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English Literature: Sex and Sexuality in Dracula and the Bloody Chamber Essay


Introduction

In spite of being fiction-based writings, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber, among many other related stories, have been critically acclaimed as some of the best books that give a clear representation of sex and sexuality in the society—especially in the classical times like the Victorian era.

In essence, different authors ascribe to different ideologies in regard to the intricacies of sex and sexuality among men and women. However, in most of the writings like Dracula and The Bloody Chamber, women are mostly represented as the weaker gender that is bound to obey the rules and regulations of a male chauvinist society.

Any effort to break free into a balanced society where women are able to express their sexuality in a free way is met with huge criticisms and occasional punishments. An explication of how these stories represent men and women in regard to sex and sexuality is expressively given in the discussions below.

Representation of Sex and Sexuality in the Stories

As was earlier mentioned, different authors represent sex and sexuality variably. In analyzing and exemplifying the representation of sex and sexuality in these stories, various subtopics will be used—as is typified below.

Gender Balance (Masculinity Vs Femininity)

In as much as the classical societies are reported to having stringent social expectation and standards for both genders (sexes), Stoker asserts that in the Victorian society, men were allowed to engage in more freedoms, pleasures and enjoyment endeavors than their female counterparts (Stoker, 2011).

In addition, these patriarchal views of the Victorian era ensured that men enjoyed dominance over the women in terms of engaging in sexual endeavors (Waters, 1997). Resultantly, men were able to engage and satiate their sexual urges—even weird ones like homosexuality—without facing a lot of condemnation or punishment.

On the flip side, women were not permitted to express their sexual desires openly—unless it was being done to please the men (Podonsky, 2010). A good example here is way Stoker portrays Lucy as a sexually aggressive lady and the criticisms and punishments she had to receive for her aggression.

On the other hand, Mina, who is portrayed as the typical modest and moral woman in the Victorian era, ends up being spared of criticisms and punishments in spite of her involvement with the Dracula just in the same way as Lucy.

It is worth mentioning that despite the portrayal of men as being the stronger of the two sexes; they are occasionally represented as being feminaphobic (afraid of being feminine) and gynephobic (afraid of women in general). Based on their flirtatious nature and the general sexual attraction of men to women, both Dracula and the Bloody Chambers tend to limit and oppose the strength of women.

Even with their inferiority in the society, women like the three weird sisters in Dracula are able to seduce and convince men to almost do anything just to get sex from them (Podonsky, 2010). More power and freedom by these women would probably translate into more control over men no wander their strength, dominance and control is hugely opposed.

Again, despite the fact that both women and men are equally depicted as engaging in unethical or irresponsible sexual behaviors, the stories largely show that women get more punished or face dire consequences than men. All these point to the argument that the classical era tended to favor masculinity (Stoker, 2011).

Objectification of Women

To a great extent, women in these classical stories are objectified as “instruments of male pleasure”. In fact, in most cases, the pleasure being referenced in these stories is the element of sex (Craft, 1997). Of course characteristics and traits of women such as obedience, submissiveness and modesty were considered important. However, most emphasis was made on aspects that had strong sexuality connotations such as beauty and voluptuousness (Carter, 1979).

This objectification of women is, probably, the reason gender roles among women in Dracula were divided into two broad categories; those who were virginal and pure (the modest type who did everything in accordance to the rules and regulations of the Victorian era) and the sexually aggressive type who were otherwise regarded as whores (Podonsky, 2010).

In Dracula, these two categories are represented by the key female characters Mina and Lucy. Despite both ladies being inexplicably feminine in terms of their naivety, purity and dependence on their husbands; Mina was more conserved to fulfilling a woman’s duties to her husband while Lucy had three suitors—which is interpreted as her desire for attaining freedom through promiscuity.

As the story of Lucy and Mina develops and the threat of these ladies being transformed by the Dracula; the men in the story are apparently more afraid these ladies losing their sexual innocence and turning into sexually aggressive women rather than the eminent threat of their vampiric and blood-thirsty tendencies. In the Bloody Chamber, the Marquis makes the heroine into a pornographic image by undressing her and always forcing her to wear her collar of rubies (Carter, 2009).

Furthermore, the Marquis not only goes as far as killing his wives for his weird pleasures but he even goes ahead to make displays of their dead bodies as if they are some trophies or collectibles (Simpson, 2006). Even more blatantly, Carter objectifies Beauty when her father uses her as payment for the debt owed to the beast.

Only in very rare occasions do we find men being objectified. A good example of men being objectified is in the Bloody Chamber through the character known as the Countess. In the Bloody Chamber, the countess can never be happy with men because she has an insatiable hunger for men which only makes her see them as in a lusty way rather than the fulfilling love that she craves for. Here, men are the typified as the objects and we get an insight of how objectification gets to harm the object as well as the person who does the objectification (Simpson, 2006).

Violence, Sex and Love

In many ways, the theme of violence and sexuality run concurrently in both the Bloody Chambers and Dracula. In the Bloody Chamber for instance, Marquis seduces the ladies into being with him then ends up killing them once they have become his wives.

In other words, he seduces the ladies, tells them he loves them, then marries them so that he can satiate his sexual needs and once he is tired of his victims (wives); he kills them and moves to the next one. Here, ladies are depicted as being gullible and emotionally susceptible to men’s lies. As a result, they end up paying the ultimate price of being killed (Simpson, 2006).

Contrastingly, Dracula also portrays the theme of violence but in this case, men are the ones who are depicted as being gullible to the seduction and flirtation from women like Lucy and the three weird sisters. Before Lucy became a vampire, Lucy was portrayed as having quiet sexual aggression in spite of occasionally complaining about the limited freedom of expression by women.

However, once she is transformed by Dracula, her thirst for blood and sex is heightened and her human nature is corroded as we see her stalking and feeding on children—something which normal mothers would never engage in (Warner, 1995; and Wright, 1989).

The powerlessness of the Victorian men, in terms of resisting sexual advancements from the ladies, is again exemplified when Harker becomes easily overpowered by the three sisters just by merely being seduced. In spite of wanting to fight the three weird sisters, his body is aroused as he craves with a “burning desire” that the ladies would kiss him with their red lips. In the end, not even Harker’s respect for his wife Mina is able to save him.

The difficulty in resisting the three weird sisters is further explained by the number 3, which, according to ancient mythologies, signifies a strong bond. This is probably the reason witches in the Greek myth of Perseus as well as the witches in Shakespeare’s Macbeth or even the biblical trio (God the father, son and Holy Spirit) were three in numbers.

Even Van Helsing, who is depicted as a strong-willed warrior fighting against the oppression brought by the Dracula and the vampires, is reported to have hesitated from killing the vampires when he saw that the radiant beauty of the vampires. It can thus be said that the high level of seduction and prowess in sex by women is a huge threat to men and their moral principles (Richards, 2008).

For most believers in the Victorian era, unnatural sexual behaviors came by as a result of some evil or satanic forces. In order to fight these ills, religious and violent intervention were both necessary (Norton, 2000). This, essentially, explains the use of cross-shaped wood by Van Helsing and the vampire warriors in daggering the vampires. To this regard, the liberation of women’s sexuality can be seen as having been encouraged by Christian endeavors (Masters, 1972).

Remarkably, topics like homosexuality and ritualistic practices like orgy sex were immensely controversial in the Victorian era (Day, 2002). According to the Dracula, people found guilty of engaging in homoerotic behaviors was punishable in court with up to two years in jail and hard labor, among many other punishments. For this reason, great emphasis was put upon responsible and modest sexual behaviors (Roemer & Bacchilega, 2001).

However, as time went on and books like Dracula expressed these behaviors by curtailing them as being part of vampiric practices; the public became somewhat less concerned about them in entirety but rather in terms of inhibiting women from engaging from them (Dworkin, 1974).

It is for this reason that, whereas men would go as far as being polygamous or having many women sexual partners in the Victorian era, females like Lucy thinking of polyandry such that women could marry more than one man at the same time, was considered as being promiscuous and whore-like.

As a final note, it is worth stating that most of these stories view love as a means to an end. For majority of the men like Marquis (in The Bloody Chamber) and Harker (in Dracula); marriage and having women is mainly for the purpose of fulfilling sexual needs. This is the reason characters like Marquis easily seduces, has sex then kills his wives.

Knowing that men have a weakness for their charm and sexual advances, the women also used sex and love as leverage to making men do whatever they want. This is the reason characters like Lucy (in Dracula) easily manipulates his three suitors. From these discussions, it can thus be said that violence, sex and love are, in one way or another, interrelated to each other.

This, partially, explains the concurrent engagement in sex, love and violence (murder) inseparably by Marquis. Under the section of “Puss in Boots” in the Bloody Chamber, the violence against Signor Panteleone is viewed as a necessary action to secure the opportunity to engage in sex with the young woman.

Many other instances such as in “the company of wolves” in the Bloody Chamber whereby the werewolf seduces the girl before eating her or when Puss’s master in “Puss in Boots” had sex with the young girl on the floor while a corpse lay in the bed which was just a few meters from them (Carter 2009).

Conclusion

In summary, these discussions underline the important influence of sex and sexuality in the classical times; just the same way it is today. In fact, the permissiveness in some of today’s societies in regard to practices such as homosexuality would have not come about had the idea not been proliferated by scholars such as Carter (Day, 2002).

Also, the symbolism and projection of ancient mythologies in regard to creatures like vampires, Dracula and werewolves and their sexual mannerisms has contributed greatly to the world of horrors and horror movies, both in positive and negative ways. For instance, based on the need to prevent women from sexual aggressiveness, religions like Christianity were propagated.

On the flipside, the liberation of women in terms of their freedom of expression not just in sexual ways, but a myriad of other arenas, contributed to some controversial sexual orientations such as lesbianism.

In spite of all these, these literary works went a long way in serving the literary need at that regarding the balance of sexual occurrences at that time. For instance, the death of Lucy and the sparing of Mina symbolically signify the triumph in silencing of the aggressive lady and the continuity of the submissive Victorian woman—as required.

List of References

Carter, A 2009, The Bloody Chamber and other stories, Vintage: London.

Carter, A 1979, The Sadeian woman, Virago: London.

Craft, Christopher. “Gender and inversion in Dracula.” Dracula. Ed. Nina, A., and David, J. S 1997, Norton, New York.

Day, W P 2002, Vampire legends in contemporary American culture: what becomes a legend most. University Press of Kentucky: Lexington.

Dworkin, A 1974, Woman hating, Plume: New York.

Masters, A 1972, Natural history of the vampire, Putnam: New York, NY.

Norton, R 2000, Gothic readings: the first wave 1764-1840, Leicester University Press: London.

Podonsky, A. M 2010, ‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula: a reflection and rebuke of Victorian society’. Web.

Richards, C 2008, Forever young: essays on young adult fictions, Peter Lang: Grand Rapid.

Roemer, D., and Bacchilega, C 2001, Angela Carter and the fairy tale, Wayne State University: Detroit.

Simpson, H 2006, ‘Femme fatale’. Web.

Stoker, B 2011, Dracula, Plain Label Books: Bel Air, CA.

Warner, M 1995, From the beast to the blonde: on fairy tales and their tellers, Chatto & Windus: London.

Waters, K. V 1997, The perfect gentleman: masculine control in Victorian men’s fiction 1870-1901, Peter Lang Publishing: New York.

Wright, D 1989, The Book of Vampires, Omnigraphics: Danbury.

This Essay on English Literature: Sex and Sexuality in Dracula and the Bloody Chamber was written and submitted by user Remington York to help you with your own studies. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.

Remington York studied at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, USA, with average GPA 3.14 out of 4.0.

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York, R. (2019, September 21). English Literature: Sex and Sexuality in Dracula and the Bloody Chamber [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/english-literature-sex-and-sexuality-in-dracula-and-the-bloody-chamber/

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York, Remington. "English Literature: Sex and Sexuality in Dracula and the Bloody Chamber." IvyPanda, 21 Sept. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/english-literature-sex-and-sexuality-in-dracula-and-the-bloody-chamber/.

1. Remington York. "English Literature: Sex and Sexuality in Dracula and the Bloody Chamber." IvyPanda (blog), September 21, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/english-literature-sex-and-sexuality-in-dracula-and-the-bloody-chamber/.


Bibliography


York, Remington. "English Literature: Sex and Sexuality in Dracula and the Bloody Chamber." IvyPanda (blog), September 21, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/english-literature-sex-and-sexuality-in-dracula-and-the-bloody-chamber/.

References

York, Remington. 2019. "English Literature: Sex and Sexuality in Dracula and the Bloody Chamber." IvyPanda (blog), September 21, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/english-literature-sex-and-sexuality-in-dracula-and-the-bloody-chamber/.

References

York, R. (2019) 'English Literature: Sex and Sexuality in Dracula and the Bloody Chamber'. IvyPanda, 21 September.

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