The Interior Other
Gender and Monstrosity in Victorian Gothic Novels
Representations of monstrosity in literature reveal the cultural tensions of specific historical periods, as collective social fears become embodied by creatures intended to disturb their audiences. Gothic novels of the late Victorian Era rely on these representations of darkness in society, and the different monsters created by Victorian authors reflect various views of social norms, particularly in relation to gender. This essay focuses on Bram Stoker’s sexually threatening vampires in Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson’s physically repulsive representation of the duality of humankind in The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Portrayals of monsters in the late nineteenth century were not limited to literature, but also evident in visual works, such as Aubrey Beardsley’s renderings of Salomé for Oscar Wilde’s publication of a play by the same name. While Stoker’s engagement with monstrosity villainizes female sexual subjectivity, Stevenson’s depiction of corruption questions socially performative masculinity. An analysis of Beardsley’s images emphasizes the potential for sexually subjective female monsters like those in Dracula to contradict social gender norms much like Stevenson’s representation of Mr Hyde, rather than perpetuate the sexual repression of women as Stoker’s novel does. However, the exoticized nature of these drawings also highlights the association between imperial ideologies and representations of gendered monstrosity which both Stoker and Stevenson exhibit as they express anxieties about the colonial other in their texts. Studying these works allows insight into the connections between gender, sexual normativity, and the colonial other that continue to be relevant in contemporary media.
Copyright (c) 2023 Katie O'Connor
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