The few elements that make up Gothic literature, sexuality contributes to many themes of novels. While being such a controversial topic, especially during the Victorian era, many authors continued push this element in their works. Two novels that really concentrated on the theme of sexuality was Carmilla written by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu and Dracula by Bram Stoker. Centered around vampires, which are known for their expressing their sexualality and provoking other’s repressed desires.
The ideal role of women in society during this time was very strict. Society created its own social laws that provided the way that women should be presented and the way that they should act. Society wanted women to very pure and virginal. Women of this time were considered to be very feminine and naive, while also depending much on their husbands. Both Carmilla and Dracula shows these types of women, but both works also shows women that are considered against these gender norms.
In Carmilla, Le Fanu writes about a stereotypical man of the 1800s and gives these characteristics to a woman. He challenges the roles of gender and sexuality giving Carmilla much a masculine sexuality. Her physical appearance is still described as feminine and elegant, “I saw a solemn, but very pretty face looking at me from the side of the bed (Le Fanu 3). While her outside appearance is more feminine, Laura takes an interest in the way Carmilla acts. She first thinks that Carmilla could be a male suitor in disguise. Carmilla uses her masculinity to pursue Laura and show her affection so that she will be submissive to Carmilla and she can fulfil her need for blood.
The more that Laura gets to know Carmilla the more she starts to feel stronger emotions toward her. She begins to get closer to Carmilla, even though she feels that these emotions she is having are not pure, “it embarrassed me” (Le Fanu 25). Laura feels ashamed by these actions because she is used to having her sexaulity supressed. During this era, women were given a role in society that was considered pure. It was very frowned upon for a women to be openly sexual. Which of course also meant that any homosexual or lesbanism acts were considered unnatural.
This power that Carmilla has over her preys, creates a sense of terror.
This fear of female sexuality continues to fill the plots other novels through the Victoria era. Bram Stoker uses his novel, Dracula, to show how the use of female sexuality threatened the ideals of this era. The idea was that if Dracula has the chance to turn a pure women into a vampire. If he succeeds women will have open and embrace their sexuality and use this power and in turn this will give the women a much more dominate role that is only seen in men.
This is actually seen quite early Bram Stoker’s novel. In chapter three Johnathan Harker unexpectedly meets the brides of Dracula. Harker describes the women, examining their beautiful faces. While these three women begin to seduce Harker, he begins to feel emotions that were thrilling to him, but also feelings of disgust, “There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal”. (Stoker 32) These feelings that were overcoming him were feelings of desire that these three women had created, but he also felt repulsed because he related the emotion of fear to their sexuality, “There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear” (Stoker 31). The three sisters represented in this novel is how women should not be represented. They used their beauty and their sexuality to get what they wanted. These women take on a more dominating role, and by seducing Harker, he is overpowered by them, making him the submissive.