Dracula by Bram Stoker
The Appearance of Truth: About the Peculiarities of Bram Stoker’s Dracula
“What manner of a man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of man? I feel the dread of this fear – and there is no escape for me; I am encompassed about the terrors that I dare not to think of…” (Stoker 2011: 41)
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is one of the most famous examples of 19th-century literature and the genre of gothic novels. Since its release in 1897, the novel’s story and its idea of a vampire legend have been adapted by print, film, and television many times, some more successful than others. Part of the reason why Dracula was and still is so successful is its unique narrative approach. Other than most of its contemporary novels Dracula is written as a narrative assembly of epistolary reflections and accounts.
As Bernard Duyfhuizen (1985) states in his article Epistolary Narratives of transmission and transgression: “All epistolary novels contain a double narrative: a narrative of the events and a narrative of the letters that precipitate or report the events” (1). Whilst there is no doubt in this assumption to be accurate, in the case of Dracula (Stoker 2011), however, there is the slight issue that the main features used in the novel, in order to tell the story, are not exclusively letters. In this sense, this essay may be understood as an attempt to illustrate the consequences that appear when the perception of an epistolary narrative is taken from a general understanding to a cross-media level and how this heightens the effectiveness of the novel.
Generally speaking the use of epistolary narrative as a literary device in Dracula functions as an instance to create truthfulness, authenticity, and faithfulness. In the novel, the narrative – being an assembly of epistolary reflections and accounts – creates a story that is placed within the boundaries of three different media; diary entries, letters, and newspaper articles. If one, therefore, wants to pay closer attention to the narrative characteristics of Dracula it might be an incomplete attempt to only look at the effects that the literary device of an epistolary narrative has on the story in general. Instead one should also examine how the different media depicted within the novel effect its perception. Hence, in order to understand the whole scope of the story, it seems necessary to pay closer attention to the different media used in this novel as they create different kinds of authenticity and truthfulness.
One of the many ways in which the novel creates authenticity is wherewith it generates an intimate setting for the story to unfold itself. This can mainly be observed in the way the process of diary writing is, many times, interrupted by thoughts and current circumstances. For example, in one of Mina’s diary entries, her process of writing is disturbed by the event of an old man she has been in contact with coming up to her and starting a conversation. In the narrative of the story, she interrupts her writing and returns to it when this conversation is over (76). Therefore, through Mina’s writing, the reader gets the impression that Mina’s actions of writing down and experiencing the events are simultaneously described in the writing. By giving the impression of being close to the experienced reality, it supplies the reader with a feeling of a momentary condition. Hence, the idea of a diary entry giving an insight into the emotions of the protagonist creates the impression of an intimate relationship between reader and narrator.
In relation to these diary entries, the purpose of letters and newsletter articles is to further stretch the feature of reliability and faithfulness, as whilst diaries are characterised by subjectivity and emotions, letters and newspaper articles tend to have an appearance of telling and reporting objective facts. Especially newspaper articles are understood to have these features. In Dracula, apparent newspaper articles are often used to interweave storylines into the novel’s plot that none of the novel’s characters have knowledge or have been part of. What is more, however, in Dracula the reader even gets to read unopened letters and notes (185). So, even though letters might be understood as hybrids of the other two media, in the sense in which they transmit subjectivity and objectivity, all these circumstances might trick the reader into believing that he/she can observe everything and, therefore, knows everything connected to the story. It creates the illusion of intimacy and the appearance of truth.
However, because the story in Dracula does not only have one protagonist and one perspective it is told through but several, the whole story and its events are always experienced through secondary sources and only in fragments. Reading a novel with an epistolary narrative, therefore, creates a literary gap that denies the reader full access to the story it creates. Especially in Stoker’s Dracula, it is interesting to observe how the novel’s narrative always leaves the unexplainable to the unsaid, hence, the imagination. The affected (Jonathan) or infected (Lucy) are never talking themselves, once the unbearable or unspeakable happens to them (e.g. 63). This has various effects on the novel’s perception but mainly it creates a condition where the reader is left with a sense of horror that reflects itself in the feeling of never getting to see the full picture and finding out the whole truth about the events.
So, not only is Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula unique in a narrative sense but also to the extent to which it uses this particular narrative to create the story. By illustrating the characteristics of Broker’s writing this essay tried to prove that, in order to understand the full scope of the story, it is necessary to not only look at an epistolary narrative approach in general but to pay closer attention to the different media used in Dracula, as they create different kinds of authenticity and truthfulness. By approaching Stoker’s Dracula in this way it was discovered that a narrative assembly of epistolary reflections and accounts only creates an appearance of truth that disguises itself as objectiveness when it is, in fact, highly subjective. This subjectivity has – as it has been illustrated – several effects on the narrative but above all it heightens the effectiveness of the novel in the sense that it creates a literary gap that functions as a medium of horror and fear.
- Duyfhuizen, Bernard (1985): Epistolary Narratives of transmission and transgression. In: Comparative Literature, Duke University Press, Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 1- 26.
- Stoker, Bram (2011): Dracula. Harper Press, London.
The Geography of the Gothic: Stoker Conforming to and Varying from Conventions of Gothic Fiction
In this essay, I will analyse Bram Stoker’s Gothic taking as a reference point his novel Dracula. The main purpose of these pages is to present the aspects conform to conventions of Gothic fiction and the ones that vary from this genre.
The Genre of Gothic
Gothic fiction is considered a literature and film genre that mainly combines death, fiction and horror, and occasionally romance. Gothic narratives always describe journeys, flight and pursuit tales or stories of escape (Duncker, 2004). 1790s writers, considered the first wave of Gothic novelists, had recurrent modes of writing: their narratives made the familiar sound strange and difficult material was approached without contemporary political and sexual restrictions. The topography and iconography of the Gothic is distinguished by castles, monasteries, fortifications, convents, locked houses and prisons. These places are always depicted old, dangerous, mysterious,… Gothic fiction is concerned with mental narratives, in other words, the representation of logic dreams. Transgressions and taboos are not an obstacle for a Gothic writer, this means that authors can take risks with their material. The Gothic releases indirect desire, and readers become spectators of the forbidden spectacle.
The Uncanny constitutes one of the main aspects of Gothic fiction. This concept was first developed by Sigmund Freud, and he defines it as “in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” (Freud, 1955, cited in Botting & Townshend, 2004: 2) This notion includes events that repeat, reverse, double and return normal judgements and applies not only to ghosts that cross the firm line between life and death, but also to passages between times and places, inside and outside and minds and worlds. The Uncanny is central to discussions of Victorian Gothic. It is about crossing and transgressing boundaries and it also deals with a refuse to remain in place, which triggers discourse. The Uncanny keeps criticism alive because it shows an obscurity and darkness that only the truth of critical discourse can brighten. I believe that Stoker has expelled some disturbing elements from society and has also reaffirmed the boundaries between certain categories in Dracula: life and death, civilization and degeneracy and human and nonhuman. Count Dracula has violated or made ambiguous such boundaries.
Viewing the Past
Gothic has always been a way of viewing the past, as David Punter asserts. The texts belonging to Victorian Gothic are especially useful for the history of the period. They expose the return of suppressed historical doubts and fears. In Stoker’s case, there was not an explicit intention of illustrating the social concerns of the period, still he does so. In his novel Dracula, Jonathan is the perfect representation of an industrialized society; he is an ordinary guy, professional, not exceptional, not superstitious and not imaginative.
Themes like religion, sex, the Un-dead, the unhuman creatures, the deconstruction of “Angel in the House” notion and the evil are common and essential topics of Gothic fiction. According to Glennis Byron, Gothic is closely related to anxieties produced by many scientific discourses, such as evolutionism, mental psychology and sexology,… All these discourses were already questioning and dismantling conventional ideas of the human. In Stoker, as in many Gothic writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, these anxieties are both managed and aggravated. There is a characteristic creature that became familiar during late Victorian Gothic that is entirely applicable to Count Dracula. It is a creature that drains the vitality of others or whose supernatural beauty or goodness is linked to a hidden ugliness.
In general, the nature of Gothic fiction is composed of a doubleness represented by the power of the evil against which the protagonist battles. I believe this is roughly the case with Count Dracula and Jonathan, taking into account that, later on, Jonathan will not be on his own but with other characters to defeat the evil. Besides, Stoker depicts the going out to Transylvania as basically a going in to the dark continent itself and a real contact with something alien. By transmitting this idea, Stoker enters into the true Victorian Gothic, just as in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Nevertheless, in the latter case the destiny is the colonized Congo.
Traditionally, the Gothic has been understood as the register of repressed desires, thus revealing “which should have reminded hidden”. In my opinion, this fact illustrates how latent topics or taboos of that period could emerge and have a voice. These repressed desires could only be revealed in few occasions, notably in literature through specific genres like Gothic, music and theatre.
“The sleep of reason produces monsters” is an etching by Francisco Goya that resumes perfectly the Gothic. Going back to Romanticism, we notice that it moves away from enlightenment and puts reason to sleep. In the case of Gothic stories, they appeal to the emotional part of us and they usually do not work if we analyse them rationally. This is not the case with Dracula, since this novel works even analysing it rationally.
Dracula is considered a multiform novel. It cannot be categorised as epistolary in view of the newspaper accounts that it contains. There is not one single governing perspective as multiple narrators appear throughout the novel. All of them express the truth. This multiplicity of narrators is labelled as “polyphony”. Polyphony reflects that there is no single truth and that did not happen in the nineteenth century, it was not common then, but Stoker had yet introduced it. In addition, this multiple narrative form expresses, in a subliminal way, instability. The more terrifying the moment is, the more frequent polyphony is.
To conclude, the aspects in which Stoker varies from Gothic fiction conventions are few compared to the ones that he conforms to. I found advantageous the fact of learning more about the thought of the age by means of Gothic fiction. Finally, I would remark the unique versatility of Dracula, considering the success even subdued to a rational approach.
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Penguin Classics, 2003.
Chapters in Collective Volumes
- Arata, Stephen. “The fin de siècle”. In Kate Flint, Writing Victoria’s England. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 145-147.
- Botting, Fred and Townshend, Dale. “Introduction”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Nineteenth-Century Gothic: At Home with the Vampire. London: Routledge, 2004. 1-11.
- Bruhm, Steven. “On Stephen King’s phallus; or, the postmodern Gothic”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Twentieth-Century Gothic: Our Monsters, Our Pets. London: Routledge, 2004.170-190/.
- Duncker, Patricia. “Queer Gothic: Angela Carter and the lost narratives of sexual subversion”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Twentieth-Century Gothic: Our Monsters, Our Pets. London: Routledge, 2004. 330-344.
- Punter, David. “Heart lands: contemporary Scottish Gothic”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Twentieth-Century Gothic: Our Monsters, Our Pets. London: Routledge, 2004. 291-311.
- Spencer, Kathleen L. “Purity and danger: Dracula, the Urban Gothic, and the late Victorian degeneracy crisis”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Nineteenth-Century Gothic: At Home with the Vampire. London: Routledge, 2004. 304-330.
- Wilt, Judith. “The imperial mouth: Imperialism, the Gothic and Science fiction”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Twentieth-Century Gothic: Our Monsters, Our Pets. London: Routledge, 2004. 134-146.
Articles in Academic Journals
- Byron, Glennis. “Bram Stoker’s Gothic and the Resources of Science”. Critical Survey, 19.2, 2007: 48-62.
Research Paper On Vampires
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a work of fantasy fiction. Its eerie success comes from the ability to prey on human fears, mostly about death and sexuality. Dracula reflects the problems during the Victorian period. Most of the reviewers agreed that Dracula should of be seen as an exquisite example of fulfilling the Victorian male imagination, regarding female sexuality. Victorian society commanded firm restraints on sexuality, especially female sexuality. As Sally J. Kline states in her study of Dracula and its connections to women issues during the Victorian time, a Victorian woman had only two choices; she was either a virgin or else she was a mother since the Victorians believed that sexual repression was the sign of good breeding and if she was neither of those she was seen as immoral. This era was marked by the “cult of true womanhood” and the Social Purity Movement. A woman was only considered as a “lady” if women repressed their “instincts”, meaning that they should relinquish from sex.
A.N. Wilson describes this issue in The Victorians and writes that led by the “cult of true womanhood,” which required purity and submissiveness in women, females were told to become almost asexual. Women who were sexually active and who did not deny their sexuality were therefore a threat, both to themselves and to society, which is clear in Dracula (451). Leah Wyman points out that the three beautiful vampires that Jonathan Harker encounters in Dracula’s castle show all the qualities of how a woman should not be, appealing and sexually aggressive.
As women’s sexuality became more repressed, Victorian men were also conducted to relinquish from sex but with few exceptions. The Victorian man was only allowed to have sex within marriage. A woman had to aid men to control their instincts to become more like the women. Even though men were aided to control their sexuality, the Victorians believed that heterosexual craving was in a man’s nature. Therefore, the society pleaded ignorance about a man’s inability to control his sexuality. However, Victorian Society believed that male sexuality was crucial for reproduction.
There were severe restraints regarding female and male sexuality, but male homosexuality was considered more of a taboo. After the publicized trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895, sodomy was criminalized, and the public was aided not to commit this vile act. If they did, the people ended up in prison. There is no doubt that homosexuality is one of the main themes in Dracula. Dracula invades both women and men where Nina Auerbach interprets the homosexual codes in the book, stressing the vile attractions of the Count. She claims that the Count is a sexual threat who threatens to destroy the moral order and turn it into a depraved society through his violation of people. The violation of the men by penetrating and sucking the blood can be viewed as a coding of homosexual acts, according to Auerbach.
In Dracula, sex and blood are associated with each other, reflecting the Victorians’ belief that blood is sperm. My research is based on William Hughes and his study on Dracula’s blood sucking and its meaning with the “spermatic economy” which claims that feeding on blood implies an exchange of bodily fluids which can be associated with sexual intercourse. The association between sexuality and blood is what will be talked about essay. In line with Auerbach and Hughes, the symbolic value of penetration caused by Dracula represents new issues of sexuality.
Dracula was published in 1897, an era which was marked by the increase of the British Empire. It is important to stress the new apprehension of sexuality and gender roles in Victorian society, primarily among the middle class. Sexuality, especially female sexuality, was not accepted and was repressed in terms of arrangements. In Victorian England, women’s sexual behavior was dictated by society’s strict expectations. As mentioned earlier, being a lady meant that a woman should not have sexual desires. Sex was something that was only necessary for reproduction, within the confines of marriage. Therefore, it is not strange that sexuality was threatening and needed to be regulated, Levy argues. She also mentions what Foucault called “a technique of power”, which means that this was a way of discipline for people who could not or would not regulate themselves. The Victorians thought that some people had more difficulties in resisting sex than others and therefore rules and discipline were required.
According to Phyllis A. Roth, Dracula’s appeal derives from its hostility toward female sexuality, for the female vampires are equivalent to the fallen women of eighteenth and nineteenth-century fiction (31-32). Roth expresses other examples of this in the novel with two female characters, Mina and Lucy. In the beginning of the novel when Lucy is not completely vampirized, Dr. Seward describes her hair in its natural sunny ripples, later when the men watch her return to her tomb Lucy is transformed into a “a dark haired woman”. The fair/dark split which suggest moral casts in an unconscious way reflects the ambivalence aroused by the sexualized woman (ibid.36). Hughes´ opinions are similar to Roth’s, writing that Stoker constructs his heroines as virgins, and virginity was a basis in patriarchal society and where virginity and virtuosity could be seen as a “codification of accepted behavioral standards for the female” (104). Victorian gender relations were dominated by a complete sexual complementation, which according to the Victorian feminist writer E.M. Palmegiano, meant that being female was the counterpart of being male.
In Stoker’s novel women are seen as defenseless creatures who are either seduced and invaded or deluded by Dracula to become his helper, since they are the negotiation of the male, weak and easy to impose upon. Therefore, it is not strange, according to Gregory A. Waller, that the novel establishes a masculine ideal which is strong and self-controlled, independent man of action.
A Feminized helplessness is a consequence of the breakdown of manhood, and the clear instances of this gender role takes place when Jonathan is alone with the three sexually aggressive vampire women. Building on Waller’s thesis, Miller points out that this scene illustrates male vulnerability, in a way which puts Jonathan in a feminine role and ironically the man who saves him from the three vampire women is none other than the only man in the fortress, Dracula (229-30). The connection between the ideas about sexuality, gender roles and class identity are strong. These middle-class ideas about sexuality were a plain contrast to the aristocracy, for the middle-class codified virtue. Levy emphasizes that the middle class tried to compensate for what they lacked in blood through self-regulation of behavior, especially sexual behavior. Levy points out that this is very clear in Dracula, where Lucy’s seduction is similar to a sexual seduction; the virgin is stained by the aristocratic monster, which is a common theme in gothic literature where the aristocratic man “hunts” women of no aristocratic origin. As the middle-class grew stronger, the Victorians argued that the straight, middle-class Victorian male was the only one that had the right to comment people in England which meant that they had the power to say what was right and what was not, meaning that they were particularly fit to care for other social and cultural groups who did not suit the Victorian standards.
Sexuality and especially homosexuality were regarded as something that did not suit their standards. During the nineteenth century medical science was making progress, maybe one of the most important developments during that time. The scientists invented a new science based on blood which was according to them connected to racial and sexual issues. The term “sanguine economy” came with ideas and rules about why English people, for example, should not “blend” with people of other races and giving answers regarding “health” and why people should not waste any time on sex. According to medical science sexual intercourse meant a depletion of sperm which signified blood and that was not something to squander. A depletion of blood brought both personal illness and a lack of moral sanity. Hughes claims that the term “Sanguine Economy” which came up during the Victorian period was a physiological logic that governed the secretion, depletion and transfer of blood.
Hughes emphasizes that the identities invested in blood started to be powerful, and people in the Victorian age were redirected to a myth of common racial identity. Such encoding is something that exists in Stoker’s writings. In his novel Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, Stoker applauds the seaman of an American warship who in defiance of the official neutrality of the US navy rescued the crew of a British gunboat from defeat at the hands of the Chinese. When an explanation was demanded for the crew’s action, the ship’s commander responded, “blood is thicker than water” (59). These sentiments of racial brotherhood, which unite the English from all parts of the world such as North America, Great Britain and Australia, had to do with bonds of common racial identity which derived from the belief of having the same origin. The “same” blood contributed to the saving of the seamen. The sentiments of racial brotherhood are central in Stoker’s fiction, both familial and racial. Hughes goes deeper into this and mentions that an important counterpart of the “Sanguine Economy” was the “Spermatic Economy,” a popular medical discourse in which semen is regarded as a product of the blood. The scientists believed that individual and racial health are dependent on pure and plentiful blood; personal vitality was highly connected to the bodily fluid, blood or semen, in other words there was an equation between a bodily fluid and the quantity of personal vitality. Depletion or contamination brings both personal illnesses, racial and physical depression (139-40).
The pale body is, in this case, always disturbing and threatening when the moral is opposed to literal implications of blood loss are emphasized. According to Hughes, this is much evidenced in Dracula where Seward is facing the vampiric Lucy in the Hampstead churchyard; She still advanced, however, and with a languorous, voluptuous grace said: – Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!. (143) Therefore what is essentially a medical problem is translated into a sexual one and with that a moral threat to Seward, according to Hughes. Lucy seemingly demands sperm, but wants blood. The heart of Dracula is blood. The vampire flourishes on the blood of others, and Van Helsing and his team’s whole effort is to fight this flow of blood, by transfusion and any other conceivable methods. Dracula is dangerous because he threatens to turn the Victorian society into a depraved one with his vampire attacks. A lot of critics have researched in detail the sexual implications of the story, and it is obvious in many ways that this novel yields clear indications of what Victorians considered as sexual perversions.4 The perversions in the novel are not directly expressed but it is expressed through blood where blood sucking indicates sexual intercourse and these “perversions” are brilliantly camouflaged by blood by Stoker. Therefore blood should be seen as a symbolic expression and that is the dynamic of Dracula. Lucy Lucy is one of the characters who has been more studied. Even Stoker’s choice of name is significant. Hughes emphasizes that Lucy correlates to Lucis, which means light and her character stands for positive feminine qualities such as sweetness and light (142). Lucy is a good-hearted woman although flirtatious and tempting, and because of that she is much more vulnerable to Dracula’s seduction which is being clear when she admits to Mina through her letter that she is confused about choosing a man and therefore unable to decide whose proposal she should accept; Why can’t they let a girl marry three men or as many as want her and save all this trouble? (96) Kline notes that Lucy is hesitating about committing herself to only one man, and therefore confused about the decision she is about to make. Hughes points out that the word “want” in this context has a sexual significance (155). Kline suggests that this indicates that she obviously does not feel any true love for any of her suitors, but she does fantasize about having them in a “harem-like arrangement,” if she was allowed to. Kline points out that the author shows us Lucy’s casual sexual inclinations and dissatisfaction with the institution of monogamy (117). Levy on the other hand, writes that this strongly shows the cultural need to control female appetite (164). The scene where Lucy gets a blood transfusion from the men can not only be interpreted as homosexual act between the men, it also emphasizes Lucy’s desire for polygamous marriage, and ironically her wish and desire for polygamy comes true. Lucy’s fiancé, Arthur is ignorant that he has been one among many other blood-donors to Lucy’s circulation regards, his donation as an act of matrimony. Van Helsing, though, sees the irony in the fiancé’-widower’s: But there was a difficulty, friend John. If so that, then what about the others? Ho, ho! Then this so sweet maid is a polyandrist, and me, with my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church’s law, though no wits, all gone – even I, who am faithful husband to this now-no-wife, am bigamist”. (176) What Van Helsing actually means here according to Roth, is that Lucy’s descent into vampirism allows her, through the transfusions, metaphorically to experience intercourse with a number of men before even getting married (36).
A common issue in Dracula is rape which is expressed indirectly through blood. The threat of rape is particularly present in Dracula because it strongly demonstrates the power of men over women’s bodies during the Victorian time and therefore important to illustrate that “fallen” women predominantly were considered who did not own the right of possession of their own bodies. Men of the Victorian society were free to treat them as they pleased too. On the other hand, men who could not control their sexuality were also considered as weak and passive, qualities that characterized a woman. Dracula contains several rape scenes, both of women and the attempted rape of men. These rape scenes strongly illustrates how penetration and blood function as a symbol or insinuation of sexuality and intercourse. “Interfusion of sexual desire and the moment of erotic fulfilment may occasion the erasure of the conventional and integral that self informs the central action in Dracula” (95), writes Christopher Craft in an essay, where Craft interprets one of the most famous scenes of the novel. It is the scene where Jonathan falls asleep and has a “dream” of three stunning women who enter the room and talk about who will “kiss” him first. Jonathan is full of fear, at the same time as he is full of desire and lust, and does not move but still continues to watch the women through half-closed eyes. All three had brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. (35) This is a scene which establishes Dracula’s power and can be considered as very sexual and sensual. One of the central themes in the novel is the combination of terror and desire. Even as the vampire women approach Jonathans throat, his terror is mixed with desire. He does not pretend to sleep, but he does not try to escape either.
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?
A Problem, Of Oppression Of Homosexual Men in Dracula By Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker’s Wilde Desires: The Impact of Victorian Values on Dracula
The last few years have been favorable to the gay community, especially with the legalization of gay marriage occurring last year in the United States. In the past, however, those who fit the description of a homosexual were looked down upon and forced to repress who they truly are. In the Victorian Era, one notable person who had this type of discrimination forced upon them was Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. It is widely believed that Stoker had feelings for or even had been sexually involved with Oscar Wilde, an Irish playwright. When Wilde was brought to court for being a sodomite, an unfortunate term from the time that was used to describe homosexual men, Stoker was concerned that he would be outed as well. Because of this unfortunate incident, it is believed that Stoker included references to his fears within Dracula. Considering how the Victorian Era viewed relationships between two men, there are comparisons that can be made between characters and events in the novel with stereotypes and prejudices that were held with homosexual men.
The author of Dracula, Bram Stoker himself has been noted as having homosexual tendencies during his lifetime. In “Vampires We Are” Richard S. Primuth says that “Bram Stoker was a closeted homosexual and a friend of Oscar Wilde, a not-so-closeted gay man. Stoker idolized Walt Whitman and met him while touring the U.S., and he had a passionate relationship with actor Henry Irving. He began writing Dracula one month after Wilde was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to hard labor” (17-18).
Stoker has a history of seeking relations with other men including Oscar Wilde. When it is noted that the writing of Dracula took place around a month after Wilde’s imprisonment, it gives the idea that it may very well have been written with an agenda in mind. With this, it may be possible that Dracula was written in order to spite those who supported Wilde’s imprisonment.
The Victorian Era was a period of time that occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. It was a period of peace and prosperity, but there were still some old values that held true. In the spring 1992 issue of the Victorian Newsletter, Joseph Cady states that
“Victorian culture officially held that homosexuality ‘could not be’ in the phenomenal sense-that is, that homosexuality literally ‘did not exist’ in human experience and ‘was not there’ in the Victorian social world-while at the same time implicitly acknowledging that homosexuality was indeed ‘there’ in Victorian society and had to be rigorously contained, by, among other means, the preservation of a strict public silence about it” (48).
Like a disease, any mention of homosexuality must have been quarantined. In this case, any works that even mentioned homosexuality were censored in order to keep a level of public decency, one that would possibly be thrown out of order should information get out.
Despite being dearly beloved as an artist during this time, the values that the Victorians imposed on Wilde were eventually used to justify his imprisonment. In “A Theory of Scandal: Victorians, Homosexuality, and the Fall of Ocscar Wilde”, Ari Adut describes Wilde’s treatment by saying that “Wilde was prosecuted and condemned to the fullest extent of the law even though the evidence against him was circumstantial, uncorroborated, and tainted” (2). Despite the fact that what he did was not illegal, the Victorians showed no mercy when it came to condemning Wilde. An indirect victim of this incident were those who appreciated Wilde’s work: “While Wilde’s art was later to be branded as corrupt, his works received considerable critical acclaim and remained very popular across all social classes until the day of his arrest” (2). Looking to completely destroy Wilde’s reputation because of his homosexuality, those in positions of power sought to label his works as corrupt even though they were subject to massive critical acclaim. The Victorians not only sought to condemn Wilde, they also wanted to erase as much of his impact on their culture as possible.
Bram Stoker lived during the majority of the Victorian Era, from 1847 to 1912, and therefore Wilde’s prosecution would have had an effect on his life. The reason for this is that it is widely believed that Stoker himself was a homosexual. In “‘A Wilde Desire Took Me’: The Homoerotic History of Dracula,” Talia Schaffer says that “For a gay observer like Stoker, secrecy and self-assertion both became desirable goals even as Wilde’s trial constructed 1890’s homosexual identity as a delicate negotiation between them” (381-382). The trial of Oscar Wilde came about when Wilde was accused of sodomy, where he was then outed as having relationships with other men. In his works Stoker seems to have made some subtle references to his relationship with Oscar Wilde. In “Dracula’s Earnestness: Stoker’s Debt to Wilde,” Samuel Lyndon Gladden says that “in Dracula, which appeared just eight days after Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol and flight from England, Stoker uses the word “wild” and its derivatives thirty-four times…” (63), considering the time period that it was released during and the impactions of a relationship between the two, it is easy to see the significance of this action.
In the work itself, there are examples of the word “wild” being used which may coincide with Gladden’s theory. In the first chapter, Jonathan writes in his journal when he is journeying to Dracula’s Castle that a group of dogs howling was “borne on the wind which now sighed softly through the Pass, a wild howling began, which seemed to come from all over the country, as far as the imagination could grasp it through the gloom of the night” (Stoker 18). When wild dogs howl, it is often to warn the rest of the pack that there is an unwelcome guest in their territory. Jonathan, an outside force who is presented as an archetype of Victorian society throughout the novel, has come uninvited into the territory of the wolves. In the life of Bram Stoker, the unwanted values of the Victorian Era have taken away a friend and lover from him, and he is using Dracula as his vessel to express his discontent with their imprisonment of Wilde.
Dracula is a character that has many eccentric traits that he must keep hidden in order to survive, much like how homosexual men in the Victorian Era must have. In “Whispers of the Unspeakable: New York and Montreal Newspaper Coverage of the Oscar Wilde Trials in 1895”, Greg Robinson says that “Wilde’s crime was described in terms of his deviant, ‘artistic’ and ‘effeminate’ traits, rather than immoral sexual behavior, which suggests that popular ideas on ‘the homosexual’ as a distinct and familiar social type had already formed by that time.” (15). Like how a homosexual man was described, Dracula is shown as a force of evil not through direct violence but by his eccentric traits. The Count is a man who lives by himself in a gigantic castle in the middle of nowhere, inviting another man to stay the night, whose greeting is described by Jonathan as:
“The light and warmth and the Count’s courteous welcome seemed to have dissipated all my doubts and fears. Having then reached my normal state, I discovered that I was half famished with hunger… I found supper already laid out. My host, who stood on one side of the great fireplace, leaning against the stonework, made a graceful wave of his hand to the table, and said, ‘I pray you, be seated and sup how you please. You will I trust, excuse me that I do not join you, but I have dined already, and I do not sup.’” (Stoker 23).
Dracula is more than happy to serve as a host for Jonathan, and sits with him while he eats to be a good host to him. A stereotype of homosexual men is that they are natural-born hosts, and Dracula fits this description; going out of his way to ensure the comfort of someone he hired to work for him. Not only that, but Dracula allows Jonathan to eat as much as he wants, watching him obsessively as he does so.
The first night that Jonathan spends with Dracula, he cuts himself while shaving, and Dracula’s reaction was described as “When the Count saw my face, his eyes blazed with a sort of demonic fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there” (Stoker 31). To Jonathan, Dracula is defined by his behavior, and only backs off in the presence of the crucifix. In the Victorian Era, homosexual men were discriminated against in the name of the church. In fact, sodomy (the crime that Oscar Wilde was accused of) was named after the town of Sodom in the Book of Genesis, which was a town that was destroyed by God due to its lustfulness.
This scene is presented in an interesting way in the Francis Ford Coppola movie based on the novel. Within the scene, Dracula walks in on Jonathan shaving, surprising him as Jonathan cannot see Dracula’s reflection in the mirror. When Dracula approaches Jonathan, he gets very close to him and begins to shave him. When Jonathan gets cut, Dracula pulls away from Jonathan, and takes great pleasure in sucking his blood behind Jonathan’s back (Coppola). A typical, negative, stereotype of homosexual men is that they are sex hounds that flirt with any man they see. Dracula not only has intentions to make Jonathan stay with him for as long as possible, but also has one to make Jonathan belong to him forever by making him a vampire. Dracula cannot outright state his intentions, however, as doing that will “out” him, and people who do not share his affliction may try to kill him in the name of decency. Instead, he must repress these feelings, much like how Stoker has to hide his desires for Wilde in order to prevent being imprisoned and persecuted in a similar manner to how Wilde has.
There is even more references to homosexuality’s influence on Stoker. Schaffer says that “Dracula explores Stoker’s fear and anxiety as a closeted homosexual man during Oscar Wilde’s trial.” (381). Throughout Dracula, there are several scenes that bring to mind the inner desires of a closeted homosexual man. In “Productive Fear: Labor, Sexuality, and Mimicry in Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, Eric Kwan-Wai Yu states that
“In fact, even the most erotic scene ends with utter revulsion and the chilling recognition of demonic threats posed by the Other. Kept prisoner in Castle Dracula, one night Harker is approached by three beautiful vampiric women with pearl teeth and ruby lips. Their attractive features and ‘silvery, musical laugh’ arouse in Harker’s heart a burning sexual desire” (147).
This scene is a significant one in the novel, as it establishes vampires as creatures of sexual desire, not to mention Dracula’s reaction to the event. While the vampire brides are attacking Harker, Dracula yells “How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back I tell you all! This man belongs to me!” (Stoker, 43). In short period of time, Dracula has gone from soliciting Jonathan Harker to sell him real estate, to inviting him in, now to claiming Jonathan as his own. He is afraid that the attractive vampire brides are going to take away from him a man that he has feelings for. To Stoker, the heteronormative values that England had during the Victorian Era took away from him someone that he had personal feelings for, and is showing his fear through Dracula’s claim on the body of Jonathan Harker.
In conclusion, there are many references that are made to the oppression of homosexual men throughout Dracula, which were inspired by Stoker’s fear of being outed as gay. Since the policies of the Victorian Era called for all mentions of homosexuality to be hidden, the intentions of Count Dracula’s actions are often left ambiguous to Jonathan, whom he claims as his own. Much how like the only existing idea of gay men that was around during this time period was that they were effeminate, colorful personalities, Stoker presents Dracula as a larger than life personality whom cannot control himself in the presence of Jonathan Harker sometimes. Stoker, much like Dracula, must make his desires for another man hidden or risk being seen as affronts to God by Victorian Society. By making these comparisons, Stoker is venting his anger about potentially being outed as a result of Oscar Wilde’s trial.
Gender in Gothic Literature
Gothic literature uses gender to discuss social norms and explore stereotypes while commenting on whether gender stereotypes should be upheld or disrupted in society. In this essay, I will compare two female characters and two male characters in Gothic texts to establish how gender stereotypes are upheld and disrupted in Gothic literature. I will analyze the characters of Count Dracula and Mina Harker from Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Laura from Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market”, and Aylmer from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” as examples of how gender impacts Gothic literature. I will also compare how these characters interact with people of the same gender and people of the opposite gender. There is a link between gender and submission versus subversion, which I will explore further using these characters (Gbogi). I will argue that while Gothic literature uses characters that disrupt gender stereotypes, the texts primarily promote gender stereotypes as morally better and aim to normalize and enforce them in readers.
At the time that all of these texts were written social norms determined that a woman’s place was in the home, meaning that women were expected to be housewives and mothers (Prescott and Giorgio). The literature of that time and leading up to it promoted the stereotypical female character to normalize and enforce these stereotypes in readers, men and women alike (Gbogi 506). Laura Mulvey (Wagner xxxii) argues that cinema focuses on men that actively look for a passive woman and in turn women become passive as it is deemed more attractive. Although Mulvey discusses gender portrayal in terms of cinema, her argument can be applied to gender portrayal in literature as well. Passive female characters in Gothic texts tend to be perceived better by the male characters in the text; they are pure and behave as good Victorian ladies ought to behave (Prescott and Giorgio 487). Female characters are rewarded for their femininity and punished for showing masculine traits such as intelligence or unrepressed sexual desires (Mendoza). Likewise, masculine characters are heralded as strong and powerful if they are highly masculine, whereas any deviation from this is viewed as weak and unnatural (Kuzmanovic).
The character of Laura in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market” lets her curiosity get the better of her and becomes consumed with the desire to eat fruit from the Goblin men. Laura is unable to pay the Goblin men for their fruit, but instead gives them a “gold” (Rossetti 261) lock of her hair. However, her weakness is not attributed to her character but rather the “evil gifts” (Rossetti 261) of the Goblin men, in other words, their masculine seduction is too powerful for a female to resist and hence, is not the fault of the stereotypically simple-minded woman. Many critics believe that Laura’s desire for the Goblin men’s fruit is really a desire for sexual pleasure (Mendoza). Rossetti’s poem also warns women about newfound sexual awareness and the consequences of giving into sexual desires being difficult to come back from. Laura’s misfortunes because of her curiosity become a cautionary tale to women about letting desire control them and is an endorsement for women to remain in the home.
Dracula’s (Stoker) Mina Harker is another female character that does not fit into the typical female stereotype. Mina Harker is a New Woman, yet for all her ideals she settles herself into the role of the passive female whose primary duty lies with her husband (Prescott and Giorgio 488). She is a complex character who cannot be classified as an “ideal Victorian woman” (Prescott and Giorgio 487), nor can she be cast purely as a New Woman. As a New Woman, Mina rejects the traditional gender stereotypes and is progressive by working as an assistant schoolmistress. She is reluctantly accepted into a band of men who praise her for her masculine intelligence while admiring her femininity. Yet when Mina narrates her seduction by Count Dracula she seems to forget her role as a New Woman and becomes the submissive female stereotype when she says, “strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him” (Stoker 251). At the end of Dracula Mina becomes the devoted wife and mother she aspires to be and relinquishes her New Woman title in favor of the socially acceptable female.
Masculinity is just as much stereotyped as femininity and like female characters, a male character who goes against the norm is reproachable. However, unlike these female characters, who are often portrayed as victims of male temptation or femininity (Mendoza), male characters who transgress social standards are portrayed as villainous (Zurutuza). Count Dracula in Stoker’s Dracula represents classical notions of masculinity through his physical and political strength, wealth, power to control others particularly females, and his title of conqueror of blood (Zurutuza 542). Even Dracula’s physical appearance exudes masculinity with “strong” (Stoker 23) facial features and an “aquiline” (Stoker 23) nose. The comparison between Dracula and an eagle in his initial meeting with Jonathon Harker hints at his intelligence, which is associated with masculinity rather than femininity. However, Dracula’s indiscriminate seductive advances towards people of all genders call into question his masculinity (Kuzmanovic 412). Dracula’s consumption of blood by piercing flesh with his “peculiarly sharp white teeth” (Stoker 23) that “protruded over the lips” (Stoker 23) is the vampire’s version of sexual penetration. Dracula is a figure of unrepressed sexual desire. Kuzmanovic (413) discusses Dracula’s seduction as being to tempt those with repressed sexual desires and causes identity confusion for those characters, particularly Jonathon Harker who unintentionally partakes in a homoerotic encounter with Count Dracula (41-4). The sexual confusion and desire Dracula causes along with the questions of masculinity he brings ends with his death, which is the result of honest masculinity from the other male characters combined with Mina Harker’s masculine intelligence.
Aylmer from Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Birthmark” is not interested in seduction as Dracula is, but rather control. He uses his masculine authority to persuade his wife to let him remove the birthmark that “destroyed the effect of Georgiana’s beauty, and rendered her countenance even hideous” (Hawthorne 233). Aylmer becomes obsessed with its destruction and measures his own successfulness as a man by his ability to rid his wife of the mark. He perceives the birthmark “as a threat to his masculine dominance” (Howard 133). The birthmark is not really Aylmer’s issue, it is merely a symptom. Aylmer’s true problem lies with his wife’s obedience to him. Initially, she was hesitant to remove the birthmark, but is persuaded by Aylmer’s insistence. When Aylmer does succeed at removing the birthmark he rejoices in his masculinity. However, the removal of the birthmark causes his wife to die. Aylmer’s attempt to prove his masculinity ends by “ultimately destroying the mark, his wife, and his own almighty self-perception in the process” (Howard 135).
Both Laura in “Goblin Market” (Rossetti) and Count Dracula in Dracula (Stoker) are imbued with sexual desire, but their gender determines how their sexual desires are interpreted. Laura’s femininity renders her sexual desire as a symptom of being a victim to her femininity and thus, weak to the seductions of men. Dracula’s sexual desires transgress from the norm of masculinity making them unseemly, abhorrent, and villainous. Mina Harker on the other hand appears to be the epitome of a Victorian lady and is praised by the male characters for it. It is also revealed that she possesses a masculine intelligence for which the men also praise her, though reluctantly. However, she is neither completely feminine nor completely masculine and thus, is put in an in between category where she is not wholly accepted by either side. It is only when she fully embraces the female gender stereotype that she is accepted. While Mina Harker is criticized for being a mixture of both feminine and masculine, Aylmer is reproached for being excessively masculine and dominating his wife to the point of her death. These texts demonstrate that there is a fine line between being a socially acceptable gender character and being admonished for gender portrayal.
In “Goblin Market” Laura attempts to subvert the female role by allowing her curiosity to control her and in doing so becomes ill. She becomes well again after she submits to the female role. However, Laura is not portrayed as a villain, but rather falls victim to the Goblin men’s temptations (Gbogi 8). The Goblin men are deviants who trick women into buying their fruit tempting the women’s sexual desires (Mendoza 914). Similarly, Mina Harker also attempts to become an atypical female within the guise of the ideal woman (Prescott and Giorgio 488). Where Laura is punished for going against the norm, Mina is welcomed, however reluctantly, into male dominated territory. Laura and Mina have one major thing in common, they both become compliant with social standards and take on the persona of the stereotypical female character, which as Gbogi (506) argues, encourages readers to maintain the stereotype. However, there is also compelling evidence for Kuzmanovic argument that while female stereotypes are reinforced in Dracula it also encourages an open-minded approach to working with people of different socio-economic backgrounds, ethnicity, and gender.
While these Gothic texts feature female characters who attempt to subvert social standards, it is the male characters who eventually force them into submission using their masculinity as a weapon of strength over the weakness of femininity. Dracula uses his transgressive masculinity to seduce men and women alike and coerce them into submitting to his will. His seduction of Mina Harker oppresses her New Woman principles and draws out the compliant Victorian lady (Prescott and Giorgio 487). However, Dracula’s monstrous masculinity is represented as being villainous and is used to contrast the gentlemanly masculinity of other male characters to enforce socially acceptable norms for men. Aylmer’s dominance and forced submission of his wife that results in her death is a warning from Hawthorne about the destructive consequences of men forcing women into submission. While these texts encourage female liberation somewhat, they identify a condition on said liberation. Feminine progression is only allowable if females remain submissive to the will of their male counterparts, if so, then they are free to subvert from norms within the boundaries set my men. This does not allow female characters much room for freedom, but instead reinforces a male dominant hierarchy while heavily suggesting enforcement of stereotypes (Gbogi 506).
Male and female gender stereotypes are evident in Gothic literature. Where some texts attempt to disrupt these stereotypes, such as Mina Harker in Dracula (Stoker), others maintain the stereotype, such as Aylmer in “The Birthmark” (Hawthorne). There is a disparity in how gender affects the interpretation of characters that transgress stereotypes. Where women are regarded as victims of their femininity, men are reproached for not being masculine. The stereotypical male characters aim to force the female characters into submission while the female characters attempt to subvert social norms. Gothic literature promotes the socially acceptable gender stereotypes by portraying characters that disrupt the norm who are then revealed to be morally incompetent for male characters and forced into submission for female characters.
Gbogi, Michael Tosin. “Refiguring the subversive in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Aurora Leigh and Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”” Neohelicon, vol. 41, 2014, pp. 503-16. EBSCO, doi:10.1007/s11059-014-0233-1.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel. “The Birthmark.” Gothic Evolutions: Poetry Tales, Context, Theory, edited by Corinna Wagner. Broadview Press, 2014, pp. 232-42.
Howard, Jeffrey. “Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Birth-Mark.” The Explicator, vol. 70, no. 2, 2012, pp. 133-6. EBSCO, doi:10.1080/00144940.2012.678414.
Kuzmanovic, Dejan. “Vampiric Seduction and Vicissitudes of Masculine Identity in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 37, 2009, pp. 411-42. Cambridge University Press, doi:10.1017/S1060150309090263.
Mendoza, Victor Roman. ““Come Buy”: The Crossing of Sexual and Consumer Desire in Christina Rossetti’s “Goblin Market.”” The Johns Hopkins University Press, vol. 73, no. 4, 2006, pp. 913-47. JSTOR.
Prescott, Charles E., and Grace A. Giorgio. “Vampiric Affinities: Mina Harker and the Paradox of Femininity in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula.”” Victorian Literature and Culture, vol. 33, no. 2, 2005, pp. 487-515. JSTOR, doi: 1060-1503/05.
Rossetti, Christina. “Goblin Market.” Gothic Evolutions: Poetry Tales, Context, Theory, edited by Corinna Wagner. Broadview Press, 2014, pp. 260-8.
Stoker, Bram. “Dracula.” Dracula, edited by Nina Auerbach & David J. Skal. W. W. Norton & Company, 1997, pp. 1-327.
Wagner, Corinna. “Introduction.” Gothic Evolutions: Poetry Tales, Context, Theory, edited by Corinna Wagner. Broadview Press, 2014, pp. xxiii-xlii.
Zurutuza, Krisian Perez. “The Vampire as the Gender and Racial Construction of Western Capitalism’s White Masculinity in English and American Gothic Literature.” International Journal of Arts & Sciences, vol. 8, no. 8, 2015, pp. 541-9. EBSCO.
Two Women, New Woman in Bram Stoker’s Novel
Bram Stoker uses the characters of Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker in his novel Dracula to explore the essential attributes of a “New Woman” in Victorian England. Written during the late nineteenth century, this novel emerged out of a time where the long held traditions of men being perceived as superior and acting with authority over their submissive female counterparts was changing. Forces such as the suffragette movement drove these changes, and from this arose the concept of the “New Woman” which was based upon two major shifts in female values: an increase in intellectual pursuit and more sexual autonomy. The fates of Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra after their encounters with Dracula differ due to the different characteristics of the “New Woman” they embrace.
Mina Harker is the representation of an “ideal” woman in this novel. Firstly, she is instinctively maternal and nurturing, as evidenced by the scene in which she comforts Quincey Morris and writes, “We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit is invoked; I felt this big, sorrowing man’s head resting on me, as though it were that of the baby that someday may lie on my bosom, and I stroked his hair as though he were my own child” (230).Through acknowledging the presence of an inherent “mother-spirit” within her, Mina suggests that part of her female identity lies in being a mother. The presence of someone in distress automatically evokes a maternal response within her, and when this response occurs, the act of being a mother overpowers all other urges. Secondly, Mina maintains a belief throughout the novel that men are superior, even exclaiming at one point, “Oh, thank God for good brave men!” (311). Mina’s understanding of her social position as inferior to the men in her life ensures that she does not threaten their power. During Victorian times, the only aspect of life in which a woman was believed to be superior to a man was in her ability to raise children. Through Mina’s maternal instincts, she demonstrates having the capability of becoming a wonderful mother, and combined with her non-threatening attitude towards men, Mina proves to be the ideal Victorian woman. However, she also embraces aspects of the New Woman. Mina is familiar with advanced technologies of the time, such as typewriters and writing in shorthand. She also educates herself, even memorizing train schedules “so that [she] may assist Jonathan in case he is in a hurry” (186). Mina’s intellect reflects “New Woman” characteristics, but she approaches her knowledge in such a way that preserves traditional Victorian values as well. Instead of using intellect to increase her independence, Mina educates herself in order to keep up with her husband, and to assist him whenever possible. In doing so, she further ensures that she does not challenge the superiority of the men in her life, but rather works to complement their power.
On the other hand, Lucy embraces the aspect of the New Woman that calls for more sexual autonomy, and Stoker suggests that this is ultimately the reason for her inability to survive. She is described as ‘voluptuous’ throughout the novel, and makes inappropriate comments, such as, “why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (59). This suggestion of wanting to marry three different men would be considered extremely controversial in Victorian times. Lucy’s sexuality threatens men’s power, as evidenced by her description of Quincey Morris proposing to her, and how he “began pouring out a perfect torrent of love-making, laying his very heart and soul at [her] feet” (58). Quincey is vulnerable in this position because Lucy has all the power, and his vulnerability is strengthened when she denies his proposal, a dynamic that occurs again when she rejects John Seward. The fact that three men proposed to Lucy in one day suggests that she had been in contact with all three at the same time, which demonstrates her openly flirtatious personality. Furthermore, Lucy doesn’t show a maternal instinct at all throughout the novel. In fact, once turned into a vampire, she hunts children, and throws a baby on to the ground, revealing that she not only fails to exhibit her maternal instinct, but that she doesn’t have one at all. This makes Lucy incompetent in the one aspect of womanhood in which she is supposed to excel, suggesting that promiscuity and maternity can not exist together. Likewise, Lucy’s involvement with three men at the same time and her longing to marry all three demonstrates the negative consequences of a woman with a more open sexuality, as it threatens the superiority of men over women that Stoker believed was crucial in maintaining social order.
The different reasons behind why Dracula attacks each character also works as a reflection of their New Woman traits. Lucy, who is Dracula’s first victim, is attacked due to her vulnerability. Her less restricted sexuality leaves her more exposed to men, and the ease in which Dracula is able to visit her in the night demonstrates that. The night after Lucy is bitten by Dracula in the graveyard, Mina recounts that “twice during the night [she] was awakened by Lucy trying to get out. She seemed, in her sleep, to be a little impatient at finding the door shut” (93). Lucy’s unconscious attempts to meet with Dracula shows that she is easily turned to compliancy, and that she is not fighting against his visits. Mina, on the other hand, is deeply opposed to Dracula’s attacks. Upon first finding out she has been bitten, she exclaims, “Unclean! Unclean! I must touch him or kiss him no more” (284). Her immediate disgust and reluctance is an opposite reaction to Lucy’s. Unlike Lucy, Mina resolves to fight against what is happening instead of succumbing to Dracula’s desires, and this is ultimately the reason why their fates are different.
Mina survives the attacks due to her socially correct behavior, whereas Lucy dies because of her lack of them. Through her organization, intellect, and resourcefulness, Mina is able to assist the men in their hunt for Dracula. She is the one who compiles all the documents and evidence which helps get the narrative of the hunt organized into a collective body. She also uses her psychic connection with Dracula to the men’s advantage, thus turning her misfortune into a important resource. Lucy, on the other hand, is completely helpless. She relies entirely on the men to keep her safe, and is unable to assist in any way. She quickly turns evil, and it is described that her “sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (211). This passage clearly illustrates that Lucy was unable to fend herself from the effects of vampirism, and that she descended into that evil herself. Through Lucy’s inability to fight against Dracula’s influence, Stoker suggests that when a female embraces her sexuality, her morals are weakened. Whereas Lucy succumbs to a descent into monstrosity, Mina is able to fight it. Her strong morals allow her to prevent Dracula’s visits and keep her soul pure, despite being bitten by him. John Seward describes Mina as a “sweet, sweet, good, good woman in all the radiant beauty of her youth and animation, with the red scar on her forehead of which she was conscious” (309). The repetition of the words “sweet” and “good” emphasize the persistence of Mina’s pure characteristics despite her condition. This shows that Mina is still good at heart, so that when Dracula’s body is destroyed, Mina’s body is able to regain its natural purity. This directly opposes Lucy, who loses all her purity due to her inability to fight against the evil within her.
Lucy and Mina’s outcomes after being bitten by Dracula are determined through the traits of the New Woman they embrace. Mina pursues to expand her intellect and knowledge which allows her to fight against Dracula. However, she still holds on to important Victorian values of possessing a strong maternal instinct and does not attempt to threaten the authority of men. On the other hand, Lucy adopts more sexual openness and promiscuity, which results in a weakening of her morals and an inability to prevent a descent into evil. This symbolizes Stoker’s perception of female sexuality as negative or undesirable. Because of Mina’s strong will, she is able to play a vital role in Dracula’s defeat, whereas Lucy’s helplessness and ‘voluptuousness’ results in her death. Through these differing fates, Stoker suggests that some characteristics of the New Woman will allow women to thrive, whereas others will make them weaker and ultimately result in their inability to survive in society.
The Summary of Dracula
Men make the journey to Carfax, and have objects for protection. Dracula is not in the chapel, but it smells very bad. Rats begin to fill the chapel, they use a whistle to summon dogs that will chase away the rats. Van Helsing is happy that twenty one boxes are missing out of the fifty. Van Helsing asks to see Renfield again when he reaches the Asylum. Van Helsing wants an interview of him but Renfield curses him and fails to cooperate. Mina records her anxieties in her diary. She wakes up to her strange sounds from Renfield’s room and finds out that her window is open. Mina stares out the window at a thin streak of white mist the slowly creeps across the yard. There is a “pillar of cloud” in her room and sees a “livid white face” bending over to her and assumes that this is part of her dream.
Harker investigates, reveals twelve of the remaining boxes of Earth were deposited in two houses in London. He finds the other nine boxes in Piccadilly, in a London suburb. Seward finds rapid changes in Renfield’s behavior. He shows that he has given up interest in Zoophagy. The following evening Renfield is lying in his cell covered in blood. Dying. Renfield admits to the other men that Dracula often visited him, by promising to give him flies, spiders and other animals which helps him gain strength for his obedience. Later Mina visited him, Renfield noted that she is pale and realized that Dracula had been “taking the life out of her.” Dracula went into his room and Renfield tried to seize him but Dracula’s vampire eyes burned him, and was flung across the room as Dracula slipped away. Four men rush upstairs to Harker’s room. Finding it locked, they break down the door while Johnathan lies unconscious, Mina kneels on the edge of the bed, and the count stands over her as she drinks from the wound from her breast. Dracula’s eyes flame on the men and Van Helsing holds up a sacred Communion wafer and the count retreats. The men light up a gas lamp and there is a faint vapour escaping under the door. Morris chases the bat flying away from Carfax. Mina says that she awoke that night to find Johnathan unconscious beside her. The count threatened to kill her husband if she made a sound. He sliced his own chest open, and he made her drink the blood from his chest.
Harker recounts the end of Renfield’s story: before escaping the asylum, Count arrives and breaks his neck and killing him. Harker and his men go to Carfax the next day and place a Commonium wafer in each of Dracula’s boxes of Earth. Van Helsing seals Mina Murrays’s room with wafers. The men get keys to Dracula’s other houses around the city. Holmwood and Morris go to London to put the wafers in the twelve boxes and Harker and Van Helsing go to put the other nine boxes in Piccadilly. The men arrive and only find eight of the nine boxes. Mina tells them that Dracula leaves Carfax to go to Piccadilly to protect his boxes. Dracula taunts and Van Helsing thinks that the count is probably frightened, knowing that he has only one box remaining a safe resting place. Van Helsing’s band discovers that the Count has boarded a ship named The Czarina Catherine, which is bound for Varna. Van Helsing declares that it is necessary to defeat Dracula for the good of mankind. The men hunt for Dracula by intercepting him in Varna. Mina insists that she should come to help aid for their search. As the days pass, Mina grows weaker. After more than a weak of waiting in Varna, the band receives word that Dracula’s ship has bypassed Varna and arrived at the port of Galatz by accident. As they board Galatz, Van Helsing suggests that Mina’s connection to Dracula may have enabled the count to learn of their ambush. When the Communion wafer singes Mina’s forehead, the fight against Dracula’s evil takes on added meaning. The men decide that their efforts also represent a fight to restore a woman to her unpolluted. Mina never truly emerges as a complex or particularly believable character.
The issue of Meta-Textuality Within Dracula
Bram Stoker’s revolutionary novel Dracula gave way to the splendor of modernism. Displaying many ground breaking modernist techniques, Dracula is especially reliant on the use of a meta-textual narrative. Stoker introduces his novel with a paragraph stating that how “these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact.
There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.” (Stoker 5). Right away, Stoker draws to the reader’s attention that he is using a meta-textual narrative to tell the story of Dracula. The book is commenting on what it is going to be doing, specifically drawing the reader’s attention to the process of its own creation. Throughout the novel, Stoker creatively stitches together different forms of media, which ultimately creates the overarching narrative and a general understanding of the power structure between the characters. Stoker’s creative and wide variety of media includes things such as: diaries, shipping receipts, letters, telegrams, medical notes, journals, ships logs, typewriter entries, etc. Each artifact allows the readers to see how the story is being framed and compiled. Many of the artifacts such as the unopened letters and what are supposed to be confidential medical records illustrate how important the concept of knowledge and secrets is between the characters in the novel.
Stoker begins his story of Dracula with Jonathan Harker’s personal diary entries, herein the readers first learn of the monster that is Count Dracula—in addition to personal information about Jonathan and Mina, and even his negative views on non-English culture. As the plot thickens when Jonathan realizes Dracula is holding him prisoner in Transylvania, the narrative shifts to the diaries of characters that are in London, ultimately moving the story to London. By changing between artifacts, Stoker creates and builds the suspense of secrets and the unknown that will persist throughout the rest of the novel. By using a meta-textual narrative, Stoker leaves the readers to walk a fine line between what is reality and what is fiction. For the most part, the novel consists predominantly of journal entries and diaries. The purpose of the journal entries and diaries is to form different views of the overall narrative. However, the readers must remember that first hand accounts in documents such as those are not always accurate. The documents are all written after the events have occurred, and it is safe to assume that all of the characters have a different take on how events have taken place. Stoker plays on the inaccuracies of the documents to instill a form of doubt between the readers and the events happening in the novel.
The idea that knowledge is power is a consistent theme throughout that is brought to light through the meta-textual narrative. Literally the whole plot of the novel is based around secrets, who is keeping them—and from whom, the meta-textual narrative is the perfect tool to instill this theme. As the novel traces its way back to England, huge messes of secrets begin to emerge. This massive web of secrets begins to be woven as Lucy Westerna becomes mysteriously ill. Dr. Seward is unaware of the true cause of Lucy’s frightening and seemingly incurable ailment, however, Mina has seen Lucy sleep walking in a graveyard— in addition to some odd neck wounds, this initial secret sparks a fire. As Mina goes off to take care of Jonathan, Professor Van Helsing arrives per Seward’s request, to try and help cure Lucy. Readers begin to see through Van Helsing’s and Seward’s separate diaries that there is one massive secret being kept, Lucy is being turned into a vampire, Van Helsing kept this information from Seward until after Lucy’s death and her rebirth. As Count Dracula is feeding on Lucy, Jonathan mysteriously surfaces out west, with a bundle of secrets. Jonathan asks his beloved Mina to not read his personal diary, which they sealed up for their own safety. However this diary quickly becomes public knowledge and everyone begins to know of the monster that is Count Dracula. Within the novel, the readers know all of the secrets and are seeing the story formed before their eyes, contrasting with the characters that are all encompassed by secrets.
After Lucy’s death, Mina is put in charge of compiling all of the artifacts, so essentially compiling the meta-textual narrative. Throughout, the men in the novel try and protect Mina, their dear model Victorian woman. However, Mina is aspiring to be a “new woman,” she does not desire to be coddled by the men, but rather solve the mystery as an equal with the men. Due to her shorthand and typewriter skills, Mina is put in charge of compiling the documents and forms of media the gang possesses in relation to Count Dracula. So in all reality, Mina knows more about what is going on than the men—she knows the full story. Yet, in their personal diaries the men comment on how Mina is changing as Count Dracula is consuming her, yet they cannot decide if they should or shouldn’t include Mina in this general knowledge; the irony displayed by Stoker herein is comical.
Overall, the story of Dracula would not have the same effect without Stoker’s groundbreaking use of meta-textual narrative. Use of a wide and clever variety of media and the theme of secrets and knowledge make Dracula a truly brilliant and classic novel.
What is Dracula
Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, written in 1897 during the Victorian era depicts and delves through the historical context of what society was like in the past. His extraordinary piece places a strong emphasis on sexuality by contrasting it with the conventional and stereotypical views towards sexuality that was once embellished during his life time. By painting an elaborate picture of the conservative society Stoker once grew up in, I contend that through his main female characters, he pursues to epitomize and challenge the Victorian notion of sexuality by incorporating female characters with strong sexual desires.
Stoker explicitly links vampirism and sexuality from the early chapters of the novel, when the three vampire beauties visit Harker in Dracula’s castle. Because the prejudices of his time barred him from writing frankly about intercourse, Stoker suggests graphic sexual acts through the predatory habits of his vampires. The means by which Dracula feeds, for instance, echo the mechanics of sex: he waits to be beckoned into his victim’s bedroom, then he pierces her body in a way that makes her bleed. In the mind of the typical Victorian male, this act has the same effect as a real sexual encounter—it transforms the woman from a repository of purity and innocence into an uncontrollably lascivious creature who inspires “wicked, burning desire” in men. We witness such a transformation in Lucy Westenra, who becomes a dangerous figure of sexual predation bent on destroying men with her wanton lust. Because of her immoral mission, the men realize that Lucy must be destroyed.
In this sense, Stoker’s novel betrays a deep-seated fear of women who go beyond the sexual boundaries Victorian society has proscribed for them. If women are not hopelessly innocent virgins, like Lucy before Dracula gets hold of her, or married, like Mina, they are whores who threaten to demolish men’s reason and, by extension, their power. The fact that such temptresses are destroyed without exception in Dracula testifies to the level of anxiety Victorian men felt regarding women’s sexuality.
In Dracula, Bram Stoker writes characters that come face to face with sexuality–sexual repression is at the core of this theme. Both men and women are sexually repressed, as witnessed by Jonathan Harker’s thoughts and actions during his imprisonment at Dracula’s castle. His sexual repression is best described in the following quote:
’I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. 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…I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited–waited with beating heart.’ Jonathan Harker is about to be bitten by Count Dracula’s three daughters. The vampire women are voluptuous and highly sexualized; they are free to act on their sexual desires, which is the exact opposite of men and women in Victorian society. The fact that Jonathan must close his eyes demonstrates his inability to handle open sexuality. At the same time, he feels his desire to be ravished by the female vampire bubbling up when he states that he closed his eyes and waited in a dreamy state of ecstasy. He wants the woman to take advantage of him, but he feels shame for that, as he struggles with viewing her sexual expressiveness as both desirable and repulsive.
Women are defined on a continuum in Dracula. Mina is pure and chaste throughout the novel and embodies the ideal Victorian woman. Van Helsing says, ’She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven…so true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist – and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so skeptical and selfish.’
Mina embodies the ideal woman in all respects. She is prudent, intelligent, caring, understands her place in society. Stoker develops Mina as ideal so he can present what is considered as unacceptable behavior for women through the character development of Dracula’s daughters, the ’weird sisters’.
The three women serve as the opposite of Mina: impure, radical and evil. They are everything a Victorian woman isn’t supposed to be in society. The women are referred to as ’monsters’ by Jonathan. The women seduce men, which the novel is clearly arguing against. A woman must be pursued by men in an appropriate manner and should not seek out a relationship independently.
There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. 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. (3.29)
Jonathan’s repressed sexual desire comes bubbling to the surface when he sees the sexy vampire ladies in Castle Dracula. He’s both attracted to them and repulsed by them, and ashamed to admit that he kind of wants them to kiss him.
[…] we recognized the features of Lucy Westenra. Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed. The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness. (16.17) Jack Seward can’t believe how much “Lucy Westenra” has changed—he keeps repeating her full name, emphasizing that it’s now just an empty label. “Lucy Westenra” is no longer herself; this over-sexed she-demon is not the girl he fell in love with. This vampire lady might be sexy, but she’s sexy in a totally freaky way. The Thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered […] as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake. (16.45) Whether or not you want to read the stake as phallic symbol, this scene is pretty sexual.
“Yes, I was moved—I, Van Helsing, with all my purpose and with my motive for hate—I was moved to a yearning for delay which seemed to paralyse my faculties and to clog my very soul.” (27.30) Even the great Van Helsing felt the sexy power of the “weird sisters.” Of course, he gets over it, and stakes all three of them.
I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. 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. . . . Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat. . . . I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited—waited with beating heart.
Things go from bad to worse rather quickly during Harker’s stay with the count. In this passage from Chapter III, three beautiful vampires visit the Englishman and come dangerously close to draining him of his blood before Dracula halts them, claiming that Harker belongs to him. This passage establishes the vital link between vampirism and sex that pervades the novel. These undead women are unlike any of the living women in the novel. Whereas Mina and Lucy are models of virtue and purity, these “weird sisters” are voluptuous, aggressive, and insatiable. The position that the vampire assumes over Harker’s body suggests a sexual act, and this display of female sexual aggression both attracts and repulses Harker. In a Victorian society that prizes and rewards female virginity and domesticity, the sexually adventurous vixen is bound to be the subject of fantasy. But because of these same rigid strictures of acceptable social behavior, she is also bound to be considered dangerous. Here, Stoker takes the fantasy of the dangerous whore to its most extreme manifestation, suggesting that Harker stands to lose not simply his reputation, but also his life.