Bram Stoker’s Dracula remains one of the more recognizable novels of its genre despite being published in 1897. A classic horror story which has been retold and produced over and over again since its original publication, Dracula was especially disturbing when it originally was released because of how Stoker attacks Victorian era social mores and norms throughout the entire novel. Stoker subverts traditional 19th Century social mores and norms in Dracula through the portrayal of sexually aggressive and assertive females, Jonathan and Mina’s relationship, and the inverse of Maternity.
One of the first examples of Stoker’s subverting of traditional social mores and norms in his novel is Dracula’s Wives. Our first encounter with the “weird sisters” comes when they approach Jonathan Harker at the Count’s mansion. Christopher Craft described the scene in his reflection as so “Immobilized by the competing imperatives of ‘wicked desire’ and ‘deadly fear,’ Harker awaits an erotic fulfillment that entails both the dissolution of the boundaries of the self and the thorough subversion of conventional Victorian gender codes,” (Stoker, Auerbach, and Skal 444).
Craft is correct that this is a clear subversion of conventional Victorian gender norms. Both Jonathan and the Dracula’s Wives represent a total reversal of what would have been considered normal or appropriate in the 19th Century. Dracula’s Wives are the aggressors in this sexual scene while Jonathan is the passive or cautious sexual partner. His anticipation of the bite from one of the weird sisters is similar to that of a virgin woman waiting for her partner to penetrate her for the first time. The weird sisters represent the total opposite of what a proper Victorian woman is supposed to resemble.
They are sexually aggressive and assertive instead of passive and prude. Another female character that occasionally reveals what would be considered very disturbing at the time of the novel’s publication is Lucy. Lucy at one point mentions to Mina that she wishes she didn’t have to choose just one man to be with and that she wishes she could be with all of them. Such a thought was considered scandalous during the time period and even though Lucy is aware that what she is saying is inappropriate she is not able to keep from expressing her true desires to Mina. The wives and Lucy are a few of the key xpressions of subverted 19th century norms in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Jonathan and Mina’s relationship is another example of Stoker’s subverting of traditional 19th century social mores and norms in his classic story. Throughout the book we see Jonathan and Mina’s characters switch gender roles from a more traditional representation to an inverted representation. Mina is no ordinary Victorian age female. She does desire to serve her husband and unlike Lucy doesn’t express the desire to be with any other partners, but Mina is special in the eyes of the male characters in the story.
Van Helsing and the other men believe Mina’s mind to be like that of a man. This would be considered a huge compliment at the time because women were not often thought of being capable of thinking on the same intellectual level as men. On the other hand, Jonathan begins to fall apart. He suffers from fevers which cause him to have fits of almost insanity. During this time he certainly is not thinking on the intellectual level that he once did and it is clear that Mina is the more enlightened of the two lovers. This represents one inversion of traditional gender norms.
People didn’t considered that a woman could be the more capable mind in a relationship but that is precisely what Mina is during the majority of the novel. That is not the only example of gender reversal in Dracula, at one point Jonathan becomes faint in public and to keep him from falling Mina supports him. It would have been considered very odd to see a woman in public supporting a man like this. Stoker uses Mina and Jonathan’s relationship as another subversion of 19th century traditional social mores and norms in Dracula.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Stoker’s Dracula is the inverse of maternity. The inverse of maternity represents an almost perfect subversion of traditional 19th century social mores and norms. Craft also wrote is his reflection, “Stoker emphasizes the monstrosity implicit in such abrogation of gender codes by inverting a favorite Victorian maternal function,” (Stoker, Auerbach, and Skal 453). Maternity hasn’t changed much sense the 19th century, women are expected to care for the children above all other responsibilities.
Needless to say the feeding on defenseless children by Lucy and Dracula’s Wives is a complete opposite of maternity. The feasting on children is particular disturbing and shocking no matter what era one is born in and represents what is a predominate theme in Dracula the inverse of Maternity. Another example of the inverse of Maternity is the scene in which Dracula cuts his own breast and forces Mina to drink from his wound. Craft writes, “We are at the Count’s breast, encouraged once again to substitute white for red, as blood becomes milk,” (Stoker, Auerbach, and Skal 458).
This interpretation is consistent with what I found. Clearly Stoker is creating a disturbing image that resembles a mother feeding her baby and totally turns maternity on its head. Craft goes on to suggest that perhaps the scene represents more than just an inverse of maternity and that the blood Mina drinks from the Count is actually semen. I agree that the scene resembles forced fellatio but the resemblance to a mother feeding her baby is too obvious a connection not to be made.
Inverse of maternity is the true symbol of this scene. In many ways Dracula can be viewed as ahead of its time. Many of the story’s developments, which were considered to be horrifying during the Victorian age, don’t cause many to bat an eyelash in today’s society. Stoker subverts traditional 19th century social mores and norms in Dracula through the portrayal of sexually aggressive and assertive females, Jonathan and Mina’s relationship, and the inverse of Maternity.
Courtney from Study Moose
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