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Books

Representation Of Sexuality In Stoker’s Dracula And Carter’s The Courtship Of Mr. Lyon And The Tiger’s Bride

June 23, 2022 by Essay Writer

Sexuality and desire have always been explored in the Gothic genre, either in the form of sexual awakening, homoeroticism or female sexuality. Sexuality in literature is frequently a reflection of the time period and social environment in which the text was written. Thus, in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, although we have a vampire myth novel filled with violence and terror, the story is a veiled disguise of the repressed sexual conventions of the Victorian era. On the other hand, Carter’s modern and feministic adaptations of The Courtship of Mr. Lyon and The Tiger’s Bride destabilize the binary Beauty-Beast. As the heroines struggle to free themselves from patriarchal authority, repel female objectification and become emancipated, Carter’s satirical language touches upon social restrictions, reality and appearances, and most importantly sexual existence; beautiful, perverse, animalistic, and liberatory. Therefore, the present paper concentrates on the representation of sexuality in Stoker’s and Carter’s aforementioned writings.

At the time, sexuality and eroticism were controversial topics, with emphasis placed on the importance of treating such issues with caution and awareness as well as encouraging an overall chaste and modest lifestyle. Within the Victorian society, a woman had two roles; she was either a pure and innocent virgin or a wife and mother. If she was unable to fulfill any of these two roles, she was considered an unworthy member of society. Such beliefs are intensely represented throughout the two novels and frequently focus on the glorifying resistance of temptation while advising against the inevitable temptation to “taste the forbidden fruit”. It is actually impossible to read both novels without paying attention to the sexual element, which stems from the need to highlight the sexual repression women underwent during the Victorian era. Historical context – I believe – is an essential part that should be taken into consideration in such an analysis. To begin with, the Victorian woman was expected to be pure until marriage and not show or perform any seductive acts towards men. In other words, men, enjoyed dominance over the women in terms of engaging in sexual endeavors. Consequently, they were able to engage and satisfy their sexual urges without facing condemnation or punishment, whereas women were not allowed to express their sexual desires openly, unless it was being done to please their husbands. If a woman challenged those roles by becoming sexually assertive concerning her desires, “her image of purity, fragility and submissive dependence upon men would be shattered, diluting the superior, dominant image of men, as well”, which was a great menace at that time. The two texts provide an illustration of Victorian fears of the changing role of women through a role reversal between the male and female characters, with the female characters taking more active roles than Victorian restrictions allowed women in society.

In Stoker’s Dracula, Mina is presented as the paradigm of the ideal Victorian woman. She is a pure proper woman; “She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist”. Almost her entire existence is devoted to her future husband and her aspiration of becoming a good wife and mother, an “angel of the house” in other words. Jonathan, during his business in Transylvania, refers to her in connection with cooking recipes and the like, suggesting her preoccupation with marriage and the household. Also, in the correspondence between Mina and her friend Lucy, marriage is a frequent topic and seems to be everything they dream of. When Mina is finally married to Jonathan, she writes in her diary that she is “the happiest woman in all the wide world” and that her life will consist of “love and duty for all the days of their life”. Contrary to Lucy and her promiscuous tendencies, Mina is unquestionably innocent and morally adequate, as it is emphasized through the “light sky blue colour” of her dress and her “low-profile make-up”, which do not indicate any sensuality but rather tradition and demureness. She does not exhibit any kind of physical attraction towards Jonathan, not to mention any other man. Her purity is only once questioned, when she writes about Dracula’s seduction and suggests that she “did not want to hinder him”. Her intelligence and practical skills contribute to the “usefulness” that is expected of Victorian women. However, her transformation into a vampire threatens to destroy everything that she is, defiling her chastity and turning her into something she did not want to be; “Unclean! Unclean!”, she cries out when she realizes what has happened. In a way, Stoker demonstrates that in the case of innocent, loyal Mina, Dracula has seduced her and is broadening her sexual horizons against her will, making her experience feelings she never thought existed and yet Mina, ever the “good girl”, attempts to fight these changes.

Lucy, on the other hand, is depicted as a woman who is driven by her sexual openness and flirtatious, alluring nature; “why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her?” She is described as a young woman entering the prime of her life. Her physical beauty arouses the interest of all her suitors and she enjoys the attention she would not attract otherwise from the men of her society “Here I am, who shall be twenty in September, and yet I never had a proposal till to-day, not a real proposal, and to-day I have had three. Just fancy! Three proposals in one day! Isn’t it awful! I feel sorry, really and truly sorry, for two of the poor fellows”. From the very beginning, the reader is exposed to a character being superficial, promiscuous and quite “modern” for the needs of the society. Lucy dares – out of her innocence – to give a kiss to a man that she is neither engaged nor married to, showing her ease to act in such a manner, irrespective of what the rest would think of her. And it is this innocence and lack of awareness of the world that lead to her downfall. Furthermore, her being presented in a sleep-walking state, allows her to reveal her suppressed sexual desires and equally strongly feared fantasies. She can unconsciously and quite freely express her thoughts and longings. It is at this state also, that her transformation into a vampire is achieved. And once more despite the fact that Lucy as a vampire releases all of her innate, yet restrained sexual urges and passions, her purity is annihilated and she is turned into a “voluptuous wantonness”. Her ravenous, insatiable sexual hunger is now increasingly more obvious; “Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!”, she utters “in a soft, voluptuous voice, such as I had never heard from her lips”. Finally, it can be inferred that Lucy’s psyche is vulnerable to Dracula’s invasions, since she is tempted by the sins of the flesh and falls prey to her bodily desires.

Equally important concerning the theme of sexuality in Dracula, are the three Sisters. Undoubtedly, these entities have strong sexual powers, eroticism and seduction as their weapons and for this reason they create an irresistible effect on men. Jonathan’s hidden desires are revealed by his description “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” and instead of fighting the three sisters, his body is aroused as he craves with a “burning desire” that the ladies would kiss him with their red lips. The inability of men to resist sexual temptation is exemplified once more when Van Helsing becomes easily overpowered by the three vampires and hesitates to kill them, mesmerized by their radiant beauty. According to Kwan Wai-Yu (2006), Lucy after her transformation into a vampire as well as the three sisters possess all the qualities a Victorian woman should not have; sexual forcefulness and insatiability. It can be said that sexuality was employed by women as a medium to seduce and hence dominate men. This idea was a disturbing and frightening concept in a conservative society and thus sexual desires on behalf of women were condemned during the Victorian period. “Women who were more sexually open and assertive were labeled as having tainted their purity with the sin of lust” and their acts were considered “unnatural”, since “unnatural” was anything out of the ordinary or against God’s will (what was “normal”).

In The Tiger’s Bride, sexuality and desire act as the driving force that lead to the transformation of the characters. From the very beginning, Beauty states that the Beast wears a mask that conceals all of his features but notices that he has “yellow eyes”, introducing the readers to his animal-beastie nature. Beauty, on the other hand, is linked to the symbol of a rose, which represents her virginity, beauty, youth and innocence, yet when it gets “smeared with blood” it foreshadows her imminent loss of virginity, nudity and revelation. As she strips away the petals of the flower, it symbolizes her stripping away the outer layers of attachment and personality to find her true core. Carter’s heroine disregards traditional notions of virginity and sexuality, taking control of her own sexuality when confronted with the Beast’s “bestial” desire to see her naked; “You may put me in a windowless room, sir…no lights”. Rather than being objectified she prefers to be a prostitute; “I wish I’d rolled in the hay with every lad on my father’s farm to disqualify myself from this humiliating bargain. Finally, the Beast makes himself vulnerable by undressing and removing his mask revealing his true self of a tiger to the heroine, putting them on a sort of equal ground. Consequently, Beauty feels comfortable enough to give him what he has wanted all along; to see her in the way that “no man has seen before”. Beauty endures the excruciating pain in order to get access to her true self, reclaim her sexual desires and break away from the doll-like mold she had previously been filling for people like her father; she feels “atrocious pain as if were stripping off own under pelt”, while at the same time realizes how unnatural it feels to be naked, vulnerable, without the protection of clothing. The Beast literally “licks the skin off” of the heroine to reveal her “beautiful fur” and that she, too, is a tiger. Her rebirth as a wild tigress marks her ultimate loss of purity. Finally, Beauty has chosen to become a tiger, rather than tame the beast’s heart like the heroine in “The Courtship of Mr. Lyon” to liberate herself; “The lamb must learn to run with the tigers”, she utters welcoming her new animal self and proving that she was always a tiger she just had to “learn to run with the tigers” to release her inner tiger, her true self and her bestial desires. Above all, this revision of “Beauty and the Beast” is a tale of self-discovery, rejection of women’s objectification, and identification of the “human body as fundamentally animal, with animal desires”.

Like the former revision of “Beauty and the Beast”, in The Courtship of Mr. Lyon, Beauty is once more presented as the mistress of the sexual game. Her body and feelings are given as a pledge to the Beast in compensation for her father’s theft of its rose. Her request for a single white rose symbolizes her chastity and delicacy. Carter emphasizes Beauty’s innocence and virginity by comparing her to “the immaculate snow upon which she gazes”; “This lovely girl, whose skin possesses that same, inner light …as a spilled bolt of bridal satin”. The heroine is a sacrificial “Miss Lamb”, a dish fit for a lion, since “her visit to the Beast must be, on some magically reciprocal scale, the price of her father’s good fortune”. The Beast is wooed by a seemingly innocent girl, whose sex drive and fantasies remain constrained, owing to the social norms of the era. Yet, a role reversal is observed as Mr. Lyon’s animalistic nature can be easily disciplined by a woman’s influence. Beauty is now the dominant partner of the shy male; “He forced himself to master his shyness, which was that of a wild creature, and so she contrived to master her own – to such effect that soon she was chattering away to him as if she had known him all her life”. The darker and animalistic elements of sexuality are explored in The Courtship of Mr. Lyon, as the two distinct worlds are gradually becoming unified towards the final metamorphosis; “these strange companions were suddenly overcome with embarrassment to find themselves together, alone, in that room…all he is doing is kissing my hands”. Tamed and courted, as the title suggests, the Beast has now transformed into a man, as a result of sexual desire and love for his Beauty; “And then it was no longer a lion in her arms but a man, a man with an unkempt mane of hair and, how strange, a broken nose, such as the noses of retired boxers, that gave him a distant, heroic resemblance to the handsomest of all the beasts”.

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