

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, many hints to sexuality can be found. While it may seem that this is limited to a heteronormative form of sexuality, the text is not free of homoeroticism. In the passage after the three ladies tried to seduce Jonathan, Dracula shouts: “How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me! Beware how you meddle with him, or you’ll have to deal with me” (Stoker 46).

This passage proves that Dracula becomes territorial or even jealous when it comes to Jonathan. By forbidding the women to “touch” or even only to “cast eyes on him”, Dracula claims Jonathan for himself. That nobody is even allowed to look at him shows that the count is very sensitive about Jonathan’s contact to other people. The rhetorical questions and exclamation points emphasize that he is very serious and enraged about the women trying to be in close sexual context with Jonathan. It is also revealing that Dracula would forbid the women to have anything to do with Jonathan in the first place. Furthermore, Dracula demands for the women do go back and threatens that they would have to “deal with” him, in case that they would lay hands on him again.

This is followed by a claim from the women that Dracula was unable to love which he denies. That the word “love” is brought up multiple times is surprising because the passage about Jonathan and the women was mainly about desire and fear, as we discussed in class. The shift towards Dracula’s ability to love raises the question of why it is important in the situation and what Jonathan has to do with it. Additionally, Dracula is not specific about the gender of his previous love affairs. The simple conclusion would be: Dracula feels homoerotic love (or at least affection) towards Jonathan which leads to jealousy when Jonathan desires women.

Godless at Sea

The story of Dracula investigates the safety of the domestic, which is threatened by the unknown. This reflects the fears of the Victorian era, as imperialism raised worries about the dangers of the foreign. The character of Dracula is the centermost example of this binary, but it is explored as well in various other characters and scenes.

In Chapter 7, a newspaper excerpt provides the log of the Demeter, the mysterious ship that arrived in Whitby’s harbor after a horrendous storm. The log chronicles the ship’s journey, throughout which members of the crew disappeared one by one. At midnight on August 2nd, the captain writes that yet another crew member was lost. He also describes how the ship was wreathed in a dense fog that had seemingly followed them for days. Though the first mate once caught a glimpse of their surroundings through the fog, the ship was nearly completely lost. At the end of the entry, the captain writes that God had abandoned them (Stoker 94).

The repeated mention of the “fog,” which is impossible to see through and seems to move with them, indicates an element of mystery and eeriness, as well as a possibility of something supernatural. This is very evocative of the Gothic. By contrast, there is a repeated reference to “God” or “The Lord,” which sets up a binary against the idea of something potentially unholy. There are multiple sources of unholiness around the ship: the paranormal fog and the evil force that is lurking on board, Dracula. Since the beginning of the novel, Dracula has been set up as a sort of anti-God, such as how the presence of the crucifix wards him off. This is reinforced at the end of this passage when the captain writes, “God seems to have deserted us” (Stoker 94). Dracula represents an evil so unholy that God Himself has abandoned ship, literally. Between the fog and the malevolent spirit on board, the setting has already been illustrated as unordinary, and yet there is the additional aspect of the sea. The sea is supposed to be the sailor’s safe haven, their familiar territory, but now it is a place of danger and extreme unfamiliarity. The fog itself creates a literal barrier between the doomed ship and the real world. This vignette parallels what happened to Jonathan Harker; the sailors’ journey began as a seemingly ordinary excursion into what should be familiar territory, but instead they were entrapped and cut off from the rest of reality, and preyed upon by a monster. Overall, this passage illustrates a recurring theme throughout the book: the contrast between the familiar and the unknown, the domestic and the foreign, the friend and the stranger.

Red, White, and… Black?

Visual juxtaposition is a wonderful medium, both in literature and visual arts, through which a creator can express different themes or messages. Dracula has an abundance of light-dark contrast, only it often adds a third color: red. Stoker uses this trio of colors to communicate the fear of foreignness being allowed to infiltrate Victorian life.

Why do I say “allowed”? Lucy. In chapter 10, as Dr. Seward and Van Helsing are finishing Lucy’s (first) blood transfusion, they finally notice the two red puncture marks on her neck, conveniently hidden by–wait for it–a black ribbon. (Stoker 133-4) It is fairly clear to readers that the marks are from Dracula, who has been feeding on Lucy for quite a while now. To put it a different way, a foreign man who feeds on an innocent, unknowing, upper-class English girl has gone undetected long enough for her to nearly die several times. In the Age of Empire, with foreigners streaming steadily in and out of England, Victorians feared for the purity of their homeland. Between their “responsibility” to “civilize” the rest of the world and the pseudoscience of social Darwinism, a situation like Lucy’s is a nightmare. The two punctures on Lucy’s neck are reminiscent of Dracula’s red eyes when Mina finds him hovering over Lucy on the cliff (Stoker 101). Even if he’s not in the room with Lucy and the doctors, his presence is still felt. However, Lucy has taken active steps to hide the evidence. In the same way that Dracula hides in darkness, she hides his bite with a black tie. To add insult to injury, it takes someone from a similar region to Dracula to discover what is ailing her and save her life. Van Helsing is the most foreign character in the book so far, and he is 100%, genuine human (so far). Additionally, Van Helsing is incredibly secretive about what he thinks is causing Lucy’s illness. It takes a secretive foreigner to root out another well-hidden foreigner, despite the efforts of several well-educated Englishmen. Stoker is taking this fear of foreign subterfuge and turning into a plot device. But hey, who knows, maybe our intelligent, strong Englishmen will be able to save the day without any further help from Van Helsing.

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.  

 

The Silent Protest

“The division between Lady Audley and her step-daughter had not become any narrower in the two months which had elapsed since the pleasant Christmas holiday time had been kept at Audley Court. There was no open warfare between the two women; there was only an armed neutrality, broken every now and then by brief feminine skirmishes and transient wordy tempests. I am sorry to say that Alicia would very much have preferred a hearty pitched battle to this silent and undemonstrative disunion; but it was not very easy to quarrel with my lady. She had soft answers for the turning away of wrath. She could smile bewitchingly at her step-daughter’s open petulance, and laugh merrily at the young lady’s ill-temper. Perhaps had she been less amiable, had she been indeed more like Alicia in disposition, the two ladies might have expended their enmity in one tremendous quarrel, and might ever afterwards have been affectionate and friendly. But Lucy Audley would not make war. She carried forward the sum of her dislike, and put it out at a steady rate of interest, until the breach between her step-daughter and herself, widening a little every day, became a great gulf utterly impassable by olive-branch-bearing doves, from either side of the abyss. There can be no reconciliation where there is no open warfare. There must be a battle, a brave boisterous battle, with pennants waving and cannon roaring, before there can be peaceful treaties and enthusiastic shaking of hands.”

The emphasis on the lack of war is a pattern worth noticing in this paragraph. At the beginning of the paragraph, the repetition “There was no…” and “there was only…” is used to emphasize the absence of effort at reconciliation from both sides. The comparison of their relationship with a widening gulf that could not be crossed by the olive-branch-bearing dove is an excellent comparison that gives the audience a clear depiction of the tension among two people, so great that could never be healed. Additionally, the dove is a religious symbolic image representing peace, calm, serenity – a new start, a new creation, new expectations, and new hope. In this case, the image is employed to indicate that it is impossible to restore and reconcile the relationship between Lady Audley and Alicia. The subtlety in each of their attitude towards one another does not imply a peaceful system that they have set up. In other words, the lack of confrontation could not be inferred as a sign of yielding or serenity, rather it indicates the state of a cold war that is occurring within Audley Court. This attitude is further elaborated with poignant phrases including “ feminine skirmishes”, “transient wordy tempest” to express Lady Audley’s childish satisfaction at Alicia’s petulance. In addition, the use of strong adjectives and vivid descriptions of their emotions and gestures, especially Lady Audley’s, emphasizes the subtle, yet dramatic strain in their relationship.

This paragraph contributes greatly to the storyline by depicting the heightened tension in the relationship between two women and a complete shift of their relationship dynamics as they are now no longer withholding their resentful feelings toward one another. This novel dynamic confirms their individual’s attitude towards Robert as they have now taken sides, one being his ally and one being his so-called “enemy”. Moreover, this detail further explains the confrontation Lady Audley later has with Sir Michael and Alicia regarding Robert’s accusation of her crime while hinting at Robert’s suspicion of her identity. Although it is not directly related to the plot, yet this is an important and interesting paragraph that gives the audience the dynamic of relationships among the three characters Lady Audley, Alicia, and Robert.

Love and Hope

“He had very little pleasure in returning to the stately mansion, hidden among sheltering oaks and venerable beeches. The square, red brick house, gleaming at the end of a long arcade of leafless trees was to be forever desolate, he thought, since Alicia would not come to be its mistress. A hundred improvements planned and thought of were dismissed from his mind as useless now…all these things were now so much vanity and vexation of spirit” (Chapter 16)

“The shadows of the early winter twilight, gathering thickest under the low oak ceiling of the hall, and the quaint curve of the arched doorway…he could see no shadows when she was by” (Chapter 16)

Although a passage about a less important character to the story, I found it striking due to its similarities to the overarching plot points. Considering the circumstances of other relationships in the story, a great deal of hope (or more accurately, an expectation of how things should be) accompanies these feelings of love; whether it’s Alicia wanting a certain kind of care and attention from Robert, Sir Michael expecting a different response when he proposed to Lucy, or George expecting his wife to be alive when he arrived at London. In all these cases, the “victims” of love are blinded by this delusion that their hope gives them. I think a compelling connection can be made to the theme of light and dark, as it appears shortly after the text is done talking about Harry Towers; and how we’ve established that the theme of light and shadow represents the line between truth and delusion. It’s also important to note that Lucy is also in this passage, drawing a parallel between Harry Towers and Sir Michael’s condition. Despite being a very small addition, the quote “he could see no shadows when she was by” is rather important. Considering this statement when evaluating other relationships in the story, we can see this hope in love is rather comforting, if not obstinate. The characters could be comfortable with their own imagination of reality like Alicia, or they could ignore the truth and choose blissful ignorance instead like Sir Michael; despite noticing that something is clearly wrong when he proposed to Lucy, Michael instead chooses to be happy that she agreed to marry him. We can clearly see Harry Towers suffering when his ego and hopes were crushed within a day, which is foreshadowing the miseries ahead when the bubble of delusions about Lucy Audley is inevitably popped.

Tension and Insanity

The passage I chose is on pages 275-273 of chapter 11, volume II. In this passage, Lucy tries to convince Alicia that Robert is “mad” after accusing Lucy of killing George. This passage is especially important because it develops the theme of appearances and deception and sensation literature. Lucy begins by repeatedly labeling Robert as “eccentric.” As she further develops that idea to Alicia, she changes the label to “mad.” Lucy convinces Alicia that Robert is crazy and suggests that Sir Audley would believe anything that she tells him. Not only does Lucy remove the spotlight off her secrets, but she tricks Alicia and intends to use her pull on her husband to ruin the reputation and credibility of Robert. This suggests that appearances are integral in the Victorian era. It also shows how easy it is to utilize misunderstandings of mental health to create an untruthful perception of others in the Victorian era. All of this is important because it is revealing of Lucy’s lack of morals. She is willing to use her charm over Sir Audley to portray a sane family member as mentally unwell to protect herself. Furthermore, Lucy’s intense response to the accusations suggests that there is some truth to them. This means it is likely that Lucy indeed has a history with George Talboys. We can reasonably speculate that Lucy was likely married to him, however, there is yet to be enough information regarding the accusations that she killed him. Moreover, outward appearances in comparison to limited knowledge of the inner thoughts and pasts of characters have proven to be an integral part of sensation novels as it allows for tension and reader speculation.

Adjectives Hinting Murder?

“Whatever he would have said died away into inarticulate gasps which seemed to choke him, and sinking into a chair, he dropped his face upon the table and wept aloud. Perhaps in all the dismal scenes of domestic misery which had been acted in those spare and dreary houses- in all the petty miseries, the burning shames, the cruel sorrows, there had never been such a scene as this.” (173)

This passage was highly intriguing to me due to the strong tone and descriptive use of language within it. The graphic descriptions such as “died away” and “gasps which seemed to choke him” intensify the emotion of fear and sadness that the character was experiencing at the time. Then the author compares this scene to other descriptive experiences. As she does this, she uses more graphic descriptions to emphasize the severity of the emotions George’s father was releasing. As well as describe the intensity of this scene that Robert was witnessing. Concepts such as shame and sorrow are negative, however they are not necessarily considered dangerous. Adding such strong descriptions like burning and cruel emphasize that these feelings could elicit a sense of danger or pain.

This may be a reach but, the emphasis of pain, danger, and death within the adjectives could be alluding to the idea that George may have been murdered. These specific words could maybe represent the emotions and pain that he had felt before he died. As the book has carried on, and the mystery grows deeper the tone becomes darker alluding to the dark secrets Robert might discover.

Show me the saint for I cannot spot her

“Lucy Audley, with her disordered hair in a pale haze of yellow gold about her thoughtful face, the following lines of her soft muslin dressing-gown falling in straight folds to her feet, and clasped at the waist by a narrow circlet of agate links, might have served as a model for a mediaeval saint,…;and what saintly martyr of the Middles Ages could have borne a holier aspect than the man whose grey beard lay upon the dark silk coverlet of the stately bed?” (Brandon 216)

The eyes are so easily deceived. Lady Audley, as a shining jewel in society, continues to be externally depicted as the perfect lady in the Victorian Age. But it is with this emphasis on her outer “light” (pale golden hair, dazzling blue eyes, and white skin) that I believe makes it all the more disturbing when we catch a glimpse of her inner “darkness“. Thus making her not a saint but more so of a fallen angel.

There is a play at imagery throughout this passage and book that seems to be most effective when it comes to describing Lady Audley. We have this one instance with this passage in particular where she is portrayed as “a model for a mediaeval saint” (216) and her husband is the “saintly martyr”. The comparison is supported by the repetitions of light, color, and texture; Adjectives such as “pale”, “gold”, and “soft” (216) solidifies the depiction of purity and innocence. Actually, I take that back. ^ Let’s use illusion instead of depiction because the Lady Audley we see is no where close to the Lady Audley we know.

Literally a page after this passage, Lady Audley bears a facial expression and stance much less saint-like than before: “She defied him with her blue eyes, their brightness intensified by the triumph in their glance. She defied him with her quiet smile-a smile of fatal beauty, full of lurking significance and mysterious meaning-the smile which the artist had exaggerated in his portrait of Sir Michael’s wife.” (Brandon 217) This is just one example of many where Lady Audley revealing a glimpse of her true colors. But I have to wonder: Isn’t this a power play? What’s with the repetition of “She defied him”, right? Victorian Society dictates that women must be good wives, they have no rights unless granted by their husbands, and cannot be more educated than men. Yet, here is Lady Audley bearing almost the exact appearance of that portait we first saw in Volume 1, a picture of wicked triumph and cold heartedness. Her husband is no “saintly martyr” because he sacrificed himself FOR her, Lady Audley sacrificed HIM. She’s used the disadvantage of being a married woman to her advantage without anyone realizing, by using her husband as a shield for everything. Hence her prior dialogue: ‘ “Those who strike me must strike through him.” ‘ (217)

Internal conflicts and excuses

Vol II Chapter V

“A gloomy shadow spread itself like a dark veil over Robert Audley’s handsome face. He remembered what he had said the day before at Southampton – ‘A hand that is stronger than my own is beckoning me onward upon the dark road.’ A quarter of an hour before, he had believed that all was over, and that he was released from the dreadful duty of discovering the secret of George’s death. Now this girl, this apparently passionless girl, had found a voice, and was urging him on towards his fate.” (200).

This passage caught my attention because it is interesting how Robert explicitly realizes that there may be greater forces at work that are urging him toward finding out what happened to George. Throughout Volume two especially, the notion of God being a figure in everybody’s life becomes ever more prominent as Robert continues to piece together what exactly happened to his friend. In this passage, specifically, the phrases “A hand that is stronger than my own…” and “fate” stand out to me because they suggest that Robert believes that God is real, and that Robert has no control whether he discovers what happened to his poor friend or not. However, with a source of good in any novel there must be a contrasting evil. Braddon’s description of, “A gloomy shadow spread itself like a dark veil…” seems like a strange way to begin a passage that then shifts to Robert talking about the hand stronger than his own leading him on towards his fate. Often, fate is associated more directly with God and the heavens whereas darkness, such as the veil over Robert or the road that he is being led down, is associated with evil spirits and Hell. Whether or not these forces are real is up to the discretion of the reader, however I think what this passage and text is truly about is the internal conflict between good and evil within humans. Robert is ready to give up his search for the circumstances behind George’s disappearance, but something keeps leading him in the direction of the truth. Technically, Robert could stop searching for the answer to his friend’s disappearance at any point in time, but he would likely never be satisfied settling for anything but the truth. The “stronger hand at work” and “fate” seem more like mental excuses to continue his search rather than face his internal conflicts and come to the realization that it would be acceptable to never know what happened to his poor friend.