Two Ideals of Women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
In the novel entitled Dracula, written by Bram Stoker in 1897, the two female characters Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker both seem to represent the Victorian ideal of female virtue. However, as the narrative proceeds, vampirism, brought upon society by Count Dracula, challenges those concepts. After being turned into a vampire, Lucy converts into an openly sexual predator, whereas Mina transforms into a „New Woman“. While Mina can be saved in the end, Lucy has to die at her lover’s hand in order to return to that innocent state of purity. The differences between the two friends get evoked throughout the novel and show two different types of women; one who is worth saving and one who is not because it threatens Victorian ideals. Lucy was already foredoomed at the beginning, before the Count even started preying on her because she rebelled against the conventions of Victorian society and because she did not engage with the beliefs of this era. Mina, however, can be saved because she does not defy the restrictions of society and stays faithful to the ideals of that time.
In Victorian society, women were seen as delicate objects, who needed to be rescued by their men. They were meant to bolster the ego of their male saviors and were ought to be dedicated to them. The stereotypical woman was either a mother or a virgin, and if she was neither of both, she was regarded as a whore. Richard Krafft-Ebing stated in the book entitled Psychopathia Sexualis that „women, however, if physically and mentally normal, and properly educated, have but little sensual desire. If it were otherwise, marriage and family would be empty words“ (Krafft-Ebing 14). Hence, the female sex drive should not exist, because their sexual desire is not necessary for reproduction, other than the male sexual pleasure. Both men and women eventually became fearful of female sexuality because it was unknown and unnatural. William Acton contributed to this fear by acknowledging the idea that some women were lustful and contained an appetite for sex, but he saw these as unusual sexual desires that “surpass those of men, and shock public feeling by their exhibition” (Acton 179). Further to this, a woman should be submissive to her man and fulfil the role of a housewife. Hence, if a woman possessed more sex drive than her man, the man would no longer be dominant and active, and therefore, the woman could not fulfil the role she should have dedicated herself to. These beliefs of Victorian society are depicted in Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker. However, it is only on first sight that Lucy truly represents a pure woman.
The reader can observe three different stages of Lucy’s depiction in the novel. The first stage is Lucy before she is turned into a vampire, then the reader gains access to her during the transformation and in the end Lucy is depicted as a vampire vixen. Firstly, Lucy seems to represent a delicate and pure female of Victorian society. She is not only beautiful, but also pure and innocent, which makes her an angel of the household. However, being an object of desire, she receives three marriage proposals and wishes to give into them by stating: “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 60). Even though she immediately describes her desires as “heresy”, she reveals that she secretly wants to experience life beyond the confines and restrictions of Victorian society. In the essay “The Return of the Repressed/Opressed in Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, Burton Hatlen acknowledges, “clearly there was, even before Dracula entered her life, a hunger within her that her haut bourgeois world could not satisfy“ (Hatlen 123). Hence, Lucy is capable of desiring more than one man even though she knows that she is not supposed to feel those desires. Her feelings are restricted by the Victorian beliefs and she does not dare to challenge those. However, her need for desires that differ greatly from her virginal state is then granted through Dracula.
While Dracula is feeding on her, she slowly turns into a vampire, revealing more and more of her sexual desires. Because of the loss of blood, she needs blood transfusions from three different men in order to get saved. Van Helsing implies that there is a connection between blood and sexuality: “ ‘Said he not that the transfusion of his blood to her veins had made her truly his bride? […] But there was a difficulty, friend John. If so that, then what about the others? Ho, ho! Then this so sweet maid is a polyandrist’ ” (Stoker 158). As a polyandrist Lucy is married to more than one man and this allows her to experience multiple sexual identities as her blood is mixed with blood from three different men. In the end, Lucy got exactly what she wished for: sexual encounters with more than one man. Furthermore, Lucy’s body becomes a battleground between the Count, who draws blood from her, and the English men, who pump blood into her. This battle symbolizes the struggle between liberation and restriction of a female sex drive and hence, these transfusions reflect the struggle of Victorian society to recognize and accept female sexuality.
However, Lucy cannot be saved by the blood transfusions and turns into a vampire vixen. As a vampire, she is only defined through her radiant beauty and her volouptousness. Stoker uses a rather limited vocabulary to picture her only through her sexuality. Vampirism turned her into a tempting woman that is sexually unabashed and poses a threat to Victorian society. Further to this, she is openly sexual and tries to seduce her fiancée Arthur Holmwood by saying: “ ‘Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband’ ” (Stoker 188). As a vampire, Lucy possesses the ability to obtain as many lovers as possible because she is now a more sexually deviant woman capable of satisfying her desires. Furthermore, instead of providing nourishment and protection for children, she feeds on them as a vampire and hence, turns into a perversion of maternity. Thus, she threatens yet another belief of Victorian society, the norm of women as deviant mothers.
It is only through vampirism that she can express her sexuality without restraints. However, this openness has to be punished and Lucy has to be returned back to her innocent and pure state, to one that is socially respectable. She can only be defeated through a stake driven through her heart. This scene is again described through sexual implications and connects the penetration of Lucy with the stake and sexuality. While exercising the task, Lucy’s “body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam” (Stoker 192). Arthur Holmwood also seems to be in a kind of sexual arousment, as sweat is pouring from his forehead and his breath goes heavy. Lucy’s craving for open sexuality is finally fulfilled and followed by her destruction. For her sexual curiosity she had to pay with her death, because this openly sexual state of hers was not acceptable to Victorian society. As Gail Griffin in his essay “ ‘Your Girls That You All Love Are Mine’: Dracula and the Victorian Male Sexual Imagination” notes: “We have seen Lucy in two roles in the novel, eliciting two male responses: she is either pitied as a victim or despised as a predator“ (143). Nevertheless, Griffin does not take into account that Lucy brought this upon herself. She has always has repressed sexual desires, but has feared rejection from Victorian society. Those desires then made her weak and victimized her, and it was only because of them that the Count was able to prey on her. Hence, if she hadn’t challenged the beliefs of Victorian society, she wouldn’t need pity or despise.
After Lucy’s transformation and destruction, the English men fear that they will lose yet another model of female Victorian virtues and gather around Mina to protect her. However, the question arises whether Mina Harker ever needed protection in the first place because she represents true Victorian virtue. She has never uttered the same desire for multiple men as Lucy, but has always stayed fixated on Jonathan, even when he was far away and she didn’t have any news of him. She has always stayed faithful to her husband and has never been curious for anything else and hence, incorporates the ideal woman in Victorian beliefs. Mina represents chastity and purity, and does so not only because it is expected from her but because she believes in the ideals of Victorian society and because she is pure of heart.
Nevertheless, she changes as well, as soon as the Count starts feeding on her. Unlike Lucy, however, Mina does not turn into a sexual predator, but rather slowly turns into what was called a “New Woman”. In the book entitled Gothic, Fred Botting describes the New Woman as one of the main objects of anxiety of the Victorian era, who was seen as a threat to conventionally sexualised divisions between domestic and social roles because of her demand for economic, sexual and political independence (Botting, 131). Mina during the vampire transformation stands inbetween the Victorian woman and the “New Woman” because on one hand she is resitant to becoming categorized as a “New Woman” and yearns to fulfil the role of the perfect wife to Jonathan, and on the other she also exercises independence and yearns for sexual fulfilment. Mina eventually brutally experiences sexual fulfilment through the Count and represents independence through writing down their haunt. However, her selflessness bases her desires solely upon her husband’s needs. So, she learns to master secretarial skills in order to help Jonathan, but she keeps this task secret from him. Hence, she slowly transforms from the traditional view of women to a more modern and independent role, which was seen as the “New Woman”, due to the transformation brought upon her by the Count,.
- Quote paper
- Sarah Kunz (Author), 2016, The Fallen Woman. Two Ideals of Women in Bram Stoker's "Dracula", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/368595