Mina Harker - A New Woman?

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2005

18 Pages, Grade: 1,7


Table of contents:

1. Introduction

2. Historical background
2.1 The Victorian ideal
2.2 The New Woman

3. Mina Harker – A Victorian lady?

4. Mina Harker – A New Woman?

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This paper deals with the question whether Mina Harker can be described as an emancipated woman. Bram Stoker presents two different kinds of women in his novel Dracula: the passive and innocent female and the sexual aggressive woman. The pure and chaste kind of woman is presented by Mina Harker and the sexual aggressive women are represented by Lucy Westenra and the three vampire women.

These different types of women find their counterparts in the Victorian society of the nineteenth century. On one side one can find the typical Victorian woman. Those women stood for traditions and long lasting ideals. At this type of woman will be looked at in the first part of the paper. It gives a short summary of the historical background to this subject. This part is followed by a characterisation of the New Woman, a phenomenon that turned up at the end of the nineteenth century. Those women wanted to renew to status of women in the Victorian society. They fought for better educational opportunities for women of that time.

The main part deals with the question if Mina Harker has picked up certain traits from the Victorian ladies. It also deals with the question whether she has also taken up traits of the New Woman. Her behaviour throughout the novel will be looked at. Certain typical forms of behaviour of the two kinds of women will be picked out and analysed. The difficulty is that Mina Harker seems to have a dual character since she seems to have adopted from both types of women. This thesis will be tested throughout the main part of the paper.

The conclusion gives a summary of the results and it answers to the question which type of woman Mina Harker belongs to.

2. Historical background

2.1. The Victorian ideal

To reveal the types of women presented in Bram Stoker’s Dracula one has to consider the time the novel was written.

Stoker wrote Dracula in 1897, a time that is called the Victorian Age. This name is due to the reign of Queen Victoria; she was famous for her love for her husband and her children. This is why the Victorian Era (1837-1901) can be described as a domestic age since it was centred on the family and on motherhood. Marriage was traditionally regarded as a woman’s ultimate goal and highest reward. Finding a husband was clearly a priority to the women of that time. More than that: “family affection and the desire for motherhood were considered innate”. Once married, a woman had to become a “professional good wife and mother”[1] and “being a woman was a “career” in itself.”[2]

Women were supposed to stay at home and their main duty was to take care for their household and their children.

The role of the mother was idealised and the figure of the busy and diligent mother represented the domestic ideal. Life of women in that era circled around the domestic sphere of their homes and their families, since the best place for women was in the home. Victorian women could hardly ever act outside their domestic spheres. Women in the Victorian Age were not part of the public life.

They were supposed to be busy in their household and they had to secure constant care for their husbands. The home was regarded as a cosy space, as a haven from the busy and chaotic outside world. A woman, living in the Victorian Age, had to “make her household a comfortable, tranquil refuge for her husband”.[3] They had to show constant devotion for their husbands. “Once married, the perfect lady did not work”.[4] Therefore her life “was totally dependent upon the economic position of her father and then her husband”.[5]

To sum up one could say that the typical woman of the 19th century was the “angel of the house” who had to educate the children and who had to provide emotional support for her husband. The ideal of the Victorian lady was fully developed in the upper middle class.

2.2 The New Woman

At the end of the 19th century women started to „translate their yearnings into active campaigning“[6]. Young women started to behave unconventional and as a result from that they earned a lot of criticism. The phenomenon of the novel kind of women was called the “New Woman”. The New Woman “smoked, entered boldly into conversation with men and was seen around town riding a bicycle”.[7] They can be described as “the Victorian equivalent of today’s feminists”.[8]

The New Woman movement tried to answer the question how women could handle and fight against the inequality of the sexes. Their major goal was to achieve equal rights for men and women and additionally they wanted to fight against the suppression of women. The traditional roles within the Victorian society and family were criticized by the New Woman. “They took issue with a range of social restrictions imposed by male dominance and prejudice”.[9] Women demanded more control and more choice in questions of marriage, sexuality and education.

The ideas about family and marriage were changing at that time. Marriage had been the ultimate goal for women for a long time. The New Woman looked critically at the traditional idea of marriage. Marriage was no longer considered to be the perfect form of life. Its tradition “came in for a tremendous battery of criticism”[10]. Family was no longer seen as the best form of living but the “family was exposed as a nest of seething frustrations, discontent and deception”.[11] The one duty that had been most important for the typical women in the Victorian age was childbearing. This was the vital task Victorian women had to fulfil. The New Woman fought against a reduction of their sexuality. They did not want to be treated as pure breeding machines. Until then female sexuality had to fulfil one function only: it had to secure offspring.

In the Victorian Age the subject of sexuality was not discussed, neither with their husbands nor in public. Nevertheless, the New Woman no longer wanted to keep silence because “Women had to say a great deal about the subject themselves”.[12] Women started to talk openly about the female sexuality. Their behaviour was considered to be scandalous and threatening. Until then female sexuality has only be seen positive when it was linked with producing offspring.

The traditional woman was the angel in the house. Women were seen as “bodiless” figures that stood for purity and motherhood. That was the role the public was used to. The Victorian society was afraid of the unknown femininity. The New Woman represented everything that was daring and revolutionary for the traditional society, the symbol that was most challenging and dangerous was sex.[13]

“Now, these New Women were turning their backs on their “rightful” place-in the home- and opting for novel vocations, such as medicine or business”.[14] The New Women wanted to change their immediate and private situation but apart from the question of marriage and sexuality they also discussed the subject of education and social status. They fought for their individual and political basic rights. The New Woman engaged themselves in questions of marriage, divorce and education.

“By the 1890s, then, when the New Woman began to emerge with a distinct identity, a good deal of progress had been achieved in the two areas most affecting modern woman. Reforms in the law and in educational and professional institutions had opened a wider range of opportunities than had ever previously been available”.[15]

Women were now allowed to visit colleges, such as the Cheltenham Ladies’ College or The North London Collegiate and above all, the first women were allowed to study in Oxford and Cambridge. Still, there had not been an enormous change within the legal picture. Due to the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857 divorce was now an option for women. Nevertheless, it was still very difficult for a woman to get a divorce since the ground for divorce had to be incestuous adultery, rape, sodomy or bestiality. Another new law became effective in the 1880s that was the Married Woman’s Property Act of 1882. It secured women their own property after marriage. So the New Woman movement achieved some changes. Yet, the women of the 19th century were not allowed to vote. It can be said that “towards the end of the nineteenth century the emphasis fell on questions of social organisation, and particularly of sexual morality”.[16]


[1] Judith Rowbotham, Good Girls Make Good Wives, page 12.

[2] Rowbotham, page 12.

[3] Rowbotham, page 15.

[4] Martha Vicinus, Suffer and Be Still, page iX.

[5] Vicinus, page iX.

[6] Jenni Calder, Woman and Marriage in Victorian Fiction, page 159.

[7] Suzanne Fagence Cooper, The Victorian Woman, page 66.

[8] Clive Leatherdale, Dracula: The Novel and the Legend, page 148.

[9] Leatherdale, page 148.

[10] Cunningham, page 2.

[11] Cunningham, page 3.

[12] Cunningham, page 2.

[13] Cunningham, page 2.

[14] Leatherdale, page 148.

[15] Cunningham, page 10.

[16] Cunningham, page 5.

Excerpt out of 18 pages


Mina Harker - A New Woman?
RWTH Aachen University  (Institut für Anglistik)
Gothic Novel
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
591 KB
Arbeit über die Rolle von Mina Harker in Bram Stoker's Dracula. Die Arbeit beschäftigt sich mit der Frage ob Mina Harker emanzipiert ist, also eine New Woman ist oder ob sie dem Victorianischen Ideal entspricht.
Mina, Harker, Woman, Gothic, Novel
Quote paper
Meike Röder (Author), 2005, Mina Harker - A New Woman?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/37094


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