Gender & Sexuality Issues on Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Although Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” seemed to portray initially a simple suspenseful story about the horrifying tale of Count Dracula, a more insightful look within analytical perspectives would reveal the embedded meanings and concepts in Stoker’s novel. Many literary critics have explored the common themes of gender and sexuality or sensuality issues embedded within the story (Day, pp. 16); that is, from the representation of sexually aggressive and sensual or rousing women through female vampirism, suggestive ideas about the existence of choice for women to counter female repression, the irresolute development of the male gender and identities in the characters of Jonathan Harker and Van Helsing, to the gender inequalities between men and women in general, that which Mina Murray has been subjected to repression because of the dominance and power of the male gender, and so on.
Indeed, Stoker has succeeded in intentionally entrenching many facets of truthful and factual gender and sexuality issues within his novel that justly subsist in our society. Perhaps, the relevance of the gender and sexuality issues, which have been subjects of massive criticisms, establishes the importance of analyzing, synthesizing, and the introducing these criticisms to the public for a deeper perspective on the novel.
In an attempt to provide the readers with a comprehensive and understandable viewpoint on the many criticisms regarding the presence of gender and sexuality issues within Stoker’s novel, various critiques from five secondary sources shall be utilized. By reading through the various criticisms made by numerous literary critics on the novel and then attempting to piece together all the uniform ideas, we shall be able to understand the dominant and most significant issues that are relevant to Stoker’s novel, yet at the same time relevant. At the least, readers of Stoker’s “Dracula,” shall be able to view the novel on a more profound perspective, given the many significant, truthful, and realistic ideas embedded in Count Dracula’s narrative.
A Short Summary
Abraham Stoker’s “Dracula,” which was published in 1897, is chiefly a story, which was told through written journals and letters from Jonathan Harker and Mina Murray, the two protagonists in the novel. The story starts when Jonathan set off to travel to Transylvania in order settle real estate matters to a Count Dracula. Jonathan’s journey was laden with many horrendous experiences, but was made more gruesome when he was confined in Count Dracula’s fortress. It was there that he unwittingly discovered vampirism by closely observing Dracula in many instances and through his sexually rousing and surreal experience with three female vampires. Jonathan eventually escapes and returns to London where his fiancée, Mina, was waiting. (Stoker, pp. 5-66)
However, the horror that swathed the mystery surrounding Count Dracula did not end with Jonathan’s escape. Count Dracula moved in into his newly acquired estate in London where he sought after human beings as provisions. In London, Count Dracula could not resist the loveliness and attractiveness of Lucy Westerna, Murray’s best friend, which eventually urged him to turn Lucy into a vampire. After Lucy’s vampiric encounter with Count Dracula, she exhibited unusual behavior, which led her lover, friends, and family to worry about her. Dr. John Seward, one of Lucy’s suitors, offered to help her but to no avail. John eventually calls his friend, Professor Abraham Van Helsing, to ask for help, who was the one who discovered the reality of vampires. (Stoker, pp. 123-142)
Lucy eventually turned into a vampire, and the moving in of Count Dracula’s coven to London both resulted to the occurrence of many heinous murders of the innocent. The professor believed that something must be done in order to end the horror. He was able to convince John, and Lucy’s other admirer, Quincy Morris, and fiancé, Arthur Holmwood, about Lucy becoming a vampire. They all set out together and succeeded in ending Lucy’s vampiric life. In the end, with Jonathan and Mina along, they were able to defeat Count Dracula. (Stoker, pp. 275-443)
The Many Facets of Gender and Sexuality Issue
The Male Gender: Heterogeneous, Dominant and Powerful
According to Milly Williamson, author of the book “Lure of the Vampire,” Stoker’s “Dracula,” “it seems, is a man’s tale. And not just a man’s tale, but a heterosexual man’s tale.” (pp. 7) The idea of the dominance, aggressiveness, and the display of power of the male gender against the female was supported by the psychological concepts and theories introduced by Sigmund Freud. Other critics who explored the dominance of the male gender in Stoker’s novel, such as Ernest Jones and Maurice Richardson, said that the dynamics of Oedipal Complex, which was one of the major theories introduced by Freud in the field of Psychoanalysis, was the primary reason for Jonathan’s fear of Count Dracula.
Jonathan’s fear and dread in being locked up inside Count Dracula’s fortress was intensely felt in his journals in the first few chapters of Stoker’s novel. In Jonathan’s journal he wrote of Count Dracula, “What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of man? I feel the dread of this horrible place overpowering me; I am in fear – in awful fear – and there is no escape for me; I am encompassed about with terrors that I dare not think of…” (Stoker, pp. 45) Basing it on the dynamics of psychoanalysis and the Oedipus Complex as discussed by Jones in Williamson’s book, Jonathan’s intense fear of Count Dracula was rooted on the overlapping and intermingling feelings of love for his mother, hate towards his father, and then guilt because of the incestuous passion that Jonathan felt for his own mother. The strong and forceful guilt is translated into the kind of fear, which also represents the unconscious sentiments of being deprived or repressed of Jonathan’s sexual desires. (Williamson, pp. 7)
Furthermore, the characters of Count Dracula and Abraham represent different levels or categories of masculinity. These two characters portray two father figures, which differ in personality and temperament. Count Dracula’s character represents the dominant, aggressive, incestuous, and evil father figure that sets off fear and oppresses women. (Williamson, pp. 7) Glennis Byron who put together “Dracula: Bram Stoker” wrote, “When Mina Harker falls under Dracula’s spell, he inverts her maternal impulse, and the woman who, by day, nurtures them all the men around her, by night, drinks blood from the bosom of the King Vampire himself.” (Byron, pp. 187) Under these pretexts, the dominant, aggressive, powerful, and evil character of Count Dracula, as representative of the capacity of the male gender to reflect such personality or temperament is established.
On the other hand, Abraham’s character was also dominant and powerful, but in a positive and constructive way. Williamson said, “Van Helsing is the ‘good father’ who provides guidance for youthful masculinity in the shape of the four young members of the ‘Crew of Light’: Harker, Holmwood, Seward, and Morris.” (pp. 7) We must remember that it was Abraham who found out about vampirism, and he also was the aggressive one who wanted to do something in order to end the evil and transgressions that surround it. In one of the major events in the end of the novel when Abraham, John, Jonathan, Arthur, and Quincy were planning to kill Count Dracula, Abraham was the one who directed their plan of actions. Jonathan wrote, “‘The advice is good!’ said Van Helsing, so we said no more.” (Stoker, pp. 352) Abraham, being all too knowledgeable about vampirism, was the one who organized the Crew of Light, as he was also the one whom John, Jonathan, Arthur, and Quincy turned to for advice and guidance.
The Female Gender, The New Women
The female gender was also represented as overpowering and aggressive in Stoker’s novel. (Roth, pp. 30-31) Jean Lorrah, a contributor for Leonard Heldreth and Mary Pharr’s book “The Blood is the Life: Vampires in Literature,” wrote, “The three female vampires in Dracula’s castle are frequently mentioned as New Women strictly because they appear as aggressive females at the beginning of the scene in which they seduce/attack Jonathan.” (pp. 32) The characters of the three female vampires in the book represented a different perspective of the female gender that critics of Stoker’s novel generally agree to portray how man is overpowered by dominance and aggressiveness of female sexuality.
Jonathan has clearly expressed the feeling of desire and excitement alongside fear that he experienced when he was called on by three female vampires in a dream-like sequence. He wrote of this experience in his journal saying, “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… I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited – waited with beating heart.” (Stoker, pp. 48-49) Jonathan was clearly powerless from his feelings of desire and fear, which were both portrayal of a man’s detachment from his principles and boundaries as well as the societal norms and mores, which were inherent in the formal and traditional structure of the Victorian period. (Craft, pp. 95)
The dominance of female sexuality was represented as something that overpowered genuine love, for in the novel; Jonathan lamented of how his sexual desire and excitement is slowly burying the love that he felt for Mina and the longing to remain truthful for his love. Jonathan said of his strong desire to be kissed by the three female vampires, “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.” (Stoker, pp. 48) This only meant that Jonathan was influenced intensely by the consuming and unbearable allure and magnetism of beauty and sexual aggression that the three female vampires possessed. It portrayed the features or characteristics of a woman that might reverse the all too known dominance of the male gender over the female.
The dominance and power exhibited by the character of Mina do not come from the dynamics of female sexuality but from the strength of character as a person and as a woman. Lorrah again wrote that “Mina Murray Harker, who represents the positive aspects of the New Woman rather than the image distorted through masculine fear, becomes both the victim of male repression and the victor over it when she, in effect, rescues herself from the ultimate degradation brought about by the simple fact that she is female.” (pp. 32) This positive and constructive criticism acknowledges the strength and power of the female gender to go against everything that represses her freedom and independence. The criticism is then rooted on female repression and aggression towards the dominant and aggressive male gender.
Based on the various criticism and analyses presented by numerous critics on Stoker’s novel, we have obtained a deeper understanding of what “Dracula” is all about. Generally, the novel represents a power struggle between the male and female gender, which is influenced by incestuous love, fear, and hate towards the dominant and aggressive figure, female repression, sexual aggression, overpowering sexual aggression, and the rise of the New Woman. The novel sought to substantially emphasize the lines that categorize the male and female gender and relate how one gender significantly affects the other. For instance, an individual’s childhood is influenced by a psychological complex that forces him to gravitate towards the parent of the opposite sex, which consequently affects his emotions of fear towards a dominant male figure. The dominance of a man over a woman is diminished because of a woman’s sexual prowess, while a woman is subjected to repression just because she is a woman. Consequently, a woman finds a way to defend herself against male hostility by channeling her inner strength and becoming independent. These criticisms are entirely relevant in discussing gender and sexuality issues since the messages extracted from the novel by literary critics seem to represent the reality of our present society in terms of the power struggles that exist between the male and the female gender. This strengthens that arguments and relevance of these arguments introduced by the literary critics mentioned in this discussion.
Byron, Glennis. Dracula: Bram Stoker. Hants, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.
Craft, Christopher. ‘Kiss Me with Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram
Stoker’s Dracula, In Byron’s “Dracula: Bram Stoker. Hants, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.
Day, William Patrick. Vampire Legends in Contemporary American Culture: What
Becomes a Legend Most. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2002.
Ledger, Sally. The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the fin di siècl. Oxford, UK:
Manchester University Press ND, 1997.
Lorrah, Jean. Dracula Meets the New Woman, In Heldreth & Pharr’s “The Blood is
the Life: Vampires in Literature. Madison, WI: Popular Press, 1999.
Roth, Phyllis A. Suddenly Sexual Women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, In Byron’s
“Dracula: Bram Stoker. Hants, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York, NY: Barnes & Noble Classics, 1987, 2003.
Williamson, Milly. The Lure of the Vampire. London, UK: Wallflower Press, 2005.