When one thinks of women living in the Victorian Era, they may cast a sympathetic view believing that women were entirely oppressed and would not dare step outside these socially constructed boundaries of how a woman ought to behave or act. The traditionally held belief of Victorian women is that they were were solely used as an instrument to raise children with a strict notion of morality and to do menial house chores while their husbands were hard at work providing for their family as the stereotypical breadwinner. However, this notion of fixed gender stereotypes was not always true as exhibited by the V & A article on ‘Gender and sexuality in Victorian England’.
“The Victorian period saw the beginnings of a shift in social philosophy regarding legal and customary gender relations. This shift was marked by a move away from the patriarchal pattern of male supremacy/female dependency”
One way in which women defied the socially constructed norms for women was through prostitution. Although any attempt to defy these norms would lead to harsh criticism by society with women who do so being labelled ‘fallen women’. Henry Mayhew interviewed prostitutes and uncovered the notion of the 'happy prostitute whom he described as
"[...]the thoroughly hardened, clever infidel, who knows how to command men and use them for her own purposes; who is in the best set both of men and women."The 'happy prostitute' encapsulates this "move away from the patriarchal pattern of male supremacy/ female dependency". The man becomes dependent on the prostitute to fulfil his desires and therefore this leads to female supremacy in relation to the happy prostitute. However this concept of female sexual prowess would have been highly frowned upon during the Victorian era, mainly due to the fact these women would have been defiant of the widely held belief at the time that you must only sexually please your husband. Prostitutes were often referred to as 'fallen women', a woman has her lost her innocence. Artists such as Redgrave captured these images of 'the Fallen Woman'. Redgrave's 'The Outcast' portrays the traditional victorian family setting- however shows a mother, on her knees outstretching her arms in a plea of desperation for her illegitimate child to not be killed.
The Outcast by Richard Redgrave, RA, 1851. Oil on canvas
(Here a stern patriarch evicts his daughter and her illegitimate baby into a literal cold, for snow falls beyond the threshold)
Dante Gabriel Rosetti- 'Found' 1865-1869
(dealing with the issue of urban prostitution)
In feminism being pushed for so heavily today, it is clear that women are being treated unfairly at the hands of social injustice. However, we live in a society where women are boldly making progressive steps to ensure equality between men and women to root out these social injustices.
These progressive steps may be seen in light of just how far women have come since the Victorian era in regards to the changing of law and legislature. Whilst some of the legislature passed marked pivotal moments in the shaping of female empowerment, it also displayed the social injustices women faced in the early Victorian era up to that point. For example, it was only in 1857 that women were permitted to divorce husbands who were cruel to them and only in 1870 that women were allowed to keep money that they had earned
Malheiro supports this stereotypical notion of women in the Victorian era claiming,
“The image most of us have of the Victorian woman is home loving and devoted to family […] she is sympathetic, unselfish and sacrifices herself daily[…] It is her job to take care of the children and run the household maintaining it as a tranquil refuge for when her husband comes home from work. Her innocence and purity are her virtues.”Surprisingly, in 1870, Queen Victoria herself stated, “Let women be what God intended, a helpmate for man, but with totally different duties and vocations”. For a woman of such elevated power, these words presented a damning view for women who wished to fight back against social injustices. However, Queen Victoria herself was creating socially constructed ideals for how women were to be during the Victorian era.
However, women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula defy these traditional Victorian roles. Lucy Westrana explores female promiscuity whereas Mina Harker embodies the notion of the ‘new woman’. Lucy increasingly challenges the gender idyll of the the stereotypical female becoming increasingly sexualized and ‘voluptuous’.
“Dracula presents a […] hyperbolic, instance of Victorian anxiety over the potential fluidity of gender-roles”
|Modern-day adaptation of Mina Harker-Dracula 3D 2012|
Lucy however explores the notion of female promiscuity, defying the traditional belief that women ought to get married and boasts, “Just fancy. THREE proposals in one day!”. Furthermore, Dracula heightens Lucy’s voluptuous nature after her contamination. Davidson suggests that Dracula,
“links the validation of vampirism to a repudiation of Victorian gender norms”.
This rejecting of Victorian values is identifiable through Lucys increased sexual nature after she is contaminated. Through Dracula puncturing Lucy’s neck, he has performed the sexual act of penetration and arguably, this act take’s Lucy’s virginity. In regards to the social conventions at the time, this would deem Lucy a ‘fallen woman’.This vampiric Lucy in particular threatens the traditional Victorian female. A strict social convention for victorian women would have been to marry, have children and raise the children up with the highest moral standards. . However Lucy’s vampyrism leads her to murdering and victimising these children, ‘the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast... gave a sharp cry and lay there moaning’. Such imagery depicts Lucy in a negative light removing all maternal nature from her and deeming her as acting totally against how Victorian women were to be. In the child giving a ‘sharp cry’ and Lucy ‘growling over it as a dog growls over a bone’ we begin to view Lucy as something animalistic incapable of repressing carnal desires. Through these actions, Lucy greatly undermines and challenges the gender idyll of Victorian women at the time.
|Joanna Hickman playing Lucy Westrana|
In modern day adaptation of 'Dracula
Bram Stoker, Dracula, New York Grossset & Dunlap publishers, 1897
V&A article on Gender and Sexuality in Victorian England-http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/i/gender-health-medicine-and-sexuality-in-victorian-england/
Henry Mayhew, London Labour and the London Poor. London: Griffin, Bohn and Company, Stationer's Hall Court. 1862
Fred Botting, Dale Townshend, Gothic: Nineteenth-century Gothic: at home with the vampire, Taylor and Francis, 1 January 2004, 264
Bram Stoker's Dracula: Sucking Through the Century, 1897-1997, Carol Margaret Davison, Paul Simpson- Housley, 136
The Outcast, Richard Redgrave, 1851- http://www.racollection.org.uk/ixbin/indexplus?record=ART72
Dante Gabriel Rosetti 'Found' 1865-1869- http://www.victorianweb.org/painting/dgr/
Mina Harker- http://galleryhip.com/argentos-dracula.html
Lucy Westrana- http://joannahickman.com/page3.htm