Women and Sexuality in Bram Stoker’s "Dracula"

Term Paper, 2014

17 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents

1. Introduction

2. Historical context
2.1. Victorian Era
2.1.1. The Angel in the House
2.1.2. The New Woman

3. Sexuality
3.1. The three Vampiresses
3.2. Lucy Westenra
3.3. Mina Harker

4. Conclusion

5. Bibliography
Primary sources
Secondary sources

1. Introduction

For decades stories and sagas have told us to be aware of the vampire. Since the 18th century he has belonged to the central topics of literature (cf Harmening 11). But more importantly Harmening points "[…] erst Bram Stokers Dracula, mittlerweise in unzäh- ligen Versionen verfilmt, hat ihren Ruf unsterblich gemacht" (11). Bram Stokers Dracu- la has never stopped being printed since it was published in 1897 (cf Leatherdale 11) and has become the figurehead for vampirism. Twitchell even goes as far to say that "vampire and Dracula have become synonymous" (132). He is an outsider, a symbol of evil (cf Williamson 2). The vampire has always been an object of terror and at the same time he has fascinated us. How famous the genre still is after 200 years first reading of vampires can be seen in the amount of re-makes represented in books, movies or series such as Buffy, Blade, The Vampire Diaries, Twilight and many more. Each re-make uses the vampire for itself and re-invents the idea of the vampire, some being cruel others even romantic and sexual.

Indeed, vampirism is very often associated with sexuality, especially with re- pressed sexuality (cf Kline 18). Williamson points out that Dracula is written in the Vic- torian age which is "considered to be one of sexual repression and the vampire repre- sents the return of the (masculine) repressed" (5). Craft even speaks of "sexual energy“ which is closely connected to vampirism (107). Nevertheless, there are other opinions about that period. Elaine Showalter argues that Dracula was also written in a time of "sexual anarchy" (cf Showalter 3) and that this was a decade of alternative definitions of being male or female and also a time where the ‚New Woman‘ was invented.

That Stoker’s Dracula has often been interpreted and analyzed for its sexual contents is due to the "powerful sexual charge" which Murray claims runs throughout the novel (cf Murray 200f; Kline 5f). There is no agreement "as to what kind of sexuality is present in the novel", but Spencer points out that among them there is no doubt that "a given sexuality […] is repressed and displaced throughout the text" (cf Spencer 197). Of course, sexuality is not explicitly described and rather masked, therefore the interpretations of these symbols are different.

This paper seeks to analyze the depiction of sexual women in the novel on the basis of particular plots: the seduction of Jonathan Harker by three vampiresses, Lucy’s transformation into an vampire and Mina’s resistance against the Count. First a histori- cal context will be given and explained, focussing especially on gender roles in the Vic- torian age, looking at the ‚New Woman‘ and the ‚Angel in the House‘. How does Stoker describe the scene? How are the female characters displayed? Can their representation be traced back to Victorian ideals? The last chapter will summ up all the ideas and re- sults previously analyzed.

2. Historical context

2.1. Victorian Era

The Victorian period was the period of Queen Victoria’s reign which started in 1837 and lasted until 1901 (cf Wolffe 129f). It was a time of sexual conservativeness. People would not talk about sex in public and it was "restricted to the marital bed, in the belief that preoccupation with sex interfered with higher achievements" (cf Carroll 16). Strangely, it was also a very hypocritical period, because also pornography and prostitu- ion were very popular and common in these times (cf Carroll 16). Nevertheless, most important were public propriety and conservative values, even "if it was not always practiced" (cf Carroll 16).

2.1.1. The Angel in the House

The pure woman was to be very passive and reserved in her sexuality never to admit sexual longing. Sexual prudery and repression is probably the best term to describe this era. The perfect victorian woman would not see a doctor for "female problems", would have to be interested in music but was not allowed to play for example flute, because "pursing the lips was unladylike" (carroll 16) There were even recommendations to have sex only 12 times a year, because doctors claimed it would lead to hundreds of illnessess. (cf carroll 16). For wives to have sex was associated with duty and for hus- bands with a necessity, rather than a joyful act (cf Middeke 62). Being the ‚Angel in the House‘ was a successful female ‚career‘, being sexually prudish, earnest and pure.

Nevertheless, the admiration of the ‚Angel in the House‘ could not get rid of adultery and illegitimate children born to unmarried women (cf Middeke 62). Women that were not married and had illegitimate children and did not live up to Victorian standards were seen as ‚fallen women‘. They lived on the outcasts of society with no other option left but prostituion (cf Middeke 62; Fry 20).

2.1.2. The New Woman

The ‚New Woman‘ is the breaking-free of the ‚Angel in the House‘ - the pure woman. They want self-determination, higher education (cf Spencer 206). They demand free- dom and an active role in life and society, which was for people at that time very scary as Spencer explains: "In the eyes of most Victorian men, for women to deny their tradi- tional role was to deny their womanhood, to challenge the distinctions between men and women" (206). This fear can also be explained by the fact that gender was seen as sexu- al complementation - what is male, is not female and also the other way around. What affected the one sex also afftected the other sex, being called the "tandem theory" by Palmegiano (cf Kline 79). Hurst points out that the development of the ‚New Woman‘ was connected to the loss of long-established Victorian values (cf Hurst 147). Also women now had an active part in the sexual act.

When Stoker wrote Dracula the association of the ‚New Woman‘ with the ‚femme fatale‘ was beginning to appear. The more self-dependent and free the women got the more terror was associated with their heartless figures (cf Kline 87). Kline even claims that "the New Woman was experienced as a vampire from the start" (cf Kline 87). She was no deadly beauty, but a threat, disgusting and ugly, even had magical powers. Her weapon was not feminine charms, but "masculine aggressiveness, brute force and sexual wantonness of the most primitive sort" (cf Kline 87). Clearly, the ‚New Woman’ pushed the limits in a male-dominated society.

3. Sexuality

A lot of sexual implications in the novel can be referred back to the ‚New Woman‘. As previously mentioned only men were allowed "freedom of sexual expression" (cf Spencer 206), which offers many discussions and interpretations as these gender roles are reversed in Dracula (cf Hurst 147ff). In the following three events will be analyzed, the first being when Jonathan Harker is seduced by the female vampires in Dracula’s castle, the second being the transformation of Lucy into a vampire and her end and the last being Mina resisting Dracula’s power. How are the women in these plots sexually represented, are they active or passive? Can these representations be traced back to the notions of the ‚New Woman‘ and the Victorian woman?

3.1. The three Vampiresses

This scene is one of the most widely discussed, because of its supposedly extreme sexual conflicts (cf Kline 101). Jonathan Harker is on his way to Dracula’s castle and not long after his arrival he encounters the three vampire women:

"In the moonlight opposite me were three young women, ladies by their dress and manner. I thought at the time that I must be dreaming when I saw them, for, though the moonlight was behind them, they threw no shadow on the floor. They came close to me and looked at me for some time and then whispered together. Two were dark, and had high aquiline noses, like the Count’s, and great dark, piercing eyes, that seemed to be almost red when contrast- ed with the pale yellow moon. The other was fair, as fair can be, with great, wavy masses of golden hair and eyes like pale sapphires. I seemed to know her face, and to know it in con- nection with some dreamy fear, but I could not recollect at the moment how or where. 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 hear a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips" (p. 44).

It is a perfect example of what has been said in the previous chapter. Stoker potrays the "magical" irrational power women have over men. They are presented very extreme having "great dark, piercing eyes […] almost red" with "brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips". Harker is "uneasy" and in "deadly fear" but at the same time he feels a desire to pursuit the women. Harker, as the male character in this scene, is not self-confident as men ought to be of that time; they normally play the active part in sexual events. In this case he is the passive part, which he fears very much, to be overpowered by the three vampire females. On the one hand he desires the "kiss", but also fears it. It could be even suggested that Harker longs for passiveness, as he does not seem willing to make a decision. Bentley claims that ""it is only in the human character’s interaction with vampires hat they are able to engage in the desired, but repressed, ‚perverted‘ encounters" (cf Bentley 26). This event stands for loss of traditional values, weakness of men, but also "demoniac feminine love of power"(cf Kline 103). Bentley argues that "ambivalence of Harker’s response […] is especially revelatory, as is his concern over […] Mina", meaning that the vampiresses offer direct sexual intercourse, which is a "tempting alternative" to the "sexless Mina" (cf Bentley 28).

The three vampire women represent "fallen women", they are outsiders, living on the outcasts (in Dracula’s castle) of society. They have once been Dracula’s victims and now "live" in his castle. They are described in erotic physical beauty. The connection of seduction and vampirism is clear, as one of the vampire women says "He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all“ (p. 45) (cf Fry 21), which is also a statement about is potency (cf Bentley 28). Bentley argues that "Stoker’s vampires are premitted to assert their sexuality in a much more explicit manner than his ‚living‘ characters" (cf Bentley 28). That is that vampires have all the freedom in their sexual urge that is never attributed to Stoker’s living characters.

3.2. Lucy Westenra

The reader gets to know Lucy virginal and pure - an ‚Angel in the House‘. At that stage she is never physically described, this accounts also for Mina. The male characters just refer to them as being "sweetly pretty" (cf Kline 113).


Excerpt out of 17 pages


Women and Sexuality in Bram Stoker’s "Dracula"
University of Bonn  (Anglistik)
Issues in Literature & Culture: Gothic fiction
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
533 KB
women, sexuality, bram, stoker’s, dracula
Quote paper
Katja Grasberger (Author), 2014, Women and Sexuality in Bram Stoker’s "Dracula", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/322902


  • No comments yet.
Read the ebook
Title: Women and Sexuality in Bram Stoker’s "Dracula"