A Depiction Of Women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
When Bram Stoker wrote “Dracula” late Victorian society was in a period of relative upheaval. There was a clear move towards feminine liberty and the era of the suffragettes was not too far away. This caused a great deal of tension between those women (and men) who believed in the “New Woman” and those that didn’t. In the late 1900s England was a rapidly changing place, the Empire was becoming more and more powerful and capitalism was proving to be a resounding success, although the old class structures that had stood for so long were shifting totally along with gender identities.
The traditional view of a Victorian woman as expressed by Spencer is that “women were designated as daughter, wife or mother” and were seen as “the Angel in the house.” There had long been a movement for women to have more property rights and to have more equality in terms of divorce and marriage laws, but the New Woman had far more in mind that just these rights. They wanted equal rights to higher education, along with the right to enter the learned professions and also sexual freedom, despite women’s sexual urges being a completely taboo subject at the time. These demands were seen by Traditionalists not as women asking for more powers and freedoms but as women denouncing their womanhood and blurring the distinctions between the sexes.
One of the earliest and most obvious examples of Stoker questioning feminine sexuality comes out of the encounter that Jonathan Harker has with the three female Vampires in Dracula’s castle. A Victorian would recognise that while he is unmarried and alone in a foreign country Harker is a “man at risk” because of the anonymity that he could claim in any possible sexual encounters. The risk to Harker is far more a physical than a moral one when he is almost seduced and bitten by the female Vampires with their “voluptuous lips.” This is a clear reversal of roles from the conventional Victorian relationship where the woman was expected to ‘suffer and be still’ and the man was the sexual aggressor. Although Harker it can’t be said that Harker has completely lost his sexual urges as he “felt a wicked, burning desire that they (the female Vampires) would kiss me with those red lips.” This sexualised encounter also sees the reversal of the act of penetration from a male to female act into an act that the Vampires can perform on Harker, although it might be possible to infer that the female Vampires (even Lucy) never manage to “penetrate” any of their truly desired prey, only dining on small, defenceless children, whereas Dracula, the male, is far more “sexually successful” if the metaphor is to be taken to its very extremes. The fact that the female vampires in the castle only drink the blood of children that Dracula brings to them might be inferred as meaning that while they are able to be sexually free in some instances, there are still men who are having to provide for them and who are able to ‘control’ them.
At first glance Lucy Westenra does at least seem to be the complete opposite of the three Vampires, with her innocence and naivety. However, very early on the reader is shown just how much of a woman can lie beneath the surface, as Lucy begins to gloat about how the three men proposed to her in a day. Another disturbing thought that Lucy ponders is “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her…?” This idea is quickly dismissed by Lucy as blasphemy, but ultimately the reader has to decide to what extent this is the case, how much of what the Lucy writes is true, considering she is writing to her best friend? All of this begins to build up a mental picture in the Victorian reader of Lucy’s questionable sexual appetite. This view is compounded further when the reader discovers that Lucy sleepwalks, which in the Victorian era was associated with sexual looseness. Throughout the first ten chapters and right up to her Vampiric death there are many hints given by Stoker as to the extent and morality of Lucy’s deviant sexuality, which may ultimately make her the most susceptible to Dracula.
Having been bitten by Dracula Lucy becomes more and more sexualised as she becomes increasingly Vampiric. While she is dying (for the first time) she speaks to Arthur in a “soft, voluptuous voice,” this is similar to the enthralling mannerisms of the three Vampires in Dracula’s castle. Again, having become a vampire Lucy moves through the churchyard with a “voluptuous grace” the descriptions of the Vampires seem to have been planned by Stoker so that the voluptuous nature of the Vampires and sexualised women is impossible to miss. This sexualisation and the idea that she has taken over the sexual aggressor role combined with the fact that the women have to become Vampires to do this could be taken to show that the sexualisation and freedom of women is a deformation of who they really are and who they should be. This deformation also stems into her rejection of the mother figure that Victorian society so expected of its women, Lucy “clutched” one of her victims ”strenuously to her breast” and instead of protecting it from harm she feeds from it, and intends to eventually kill it.
Of the two main female characters in the book Mina is clearly the more level headed of the two. She works for a living and seems happier with her choice to me monogamous and to be a more tradition mother/wife figure. Her keeping of the journal proves to be incredibly useful later in the story when the group needs to see how Dracula’s infiltration of Victorian society has progressed. At some points in the novel Mina seems to openly denounce the “New Woman” saying how her appetite would shock her. When she visits Jonathan in Eastern Europe she spends her time “nursing him through his illness,” this motherly love is reciprocated by Jonathan who never refers to Mina while showing any erotic sense of attraction to her. Indeed Stoker never goes into any intimate detail about her physical appearance, save for the holy water mark on her face later in the story. She might not be the perfect woman though, often Van Helsing refers to what a good man she would make and how she has a man’s brain, this, like Lucy sexual aggression blurs the distinctions between the two sexes and would have threatened a Victorian man. Eventually even Mina cannot resist the Count’s incredible powers, so the reader finds themselves asking if Mina, the strong woman cannot deny Dracula’s advances, then who can?
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