Literary Vampirism Destabilizes Traditional Gender Roles English Literature Essay

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1st Jan 1970 English Literature Reference this


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In the Eighteenth Century, vampire literature started to first appear. Vampirism in its literary form was seen as a representation of the Victorian ideas and fears of gender. It was believed during the Victorian era the male meant to be forceful. He is “the protector, the doer, the giver, the defender.” Whereas the female was not only virginal, passive yet receptive however Victorian women had to be intelligent and deceiving. Otherwise if they demonstrated feminine sexuality there would be swift accusations of witchcraft, homoeroticism that would arise. In gothic fiction gender roles would be destabilized and inverted; it almost seems that the gender roles switch amongst the two sexes. Carl Jung also mentions this in his theory of analytical psychology, specifically the animus; unconscious masculine component in women and anima; the unconscious feminine characteristic in men. This theory would go on to explain and draw a relationship to the rise of dominant females and passive males, not normal in a common culture. In the Victorian culture literary vampirism “feeds” off such anxieties: gender destabilization, homosexuality, feminine sexuality.

This gender inversion can be demonstrated with the male who is “the doer, the protector” is suddenly inverted and becomes passive. What is more, an inversion occurs through the female as well, as they take on the animus; an unconscious masculinized characteristic that arise in females. The female would take on the forceful role to be the instigator which is almost common in gothic literature. This happens in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Marion Crawford’s For the Blood is the life and Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu.

In the story of Dracula by Bram Stoker, Jonathan Harker is feminized by his inability to act when he realizes he is a prisoner in Dracula’s castle and feels deeply afraid, “The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!” (Stoker 57). As a male character in a gothic literature Jonathan goes from the doer, the protector and is destabilized in terms of his gender. Jonathan has become passive and simply feels as a prisoner of Dracula.

Jonathan’s inability to act is similar to the rights of women in the Victorian era. Women did not have many rights and when they found themselves in a situation they were usually overcome with a sense of helplessness.

“When I found that I was a prisoner a sort of wild feeling came over me. I rushed up and down the stairs, trying every door and peering out of every window I could find; but after a little the conviction of my helplessness overpowered all other feelings” (Stoker 58).

In Jonathans’ case he becomes completely overpowered by this feeling. The quote taken out of Dracula, could apply to many women who felt the suppression of male dominance in a society where it was not wrong to do so. What is more, Jonathan Harker demonstrates his unconscious feminine characteristic, the anima, which was becoming more lucid. The feminine component in that specific time period as mentioned earlier was that women “felt feelings”, they were innocent, virginal, helpless. Also it would also be the male, conscious or unconscious possessing traits such as protector, defender, doer to rescue the damsel in distress. The conviction of Harkers’ feelings overpowering all other feelings is not common, and could possibly be referring to Harkers’ gender inversion taking stage.

Jonathan encounters the three female vampires who are open to their sexuality and is seduced by the three female vampires,

“All three had brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. 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” (Stoker 68).

The three female vampires were once again open to their sexuality which is unheard of in Victorian women, “He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.” (Stoker 69). Mina encompasses the feminine passive trait and “innocence” which was considered as a “proper” Victorian woman.

What is more, despite being engaged to Mina, Jonathan Harker enjoys the “delicious penetration” from these three vampires,

“[He] could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of [his] throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. [He] closed [his] eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with [a] beating heart” (Stoker 70).

The gender inversion is a perfect parody of sexual intercourse where the female initiate, penetrates and dominates and Jonathan the male example is the receiver and who waits for the penetration. Furthermore, this love making collides with what was violence and child murder, “If my ears did not deceive me there was a gasp and a low wail, as of a half-smothered child” (Stoker 71).

The most violent scene seems to be the scene that first gives birth to gender stabilization and the elimination of homoeroticism for the first time in Dracula. Similar to how Dracula penetrate women in non-sexual way with his fangs, Van Helsing is similar to Dracula with a needle. This occurs with the blood transfusion that Van Helsing along with Dr. Seward, and Arthur were administering to Lucy in order to replace the blood she gave to Dracula. In addition, the transfusion of blood from the crew of light helps stabilize Lucy from becoming sexually inverted. However it was not enough to prevent her from becoming a vampire and in some ways subliminally become homoerotic and sexually inverted. It is up to the penetrating and forceful actions from Van Helsing that poses a threat to a sexualized woman, it jeopardizes their feminine sexuality. Perhaps one can make the argument that Van Helsing represents the common interest of men in the Victorian Era (repress women), whereas Lucy represents the feminist movement. What is more in the scene where Arthur stakes Lucy, she is punished for the expose of her unconscious masculine component; the animus. The staking itself is symbolic because it assures “Van Helsing” that they purged the constant “hungering” for feminine sexuality. Finally reverting the homoeroticism and imposing the passive and receptive female role.

In Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu, Carmilla and Laura are two acquaintances. As the story progresses the audience begins to noticed that Laura begins to fall under the seduction of her houseguest Carmilla. This story becomes important in gothic literature as it tackles the issues of same-sex relationships or homoeroticism, as per usual for a recurring theme it would arise in Dracula as well. Carmillas’ nature was confident, forceful or quick tempered which could explain her aggression and more importantly her lustful pursuit of Laura. Opposite to Carmilla is Laura who represents the purity of a Victorian woman, innate innocence, accepting, receptive and passive.

For the blood is the Life, Angelo is a wealthy bachelor in his village, He lives with his father Alario, unfortunately when Alario passes away, Angelo is left unprotected and alone with his inheritance stolen. “Angelo was very unhappy. So long as his father had been alive and rich, every girl in the village had been in love with him; but that has all changed now” (Crawford 196). In addition to Angelo’s inheritance being stolen all the women in the village disregard him. Perhaps this demonstrates how cruel and materialistic the society is growing to be with currency, this could possibly be an argument made subliminally in literature. What is more a relationship was driven by the main principle that the male was the provider and need to be finically established and the female common to history stayed at home. However intellectually and deceitfully (Tiger and Elena Woods), the women would attempt to drain the man of his “life force”, in cash and in sperm.

In the story For the blood is the life, “Cristina smiled at [Angelo] she showed two small sharp teeth” (Crawford 197). The two small sharp teeth that Cristina shows are perhaps her method of penetrating Angelo, “They feasted on his soul and cast a spell over him” (Crawford 197). The penetration throughout this scene seems to occur in a dream, which could point out a non-physical mean of penetrating Angelo. Once again this is similar to how Dracula uses his teeth to non-sexually penetrate their “victim”. Cristina does not express traits of feminine sexuality but perhaps it must be taken in context, because she has the ability to put Angelo in a trance. During this trance state Angelo has a double consciousness, he is not aware however all he is conscious is about is they are wonderful,

“And as she glided beside him, Cristina whispered strange sweet things in his ear, which somehow, if he had been awake, he know that he could not have understood; but now they were the most wonderful words he had ever heard in his life.” (Crawford 198)

Furthermore, in the story of For the blood is the life and Dracula there is evidence relating to Sigmund Freud’s Primal Horde theory. The Primal horde theory basically refers to a system where a son becomes a father not vice versa. In For the blood is the life, what can be seen is the way the Primal Horde theory would work under normal circumstances. The son Angelo is the successor of Algario and his fortune. Angelo will become the new head of the family. However in Dracula when the Count refers Mina, as “flesh of my flesh; blood of my blood; kin of my kin…” (Stoker 328). This implies that they will become blood related most likely through marriage and it is then that Mina will become the loyal servant a daughter of Dracula. This works strangely as Dracula would works in the opposite direction of Sigmund’s primal horde, “My bountiful wine-press for a while; and shall be later on my companion and my helper” (Stoker 328).

As a recurring theme in gothic literature, one can argue that it is always the female that instigates the sexual or non-sexual interaction. Whereas the male who is the forceful one, seems to invert into what was considered a Victorian woman, passive yet receptive. However as it has been established in this paper the context is very important into understanding the meaning within these fearful yet exciting stories. The three works of fiction: Dracula by Bram Stoker, For the blood is the life by F. Marion Crawford and Carmilla by J. Sheridan LeFanu, encompasses the main themes found in gothic literature. Just to list a few of the themes gender destabilization and inversion, homoeroticism and homosexuality and feminine sexuality are the themes that gothic literature uses to exploit the fears during the Victorian Era.

The destabilization of ones gender gives an uprising to the unconscious component male or female. This is known as the psychoanalytical theory known as the animus and anima coined by Carl Jung. We saw this in Dracula with the three vampires that instigated and seduced (Animus) the inverted passive Jonathan Harker(Anima) who required the Count as the rescuer to save him.

In a time heavily dominated by male opinion and power it would be a nightmare to in vision a feminist movement. The gender roles have been established far before the maturing of the current society, where the expectation of women would been seen as barbaric. “Society and Culture” expected its women to be obedient, passive with no opinion, receiving especially to appear innocent. Any women who was intelligent enough would not mention a word of this repression of women rights. Perhaps the history of women repression and the fear of gender inversion, homosexuality and feminine sexuality, paved way for literary vampirism to be such an interesting read. What is more are some of these characteristics of gothic literature still exist today, certainly the repression of women and the idea of traditional gender role still exist to some extent, although there may not be the accusation of witchcraft. Stoning a woman to death is still an option in some Islamic cultures.

Work Cited

Crawford, F. Marion. “For the Blood is the Life.” The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. Ed. Allan Ryan.

New York: The Penguin Group, 1987. Print.

Freud, Sigmund. “Civilization and its Discontents.”

Web. 5 April 2011

Jung, G. Carl. “Aion: Researches into the phenomenology of the self.” Vol. 9.2 of the Collected works of C.J. Jung. Trans. R.F.C. Hull.

Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. Web. 5 April 2011

LeFanu, J. Sheridan. “Carmilla.” The Penguin Book of Vampire Stories. Ed. Allan Ryan.

New York: The Penguin Group, 1987. Print.

Stoker, Bram. “Dracula.” Broadview Press Ltd. Ed. Glennis Byron.

Peterbrough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2000. Print.

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