Dracula: Female Sexuality
Bram Stoker’s book, Dracula published 1897 is a gothic horror narration which incorporates gothic features such as monsters, trapdoors, decaying setting such as haunted houses, curses, and prophecies among others. While the novel was written during the Victorian era, it exhibits the richness of the social and cultural aspects of the period. In other words, Stoker borrows significant events that were evident in the Victorian era. Thoroughly illuminated in the novel is sexuality which was not only a broad topic, but also a practice highly observed during the Victorian era. The novel also demonstrates the ability to play on human fears, especially on sexuality and death. Stoker’s general idea that resonates in the reader is the imminent fear of the slithering foreign other and its capability of tainting the Victorian society. The primary goal of this essay is to provide a critical analysis of female sexuality as portrayed by Stoker in Dracula.
Arguably, Dracula is not short of themes considering that it reflects the numerous problems that faced the Victorian period. However, one very relevant theme which is important in the contemporary society as it were in the Victorian era, is female sexuality. As a matter of fact, a reader may argue that Dracula is an exceptional example, depicts the Victorian male’s imagination about female sexuality. The Victorian society placed very high standards for women, especially by repressing feminine sexuality (Harrold, 105). The emphasis on female sexuality was highly enhanced due to the institutionalization of the patriarchy, which on the other hand was oppressive of women. The Victorian social construction was that a woman was to maintain chastity whether married or unmarried. Furthermore, even a married woman was barred from expressing excess sexual desires, as opposed to the male counterparts. Stoker, on the other hand, demonstrates how this societal fabric was gradually wearing out following the creeping of the foreign other, which in this case is Dracula.
The migration of Dracula from Transylvania to England marked a threat to Stoker’s characters, especially Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray. Dracula is the symbolic representation of the world’s new possibilities that transformed England. Therefore, Dracula carries the notion the scientific discoveries, industrialization, and imperialist explorations that hit England during the Victorian period. Because of these events, the Victorian society was shaken and therefore unable to grip to the traditional institutions or comprehend the changing social order (Boyd 3). The Victorian women sexual desires were repressed mainly because a woman’s sexual behavior was dictated by some strict expectations by the society. In other words, women were not supposed to show any sexual desires. Conversely, Stoker demonstrates the inversion of women sexuality and the perils it had on women, mainly through the character of Lucy. Mina’s description of Lucy that “She is so sweet with old people, I think they all fell in love with her on the spot” (Stoker, 94) is evidence to the break away from the Victorian ideal woman. It is an introduction to the philosophy of a New Woman.
While Lucy and Mina represent the New Woman, who focused on rejecting the Victorian patriarchal system, men, on the other hand, are opposed to the idea and for this reason, they seek to protect Mina from Dracula. In this sense, therefore, Stoker paints a picture of a conflicting society whereby women raise to fight for their sexuality while the males want to maintain control over women sexuality. Lucy receives three proposals in a day (Stoker, 84). To further the understanding of women sexuality, Stoker creates a dichotomy between Lucy and Mina. Mina represents the ideal Victorian woman who struggles to remain chaste and virtuous eve after she is fed with the Vampire’s blood while Lucy becomes voluptuous after her encounter with the Vampire (Boyd. 5). Lucy’s blood mixed with that of Dracula. In her first encounter with Dracula, Mina narrates that “Her lips were parted, and she was breathing, not softly as usual with her, but in long, heavy gasps, as though striving to get her lungs full at every breath” (Stoker, 133). The blood in Stoker is a significant symbol which relates to sexual engagement. Similarly, when Lucy became so ill, Van Helsing recommends that she ought to be infused (Stoker, 174). Another blood transfusion means more sexual relations. According to Helsing, Lucy’s condition requires urgent transfusion which entails “transfer from full veins of one to the empty veins” (Stoker, 175). Every transfusion seemed to restore Lucy’s good health.
Furthermore, Mina and Lucy represent different aspects of the New Woman. In particular, Lucy is seen as a true New Woman and therefore a threat to the social gender ordering (Carmichael, 7). Lucy is this case is a metaphor that depicts women freedom of sexuality. Lucy receives four blood transfusions meaning that she is sexually engaged with four men. Stoker portrays a New Woman who has beaten all the odds to achieve autonomy over her sexuality. Mina, on the other hand, establishes New Womanhood through her competence and the position she holds as a school assistant headmistress. Mina also, is recognized by choosing her marriage partner other than pursuing social and sexual independence like Lucy (Carmichael, 8).
Nonetheless, the struggle is far from ending bearing in the mind that Lucy eventually dies and becomes a vampire. Lucy’s death is symbolically used. The men who transfuse Lucy try to bring her back to the life. In other words, there is an evident struggle with the Victorian men to defeat the New Woman, thereby reinstating the patriarchal repression of women sexuality. The killing of Lucy’s vampire and the destruction of Dracula and the three female vampires in the castle shows the success of the Victorian men in thwarting the notion of the New Woman. Evidently, Dracula still has control over women sexuality and this is seen as Stoker’s biggest irony.
In summary, it is incontestable that sexuality was an issue deeply rooted in the Victorian era. Strict regulations were put in place to control women sexuality. While the society was austerely patriarchal, Victorian women’s sexuality was vehemently repressed by men. However, Stoker’s Dracula illuminates the change of events to the ideology of sexuality mainly through the influence of industrialization and scientific innovations that swept through England. Dracula, which represents the industrial and scientific waves almost successfully inverts the sexual repression by possessing Lucy and Mina. Lucy and Mina are metaphors for the New Woman who seeks to detangle from the male domination of the Victorian period. However, the death of Dracula, vampires, and Lucy’s vampire and the saving of Mina portray a failed mission and men’s continuity to dominate over women.