Sexuality In Victorian Literature

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In this essay, I will be exploring the changing presentation of sexuality within classic Victorian literature, exemplified with the use of a case study of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I would argue that perhaps more than in any other literary period, any textual inclination towards sexuality deteriorated as the eighteenth century progressed, ‘desexualising’ it, or, at least confining it to the bedroom doors of married couples. Additionally, whilst essentialist arguments surrounding sexuality have historically cast the subject as ‘taboo’, interestingly, I have found an underlying sexual tone in many novels of this period, with a distinctive shift in attitudes becoming a marker of the wider social and economic changes …show more content…
It is seen as an uncomfortable, disturbing voice, reminding people – men – of truths they did not wish to acknowledge; that female sexuality is attractive. The conventions of a Victorian woman were that they should be calm, pure/virginal, pleasant and supportive of men at all times. But perhaps what is so interesting here, is the explicit kicking back of Jane Eyre against these conventions: “women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. (ch. 12)” This passage was considered so shocking that conservative commentators such as Lady Elizabeth Eastlake likened its tone to ‘Chartism’ , the …show more content…
Although Bertha does serve as one of the seeming monsters of the novel, she should be seen more as a critique of a society in which passionate, sexual woman are viewed as monsters or madwomen. In blurring the lines between angel and monster; Bertha can be seen as the physical beastly monster of the novel, or the angel for Victorian women, assisting to free them from patriarchal submission. This ‘madwoman’ figure was coined by Gilbert and Gubar in 1979, in particular reference to the character of Bertha, who is full of uncontrollable passion, violence, sensuality, and madness, almost bestial in her behaviour. Their literary theory about these new ‘female gothic’ novels is that it allowed women readers to enjoy independence vicariously through the actions of the femaile characters. They also proceed to point out the unusual prevalence of strong female characters in Gothic novels, and the way that their independent and sexual behaviour was harshly criticized and often any independence or sexuality of women was used to denote

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