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One of the reasons why the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker and the novel Orlando by Virginia Wolf are being commonly referred to, as such that represent a high literary value, is that the themes and motifs, contained in both works of literature, are discursively sound. That is, they reflect the main subtleties of what used to the predominant gender-related discourse at the time when Stoker and Wolf were in the process of working on their masterpieces.
In its turn, this explains why, whereas, Stoker’s Dracula provides readers with the clearly defined male-chauvinistic outlook on what accounts for the essence of the relationship between the representatives of opposite sexes, Wolf’s conceptualization of the concerned relationship promotes the author’s feminist agenda. In this paper, I will explore the validity of the above-stated at length.
When we talk about the qualitative aspects of the Victorian era in Britain (the time when Stoker came up with his novel), the first thing that comes in mind, in this respect, is the fact that European intellectuals of the time were strongly influenced by the Darwinian Theory of Evolution, which at the end of the 19th century, drastically altered the people’s understanding of the surrounding social reality.
Whereas, before the time when Charles Darwin published his Origins of Species, the socially constructed assumption of women’s inferiority was ‘fueled’ by religion, ever since the end of the 19th century, this assumption started to become increasingly ‘scientific,’ in the positivist sense of this word.
That is, the fact that throughout history, women continued to suffer from having been socially unprivileged, was being increasingly referred to as yet additional proof of the ‘survival of the fittest’ theory’s validity. After all, as compared to men, women are physically weaker. However, this particular observation was the least concerned with the emergence of the 19th century’s ‘scientific’ male-chauvinism, as we know it.
In essence, the doctrine was based upon the assumption that the very physiological constituents of women make them both: intellectually inferior to men and yet capable of ‘corrupting’ (by the mean of sex) the latter to such an extent they end up willing to adopt the posture of submissiveness, in regards to women (Senf 34). As one of the most prominent sexologists of the era, Otto Weininger noted: “The condition of sexual excitement is the supreme moment of a woman’s life…
The woman is devoted wholly to sexual matters… The female principle is nothing more than sexuality; the male principle is sexual and something more” (70). According to him, the reason for this is that the female genitals are ‘internal,’ which in turn causes women to experience a somewhat hard time while trying to act asexually.
This explains why women’s sexuality is, in fact, the integral part of their innate sense of self. Whereas male sexuality can be compared with an incidental skin-itch, which goes away after having been scratched, female sexuality is best compared with an allergic skin-rash, the scratching of which only increases the itch’s severity.
The fact that the above-mentioned idea was very popular among the representatives of the British intellectual elite in the late 19th century, can be well illustrated in regards to the scene in Stoker’s novel, in which Harker is sexually attacked by ‘weird sisters’ from Dracula’s castle: “The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she (one of ‘sisters’) arched her neck, she licked her lips like an animal” (Stoker 56).
In light of what has been said earlier, this quotation implies that, contrary to the author’s tendency to refer to the notion of a ‘female virtuousness’ as something utterly objective, he used to suspect that there is a ‘wild beast’ living inside of even the most virtuous women, which in turn makes them utterly susceptible to ‘evil’.
Given the fact that, throughout the course of his life, Stoker used to take pride in having been a thoroughly rational person, he was naturally inclined to think of the notion of ‘evil’ as such that connotes the notion of an ‘irrational wantonness’ – something the author believed was an unmistakably feminine existential trait.
This, of course, reflects the fact that, in regards to how it treats the issue of a female identity/sexuality, Stoker’s Dracula can be well-referred to as a rather misogynist work of literature. The reason for this is quite apparent – the novel’s gender-related motifs appear highly subliminal of the author’s anxieties about women, in general, and sex, in particular, which in turn reflect his close affiliation with the unmistakably Victorian (masculine) values.
Stoker never ceased believing that, apart from giving birth to children, the women’s purpose in life is being concerned with serving as the tools of men’s self-actualization. What it means is that being essentially the ‘creatures’ with strongly defined atavistic instincts (their well-known tendency to think ‘intuitively’), women are not capable of attaining a social prominence on their own – they can only realize their full existential potential through men.
As Weininger pointed out: “The woman receives her consciousness from the man; the function to bring into consciousness what was outside it is a sexual function of the typical man about the typical woman” (61). The character of Lucy appears to sublimate the author’s anxiety, in this respect.
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The validity of this suggestion can be well shown in regards to the fact that one of the reasons why, prior to her transformation into a vampire, the secondary characters of Seward, Morris, and Holmwood would refer to Lucy as the embodiment of femininity, is that they tended to think of her as a pretty but quite brainless ‘doll’.
That is, these characters unconsciously knew that, after having taken Lucy for a wife, they would be able to use her as the ‘medium,’ through their individualities could be channeled. In other words, Lucy’s suitors never valued her in terms of a ‘thing in itself.’ For them, she was more of a soulless commodity to own.
Therefore, it does not come as a particular surprise that in the aftermath of Lucy’s ‘metamorphosis’, they unanimously decided that she would be so much better off dead: “Seward: ‘I shall cut off her head and fill her mouth with garlic, and I shall drive a stake through her body’” (Stoker 287).
Even though it was Lucy’s beautiful looks, which these men appreciated the most about her personality, the fact that after having turned into a vampire, Lucy became even more beautiful, did not have any effect on the strength of the mentioned characters’ resolution to get rid of the ‘vampire.’ This simply could not otherwise – has been a ‘Victorian,’ it would never occur to Stoker that a woman’s worth could be discussed outside of how it benefits men – if a woman cannot be ‘owned,’ she cannot be appreciated.
Thus, the phenomenon of the novel’s popularity with the chauvinistically minded male-readers – it draws heavily on what happened to be their unconscious anxieties, in regards to women.
As Demetrakopoulos noted: “It is obvious that the very attraction of the novel (by Stoker) was that all this sexuality was masked and symbolic; it can be enjoyed surreptitiously and hence denied even to oneself” (106). This could not be otherwise, because Dracula does treat the notions of masculinity and femininity as being mutually irreconcilable – something that the earlier mentioned category of readers prefers to believe.
In this respect, Wolf’s novel Orlando, could not possibly be more different. After all, it is not only that this novel implies that men and women are equally capable of feeling ‘asexual,’ but that it is also possible for them to embrace the identity of the opposite gender, without having to suffer any mentally damaging effects, as a consequence.
In this respect, Orlando can be well-referred to as ‘androgynously feminist,’ as it promotes the idea that the particulars of men and women’s physiological constitution have a very small effect on how the affiliates of both genders go about reflecting upon the surrounding reality and their place in it. As Morgan noted: “The aim of the feminist novel of androgynous fantasy… is to expose the discrepancy between the femininity, supposedly natural to women and women’s true psychology, which, like men’s, is seen as simply human” (41).
This, of course, allows us to refer to Orlando as an intellectual by-product of the feminist discourse, which throughout the 20th century’s first part, was becoming increasingly popular with more and more women. It is understood, of course, that this alone created a number of the objective preconditions for theme and motifs, contained in this particular novel, to oppose the idea that one’s gender defines the workings of the concerned person’s psyche, explored throughout the entirety of Stoker’s novel (Watkins 57).
Therefore, it is rather ironic that Woolf’s view on gender/female identity, which defines the existential stance of the novel’s main character ‘she-male’ Orlando, appears to be consistent with that of Weininger to an extent. After all, despite having been a misogynist, the latter believed that there are no 100% ‘pure’ males and females – regardless of what happened to be a particular individual’s gender-affiliations, there are both: feminine and masculine aspects to his or her sense of self-identity.
As he pointed out: “The presence of male and female sexual organs in the same body would make the body bisexual only if both sexes ruled the whole body and made themselves manifest in every point… (this) would result simply in the negation of sex in the body in question” (Weininger 25).
Thus, the fact that the character of Orlando in Woolf’s novel was able to change sex can be seen as the proof that, while working on her masterpiece, the author herself used to experience the sensation of a ‘sexual ambivalence’ – in the psychological sense of this word, she could equally relate to men and women.
What is particularly interesting, in this respect, is that while acting ‘androgynously,’ Orlando could not help to grow ever more affiliated with the essentially masculine virtue of thinking ‘asexual,’ which in turn comes as a result of men’s ability to remain mentally detached from their genitals. Thus, the idea of ‘sexual ambivalence,’ promoted in Woolf’s novel, can be well deemed reflective of the fact that, in the psychological sense of this word, Orlando was much more of a man.
For example, even after Orlando has been turned into a woman, he/she continued to feel attracted to men: “Though she (Orlando) herself was a woman, it was still a woman she loved; and if the consciousness of being of the same sex had any effect at all, it was to quicken and deepen those feelings which she had had as a man” (Woolf 92). What it means is that Woolf tended to regard a person’s ability to gain an insight into what makes the representatives of an opposite gender ‘tick,’ as the extrapolation of his or her perceptual manliness.
This explains the innate subtleties of Woolf’s feminist stance – the author was never preoccupied with celebrating femininity, but rather with freeing femininity from its feminine weakness, which she considered something that prevents women from being able to expand their intellectual horizons: “A woman could be as tolerant and free-spoken as a man, and a man as strange and subtle as a woman” (Woolf 149).
The author herself exemplifies the validity of the above-quoted – she was indeed a rather intellectually liberated woman, which in turn allowed her to think of the notion of a gender-identity as something that never ceases to remain in the state of a constant transition.
The earlier deployed line of argumentation, in regards to what accounts for the qualitative aspects of one’s feminine-identity, as seen in Stoker’s Dracula and Woolf’s Orlando, allows us to identify the main differences between the novels in question. These differences can be outlined as follows:
a) Whereas Stoker’s novel promotes the idea that the psychological leanings or men and women are predetermined biologically, Orlando implies that the physiological particulars of what happened to be one’s gender-affiliation play a rather insignificant role, within the context of promoting the concerned individual to think in one way or another.
b) Unlike what it happened to be with Stoker, Woolf does not refer to the concept of a gender-identity as something spatially unchangeable, but rather as such that continues to grow ever more ‘androgynous,’ as time goes on.
c) Contrary to what are the discursive implications of Stoker’s novel, the ones of Woolf’s Orlando are the least concerned with advancing the idea that, while pursuing the romantic relationship with each other, men and women must be thoroughly observant of what happened to be the currently prevailing conventions of public morality.
I believe that the provided insights into how the notion of gender/femininity is being treated in the novels Dracula and Orlando by Stoker and Woolf are fully consistent with the paper’s initial statement. There is indeed a good reason to refer to Stoner’s novel as a male-chauvinistic one, whereas, the one by Woolf is best described as such that promotes an unmistakably feminist agenda.
Demetrakopoulos, Stephanie. “Feminism, Sex Role Exchanges, and Other Subliminal Fantasies in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’”. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 2.3 (1977): 104-113. Print.
Morgan, Ellen. “The Feminist Novel of Androgynous Fantasy Source”. Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies 2.3 (1977): 40-49. Print.
Senf, Carol. “’Dracula’: Stoker’s Response to the New Woman”. Victorian Studies 26.1 (1982): 33-49. Print.
Stoker, Bram 1897, Dracula. Web.
Watkins, Susan. “Sex Change and Media Change: From Woolf’s to Potter’s Orlando.” Mosaic: a Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature 31.3 (1998): 41-59. Print.
Weininger, Otto 1906, Sex & Character. Web.
Woolf, Virginia 1924, Orlando. Web.