Essay on Physical Attractiveness and Female Body

Submitted By StephBrown1
Words: 2028
Pages: 9

In what ways and to what effect do authors and poets use the symbol of the dead female body in literature?
Throughout literature, especially in the Gothic genre, there are often examples of strong links between the themes of death and the female body. There are many ways in which they have been portrayed in literature, from the un-dead vampires in Stoker’s Dracula , to the youthful and innocent dead in Poe’s poetry. Many authors have used the female body as a vehicle to explore sexuality and seduction by showing the reader the power women can have with the use of their bodies, and how after death this power is enhanced and becomes a supernatural force over men. Dead women have also been a way of conveying beauty in novels and poetry; not just in their appearance, but also in the sense that they are greatly symbolic, and can be used to convey a variety of meanings. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the sexualisation of the un-dead female characters is particularly interesting for the reader in the sense that they are seen as irresistible without conforming to the Victorian feminine ideals of purity and innocence, and focus more on the sexual elements of the female body and appearance. The fact that these women are dead allow for the in depth exploration of the power of the female body and form in literature, as in death, only the body remains, and yet authors and poets such as Poe still remain fascinated with them and make them the centre of much of their work.
The way in which women are portrayed as more beautiful in death shows the importance of the female body in the sense that after death, the idea of a woman being beautiful no longer includes their mind or spirit, and is concerned only with their physical form. The allure of the women then becomes purely based on their appearance, and highlights the way in which women’s bodies can be appreciated to such a great extent aesthetically. In Dracula, when describing the female vampires, Stoker focuses solely on their appearances: “I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth”- The use of “moisture” and “scarlet lips” have definite sexual elements to them, as it could also even be said about the feline connotations of “lapping”. The word “voluptuousness” is also frequently used when describing the vampires, which in itself, is a word that links sexuality to the physical appearance. The reader is both excited and repulsed by the vampires, and shows the way in which the female body unites the themes of eroticism and fear in the novel. The sexual desirability of the vampires comes from the description of their appearance, whilst the fear and disgust come from the knowledge that these feelings are in spite of them being evil and monstrous. This is further highlighted in the way that the more innocent and pure female characters in the novel are not objects of desire for the reader. Mina Murray is described as “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”, however, despite Mina’s almost heavenly qualities, the reader doesn’t feel any sexual attraction to her, further supporting the idea that the author is presenting the body as the object of the readers desires. This shows the way in which the desires of the reader are focused on the body of the woman, as opposed to her mind and personality. Hurley comments that “the contradiction that fractures the ideology of femininity is made visible across the bodies of Dracula’s women ”- Stoker is presenting two very different representations of femininity through sexuality and purity, and in doing so highlighting the way in which the reader is most captivated by the sexuality of the body. Hurley also comments that this is typical of Gothic literature, with “these incompatible perceptions of femininity (women and angels, women as beasts) often being found side by side within the same text” .