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.
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