Fin De Síecle & Dracula
No more religion... just pure unadulterated 1890's naughtiness!
Let's start at the beginning.
Victorian Britain was an of supremacy, class warfare, and global domination. The Golden Period in British history was due in large part to Britain's expansion into neighboring countries and securing their resources. Britain becomes the most powerful and rich country of the time, due mainly to the industrialization of Britain and acquisitions of land aboard. Scientific inventions such as the telephone, the radio, railways, sewing machines slingshot Britain to the forefront of technological advances. Resources and Goods were easily be transported by steamships and railways which resulted in quicker facilitation of trade. Religion takes a hit when there is a huge leap forward in Scientific Advancements.
As a result of this exponential growth, Britain also their fair share of problems Housing became more difficult thereby resulting in overcrowding and the development of slums. The rising rate of child labor in mines and factories destroys the youth culture. Science replaces Religion which determines the moral role of the age. Due to the economic hardships of the time, prostitution increases; usually between the ages 15 - 22. Poverty increased substantially due to rise in population. Social Class Wage gap increases with the rich richer and the poor poorer. Etiquette was a social requirement. Fashion showed your social status. And, there were unspoken rules that women were required to wear very conservative dresses.
Gender Roles: Women
- Social status below men
- Only speak when spoken to; pure and quiet
- Men controlled their dress, demeanor, choices, property
- Never aggressive
- Women were shy, weak and emotional
- Must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages
- Refined manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions: graceful and feminine
- Women were assumed to desire marriage because it allowed them to become mothers rather than to pursue sexual or emotional satisfaction.
Gender Roles: Men
- Head of the family
- Protector and the lord of the house
- Strong, brave and hard-working
- Women could not have sex with any other men except their husbands. However, this rule did not apply to men
- Pursue money above all things
- Avid hunter, Proud nationalist,
- Well-groomed, frequent the arts
- Schooled in business, economics, and world affairs.
The hardships, advances, and gender roles were explored in many books throughout the era. William Thackeray, Jane Eyre, Oscar Wilde, Charles Dickens, Brontë sisters, George Eliot and Thomas Hardy celebrated the era and were guideposts for historical reflection.
One such book was authored by Irishman Brom Stoker. Having died in poverty of a stroke, his works would not gain fame until after his death when his work was stolen and adapted by a German Filmmaker Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau, who made the infamous Nosferatu. Stoker was a progressive man very interested in the occult, medicine, science, and progress of humanity, as well as, loyalist monarchist to the crown. His novel, Dracula, was not popular during his lifetime but looking back, his book is an excellent example of Victoria's norms and social roles. Each character within the story represents an important aspect of Victorian Society. However, the shocking part of the novel was the depiction of lust, sexual tension, sensuality, and domination of men over women.
The Seduction of Dracula
Podonsky, A. M offers an interesting glimpse into the mind of Bram Stoker and his connection to the end of Victoria Ideas:
"The dated ideas reflected in Dracula focus primarily on the concepts of lust, sex, and evil as they were viewed during the late 19th and 20th centuries in what can be viewed as a strongly conservative society. At the time, sex and homosexuality were controversial topics, with emphasis constantly put upon the importance of using caution and awareness when involving such matters and encouraging an overall chaste and modest lifestyle. Such beliefs are boldly represented throughout the book and often center on the glorifying resistance of temptation while advising against the inevitable temptation to "taste the forbidden fruit".
The Victorian Era was everything your grandma's etiquette demanded, especially, if you were a woman. Women were strictly watched by chaperones, adhered to heavily enforced fashion, sit up straight, take in 200 calories a day, and above all, never speak your mind. You were to be married off, keep house, and raise children. Seduction, kissing, sex -- GASP! These were off-limits. My younger students may not remember the craze of 50 Shades of Grey however, that was very similar to the release of the Dracula. Your typical housewife does not discuss being whipped and handcuffed, let alone, eluding to the fact she enjoys it. That topic, today, is still taboo over the dinner table! Now, picture that same topic hundreds of years ago - with your great-grandma! The Victorians were not about to discuss their bedroom practices out loud.
Another aspect of the Victoria age was male superiority over women. Hence the symbolic nature of Dracula usually coming from behind and dominating the demeanor of a petite lady.
"The patriarchal tendencies and views of the Victorian society further enforced male superiority and dominance over women (therefore automatically granting them the most freedoms), which in turn also provided countless excuses to justify male sexuality and carnal urges; especially those which women were expected to suppress and constantly refrain from expressing" (Podonsky, A. M).
During the Victorian Age, to assert yourself sexually, as a woman, was evil! But what is evil? How do you define evil outside the realm of religion? Is it showing an ankle? Perhaps, showing your neckline? Is evil a woman voicing her name while pleasuring herself?
The symbolic nature within books such as Dracula, and even, Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, discussed the unnatural satanic nature of humankind, "The mentality ultimately supported the conclusion that the female sex drive has no purpose and, therefore, should not exist" (Podonsky).
The Victorians strongly discouraged women from acting upon their sexual urges. Do not pleasure yourself! Do not talk out of turn! Do not raise your voice! Dracula was different. Stoker presents three she-devils who seductively tempt man and slowly stuck the life out of him as if to warn men of the licentious nature of woman.
"One said, "Go on! You are first, and we shall follow. Yours' is the right to begin."
The other added, "He is young and strong. There are kisses for us all."
I lay quiet, looking out from under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation. The fair girl advanced and bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me. Sweet it was in one sense, honey-sweet, and sent the same tingling through the nerves as her voice, but with a bitter underlying the sweet, bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood.
I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. 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 arched her neck, she licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one's flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super-sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart." (Dracula, Ch. 3).
"Serving as Bram Stoker's release of sexual frustration and despair in a time when it was suppressed, Dracula contains references to the behaviors known (in his day) as the three "chief" sexual perversions: the sexually active woman, the rapist (an exaggeration of an "excessively powerful" and "dominant" male figure), and, most prominently, the homosexual male...yet existing, nonetheless, was Stoker's message silently protesting the smothering expectations of an overly confining and limiting society, right beneath their very noses."
"Overly confining and limiting society", that was the Victorians. The question remained, how long can you suppress the minds of women before they rise and revolt? The Victorians were about to find out.
Why is seduction taboo in the Victorian Age? Why is it perceived as non-existent in our Modern Age?