Manliness in Late Victorian Novels. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker's "Dracula"

Bachelor Thesis 2016 42 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Theories on Manliness in the Victorian Era
2.1. Darwinism
2.2. Athleticism
2.2.1. Muscular Christianity
2.3. Manly Love
2.4. The Threat of the New Woman

3. Analysis
3.1. The Pleasure-Seekers
3.2. The Muscular Christians
3.3. Homoeroticism

4. Conclusion

5. Works Cited

1. Introduction

From time immemorial gallant ideals, bravery and fearlessness have been universal characteristics of manliness (Gorn 375). In regards to manly ideals of the Victorian Era it is hard to fully grasp all of the ideals that spread through the 19th century (Mallett 153-154). Many different theories and new findings shaped those characteristics of Victorian manliness (Gorn 375). Therefore, the ideals of manliness are very divergent (Gorn 375). The Victorian man was many things, brave, physically strong, independent and moral (Watson 1). One way to find out more about manly ideals is by examining resources from this time, for example literature (Watson 1). For that reason, this study is concerned with the ideals of manliness during the Victorian Era and its depiction in Late Victorian literature, to be precise, in The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

The novel by Oscar Wilde was firstly published in a complete book form in 1891 (Buzwell). It entails both gothic elements, as well as theories of aestheticism (Buzwell). Directly after its first publication it caused many complaints, because it was perceived as indecent for its supposed evidence of homosexuality (Buzwell). The novel was also used as evidence against Oscar Wilde during his trial for indecency, since many opponents saw a connection between the author and the main character, Dorian Gray (Buzwell). The Victorian novel Dracula by Bram Stoker, published in 1897, is probably one of the most classic horror stories ever written (Davidson 112). It is certainly the masterpiece of vampire literature and has influenced our modern interpretation of a vampire (Davidson 45). It has been reworked and translated into many film adaptations since its first publication. Since the novel was written in the Late Victorian Era and is set in the Victorian culture, it includes values and attitudes of that time, especially in respect of social gender roles of men and women (Davidson 19).

A lot of research on the history of manliness has been done since the last 20 years (Francis 637). The book Manliness and Masculinities in Nineteenth-Century Britain: Essays on Family, Gender and Empire by John Tosh, Professor of History at Roehampton University in London, and Leonore Davidoff’s and Catherine Hall’s Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850, will form the basis for the theoretical part of this thesis. Both works are highly acclaimed by critics and have influenced the field of gender relations during the Victorian Age. Furthermore, several works of previous research about manliness in Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray have been consulted for the analysis. Such as Christopher Craft’s article “Kiss Me With Those Red Lips”: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Patrick Duggan’s article about The Conflict Between Aestheticism and Morality in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and, among others, Desire and Loathing in Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Nancy Rosenberg. The Penguin Classics edition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the Simpkin, Marshall, Hamiliton, Kent & Co. edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray will form the ground for the analysis of this research and all subsequent references will be to these publications.

Firstly, there will be a paragraph that deals with several theories on manliness in Victorian England throughout the 19th century. It reveals the partially shifting ideals of manliness from the Early to the Late Victorian Era, whereby the latter will form the basis for this paper. The chapter has been divided into theories and trends that had an incredible impact on the ideals of Victorian manliness. From Charles Darwin and his theory on natural selection, through the rise of athleticism during the Victorian Era and the development of the Muscular Christian Movement, the dealing with homoeroticism, to the development of the New Woman and its threat to Victorian manliness. Chapter three will provide a comparative analysis of manly characters of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Within this chapter, different depictions of theories on manliness will be pointed out, these include the Pleasure- Seekers Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton from The Picture of Dorian Gray, the Count Dracula and also Jonathan Harker, Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. John Seward, Arthur Holmwood and Quincey P. Morris, hereafter referred to as the Crew of Light, of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The next paragraph will deal with the so-called Muscular Christians, especially the depiction of the Crew of Light. Furthermore, in the last subchapter of this study, homoeroticism and indications of homosexuality in both novels will be exposed. For instance, the close relationship between Dorian Gray and Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray, but also homosexual clues induced by the Count Dracula and homosocial implications in Dracula will be defined . The last paragraph of this paper will be a conclusion, which sums up the results achieved and the need for future research on the history of manliness and male gender history.

2. Theories on Manliness in the Victorian Era

The gender study of men, and especially Victorian men, has been a rather new approach since it has only started in the 1990s (Francis 637). But before theories about manliness from this study will be introduced, the difference between manliness and masculinity shall be laid out to clear up any misunderstandings. The term manliness involves certain physical characteristics of a man, and also his moral frame of mind (Tosh 2). In consideration of the Late Victorian Era, the moral qualities of a man included courage, decisiveness and endurance (Tosh 87). Virility, energy and strength were characteristics of the physical qualities in a man (Tosh 87). That being said, it becomes apparent that those attributes had to be acquired by the man, sometimes through an immense effort, in order to become ‘manly’ (Tosh 3). Consequently, the difference between manliness and masculinity is that being masculine is given to each individual of the male sex, but manliness is a feature that has to be made and earned (Tosh 3).

Unfortunately, researchers do not all agree on what exact features were supposed to be manly in the Victorian Period. Of course, this is mainly because the ideals on manliness shifted throughout the century and only vague assumptions can be given from today’s perspective (Gorn 375). However, it is safe to say that to “be called manly in the 19th century was high praise indeed […]” (Gorn 375). What can be excluded, with reasonable certainty, is the myth of the portrayal of Late Victorian society as prudish (Furneaux). Especially in the that period, the topic of sex was a closely discussed subject, be it in medicine, law or education, which will be pointed out in this chapter at a later stage (Furneaux).

Obviously patriarchy has been an integral part of Victorian society, but according to John Tosh this system ceased to be talked about by the 1870s (ibid. 79). For that reason, this paper will not deal with patriarchy in particular. Moreover, manliness represented values by which men judged each other and it would be a mistake to believe that patriarchy was essential to manliness (Tosh 5). Therefore, the control over women through patriarchal dominance will not be part of this study. Additionally, the presentation of the gentleman has been omitted from the theory section, because the gentleman was bound to the nobility (Tosh 86). In relation to manliness there were no restrictions to social ranks and classes (Mangan 2). With the help of the church, children’s literature and school textbooks, the ideals of manliness slowly seeped through all sectors of Victorian society (Mangan 2). Ideals such as physical vigor, independence and bravery went beyond all social classes (Tosh 95).

As mentioned before, in regards to the Victorian Era one will find different ideals of the manly man which shifted throughout the century. Therefore, attributes ascribed to men in the Early Victorian Period (1830-1848) will differ from Mid Victorian (1848-1870) and Late Victorian (1870-1901) ideals of manhood (Gorn 375). Early Victorian society, for example, is said to have admired men with attributes like integrity, wisdom, maturity and benevolence (Gorn 375). The Mid Victorian man was highly influenced by Christianity and was supposed to be a devout believer (Davidoff 109). The Mid Victorian ideals were heightened in the Late Victorian Period and it emerged a focus on athletic prowess and stoicism in combination with Christian values (Douglas). Many influences changed the ideals of manliness during the Victorian Period, wherefore several occurrences will be pointed out that had a tremendous effect on the ideals of manliness during the 19th century.

2.1. Darwinism

In 1859 the key work for evolutionary biology, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection by Charles Darwin had been published (Kimmel 203). Directly after the publication scientists and philosophers tried to apply the idea of natural selection to the human species as well (Kimmel 203). Darwin’s work “challenged prevalent religious and philosophical conceptions of humans’ and in particular men’s place in the universe” (Kimmel 203). First of all, the divine creation of men was put into question and it was argued that men evolved from animals (Kimmel 203). For this reason, competing against other men was of utter importance for a man to progress in society (Kimmel 203). John Tosh says that since the release of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, teachers encouraged boys to test their physical limitations and that the boys’ primitive allegiance and their vital spirits were held in high regards (ibid. 112).

Furthermore, with the help of Darwin’s theory it was claimed that men were on a higher intellectual evolutionary stage than women or that men evolved for work and competition and women for housework and childcare only (Kimmel 204). These arguments were used to deny women political rights and education and advocate men’s need for reproductive sex (Kimmel 204). According to John Tosh the predominant opinion in the Victorian Age was that “women were not only inferior to men, but fundamentally different from them” (ibid. 43). Doctrines of the galenic medicine, like men and women’s analogous reproductive organs, the only difference being that the first was located outside the body and the latter inside, have been disproved (Tosh 43). This was not only a result of Darwin’s theory but also because of many new medical findings since the 1840s (Tosh 44). For instance, it was discovered that women do not need to have an orgasm in order to conceive a child (Tosh 44). As a result, the female sex was put into a rather inert and passive position and consequently the man was considered as the active and vibrant sex (Tosh 44-46). On the contrary, men were now responsible for copulation and conception and were left alone with this sexual responsibility (Tosh 45). However, at the end of the century this sole duty was seen as a good feature since it was argued that men’s urge for sex was an essential and vital evolutionary tool (Tosh 46).

Moreover, beliefs of evolutionary biology were applied to explain and identify abnormal features of manliness (Kimmel 204). For instance, suicide, alcoholism and even homosexuality was argued to be a result of an inaccurate occurrence of natural selection (Kimmel 204). Especially homosexuality “was condemned […] because of its non-reproductive ‘corruption’ of reproductive functions” (Kimmel 204). At this point I would like to point out that many of our modern terminologies for sexuality, such as heterosexual, homosexual or nymphomania were only invented in the 1880s by sexologist such as Richard von Kraft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis (Furneaux). This makes it clear that Victorian society was much concerned with gender relations and that this era was a pivotal century for the categorization and analyzation of sexual preferences (Furneaux).

2.2. Athleticism

As presented in the previous paragraph, the life sciences made plenty of new discoveries during the 19th century. Interestingly biology was a term that arose in a publication in 1800 for the first time and progressed throughout the century (Mangan 9). With the development of the life sciences a growing interest for athletics and exercise emerged within Victorian society (Mangan 10).

In the Late Victorian Period, the idea of becoming healthy through exercise became well established and formed a new ideal of manliness (Mangan 9). Throughout the century many theories and journals were published, which dealt with sportive activities (Mangan 9). There was an immense upsurge of outdoor sports and sports club foundations, which led to an increase attention to the male body (Mangan 10). The ideal of the male body had shifted “from lean and lithe to mesomorphic by the 1890s” (Mangan 10). The mesomorphic body type is characterized by an athletic and rectangular shape, a hard body with defined muscles and a powerful chest (Sheldon 248). According to William H. Sheldon, other features such as a massive lower jaw, a long and broad face, large hands and feet and of course, physical strength are common features of the mesomorph (ibid.). Furthermore, many researchers including Malcolm Tozer, Elliott Gorn and James Mangan noticed the revival of Spartan virtues such as sturdiness, stoicism and staying power since the 1860s and 1870s (Mangan 1, Gorn 375, Tozer 7). As a result, traditional beliefs and new insights of biology about the body were mixed together at the end of the century (Mangan 9).

According to Mangan there was a vast discussion about the relation between the mind and the body (ibid. 9). For years, body and mind were believed to be directly related to each other and furthermore it was a widely held opinion that the mind was in the same region as the will and both formed a person’s character (Mangan 9). Therefore, it was estimated “that by strengthening the body one could also strengthen the will” (Mangan 9) and form one’s character (ibid.). Mental toughness became a result of heavy exercise and physical strength, whereby the physically formed character prevailed against the intellect (Douglas). In the course of the 19th century developed an aggressive and powerful mindset which mirrored Darwin’s theory that competition and the survival of the fittest was of great importance (Douglas). Not only sensitivity, but also affectation and gentleness ceased to be manly attributes (Douglas). At least since the Late Victorian Period athletic skills, a muscular frame and physical power were signs of manliness, rather than brain power or tenderness (Douglas).

2.2.1. Muscular Christianity

A special type of Athletes developed in England since the Mid Victorian Period (Watson 1). They were called ‘Muscular Christians’, because on the one hand they spread Christian doctrines and on the other hand committed themselves to an athletic lifestyle (Watson 2). Victorian Muscular Christianity was shaped by social reformer and priest Charles Kingsley who was of the opinion that the Anglican Church was weakened by effeminacy (Watson 2). The problem was that Evangelicalism attached high importance to moral earnestness and self-sacrifice, which “came dangerously close to embracing ‘feminine’ qualities” (Davidoff 111). Therefore, clerics and followers of the Anglican Church were often deprived of their manliness and virility (Davidoff 112). For that reason, Christian manhood had to be retrieved (Davidoff 110).

The most important task for the Victorian Church was to win back those who had lost faith in God and were deterred from the effete Evangelical Church (Watson 4). Therefore, the Muscular Christian Movement used the rise of athleticism and physical culture in Victorian society to make Christianity manlier (Watson 2). For instance, sermons were made men-friendlier and involved issues that were more relevant to a man’s life such as careers (McKay). Muscular Christians even changed the iconography and the depiction of Jesus Christ to a more muscular and rugged appearance (McKay). As mentioned in the previous chapter, it was believed that physical strength led to a strong and good character. The close relation between physical power and moral strength led to the opinion that if one would train his body it would train his discipline too (McKay). The Muscular Christians used this as an argument, that it was God’s will that the body was exercised to form a strong volition, for example to withstand temptation (McKay). Furthermore, it was argued that the male body should be trained and then used to protect the weak, even if this meant the use of violence in order for defense (Watson 3). Ideally, a Muscular Christian should combine ethics and virtues of Christianity with athleticism (Watson 3).

By the late 1850s the “tenets of Muscular Christianity became an integral part of the public school educational system” (Watson 6). School became the first institution in which boys got acquainted with manly virtue and competition (Tosh 105). Sports like rugby were included into physical education classes since it involves heavy physical strength especially during a scrum, but also persistence and velocity (Watson 8). Additionally, as a team sport, rugby should familiarize the boys with companionship, respect and honor (McKay). According to Malcolm Tozer, who ascribes the success of Christian manliness to the schoolmasters, the “true ideal of manliness flourished […] in the years between 1850 and 1870” (ibid 3). The combination of mental and physical strength with Christian values connected those young boys with their manliness but also with their faith in God (McKay).

Another case in which Muscular Christianity was involved and from which they took advantage of was Victorian Imperialism (McKay). The missionary work combined with the adventure of travelling to a far off country was highly encouraged by Muscular Christians (Watson 2). Manly characteristics as courage and self-reliance merged with the conversion and spreading of Christian belief in foreign countries (Tosh 7). It was a chance for Muscular Christians to “exercise one’s faith in a practical, risky, physically challenging way” (McKay). Those Christian missionaries believed that this was a very altruistic act and would improve the lives of the evangelized people (McKay).

Conclusively, this led to a stark increase of membership of the Muscular Christian Movement (McKay).

2.3. Manly Love

As mentioned earlier, Richard von Kraft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis, among others, coined the terms homosexual, heterosexual and nymphomaniac in the late 19th century. For that reason, sex researchers consider the Victorian Era as a key period in the history of sexuality (Furneaux). However, the difference between homosexuality and homosociality needs to be stressed out. Homosociality was a deep-seated feature of masculinity since ancient Greece and Rome (Mangan 92). It implies a regular pastime among male company, for example spending time at a club or tavern (Tosh 6). This should form a sort of spiritual brotherhood and evoke a notion of sacrifice to do anything for a friend (Mangan 93).

For Victorians, manly love was a close male friendship and had nothing to do with homosexuality (Mangan 92). From today’s perspective, J.A. Mangan argues, the development of sexology prevents us from understanding manly love of the 19th century (ibid. 92). Part of the reason for this is that idioms and parlances of language has changed and descriptions of affection are interpreted as ambiguous (Mangan 92). Nonetheless, since sexology developed throughout the century it became impossible for many people “to dissociate close male friendship from homosexuality” (Mangan 92), especially since Sigmund Freud’s publication of Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality in 1905 (ibid.). At the end of the 19th century the line between manly love and homosexuality became blurred (Mangan 92). One of the most prominent examples of this dichotomy was the trial of Oscar Wilde for indecency in 1895 (Mangan 93-94). During this trial he gave his famous speech about the ‘love that dare not speak its name’ in which he advocated manly love as “a great affection of an elder for a younger man” and its “deep, spiritual affection […]” (Linder). Unfortunately, his speech was self- defeating and was regarded as a confession for his homosexuality which led to his arrest under the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885 (Tosh 115).

2.4. The Threat of the New Woman

Another issue that influenced the concept of manliness was the so-called New Woman who constituted a great threat for men in the late 19th century (Ledger 5). The New Woman strived to be equal to men and become financially, socially and personally independent from them (Ledger 5). The suffrage movement challenged the prevailing patriarchal society, because men lost part of their control over their wives and their property due to legal changes (Mallett x). With the release of The Married Woman’s Property Act of 1882 women claimed an innovative right and became financially independent from their men (Purdue 182). They gained full control over their own property and self-earned money instead of passing along the savings to their husbands (UK Parliament). As a result, women gained access to the so-called white-collar labor market and were able to earn their own money (Mallett x). Towards the end of the century, men lost their control over women and from a Victorian man’s point of view this was seen as something terrifying (Tosh 119). Researchers like Sally Ledger claim that it triggered off a panic among men, because they feared that their women could get by without them (ibid. 5). John Tosh states that “Late nineteenth-century culture was permeated by images which expressed a fear of female power” (ibid. 118). Additionally, the New Woman was much more upfront and open towards sexuality than the ‘Angel in the House’ of the Early Victorian Period (Senf 35). According to Carol A. Senf the aspiration of a New Woman’s life was not marriage or motherhood, but rather experiencing her sexuality (ibid. 35). Seemingly, the bourgeois of the Victorian age created a despicable picture of the New Woman and the association of a transgressive being and a sexual degenerate (Ledger 9). It is hardly surprising that Late Victorian literature, and especially Gothic novels like Dracula by Bram Stoker, made the New Women a subject of discussion (Schoch 1).

In summary it can be said, that the concept of manliness underwent a great shift during the 19th century. From the Early Victorian man, who was wise and benevolent to a Christian yet critical Mid Victorian man and a Late Victorian Neo-Spartan warrior. The following chapter will be an analysis of several male protagonists of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Within this chapter the characters will be divided into groups such as the Pleasure-Seekers, the Muscular Christians and also homoerotic incidents in both novels will be pointed out.

3. Analysis

In this paragraph the previously mentioned approaches will be examined, which influenced the concept of manliness and found their way into the literature of the Late Victorian Era. Therefore, the Late Victorian books Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray have been consulted. This chapter has been divided into three subchapters which only serve as a rough classification.

3.1. The Pleasure-Seekers

This subchapter was named The Pleasure-Seekers, because both Darwinism and Imperialism caused the popularity of Libertinage during the Late Victorian Period (Tosh 111). It encouraged young men to seek adventures and act out their sexualities and live their lives in permanent bachelorhood (Tosh 111). Already since the 1870s, one will find a noticeable tendency that men married at an older age or lived as bachelors (Francis 640). For that reason, several characters of Dracula and The Picture of Dorian Gray will be examined and it will be revealed how these roles find pleasure in their lives. First of all, the Pleasure-Seekers in The Picture of Dorian Gray shall be analyzed.

One example of a character who eschews marriage and chose the life of a libertine is portrayed by James Vane. The reader gets to know that he wants to leave for Australia and never wants to “see this horrid London again […]” (Wilde 99-100). For James, this adventure is not primarily about the economic reasons and the outlook for profit, but rather his intention of staying there forever. During a conversation with his mother, it becomes obvious that James is opposed to Victorian society, as he states that he does not “want to know anything about that […]” (Wilde 100). Since he is not one of the main characters, the reader never gets to know why he is so antipathetic towards Victorian society. However, James is described as “a young lad with rough brown hair […]” (Wilde 99) and a “thick-set figure” (Wilde 99) with large hands and feet, but also “somewhat clumsy in movement” (Wilde 99). This description entails the basic prerequisites to become an ideal Victorian man, but his clumsiness suggests that he might have to grow in confidence. Of course, sailing to an unknown country is such an adventurous and brave deed that it was a widely held opinion in Victorian society that it would add to the man’s manliness who started this adventure (Tosh 7). It took a lot of courage to emigrate to foreign countries and a high level of independence was expected by these men (Tosh 7). Interestingly, the character of James Vane was only added in a revised edition of The Picture of Dorian Gray of 1891 (Buzwell). First and foremost, James Vane embodies Dorian’s guilty conscience and therefore is essential for the course of the story (Buzwell). But one might argue that this character could highlight the frequency of how many young men chose bachelorhood over marriage. Of course, there are other reasons than adventures in foreign countries for men to choose libertinage.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Catalog Number
Institution / College
University of Bonn – Anglistik
Victorian novels Dorian Gray Oscar Wilde Bram Stoker Dracula Masculinity manliness Era christianity



Title: Manliness in Late Victorian Novels. "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde and Bram Stoker's "Dracula"