Sexual Desire in Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a Means of Revealing Imperfections of the Victorian Society
Considered the classics of horror genre, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a very powerful novel. Apart from Hollywood-like special effects of vampires’ transformations and their terrifying encounters with human beings, the work presents a number of other important issues. For instance, the theme of sexuality and sexual desire is thoroughly presented in the novel. Reasonably, one may note that it is all about sex, but the essence of author’s approach to writing his masterpiece can be clarified through an in-depth analysis only. On the one hand, the Count’s lifestyle seems to embody the greatest evils of humanity that contradict the norms and behavioral rules set by the society of that time. On the other hand, Dracula’s life is free of barriers that humans cannot overcome being limited by social prejudices and religious burdens, which are mere means of control over human minds. Therefore, the motive of sexual desire is an eloquent means to show the vices and shortcomings of Victorian society.
Hidden Desires vs. Societal Limitations
To begin with, sexual desire demonstrates the fact that social dogmas limit individuals’ life choices and possibilities to live to the fullest. For example, Jonathan’s encounter with weird sisters or Dracula’s mistresses is a vivid illustration of this issue. First, the below quotation explicitly emphasizes the fact that Harker is inevitably affected and sexually excited by these ladies:
“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. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth” (Stoker 3.29).
A hero feels an overwhelming desire, but is forced to admit that he has a fiancée, which makes him attempt to abandon the sexual lust in order to remain an obedient and righteous representative of a society in which the expectations of others are weighted above human individuality and nature. Thus, instead of following the rules of nature where mating and sexual intercourse are the norms for reproduction and manifestation of a direct male function, Jonathan is obliged by the laws of society, especially religious standards, which identify sex as a marriage-focused issue and a sin behind its scope.
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What is more, in the light of revelation of sexual desires, this topic is further explicated in the male-to-female dominance where the will of a man should be superior to that of a woman. Man’s willingness to be controlled by a woman as a sexually aggressive partner manifests male’s weakness and thus, it has to be eradicated or at least hidden, given the social norms. Such societal limitation is clearly demonstrated in the following quotation:
“The fair girl went on her knees, and bent over me, fairly gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth” (Stocker 3.32).
Given this description, one of the weird sisters is presented as an animal-like sexual object who seduces a man by making him feel utmost and all-embracing sexual desire, and be under her control in a quest of delight and satisfaction. The Victorian age was an era of male superiority in everything, including sexual behavior. Thus, Jonathan’s wishes and revelations represent him and men in general as a weaker gender, even though such state of affairs was unacceptable in the society of the late 19th century. In contrast, the vampire’s kiss depicts a woman as an aggressor within sexual domain demonstrating that men and women change their powers in such circumstances. On a similar note, a man, namely Jonathan, seems quite satisfied with rather passive role despite the social prejudices held by the majority. This evidences that the strict distinction between male and female roles in a society was a great flaw in its overall functioning. Consistent and blind adherence to generalized standards is both impossible and unjust in respect to human individuality.
Patriarchal Dominance in Society
In addition, patriarchy is presented in Dracula in the light of sexual desire motifs as well. First, the Count himself is the greatest patriarch in the general hierarchy of characters in the novel. Besides exercising control over the behavior and practices of his three mistresses, Jonathan is a subject to specific desire that drives his wishes to establish and maintain his control. Previously illustrated awakening of Harker’s lust for the vampire wives, in fact, demonstrates Dracula’s dominant position, whom he trains like wolves to obey his orders by emphasizing his power over them: “How dare you touch him? Any of you! How dare you cast eyes upon him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! Beware how you meddle with him, or you shall have to deal with me!” (Stoker 3.37). This phrase by the Count embodies an entire inner sense of the men-centered society. His character behaves as a sole proprietor of human life, especially in female’s perspective. Similar attitude was relevant in Victorian society where even royal females should have obeyed male’s superiority.
‘Forbidden’ Female Sexuality
At the same time, the novel presents female’s sexuality not only by proving its existence, but also by depicting this phenomenon in contrast to the patriarchal dominance in everything. Lucy’s story is the most self-explanatory example of this factor. First, this is evidenced by her dilemma in terms of choosing her future husband among the three candidates. In the text, it is demonstrated in one of her letters to Mina. She writes a few rhetorical questions, which the society cannot answer: “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble? But this is heresy, and I must not say it” (Stoker 5.15). This implies that Lucy’s sexuality contradicts her inner beliefs. At the same time, she is also forced to contradict these aspirations.
Further, Dracula’s vampirism allows Lucy to reveal her inner self and free her desires in contrast to the previous limitations based on societal rules of thought and behavior. To illustrate, she addresses Arthur in a sexual manner without hiding her all-embracing desire: “In a sort of sleep-waking, vague, unconscious way she opened her eyes, which were now dull and hard at once, and said in a soft, voluptuous voice, such as I had never heard from her lips: – “Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!” (Stocker 12.70-71). Therefore, vampirism allows Lucy, and perhaps any other woman, to raise her own voice rather than be forced to imprison her actual wishes and sexuality behind the bars of societal and religious dogmas. In this context, vampire blood has become a means of self-revelation or a truth drug, so to speak.
Finally, sexual desire enables females to reveal their affection toward men they choose for life better in comparison to forced obedience to husbands’ will that is promoted by social standards. As soon as sexual freedom previously desired by Lucy is achieved, she wishes to be with a man she has chosen as her husband and expresses this wish openly. Lucy’s following quotation can be referred to as an example of this wish: “Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!” There was something diabolically sweet in her tones – something of the tingling of glass when struck” (Stoker 12.74-75). While Arthur has not yet found a kind-hearted and noble woman to fall in love with, he feels this desire as well. Clearly, this does not mean that females are completely lust-overwhelmed creatures. The real meaning of this novel is the revelation that society, which develops rules and guidelines for people’s behavior creates the stereotypes that are baseless modes of control over human nature. The latter is structured in a different manner. For this reason, human nature is vulnerable to evils and this makes individuals rebel.
Last but not the least issue to consider is homosexuality, which is another topic in the scope of societal restrictions that vampire’s sexual desires allow to derive and explicate as existing aspects of a society. In the context of a novel, this forbidden topic is articulated through Dracula’s attitudes toward Jonathan. Its acute illustration is vivid when Jonathan has cut himself while shaving and a slight strip of blood flows on his neck tempting Dracula. Additionally, the previously argued forbid of his mistresses touching the realtor since he belongs to him, evidences his homosexual feelings to a young man. What is more, he believes that establishing at least partial possession over Mina, who belongs to Harker, her fiancée, will allow him to own Jonathan to a certain extent, given an example of how she sucked blood from his chest that is described as an act of oral sex:
“. . . the Count turned his face, and the hellish look that I had heard described seemed to leap into it. His eyes flamed red with devilish passion. The great nostrils of the white aquiline nose opened wide and quivered at the edge, and the white sharp teeth, behind the full lips of the blood dripping mouth, clamped together like those of a wild beast” (Stoker 21.41).
In this light, Dracula merely frees all the vices that are present in a society of his time rather than provokes people to become sinners and evokes sexual desires, which allows readers to trace this connection between myths and realities of a social life.
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Based on the analysis, it is evident that the motif of sexual desire in Dracula is a well-organized literary means that allowed the author to explicate the vices and shortcomings of Victorian society. With this approach, Stoker revealed to the world that human nature is sinful in its nature, while society and religion altogether constrain human wishes and desires that are innate. Undoubtedly, this does not mean that there should be no norms or standards of behavior. However, the society of his time was based on a self-lie that contradicted any aspects of individualism. Hence, Stoker used sexuality as a means to show this drawback given the examples of Jonathan, Mina, Lucy and other characters.