Monday, December 20, 2010

The Marginalization of Women in the 19th Century as Seen in Comparison to Dracula and Jane Eyre

“The Marginalization of Women in the 19th Century as Seen in Comparison to Dracula and Jane Eyre”

            While published at different ends of the century, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Bram Stoker’s Dracula both explore similar cultural issues. Specifically, both works represent anxieties held by 19h century England over the role of women; how to place them in society. By exploring the values of society of the time as shown through the novels and supporting essays, a reader can then note how both authors are intentionally commenting on the lack of understanding of what to do with the placement of women. Similarly, by comparing the works one can find that not only do the authors feel that women are marginalized, but that they offer no solution under the current model, only further oppression by the system they are supporting.
            The emergence of the middle class is something that that still causes a sort of confusion. At the start of the 18th century there is a massive enthusiasm for the upcoming future. This is most notable through the time of the romantics, with such poets as Wordsworth, who held a hope for the future, seen with such lyrics and compositions as “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, / But to be young was very heaven! (Prefaces and Prologues). As we will discover, Jane Eyre embodies many of these elements. Similarly, near the end of the century at the time of Dracula’s publication, there is a emerging pessimistic view from the lifestyle brought on from industrialization and new importance placed on national identity. This aspect of national identity is important to look at, as it is here that one can begin to trace the eventual connecting threads in Dracula and Jane Eyre and the eventual role of women in this setting.
            With the lead character Jane in Bronte’s work, there is the ultimate image of a Victorian woman. She is a representation of what is expected of women in the 18th century; domestic rule. Interestingly, at the time of Jane Eyre’s publication, there was another popular format of literary works; the housewife manuals. These ‘how to guides’ dictated what a woman needed to do in order to keep her house in order. Ruskin in Sesame and Lilies explains that the role of women, indeed, of being English, as “The common notion that peace and common notions of civil life flourished together (Ruskin).” What holds these together is the domestic importance of the role of the woman ‘being the moral compass of the house.’ In other words, the role of the early 18th century woman is to temper the house and its inhabits toward the path of a domestic sense of morality – as in, an orderly and English house.
            Consider the storyline of Jane Eyre; for Jane to become happy in its ending, Bertha, the crazed woman in the attic that is Rochester (Jane’s love interest who she is not ‘worthy’ of being with) wife must remain in the attic or die. For Jane to finally be worthy of Rochester’s love, she must have the wealth of the colonies showered upon her (citation needed). All of these elements are exploitive and are a commentary for another issue at play here, which is the morality of the middle class existing at all. What is most important to consider at this point is that there is a focus in the paradigm of Britain to one of righteous domestic morals. This is because the middle class requires a moral righteousness to function. In Jane Eyre, she represents this, as being the ‘moral compass of the house’ as Ruskin describes. It is possible to conclude, with the popularity of such brazenly chauvinistic works like Ruskin’s, that the importance of domestic space and controlling it was put on the woman and that she required to keep balance by bringing a sense of moral purity.
            Thus the role of women in Jane Eyre is left relatively a developing role based upon exploitation from the British colonies. There is a sense of humor here; Jane is depicted as being strong willed and different. When Rochester courts Jane only to reveal Bertha, his wife trapped in the attic, Jane no longer can marry Rochester as doing so would compromise her dignity. She would be equivalent to a prostitute, which is not a career choice that fits into the emerging middle class aspect of morality. Interestingly, many unbelievable events happen that stifles Jane’s advancement in society. However, the novel would have you believe that she finds a sort of balance. As can be shown with the following quote, Jane’s only advancements come from funds received through the colonies Britain occupies that somehow reach her family:
“ Were we not four? Twenty thousand pounds shared quality would be thousand each-enough and to spare. Justice would be done –mutual happiness secured. (Bronte 331)”
This passage demonstrates how the Victorian women’s only hope is through the exploitation of the colonies, which is never properly questioned. This relates to the author, as one can safely guess that Bronte also wrestled with her role in society; she originally published Jane Eyre under the male pseudonym Currer Bell. That alone makes a statement of the role of women; writing such a commentary was not in the place of a woman. Yet, Bronte seems enthralled and interested by the trappings of middle class society. After all, Jane still ends up looking for Rochester on nothing more than a distant sound of his voice calling her.
Jane Eyre is a lesson to the reader that as long as a woman maintains a sense of Victorian principles, problems will be solved with wealth molested from the colonies. If one were to question the harsh use of the word, consider that the East Indian Trade company more or less owned India. That is, Britain had no qualms with establishing a corporate economic body governance over a land for the sole purpose of profit and exploitation through slavery or slave-like conditions. If Jane Eyre is exploring the role of a Victorian woman and commenting on the ironies of it, Dracula is commenting on how the society that Jane Eyre so desperately wishes to assimilate to is the very one that undermines the gender. This can be seen through the characters Mina and Lucy and how Bram Stoker represents them.
            In Dracula, Mina is a representation of Victorian models, much like Jane Eyre. She has some aspect of being a ‘new woman, that is, a cycling, smoking, knowledgeable individual, but refutes that she is one herself. Mina more appropriately fits Ruskins model of a Victorian women, much like Jane Eyre. Surely she would fit the description of being “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,” (Ruskin). Or, surely she would be this to the idea of the Victorian genders. Therefore, one can conclude that Mina is a character on the fringe, holding some aspects of this 19th century ‘modern woman’, but still cannot escape being a representation of Victorian ideals. Much like Jane, she wishes to marry and is concerned with status, as shown in the courtship between her and Jonathon Harker. Lucy, on the other hand, is a sexualized being. One notes how she has three suitors and cannot decide which offer to take.
Both women represent how the novel Dracula attacks two aspects of the female gender; with Lucy it is an attack on establishing a sexual identity that deviates from any traditional Victorian model.  Mina, however, through her perseverance as a Victorian woman, establishes a role in aiding with the eventual death of Dracula. That is, her role is one where she actually is detrimental to herself. She admits that she is not a new woman and then demonstrates perfect passive and obedient behavior expected of a ‘moral compass of the house’. However, the question is how important that role of Mina is. Despite Mina having a mental connection with Dracula, Van Helsing himself does not want Mina to accompany them on their journey. Dracula, through Mina and Van Helsing and the eventual unimportance of Mina representing these roles, is a commentary by Stoker, an Irish man, on where English/Victorian ideals of being a ‘moral compass of the house’ will get the Victorian woman; a quick path to being forgotten, used and marginalized. This relates to Jane Eyre in a very intriguing manner, as the commentary on Mina by Stoker is similar to that of Bronte with Jane, just without the level of awareness brought on by a hundred years of hindsight. When noting this, it is interesting that the role of women is never established by either author. Jane never finds a way to be successful without exploiting the colonies or Bertha. Similarly, Mina never achieves any success beyond giving birth. This very notion is a Victorian ideal that the woman should stay in the domestic space and not the public. The only alternative remaining to analyses is Lucy.
Lucy is a representation of English anxiety on the domestic ideals of what a Victorian woman represents when they encounter sexual change. While she is much like Mina, she is not afraid to comment on sexuality. Besides having multiple courters, it is interesting to consider that Dracula must be invited into a house before he may torture his victim through deceit. This is important as Lucy is the first victim, thus hinting that perhaps her curiosity, unbecoming of a Victorian woman, is a factor in her being attacked. More disturbing however is Stokers commentary on possible change through the outcome of Lucy.
Lucy does not have a happy ending in Dracula. She is his first victim and then she becomes the victim of the Victorian ideals of domestic space. One the group finds Lucy after she has disappeared, she calls out to Arthur in a sexual manner. This quote is important as it shows that Lucy is allowed to be as sexual Victorian woman, but only in death, or, only in a monstrous form that properly represents how monstrous the Victorians view her sexuality. Even more disturbing to consider is the scene where Arthur stabs the wooden stake through Lucy’s body as she sleeps, which is described as follows:
“The Thing in the coffin writhed, and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions.; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake,…. (Stoker 231).”
 The word usage leads the reader to assume that Arthur is having a sexual experience and that it is also acceptable. He must sexually take over Lucy, but only when she is a monster. The fact that he is described ina  heroic manner suggests the ease at which a Victorian male can dispose of the Victorian identity, especially one such as Lucy, who had just the smallest blemish.
In an article exploring sexuality through the famous vampire tale of Carmella, the author states that the piece of literature, written near the same period, represents “the strenuously brutal efforts or male authority to erase women’s sexual knowledge… (Heller)” One can easily find the same parallel in Dracula, which makes multiple commentaries on the danger of a sexualized woman.
So a new question is raised; what is the danger of a sexualized Victorian woman? It would appear that it would lead a woman toward breaking from Ruskin’s “moral compass of the house” philosophy, thus being an attack on the very fabric of the middle class that sustains the aesthetic and being of the Victorian period. Dracula is an other figure, an immigrant. The only way Lucy can become sexual is to become something other than the Victorian national identity.
            After considering these points, one can come to the conclusion that both novels comment on the same aspects of what defines a Victorian woman and that these relate well to domestic manuals of the era. Furthermore, one can see through Dracula and other analysis on the subject matter continually leads to a downfall of women that augment sexuality into their identity. The result? Sexuality is not a part of the national identity established by Britain in the 19th century, and embellishing in this is a threat to the culture. A side note to consider is that in our own modern times few women hold the highest position in many fields. It is easy to note the still ongoing marginalization of half of our species. While there is some solace in knowing that there were authors aware of these contradictions and inequalities, it is also disappointing that there are no alternatives offered. Perhaps the knowledge in and of itself will bring forward the awareness needed.
This awareness is most notable in the aspect of defining a middle class. If Jane Eyre continues her role as a Victorian governess, there will be more colonies established that will eventually riot, just as in East India. If Lucy continues to augment the Victorian model, Stoker notes that the very system that she so seeks acceptance and assimilation will actually devour her, as seen with Arthur driving a stake through her heat. It is also important to note that both Jane Eyre and Bram Stoker’s Dracula have maintained interest in culture for over a hundred years, with stories and characters influenced heavily by the count and governess still being created. Dracula as a novel has maintained a lasting appeal, most strongly noted in Stoker’s use of bringing out English anxieties that are still relatable to modern times. Jane Eyre is much more subtle in this respect, but it is to be expected as it does not have the hindsight that time offers. There is another outcome to consider, far different from this.
One can note a embodiment of the male perspective in Victorian England at this time in a early moment in Dracula, the first chapter, as Harker demonstrates how he is a modern Victorian man, a lover of science and a man who prizes that his observations are made of factual observations. He begins his journal with:“Left Munich at 8:35 p.m. on 1st May, arriving at Vienna early next morning; should have arrived at 6:46, but train was an hour late.” (Stoker 5)Through the use of the Victorians prized technology, Dracula almost successfully establishes a ‘false’ English identity. After considering how the novel uses technology as a conduit for anxiety through establishing a false identity, it is important to consider how the protagonists in the novel deal with this anxiety; they adapt through the old world’s superstitions with the new Victorian ages technology. Van Helsing continually brings superstitious elements back into the quite modern at its time printing of Dracula. This is a interesting commentary on what may be a possible resolution; a effort to shift identity from a national one, such as with the Victorian one, to a more global one, an identity prized by the romantic. By Van Helsing bringing a old world to the new, at least the characters in Dracula were able to defeat him. Their victory, however, is questionable, as it appears short.
An essay by Thomas Carlyle mentions the theory of ‘enchanted wealth’. Essentially, enchanted wealth is the “successful industry of England”, which, with all its “plethoric wealth, has yet made nobody rich; it is an enchanted wealth, and belongs to nobody (Thomas Carlyle 1127).” This very idea is perfect for describing the futility of assigning gender roles for a sort of domestic superiority, as Ruskin would have the reader believe. Indeed, all the assumptions of a importance in domestic space is an imagination and belongs to no one. And, as Dracula and Jane Eyre show, they are easily challenged and only resolved by supernatural methods or colonial cash.
On a final note, it is important to consider what a manifestation of the ideal Victorian male is. Jonathon Harker in Dracula is an  is an embodiment of the attitude held at the time by Victorian era England. His language is very autonomous, factual and matter of fact. The language and worth that Harker places on fact resonate with a feeling held by the English; that science and technology are held in the highest esteem and the role of the women is one that brings confusion. The ever important English Identity is not quite sure where to place women. As Thomas Arnold quipped, “Feudality is gone forever” (Thomas Arnold 1102). If the end of feudalism brings continued progress as the 19th century middle class would believe, welcomed or not, of the manufacturing based economy. Interestingly, the book embodies this by presenting modes of transportation for people and data, one of the most paradigm shifting forms of technology, as mysterious. When Harker goes to castle Dracula, he enters into a carriage and experiences an almost dream like adventure, to a point where “sometimes, as the road was cut through the pine woods that seemed in the darkness to be closing down upon us, great masses of greyness, which here and there bestrewed the trees, producing a peculiarly weird and solemn effect…” (Stoker 13). Similarly, new technology is made mysterious, but more so by what happens when it is struck by the spiritual old world.  These elements are a parallel of the Victorian woman; when Lucy combines aspects of Dracula’s foreign sexuality and Victorian identity, the result is death from both parties. Similarly, at the end of Dracula, we have Quincy and the count himself expiring. And with Jane Eyre, you have the emotional fallout that is her relationship with St. John and her lack of caring for her colonial funds.
The only aspect of these novels that now stays a mystery is how the English identity could gravitate, for so long, to this flawed idea of assigning women roles of controlling domestic space and men in public space. It is clearly a well orchestrated manner of marginalizing, made even more humorous when one considers that during this time women outnumbered men two to one in England. Luckily, Dracula and Jane Eyre both stand as testaments to the polar influences of thought at the time of their publication, and how the idea of gender equality still needs to be properly addressed, as opposed to temporarily appeased.

Works Cited

Prefaces and Prologues. Vol. XXXIX. The Harvard Classics. New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1909–14;, 2001. December 17th, 2010. (web)
Ruskin, John. "Sesame and Lilies: Three Lectures." Google Books. Google, 1884. Web. 20 Dec 2010.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. 1st. New York, New York: Fine Creative Media, 2003. 5. eBook.
Heller, Tamar. "The Vampire in the House." (1872): Print.
Bronte, Charlotte. “Jane Eyre”. 1st. New York, New York: Penguin Press. 2006. 331. Print.
Arnold, Thomas. "The Age of Energy and Invention." Longman Anthology of British Literature. /Ed/. David Damrosch and Kevin J.H. Dettmar. New York: Pearson, 2006. Print.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. 1st. New York, New York: Fine Creative Media, 2003. 13. eBook.

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