Monday, November 10, 2014

Bram Stoker & Oscar Wilde Kiss & Tell

After many years of lipstick kisses, Oscar Wilde moved to a new tomb in 2011
How did Bram Stoker and Oscar Wilde feel about kissing in their writing? I've talked about dancing, and women, and other things. So what about kisses?

Let's start with the Picture of Dorian Gray (1891).
[Sybil Vane] was free in her prison of passion. Her prince, Prince Charming, was with her. She had called on memory to remake him. She had sent her soul to search for him, and it had brought him back. His kiss burned again upon her mouth. Her eyelids were warm with his breath.
From the TV series Penny Dreadful
I was once told that people kiss because it engages so many of the senses: touch, taste, smell... In that passage, this certainly seems true. Sybil is just remembering Dorian's kiss, and the memory of it activates all of these senses. It's quite different from how she kisses her mother.
Sybil rushed to her, flung her arms round her neck, and kissed her. 
When it comes to kissing family members, Sybil likes to take a running leap.
"You might keep some of your kisses for me, Sybil, I think," said the lad [her brother] with a good-natured grumble."
Ah! but you don't like being kissed, Jim," she cried. "You are a dreadful old bear." And she ran across the room and hugged him.
But it seems Sybil is wrong about how much her brother likes being kissed.
There was jealousy in the lad's heart, and a fierce murderous hatred of the stranger who, as it seemed to him, had come between them. Yet, when her arms were flung round his neck, and her fingers strayed through his hair, he softened and kissed her with real affection. 
He even kisses their mother before he leaves. I have to say that there's not this much kissing in my family. We kiss children, and spouses, that's about it. If we ever kiss each other, it's on the cheek. Absolutely none of this "real affection" and hair-touching that Oscar Wilde is talking about.

Dorian Gray (2009)
But back to Sybil and Dorian. There's a big difference in how the two of them remember kissing that reflects on how they each feel about their relationship. As I said before, Sybil's memory is very visceral, whereas Dorian's memory of it literally focuses on the art.
"After the performance was over, I went behind and spoke to her. As we were sitting together, suddenly there came into her eyes a look that I had never seen there before. My lips moved towards hers. We kissed each other. I can't describe to you what I felt at that moment. It seemed to me that all my life had been narrowed to one perfect point of rose-coloured joy. She trembled all over and shook like a white narcissus. Then she flung herself on her knees and kissed my hands. I feel that I should not tell you all this, but I can't help it. Of course, our engagement is a dead secret. She has not even told her own mother. I don't know what my guardians will say. Lord Radley is sure to be furious. I don't care. I shall be of age in less than a year, and then I can do what I like. I have been right, Basil, haven't I, to take my love out of poetry and to find my wife in Shakespeare's plays? Lips that Shakespeare taught to speak have whispered their secret in my ear. I have had the arms of Rosalind around me, and kissed Juliet on the mouth."
Spoiler: Dorian loves Sybil for her art, but doesn't like the person she really is. He leaves her. She's not very happy about that.
"I think I should never have known it if you had not kissed me—if we had not kissed each other. Kiss me again, my love. Don't go away from me. I couldn't bear it. Oh! don't go away from me."
That is part of a desperate plea on her part.

Sybil Vane commits suicide, and Dorian imagines kissing himself, while looking at his hideous portrait.
Once, in boyish mockery of Narcissus, he had kissed, or feigned to kiss, those painted lips that now smiled so cruelly at him.
But, when she's dead, he does try to get some memorial of her.
"You must do me a drawing of Sibyl, Basil. I should like to have something more of her than the memory of a few kisses and some broken pathetic words."
Moving on to Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897).

Immediately, the kisses become more sexual, as Jonathan Harker is in Dracula's castle with the three brides of Dracula.
I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth.
Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
“Go on! You are first, and we shall follow; yours is the right to begin.” The other added:
“He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.”
"Yours is the right to begin" is an interesting choice of words, most likely borrowed from the grimoires to give this scene an occult feel.

Of course, the Count saves Jonathan from this 'terrifying' scene, but promises the ladies they can kiss him at will, when he has fulfilled his use.

Big surprise in Dracula is that vampires love to kiss.

But there's also some regular courting going on in this story. There's some kissing when Lucy tells Mr Morris that her heart belongs to another, then as he leaves, he says:
‘Little girl, I hold your hand, and you’ve kissed me, and if these things don’t make us friends nothing ever will. Thank you for your sweet honesty to me, and good-bye.’
 Of course, the man Lucy loves loves her back.
Besides, it was all so confused; it seemed only a moment from his coming into the room till both his arms were round me, and he was kissing me. I am very, very happy, and I don’t know what I have done to deserve it.
Mina and Lucy in NBC's TV series Dracula.
Much has been written to compare Mina and Lucy. Lucy kisses people when she is breaking up with them, she kisses passionately, with both arms around her. Mina is married and her kisses to Jonathan are promises. Lucy dies because of vampires, whereas good men are able to save Mina's soul. Is this a commentary on women's sexuality? Yes, it probably is. But I like it when Mina and Lucy kiss each other. In fact, this is probably my favourite line in the whole book. From Lucy to Mina:
Oceans of love and millions of kisses, and may you soon be in your own home with your husband.
When Lucy is dying, and under Van Helsing's care, he gives her fiancé permission to kiss her. Implicit in this is that when a woman is sick, she no longer has the authority to offer, or deny, kisses to her intended.
“The brave lover, I think, deserve another kiss, which he shall have presently.” [Van Helsing]
Lucy actually thanks Van Helsing for this aspect of his 'service' with a kiss.
Very shortly after she opened her eyes in all their softness, and putting out her poor, pale, thin hand, took Van Helsing’s great brown one; drawing it to her, she kissed it. “My true friend,” she said, in a faint voice, but with untellable pathos, “My true friend, and his! Oh, guard him, and give me peace!”
“I swear it!” he said solemnly, kneeling beside her and holding up his hand, as one who registers an oath. Then he turned to Arthur, and said to him: “Come, my child, take her hand in yours, and kiss her on the forehead, and only once.”
Of course, when Lucy is dead, Arthur kisses her corpse.
he went back and took her dead hand in his and kissed it, and bent over and kissed her forehead.
But we can't overlook the fact that, in Dracula, kisses are contagious. As Van Helsing explains:
Friend Arthur, if you had met that kiss which you know of before poor Lucy die; or again, last night when you open your arms to her, you would in time, when you had died, have become nosferatu, as they call it in Eastern Europe, and would all time make more of those Un-Deads that so have fill us with horror.
 So, after Lucy dies, they have to really kill her. Then, Van helping says:
“And now, my child, you may kiss her. Kiss her dead lips if you will, as she would have you to, if for her to choose. For she is not a grinning devil now—not any more a foul Thing for all eternity. No longer she is the devil’s Un-Dead. She is God’s true dead, whose soul is with Him!”
Arthur bent and kissed her...
Next, people start kissing Mina. Van Helsing kisses and is kissed by her, as acknowledgement of their friendship. After Mina's own husband kisses her, he asks God to bless her.

After Mina becomes sick, she polices her own kissing.

Winona Ryder as Mina (1992).
“Unclean, unclean! I must touch him or kiss him no more. Oh, that it should be that it is I who am now his worst enemy, and whom he may have most cause to fear.”
The message here seems to be that virtuous married women, although not immune to corruption, have more control over their own kisses, and, by extension, their own bodies. As is clear in this scene, where Mina is laying ill.
Then she raised her head proudly, and held out one hand to Van Helsing who took it in his, and, after stooping and kissing it reverently, held it fast. The other hand was locked in that of her husband, who held his other arm thrown round her protectingly.
In that kissing scene, Mina chooses who gets to kiss her and where, with her husband protectively watching over her.

Mina and Jonathan's kisses continue to be followed by promises, even when given to cement friendships.
Mina and I both felt so, and simultaneously we each took one of the old man’s hands and bent over and kissed it. Then without a word we all knelt down together, and, all holding hands, swore to be true to each other.
As they ride through the snow in pursuit of the Count, Mina is seeking the three women her husband wrote about.
It was as though my memories of all Jonathan’s horrid experience were befooling me; for the snow flakes and the mist began to wheel and circle round, till I could get as though a shadowy glimpse of those women that would have kissed him.
Kisses that are uncontrolled make men weak, in Dracula.
Then the beautiful eyes of the fair woman open and look love, and the voluptuous mouth present to a kiss—and man is weak. 
By comparing kisses in The Picture of Dorian Gray and Dracula, the message we get from both of them is that kisses need to mean the same thing to both (or all) the parties involved. Also, it's possible that there was more kissing in the Wilde family than there should have been!

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