Dracula: Stoker's Response to the New Woman Essay
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning Full Text: [(essay date autumn 1982) In the following essay, Senf contends that, contrary to popular belief, Bram Stoker’s treatment of women in his novel stems not from his animosity toward women in general, but rather from his negative reaction to some attributes of the New Woman - Dracula: Stoker's Response to the New Woman Essay introduction. Although Dracula,1 which was first published in 1897, has never been out of print and has been translated into a dozen foreign languages, it is only recently that students of literature have begun to take the novel seriously; and much of the recent scholarship has focused on Stoker’s treatment of the women in the novel. For example, Stephanie Demetrakopoulos describes Stoker as a feminist and states:
“The novel falls clearly into two parts, each half centered around a different type of woman. 2 At the other extreme are Judith Roth, who argues that “hostility toward female sexuality” contributes to the popularity of the novel,3 and Judith Wasserman, who explains that the “fight to destroy Dracula and to restore Mina to her purity is really a fight for control over women. “4 Taking a radically different approach is Brian Murphy, who argues: “It is absurd to complain (as, I am afraid, some have) of the excessively ‘Victorian’ treatment of Mina Harker. She is no Victorian; she is a medieval lady whose honor and virtue are protected. 5 For Murphy, who is primarily interested in Stoker’s creation of myth, the treatment of women in the novel is clearly irrelevant. Stoker’s treatment of women in Dracula is not irrelevant to most readers. Accustomed to seeing themselves portrayed in literature as either angels or monsters,6 women may wonder why Dracula is the single male vampire in the novel while four of the five women characters are portrayed as vampires–aggressive, inhuman, wildly erotic, and motivated only by an insatiable thirst for blood.
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In fact the first half of the novel centers on the innocent Lucy Westenra’s transformation into a vampire which must be violently destroyed; and Dr. Van Helsing destroys three women in Dracula’s castle at the conclusion. (If Stoker had not omitted the original first chapter of the novel, there would have been one more monstrous woman–the Countess Dolingen of Gratz–whose tomb Jonathan Harker discovers on his journey to Dracula’s castle.
Generally anthologized as a short story, “Dracula’s Guest” reveals the extent to which Stoker was influenced by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla. 7) If it were not for Mina Harker, the reader might conclude that Stoker is a repressed Victorian man with an intense hatred of women or at least a pathological aversion to them. The second half of Dracula, however, shifts from the presentation of women as vampires to focus on a woman who is the antithesis of these destructive creatures.
Furthermore Mina Harker not only escapes the fate of the other women: she is also largely responsible for the capture and ultimate destruction of Dracula. Indeed Stoker’s treatment of women in Dracula does not stem from his hatred of women in general but, as this paper demonstrates, from his ambivalent reaction to a topical phenomenon–the New Woman. I
The first reference to the New Woman occurs quite early in the novel when Stoker has his heroine mention her almost as an aside: “We had a capital ‘severe tea’ at Robin Hood’s Bay in a sweet little old-fashioned inn, with a bow-window right over the seaweed-covered rocks of the strand. I believe we should have shocked the ‘New Woman’ with our appetites” (Dracula, p. 90). Because the New Woman was a subject of controversy in journalism, fiction, and–presumably, at least–drawing rooms, Mina’s initial reference merely characterizes her as a well-informed young woman of the 1890s.
In fact the first passage is neutral and suggests only that she is familiar with the New Woman’s insistence on greater freedom and physical activity, attributes which Gail Cunningham mentions in her discussion: It was pointed out that women were likely to remain the weaker sex as long as they were encased in whalebone and confined their physical activity to the decorous movements of the ballroom, and the new “doctrine of hygiene” as it was coyly termed advocated sports for women and Rational Dress.
Many young women pedalled their way to undreamt-of freedoms on the newly popular bicycle; petticoats and chaperons were equally inappropriate accompaniments, and could be discarded in one go. 8 Bicycle riding, bloomers, and badminton may have shocked more conservative people in the 1890s, but they were probably not enough to worry Stoker or his heroine. Nor was the fact that the New Woman was often a professional woman who chose financial independence and personal fulfilment as alternatives to marriage and motherhood.
Cunningham adds that while these activities were “important aspects of emancipation,” they are not, however, responsible for the New Woman’s becoming “a symbol of all that was most challenging and dangerous in advanced thinking. The crucial factor was, inevitably, sex” (Cunningham, p. 2). When it came to sex the New Woman was more frank and open than her predecessors. She felt free to initiate sexual relationships, to explore alternatives to marriage and motherhood, and to discuss sexual matters such as contraception and venereal disease. In addition a group of popular novelists during the 1890s focused on the New Woman.
As Lloyd Fernando states, these writers emphasized “the role of women in society, the injustices women suffered in marriage, and the feasibility of free unions as a means of accommodating sexual relationships with greater fairness to both sexes. “9 Thus the New Woman chose to explore many of the avenues recently opened to her: education, careers, and other alternatives to women’s traditional roles. An educated woman with a career, Mina should be comfortable with certain qualities often associated with the New Woman. Her second reference indicates that she is uncomfortable with others, however: If Mr.
Holmwood fell in love with her [Lucy] seeing her only in the drawing-room, I wonder what he would say if he saw her now [as she sleeps]. Some of the “New Women” writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won’t condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it too! There’s some consolation in that. (Dracula, p. 91). Mina rejects both the forwardness and the sexual openness of the New Woman writers.
She never mentions the writers to whom she refers, but Stoker could have been thinking of Grant Allen, Emma Frances Brooke, Ménie Muriel Dowie, George Egerton, Sarah Grand, Olive Schreiner, or even of Hardy, Meredith, Moore, or Gissing, all of whom created heroines who rejected aspects of the traditional feminine role. For example, Schreiner’s heroine in The Story of an African Farm proposes marriage to one man when she is already pregnant by another: “What I am saying is plain, matter-of-fact business. If you are willing to give me your name within three weeks’ time, I am willing to marry you; if not, well.
I want nothing more than your name. That is a clear proposal, is it not? “10 One of the women in Sarah Grand’s 1893 novel, The Heavenly Twins, also proposes to her future husband, disguises herself by dressing in masculine clothing, and states that, while she may be unusual, “‘there will be plenty more like me by-and-by. ‘”11 Another woman in the same novel refuses to consummate her marriage because of her husband’s past; and she explains her reasons to her aunt: “I see that the world is not a bit the better for centuries of self-sacrifice on the woman’s part, and therefore I think it is time we tried a more effectual plan.
And I propose now to sacrifice the man instead of the woman” (Heavenly Twins, I, 100). Finally Herminia Barton, the heroine of the 1895 best seller, The Woman Who Did, like Hardy’s Sue Bridehead, argues for free love because “marriage itself is still an assertion of man’s supremacy over woman. It ties her to him for life; it ignores her individuality. ” Herminia continues, “If I love a man at all, I must love him on terms of perfect freedom.
I can’t bind myself down to live with him to my shame one day longer than I love him; or to love him at all if I find him unworthy of my purest love, or unable to retain it; or if I discover some other more fit to be loved by me. “12 These few quotations from New Woman fiction indicate that, while Mina’s statement on New Woman writers tends to lump them all together, this group does not present a consistent view of women. Some of the writers were actively working from a feminist perspective while others wanted “to portray the New Woman’s dangerous limitations or self-delusion. 13 Some simply wanted women to be more informed while others wanted them to be more experienced as well. As A. R. Cunnningham states, there is, however, one common bond: all wrote “of sexual behavior with a frankness which had previously been unthinkable; all employed as mouthpieces women unusually independent, intelligent, and free from convention. “14 Stoker helps to characterize his heroine by her discomfort at this frankness. Mina is not the only person who objected to such openness, of course. The novelist Mrs.
Lynn Linton wrote to a younger woman of the “sweet womanly virtues which make women half divine,” explaining that such virtues were not to be found in the works of the New Woman writers: “You don’t find these qualities in The Heavenly Twins, Yellow Asters, and all the new women who set themselves to blaspheme nature and God and good. “15 And Linda Dowling suggests that many Victorians shared Linton’s views: “The New Woman … was perceived to have ranged herself perversely with the forces of cultural anarchism and decay precisely because she wanted to reinterpret the sexual relationship.
Like the decadent, the heroine of New Woman fiction expressed her quarrel with Victorian culture chiefly through sexual means–by heightening sexual consciousness, candor, and expressiveness” (Dowling, 440-441). While Dowling, Gail Cunningham, A. R. Cunningham, Lloyd Fernando, and other scholars who have studied the New Woman fiction suggest that the heroines pave the way for a more realistic treatment of women in twentieth-century literature, Stoker seems to ally himself and his heroine with a more traditional kind of woman. Whether that assessment is accurate can be determined by a more careful look at Dracula.
II Any discussion of Dracula is illuminated by a close look at Stoker’s life. Born in Dublin in 1847, he was surrounded by strong women throughout his life. In fact Daniel Farson, Stoker’s grandnephew, reports that “the family were in awe of Charlotte [Stoker’s mother] if not actually afraid of her” (Farson, p. 13). Another biographer attests to her strong character and feminist views, explaining that she returned to “social welfare work and determined championing of the weaker sex” as soon as her children were old enough (Ludlam, p. 13).
Among her numerous volunteer duties was workhouse visitor; and she reported some of the shocking facts she discovered there to the Dublin newspapers. Revealing that “the idle and hopeless state of young women in a workhouse renders it the very hot-bed of vice,” she explained that “only the poorest class of householders would take a servant from the workhouse. ” Her solution was to “equalise the sexes, both here and in our colonies, by encouraging emigration. In new countries there is a dignity in labour, and a self-supporting woman is alike respected and respectable” (Ludlam, p. 14).
Unfortunately neither biographer reveals much more of Charlotte’s character except to suggest that she continued to influence her children throughout her lifetime and to mention that Stoker turned some of his mother’s childhood stories into literature. While his relationship with his mother seems to have created no ambivalent feelings, evidence suggests nonetheless that his relationship with his wife, Florence Balcombe, may have. Farson states that Stoker’s granddaughter believes that Florence refused to have sexual relations with Bram after the birth of their child (Farson, p. 214).
He adds that Stoker died of tertiary syphilis: “When his wife’s frigidity drove him to other women … Bram’s writing showed signs of guilt and sexual frustration. … He probably caught syphilis around the turn of the century, possibly as early as the year of Dracula, 1897. (It usually takes ten to fifteen years before it kills. ) By 1897 it seems that he had been celibate for more than twenty years, as far as Florence was concerned” (Farson, p. 234). Such conflicting information about the women in Stoker’s personal life suggests several reasons for his ambivalence about the New Woman.
Familiar with the feminist movement and apparently supportive of women’s struggles for professional equality, he creates women characters who are the intellectual equals of the men in his novels; however he seems to have drawn the line at sexual equality, and he has his heroines choose the traditional roles of marriage and motherhood instead of careers. Although Dracula is dedicated to Hommy-Beg (a nickname for the English novelist Hall Caine, who had dedicated Cap’n Davy’s Honeymoon to Stoker in 1893), most of Stoker’s novels are dedicated to women.
Miss Betty (1898) is dedicated to his wife, The Lady of the Shroud (1909) to the actress Genevieve Ward, The Lair of the White Worm (1911) to Bertha Nicoll, and The Jewel of Seven Stars (1912) to Eleanor and Constance Hoyt. In addition Mina Harker, Stephen Norman (The Man, 1905), Teuta Vissarion (The Lady of the Shroud), Mimi Watford (The Lair), and Margaret Trelawny (The Jewel) are all strong independent women who eventually choose marriage and motherhood instead of careers. They display, moreover, a sexual reticence which is uncommon in novels after 1890. Stoker’s villainesses, however, radiate sexuality.
Responding to the sexual freedom and reversal of roles which were often associated with the New Woman, Stoker uses the ancient superstition of the vampire in Dracula to symbolize the evil that can result. The vampire, dead yet intensely sexual, defies both natural law and society’s restrictions and therefore manages to escape many of the limitations which affect human beings. 16 In fact Roth is not far from the truth when she explains that “only relations with vampires are sexualized in this novel; indeed a deliberate attempt is made to make sexuality seem unthinkable in normal relations’ between the sexes. “17 Stoker’s other novels reveal the same reticence about female sexuality and the reversal of sexual roles. In fact Stephen Norman in The Man is punished for her adolescent forwardness. As a result she has to learn to be more feminine by the conclusion of the novel. Only one other novel reveals Dracula’s sexual extremes, The Lair of the White Worm. Here Stoker presents the sexually liberated woman, Lady Arabella, as a horrible primeval monster.
Mimi objects to Lady Arabella’s forward behavior: “As a social matter, she [Mimi] was disgusted with her for following up the rich landowner–‘throwing herself at his head so shamelessly,’ was how she expressed it. … “18 She could just as easily object to Lady Arabella’s sensuality and aggression: “Truly, all was well, and she [Lady Arabella] felt that she might pause for a while and rest. She tore off her clothes, with feverish fingers, and in full enjoyment of her natural freedom, stretched her slim figure in animal delight.
Then she lay down on the sofa to await her victim. Edgar Caswall’s life blood would more than satisfy her for some time to come” (The Lair, p. 179). In fact, although Lady Arabella is generally compared to a snake, the hint of vampiric behavior remains more than fourteen years after Dracula. Dracula, which begins with Jonathan Harker’s journal, focuses on this aggressive sexuality quite early. While Harker frequently alludes to his fiancee, the first women to appear in the novel are three vampire-women in Dracula’s castle.
A prisoner in the castle, Harker literally fears for his life; and he gains a brief respite from his terror by musing on the nature of women: “The soft moonlight soothed, and the wide expanse without gave a sense of freedom which refreshed me. I determined not to return to-night to the gloom-haunted rooms, but to sleep here, where of old ladies had sat and sung and lived sweet lives whilst their gentle breasts were sad for their menfolk away in the midst of remorseless wars” (Dracula, pp. 38-39).
The moonlit setting is conducive to Harker’s romantic notions about women and to his belief in their sweetness, gentle mien, and passivity–behavior which he contrasts to that of their warlike menfolk. His reverie interrupted by the entrance of three women, he first perceives them as “ladies by their dress and manner” (Dracula, p. 39). Their aggressive behavior and attempt to reverse traditional sexual roles show them to be New Women, however; and Harker is openly ambivalent about this role reversal: There was something bout them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt … a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. … I lay quiet, looking out under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation … till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me. Sweet it was in one sense, honey sweet … but with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness. …
There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and … he actually licked her lips like an animal, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. … I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstacy and waited–waited with beating heart. (Dracula, pp. 39-40). This brief scene focuses on the reversal of sexual roles, a characteristic frequently associated with the New Woman. Coyly watching from behind half-closed lashes, Harker is nearly ravished by three women.
Yet in spite of his passivity, he describes his desire as “wicked”; and the passage emphasizes the fearful and repulsive aspects of the sexual relationship itself. In his mind the voluptuous woman is transformed into a carnivorous animal; and finally he reduces her to a mouth filled with sharp white teeth. The women later violate his preconceptions about women in one other way, their lack of maternal feelings, a characteristic which Stoker appears to associate with the New Woman even though New Woman writers did not.
In fact many of the New Woman writers are adamant about their heroines’ love of children; and Grant Allen even states that “every good woman is by nature a mother”: “Herminia was far removed indeed from that blatant and decadent sect of ‘advanced woman’ who talk as though motherhood were a disgrace and a burden, instead of being, as it is, the full realisation of woman’s faculties, the natural outlet for woman’s wealth of emotion” (The Woman Who Did, p. 145).
On the other hand, George Egerton’s short story, “Wedlock,” portrays a woman who murders her three stepchildren; and Hardy’s Sue Bridehead is at least partially responsible for the deaths of her children. So there is at least some basis for the association. Finding a few examples of destructive women, Stoker may have chosen to address this aspect of the New Woman. At any rate he tends to connect sensuality in women with cruelty to children. In The Lair the sensuous Lady Arabella also preys on children; and the three women in Dracula’s castle are decidedly nonmaternal. Instead of nourishing hildren, they choose to prey on them: “… she pointed to the bag which he [Dracula] had thrown upon the floor, and which moved as though there were some living thing within it. …
There was a gasp and a low wail, as of a half-smothered child. The women closed round, whilst I was aghast with horror; but as I looked they disappeared, and with them the dreadful bag” (Dracula, p. 42). The three women do not harm him, but their aggression, overtly sexual behavior, and treatment of the child cause Harker to conclude that they are not women at all: “I am alone in the castle with those awful women. Faugh!
Mina is a woman, and there is nought in common. They are devils of the Pit” (Dracula, p. 55). The scene at the conclusion, when Van Helsing prepares to destroy the three women, reinforces many of Harker’s views: “She lay in her Vampire sleep, so full of life and voluptuous beauty that I shudder as though I have come to do murder. … 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” (Dracula, p. 324). Like Harker, Van Helsing emphasizes the sensuality of the woman.
In addition, although the women are passive at this time, he reveals what must happen to women who renounce their traditional feminine roles–they must be destroyed. The three vampire-women appear in a mere half-dozen pages, and their primary function is to introduce attitudes and beliefs that can be more fully explored in Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker. Lucy, the first of Dracula’s English conquests, is introduced by a series of letters she exchanges with Mina–letters which suggest that she is a most unlikely candidate for the aggressive behavior Stoker associates with the New Woman.
Her first letter recounts the pursuits of a middle-class Victorian girl and her love for the unexceptional Arthur Holmwood; her second confirms the reader’s opinion that she is the kind of woman so romantically envisioned by Jonathan Harker. Admitting to Mina that she had received three proposals of marriage, she confesses that she chose Arthur because “we women are such cowards that we think a man will save us from fears, and we marry him” (Dracula, p. 61). There is another side to Lucy’s character, however. Outwardly rather dull and acquiescent, she reveals a covert desire to escape these constraints.
Her second letter concludes with a rather strange wish which provides the first clue to this other side: “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble? ” This thought is immediately suppressed with the recognition that it is “heresy, and I must not say it” (Dracula, p. 62), but her desire for three husbands suggests a degree of latent sensuality which connects her to the New Woman of the period. It also implies that Lucy is unhappy with her social role, that she is torn between the need to conform and the desire to rebel.
Mina’s journal and its revelation of Lucy’s sleep-walking confirm this division. By day Lucy remains an acquiescent and loving Victorian girl. By night the other side of her character gains control; and Mina describes her as restless and impatient to get out. It is this restlessness which ultimately leads her to Dracula and to emancipation from her society’s restraints. After meeting Dracula, the conflict between social conformity and individual desire becomes more apparent: “The moment she became conscious she pressed the garlic flowers close to her. .. Whenever she got into that lethargic state, with the stertorous breathing, she put the flowers from her. … When she waked she clutched them close” (Dracula, p. 146). The garlic flowers are, of course, a charm to ward off the vampire; and the reader witnesses a struggle between Lucy’s conscious and conforming side–the side that feels guilty for her liaison with the vampire–and her unconscious side–the part that desires the freedom from social constraints that the vampiric condition entails.
As Lucy’s rebellious nature gains in strength, this change is mirrored by an alteration in her physical condition: “Whilst asleep she looked stronger … her open mouth showed the pale gums drawn back from the teeth, which thus looked positively longer and sharper than usual; when she woke the softness of her eyes evidently changed the expression, for she looked her own self, although a dying one” (Dracula, p. 142). Dr. Seward’s analysis of the change in Lucy reveals certain preconceptions about women’s nature.
Believing that the true Lucy is characterized by her soft eyes, docile nature, and tenderness, he cannot recognize the increased strength or the sharp white teeth and the potential for pain, aggression, and violence which they suggest as part of her character. As yet he attaches no moral significance to her physical transformation. Contemporary readers, however, would have been aware of the significance of this physical transformation, an alteration which may refer to the dangers of venereal disease.
A problem which frequently accompanied promiscuity, venereal disease had captured the imaginations of New Woman writers. For example, the innocent Edith Beale in The Heavenly Twins marries a profligate, contracts syphilis, and dies in agony; and Evadne in the same novel explains that fear of the consequences of venereal disease keeps her from consummating her marriage: “You must know that there is no past in the matter of vice. The consequences become hereditary and continue from generation to generation” (Heavenly Twins, I, 99).
As Elaine Showalter indicates, such caution was not excessive because about “fifteen hundred infants died annually of hereditary venereal infections” between 1880 and 1900; and she adds that medical experts “confirmed that syphilis (incurable at the time) was almost invariably transmitted to innocent wives and children” (Showalter, p. 188). Many of the New Woman writers showed the ravages of venereal disease on innocent women and children; and even the most conservative insisted that women should be informed of the dangers.
Stoker continues their argument by showing the impact on the innocent Lucy and carries the argument one step further by showing that promiscuity might also infect innocent men. Dr. Van Helsing is the only character who is aware of this. Described by Demetrakopoulos as “an excellent scientist, with Vatican connections–and thus, emblematic of the two chief patriarchal and dominant institutions of Western culture” (Demetrakopoulos, p. 104), Van Helsing is the logical person to fight for traditional values.
He turns Lucy’s body into a moral battlefield, and he ultimately convinces the others that her awakened sexuality and her attempt to reverse the traditional sexual roles are threats to them all: “In a sort of sleep-walking, vague, unconscious way she opened her eyes … and said in a soft, voluptuous voice … ‘Arthur! … Kiss me! ‘ Arthur bent eagerly over to kiss her; but at that instant Van Helsing … dragged him back with a fury of strength which I never thought he could have possessed, and actually hurled him almost across the room” (Dracula, pp. 47-148). Here it is Arthur who is punished for almost succumbing to the New Woman; and both he and Seward are perplexed by Van Helsing’s hostility and uncharacteristic violence. Apparently familiar with the aggression of the New Woman, neither seems particularly troubled by Lucy’s seductive behavior or by her refusal to wait passively for Arthur’s kiss. After they have been properly initiated by Van Helsing, however, they will come to believe that such attempts to reverse the traditional sexual roles are evil: When Lucy … saw us she drew ack with an angry snarl. …
At that moment the remnant of my love passed into hate and loathing; had she then to be killed, I could have done it with savage delight. … The face became wreathed with a voluptuous smile. … With a careless motion, she flung to the ground … the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast. … There was a cold-bloodedness in the act which wrung a groan from Arthur; when she advanced to him with outstretched arms and a wanton smile, he fell back and hid his face in his hands. Dracula, pp. 189-190). Although both Seward and Arthur had been surprised by Van Helsing’s earlier hostile reaction to Lucy, they now prove to be his obedient pupils. Earlier punished for responding to Lucy’s advances, Arthur now dutifully hides from temptation; Seward’s more articulate response parallels Harker’s horror at the vampire-women’s aggressive sexuality and their treatment of the child which Dracula brought to them.
What troubles Seward most is Lucy’s callous treatment of the child and her unfamiliar seductive behavior. The Lucy he loved had been sweet and gentle; she had endured Van Helsing’s medical treatment and had allowed herself to be the passive victim of whatever was done to her. Now she rejects her former passivity and deference to male authority, and the usually tender Seward responds with violence, admitting that he could have killed her “with savage delight. Convinced by Van Helsing and by their own perceptions of Lucy’s changed behavior, the three men, who only a few months earlier had proposed to her, band together to destroy her. Significantly it is the twenty-eighth of September, the day after he and Lucy were to have been married, that Arthur Holmwood plunges a stake into her breast and ends her vampiric existence for ever. It is a vicious attack against a helpless woman, but it succeeds in destroying the New Woman and in reestablishing male supremacy.
Only when the traditional order has been restored does Van Helsing permit the kiss which both Arthur and Lucy had desired during her lifetime. III While the first half of the novel concludes with the destruction of a character who illustrates the aggression and sensuality of the New Woman, the second half centers on a woman who combines the independence and intelligence often associated with the New Woman with traditional femininity–Mina Harker.
Stoker introduces Mina in the series of letters which she and Lucy exchange. The two have been friends since childhood, but their letters reveal profound differences in the two adult women. Lucy is a perpetual child, pampered by everyone around her. Her letters reveal a concern with social events and the rather thoughtless pursuit of her own pleasure. Mina, on the other hand, has had to take care of herself.
At the beginning of the novel, she is an assistant schoolmistress, a productive and conscious member of her society; and the intelligence and capacity for independent action and judgment which appear in these initial letters remain the predominant elements in her character throughout the novel. By providing Mina with a responsible profession and a means of economic independence, Stoker reveals that she is a modern woman, the product of intense struggles that took place during the nineteenth century–in short, the kind of woman who could not have existed much before the period in which Stoker wrote.
That she is not a New Woman can be seen in her criticism of the New Woman writers, her choice of profession–the New Woman writers favored such nontraditional professions as medicine, nursing, and business for their heroines–her decision to marry and her subsequent relationship with her husband, her desire to nurture and protect children, and–most clearly–her response to Dracula himself. Although Mina resembles the New Woman before her marriage, she adopts a very traditional role afterwards.
She learns shorthand and train schedules so she can help Jonathan in his work, but she generally chooses to remain supportively in the background except when he asks her for assistance. Of course, as she admits, she has prepared herself for this traditional role: “You can’t go on for some years teaching etiquette and decorum to other girls without the pedantry of it biting into yourself a bit” (Dracula, p. 156). In addition to adhering to the traditional view that wives should defer to their husbands, Mina also believes in woman’s traditional role as a mother.
While both Lucy and the vampire-women prey on children, Mina believes motherhood is an important social responsibility. In fact she becomes a mother-figure to all the other characters in the novel: I felt an infinite pity for him, and opened my arms unthinkingly. With a sob he laid his head on my shoulder, and cried like a wearied child, whilst he shook with emotion. 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 t were that of the baby that some day may lie on my bosom, and I stroked his hair as though he were my own child. (Dracula, p. 205). Both Roth and Leonard Wolf focus on the mythic origins of this contrast.
Roth stresses that “Lucy and Mina are essentially the same figure: the mother” (Roth, p. 117) and demonstrates that Lucy is the evil and devouring mother while Mina is the nourishing mother. Wolf describes Mina’s treatment of the men as “a matronly parallel to the scene in which Lucy receives three proposals, accepts one, and wishes she could accept all” (Wolf, p. 06). It is just as possible, however, to assume that Stoker is consciously contrasting the sexually liberated New Woman with a more traditional woman. In fact when Mina finally gets her wish, she is shown at the conclusion with an actual baby at her breast, a baby which is named for all the men who had participated in the quest to destroy Dracula. It is almost as though Stoker is suggesting that the child is the product of an asexual social union rather than the result of a sexual union between one man and one woman.
Mina’s acceptance of a traditional feminine role distinguishes her from the other women in the novel, but it is her response to Dracula himself and her utter repudiation of her sexuality that reveal these differences most clearly. Unlike Lucy who remembers only the bittersweet sensation of yielding to Dracula, Mina is filled with horror at her momentary indiscretion: “Unclean, unclean! I must touch him [Harker] or kiss him no more. Oh, that it should be that it is I who am now his worst enemy, and whom he may have most cause to fear” (Dracula, p. 52). Even though she later confesses that she had succumbed to Dracula because he had threatened to kill Jonathan, she remains horrified that she “did not want to hinder him” (Dracula, p. 255)–that she is somehow linked with Dracula and with the increased sexuality that the vampiric condition entails. In fact she urges the men to kill her if the physical characteristics of the vampire begin to appear. Mina’s repetition of “unclean, unclean! ” may refer to the horrors of venereal disease or simply to the horrors of moral contagion.
It would be a mistake, nevertheless, to equate Dracula with any single variety of evil. Stoker’s genius is that Dracula is the supreme bogeyman–a creature who means different things to different people. To Lucy Westenra he is both death and the bridegroom par excellence. To Jonathan Harker he represents the threat of the barbarian attempting to overtake the civilized world. To Dr. Van Helsing, who battles him with an arsenal of religious paraphernalia, he is the Antichrist. More than anything else, however, Dracula represents the power of the isolated individual.
In fact, in Ghosts of the Gothic, Judith Wilt indicates this characteristic when she contrasts Dracula and Van Helsing whose “instinct for survival is to combine strengths: Arthur Holmwood’s money, Seward’s science, Harker’s experience, Quincy Morris’s Rooseveltian vigor. “19 In his recent study of the vampire in Romantic literature, James B. Twitchell also refers to the power of the group although he provides an orthodox Freudian interpretation when he states that “it is the gang killing of the father that seems to form the psychic core of the story of Dracula” (Twitchell, p. 134).
The two interpretations disagree in their particulars, but both focus on the key element in Dracula’s character–his individualism; and Dracula emphasizes his pride in his individualism: “Here I am boyar; the common people know me, and I am master. … I have been so long master that I would be master still–or at least that none other should be master of me” (Dracula, p. 23). Such independence goes counter to the cooperation demanded by Van Helsing and his group. While individualism was a characteristic of the New Woman, Mina allies herself with the group rather than with the individual.
Remembering that Dracula had told her that their brains would be linked and her will subject to his, she offers to be hypnotised so that Van Helsing and his followers can trace Dracula’s escape back to Transylvania and trap him before he reaches sanctuary. By meticulously duplicating the rational process by which she discovers the route that Dracula will take, Stoker furthermore reveals that her intelligence is superior to that of her male companions. She studies maps of the area and analyzes both Dracula’s previous behavior and the information she had revealed under hypnosis.
It is finally her perception and analytical skills that enable her companions to trap and destroy Dracula. By emphasizing Mina’s intelligence, her ability to function on her own, and her economic independence before marriage, Stoker stresses certain aspects of the New Woman; but by negating her sexuality, having her adopt a more traditional feminine role, and by showing her decision to abide by the group’s will instead of making an individual decision, he also reveals that she is not a New Woman. It is Van Helsing who, after his first meeting with Mina, best captures the essence of her character and of Stoker’s ideal eroine: “She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist–and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so sceptical and selfish” (Dracula, p. 170).
The same kinds of self-sacrifice and spirituality can be attributed to Stoker’s other heroines. Margaret Trelawny in Stoker’s final novel shares Mina’s spirituality: “There were refinement and high breeding; and though there was no suggestion of weakness, any sense of power there was, was rather spiritual than animal. 20 In Margaret there is just the slightest hint of sensuality under control, a hint that is in keeping with other aspects of Stoker’s heroines. For despite their spirituality, Stoker’s heroines emphasize that it is important to know the existence of evil so that they can consciously choose virtue. In fact the following conversation between Stephen Norman and her maiden aunt, Miss Laetitia Rowly, demonstrates the difference between ignorance and informed innocence, between the traditional woman and a newer kind of woman: “Necessary! the old lady’s figure grew rigid as she sat up, and her voice was loud and high. “Necessary for a young lady to go to a court house.
To hear low people speaking of low crimes. To listen to cases of the most shocking kind; cases of low immorality; cases of a kind, of a nature of a-a-class that you are not supposed to know anything about. … “”That is just it, Auntie. I am so ignorant that I feel I should know more of the lives of those very people! “21 The die had been cast. There would be no return to the innocent heroines of the early Victorian novel.
Even though the appearance of Jude the Obscure and The Woman Who Did “brought about the final daunting attack on the ‘New Woman’ both in actual life and in the polemical fiction she had inspired” (Fernando, p. 145), the heroines of the New Woman writers heralded the way for a more realistic portrayal of women in twentieth-century fiction. A contemporary of these writers, Bram Stoker reveals a degree of ambivalence toward them when he creates the women characters in Dracula. As a result, he tries to show that modern women can combine the best of the traditional and the new when he creates the heroine of Dracula–Mina Harker.