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Victorian Literature: Human Sexual Repression and Sexualized Vampires in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula was published in 1897 and it still stands as his greatest masterpiece. The novel could not find an immediate success but it has inspired several films and other literary pieces of work. Stoker’s intention was to explain the anxieties of his time such as the repercussions and consequences of abandoning traditional beliefs, scientific progress and female sexuality. We must be quite sure that at that time Stoker could not imagine his words associated with sex, but in order to understand clearly the erotic point of view of the novel, we might have a look at its social context.

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British society experienced a technological and scientific progress along the 19th century, period known as Victorian age, time when Queen Victoria reigned from 1837 until 1901. At that time, there was a strong puritan belief and an exaggerated sexual repression, what also means undervaluing women. The Victorian period is the best representation of double standards. On the one hand, they experienced a very strict public sexuality based on conservative values, discipline and morality. On the other hand, in the private sphere, they used to change their decent behaviour into a total promiscuous attitude. In addition, as Holly Furneaux claims in his academic essay Queen Victoria is considered “Britain’s sexiest Royal”. Even Queen Victoria expressed in her pre-martial journals Prince Albert’s physical perfections saying that he was “excessively handsome” and he had “a beautiful figure”. In a letter to his uncle Leopold she said:

Allow me, then, my dearest Uncle, to tell you how delighted I am with him, and how much I like him in every way. He possesses every quality that could be desired to render me perfectly happy. He is so sensible, so kind, an so good, and so amiable too. He has besides, the most pleasing and delightful exterior and appearance, you can possibly see.

All along the Victorian period, the figure of women was constantly challenged. Women were supposed to be pure, dependent of men and inferior to them. Gendered ideals of sexual purity, sex and pleasure was thought to be a male privilege, were gathered in the legislation with the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 and the Contagious Diseases Acts of the 1860s. In the first one, men were allowed for divorce if his wife had committed adultery whereas a wife could ask for divorce only if adultery was combined with other offences, such as cruelty. In the second one mentioned, police officers were allowed to arrest women prostitutes and they were compulsory subjected to be checked for sexually transmitted diseases. If a woman was declared infected, she would be taken into what was known as a lock hospital to recovery. At first legislation applied it to a few naval ports and army towns, but later it was applied in other eighteen districts.

By the Victorian era, British society was a patriarchal society in which men were the head and moral leaders of families. Women’s role was to love and obey her husband. They were expected to have sex only with their husbands. Women had to abstain from their sexual desires, except when the husband had desires that the wife was under legal agreement to fulfil. Sex was a luxury reserved for men.

As we have previously said, some authors of the time introduced sex and eroticism in their novels. Stoker’s Dracula is a useful piece of work to analyse the relationship between women and the conception of sex. When Harker is kept prisoner in Castle Dracula, he has an encounter with three vampiric women. Harker experiences an intense sexual desire “that they would kiss me with those red lips” . This scene of the novel is full of erotic speech. As Harker narrates, one of the girl “went on her knees and bent over me” and continued “lower and lower went her head”. Harker finds difficult to resist the vampire temptress. He could feel the “sharp teeth” on his “supersensitive skin” of his throat. He ends the paragraph by stating that he “closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited-waited with beating heart”. Suddenly, Dracula appears and exclaims:

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.” 

Eric Kwan-Way Yu observes that “vampirism here does not guarantee longevity and sexual prowess; on the contrary, it means victimization, consumption, imprisonment, and the threat of promiscuity” (2006: 148). Some studies have claimed that this dialogue between Dracula and the women “suggests polygamy and bisexuality”as they are his brides.

Another sexual scene occurs in the night when Professor Van Helsing and Dr. Seward check for Mina’s safety. In Harker’s room they discovered a shocking scene: “the Count slits open his bare breast and forces Mina to suck his blood”. This act can often be interpreted as a forced fellatio.

In conclusion, during the Victorian period sex suffered from a double perspective. On the one hand, to talk about sex in public was morally banned and considered indecent. On the other hand, people wanted to experiment with the desires of sex they felt. The problem was that men and women could not experiment sex in the same way: sex was pleasure for men but for women it sometimes was a contract to fulfil for his husband. In the novel of Dracula, we find both sides expressed by women. First, we can find a dichotomy between the two principal human women. Lucy was a beautiful and angelical woman concerned with finding a husband. Mina had a husband but she still was an independent woman who liked to progress in her life and also be a loyal wife. Secondly, we can see that vampire women appear in the novel causing a sexual desire in Harker that could have been accomplished if the Count didn’t enter into the room. Using fictitious figures made it easier to introduce erotic scenes by hiding them in the form of vampiric attacks.

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