There has been, thankfully, a great shift since the chastened “New Women” of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, as noted by critic Phyllis A. Roth”For both the Victorians and twentieth century readers, much of the novel’s great appeal comes from its hostility toward female sexuality”1That hostility has been a source for female transformation from the post feminist era of the 1960’s to the present day.Stoker’s familiarity with the feminist movement in Victorian England and his apparent support of equality between men and woman based on an intellectual level leaves us with the question of why does his support appear to draw the line when it comes to sexual equality.
Stoker’s personal life regarding his different relationships with women is what may suggest the motivations behind his ambivalence towards the “New Woman”.
So it can be said that Stoker’s treatment of women in Dracula does not stem from his hatred of women in general but from his ambivalent reaction to the concept of the “New Woman”.Stoker’s Dracula is a window through which we can see the Victorian society. We see how Stoker is sympathetic towards the limitations placed upon women in the society, but he also does not see women as completely equal.
The absence of total equality in “Dracula” shows a view point which is somewhere between Victorian standards of the 1890’s and where we like to think we are today in the 21st Century.Stoker’s retaliation against the feminist ideal of the “new woman” is portrayed in the two main women in the novel. His intent was to certainly interest and provoke feminist readers by this portrayal.Stoker allows women to take charge as we can see when looking at the character of Mina in relation to her intellect and decision making.
At times however he allows them to seem pitiful creatures in need of male protection and care. Through the word “journal” in reference to Mina’s writings, Stoker allows her to be equal with her male companions. She is also put on the level of a woman post Victorian in reference to being allowed to travel and be an active part of their discussions and works.In contrast Lucy, the traditional non-feminist differs from her friend in one crucial aspect, she is sexualized.
Lucy’s physical beauty captivates three eligible suitors, and she displays a comfort or playfulness about her desirability that Mina never feels. In an early letter to Mina, Lucy laments,”Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?”2Her chief quality is sensual beauty, but her sexual desire is repressed and not allowed to communicate. Yet both the spiritual side and the sexual side are in her, and when the long repressed sexuality finds a vent, it explodes and takes over completely. In other words, she is transformed into the completely “voluptuous”3 female vampire precisely because her sexual side of personality had been completely buried by her Victorian education.
Her repressed self needs such expression that when Dracula came along, she went out to greet him, and then invited him into the house (by opening her window to the bat). He is her vent for sexual exploration, her remedy to a society less bounded by purity and self preservation.In Victorian England, women’s sexual behavior was dictated by society’s extremely rigid expectations. A Victorian woman effectively had only two options, she was a virgin, a model of purity and innocence or indeed the only other moralistic alternative, a wife and mother.
If she was neither of these, she was considered a whore, and thus of no consequence to society. This coincides with Lucy’s death as her personality possesses aspects which break the boundaries of such a rigid society. On the transformation into the vampire she expresses sexual proficiency which could undermine a man’s control, therefore death leading to be the only logical alternative.Women are put in their place by Stoker as she who empathizes with the boldly progressive “New Women” of England will coincidentally suffer for that progress.
The fact that Stoker allows Lucy to be kept alive by the blood transfusions of her “brave” friends, all coincidentally male, subtlety represents his viewpoint on what the Victorian ideal stipulates women to be, in other words to admire and depend upon their male superiors.We might expect that Mina, who sympathizes with the boldly progressive “New Women” of England, would be doomed to suffer Lucy’s fate as punishment for her progressiveness. Stoker instead fashions Mina into a goddess of conservative male fantasy. Though resourceful and intelligent enough to conduct the research that leads Van Helsing’s crew to the count, Mina is far from a “New Woman” herself.
Rather, she is a dutiful wife and mother, and her successes are always in the service of men. Mina’s moral perfection remains as stainless in the end as any Victorian woman.Another far less obvious way in which women are put in domestic roles comes at the very end of Dracula. The image at the end of the novel where Mina is portrayed sitting amongst her heroes, with a baby boy on her lap, who has been named coincidentally after the heroes, who she will raise.
Thus, Mina has lost her exciting role outside of the home to domestic chores accompanying her baby. The concept of women coming out of the home was clearly one of the feminist issues that was meant to be recognized however for that freedom to by followed by a quick return to that same place would show that Stoker is not complying with a feminist perspective and still indulges in his heroines choosing traditional roles of marriage and motherhood. Interestingly Stoker’s attitude at the end of the novel reflects perhaps his own judgment of what he deems society’s women should aspire to.Although he appears to break the mould of what is typical in the sense that woman are given sexual power and intellect over men it still comes down to the fact that a good woman will not deem to be sexual or in any way step out of society’s bounds without facing the consequences.
Or could it be that Stoker feels anguish towards women’s restrictions in society and although not boldly stating this claim he chooses to tease his reader with the concept of the “new woman” without taking the responsibility of further developing his claim. In other words is Stoker a coward to not express an opinion (that women are equal) which would cause conflict in a society that is primarily dominated by his own sex.Stoker wants to make clear that women are put in their place.Mina is also secluded from the early horrible deeds of the gentlemen heroes in the storyHer equality with the men was ended when it came time for them to go and fight.
It was seen as far too “dangerous” for her to take part from now on, and so for her safety she was to take no action. Also, the men took this limitation one step further. They decided amongst the group that Mina should no longer be informed and updated on what was happening as it might “frighten” her. Jonathan writes”I am truly thankful that she is to be left out of our future work, and even of our deliberations.
It is too great a strain for a woman to bear. I did not think so at first but I know better now.”This deprivation of Mina’s power leaves her completely in the dark. This place, in the darkness, is where the Count manages to find her.
The Count knows of her significance to the group, who are hunting him,”And you, like the others, would play your brain against mine. You would help these men to hunt and frustrate me in my designs!”4In light of this the Count forces Mina to drink a part of him, his blood, and in doing so forces upon her a part of himself, in other words forces sexuality upon her. Although the men later realize their mistake in excluding Mina so she once again is informed of their plans. .
“.. The very first thing we decided was that Mina should be kept in full confidence; that nothing of any sort – no matter how painful – should be kept from her.5 .
..”This is of course is only a temporary measure, until the men have captured Dracula then Mina can return to her expected role of dutiful housewife.Upon further analyzing the roles played by both women, critics have stated that Lucy Westenra is one of the “suddenly sexual women” in the narrative (Phyllis A.
Roth’s 1977) and taking into account Mina Harker as the Good Woman who embodies aspects of Mother, Sister, and Child, Griffin argues that”Stoker’s gothic is quintessentially Victorian: the worst horror it can imagine is not Dracula at all but the released, transforming sexuality of the Good Woman”6″Most critics agree that Dracula is, as much as anything else, a novel that indulges the Victorian male imagination, particularly regarding the topic of female sexuality”7. This indulgence is however only a brief glimpse into feminist virtues and in know way can justify Dracula as a feminist work however could it be said that it a basis for development had been subtlety laid down by Stoker.”Depicting parts of the novel that would deem influential to a feminist reader it would seem that when Dracula lands in England he sets his eyes (or fangs) on the beautiful Lucy Westenra, we can understand from this that the impending battle between good and evil will hinge upon female sexuality”8.”Both Lucy and Mina are less like real people than two dimensional embodiments of virtues that have, over the ages, been coded as female”9.
Both women are chaste, pure, innocent of the world’s evils, and devoted to their men. Dracula however threatens to turn the two women into their opposites, into women noted for their “voluptuousness”, a word Stoker turns to again and again, and indeed their sexual desire.Dracula succeeds in transforming Lucy, and she becomes a raving vampire vixen. The fact that Stoker allowed the transformation of Lucy to take place without complication indicates she is the weaker of the two women, in other words a woman who is deemed less Victorian then her friend due to her undisputed sexual nature.
However once the transformation from woman into vampire is complete Stoker amplifies this faint whisper of Lucy’s insatiability to a monstrous volume when he describes the undead Lucy as a wanton creature of ravenous sexual appetite. In this demonic state, Lucy stands as a dangerous threat to men and their tenuous self-control, and therefore, she must be destroyed. Lucy’s death returns her to a more harmless state, fixing a look of purity on her face that assures men that the world and its women are exactly as they should be.After Lucy’s death, the heroes (men) keep a careful eye on Mina, worried they will lose yet another model of Victorian womanhood to the dark side.
The men are so intensely invested in the women’s sexual behavior because they are afraid of associating with the socially scorned. In fact, the men fear for nothing less than their own safety. Late in the novel, Dracula mocks Van Helsing’s crew, saying,”Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine.”10Here, the count voices a male fantasy that has existed since Adam and Eve were turned out of Eden, namely, that women’s ungovernable desires leave men poised for a costly fall from grace.
Another encounter of female sexuality stems from the three beautiful vampires. Harker encounters them in Dracula’s castle in which they are bound from freedom, this is a means to prevent their sexuality prevailing.”With a fierce sweep of his arm, he hurled the women from him, and then motioned to the others, as though he were beating them back; it was the same imperious gesture that I had seen used to the wolves.” 11To Harker these beautiful women are both his dream and his nightmare.
Indeed, they embody both the dream and the nightmare of the Victorian male imagination in general. The sisters represent what the Victorian ideal stipulates women should not be, that of sexually aggressive and voluptuous. This therefore makes their beauty both a promise of sexual fulfillment and a curse. These women offer Harker more sexual gratification in two paragraphs than his fiancï¿½e Mina does during the course of the entire novel.
As Van Helsing faces the voluptuously beautiful vampires, he is nearly paralyzed with the desire to love and protect them”She was so fair to look on, so radiantly beautiful, so exquisitely voluptuous, that the very instinct of man in me, which calls some of my sex to love and to protect one of hers, made my head whirl with new emotion.”12Even the righteous and pious doctor is susceptible to the vampires’ diabolical temptationHowever, this “sexual proficiency threatens to undermine the foundations of a male dominated society by compromising men’s ability to reason and maintain control”13. For this reason, the sexually aggressive women in the novel must be destroyed without consequence.On conclusion, female sexual expression was dictated by Victorian society’s rigid expectations.
Upon exploration of this sexuality it would seem that a sexually aggressive female would spur a conventional Victorian male to loose all dignity and control. At the time of Stoker’s Dracula this quality in a woman would be unacceptable however not totally unappreciated by the male imagination.”Dracula has many scenes that seem to revel in sexual language and sensual description; these pleasures are of course sublimated to a Victorian sense of morality”14. Sexual energy, in Stoker’s view, has great potential for evil, but part of the novel’s trick is that Stoker is allowed to express this sexual energy without the repercussions of doing just that.
In other words writing a novel that implicitly conflates sin with sexuality in a moralizing way, Stoker is also given free reign to write incredibly lurid and sensual scenes.This is his deceptive means of representing a society with feminist equality and any female who breaks the boundaries of desire will inevitably become part of the undead in order to restore innocence and decorum. However his allowance to portray woman as sexual in the first place and his generous portrayal of Mina throughout the novel spark a light for feminist readers and in turn start the development of the feminist era.
Cite this A feminist analysis of Dracula
A feminist analysis of Dracula. (2018, Jan 05). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/a-feminist-analysis-of-dracula/