In 'Sesames and Lilies', what is John Ruskin saying about the position of women in Victorian society. How would you compare and contrast your findings about Ruskin to your reading of Victorian literature so far?
In addition to being a Victorian gothic novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula mirrors the gender and sexual anxieties as well as the cultural fears of the late nineteenth century. Conflicting gender roles present in the novel include the fear of male penetration and the extreme male bonding, the mothering instinct and the New Woman, and the logical versus the hysterical male.
Mina and her friend Lucy Westenra are the women of Dracula upon whom the men protect the ideals of Victorian womanhood. Upon meeting Mina, Van Helsing is inspired to say that she has “given me hope…that there are good women left to make life happy – good women, whose lives and whose truths may make good lesson for the children that are to be.” Mina is surpassed to use her mothering instinct to guide the men, Mina states as she confronts Arthur that “We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above the smaller matters when the mother spirit is invoked”. John Ruskin writes of women’s influence in ‘sesame and lilies’ that “it is a guiding, not a determining function”. We see this represented in Dracula because, like Lucy, Mina is susceptible to Dracula’s corruption and it is the good brave men of the novel who set out to save her. Furthermore in desiring Mina Dracula is doubly evil because he attempts to defile the designated mother figurer of the novel.
The entrance of the feminist, sexuality independent New Woman into Victorian society indicates the changing roles of women, and the theme of the New Woman plays throughout Dracula. When referred to directly in Dracula Stoker also describes her, tongue-in-cheek, through the mouth of Mina, “I believe that we should have shocked the ‘New Women’ with our appetites” and “Some of the New Women writers will some day start an...
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