Femininity In “Dracula” Essay
Femininity In “Dracula”
Many critics and literary analysts believe that femininity or to some extent metamorphosis of women constitutes the central theme of Stoker’s “Dracula. ” For instance, Kline explains that femininity occurs in two ways: first by the transformation of the “good” English women into sexually or intellectually challenging New Women, and then again when their “potentially revolutionary attributes … are destroyed, one way or another” either through death, as seen with Lucy, or reduction to a silent (and therefore no longer intellectually challenging) inspirational figure, as occurs with Mina (Kline, 144).
Explaining the idea behind women in Dracula Stoker argues that “…for women to deny their traditional role was to deny their womanhood, to challenge the distinctions between women and men upon which the family ~ and therefore society — depended” (Stoker, 206). Stoker’s “Dracula” addresses these concerns regarding femininity as outlined by Stoker and Kline, and contains examples of it, through the “brute force” and “sexual wantonness” of the vampire women that attack Jonathan, as well as Lucy’s transformation and the “masculine aggressiveness” represented by Mina’s capabilities.
The men in the novel are established as representatives of a patriarchal society, but it is the authoritative presence of Van Helsing that is primarily used both to advocate a return to a patriarchal system, and to refeminize women through either denial of their abilities or by repeated insistence that they are objects of chivalric concern. The text is replete with examples where female identity is transformed.
This is accomplished through a variety of methods that are, like the vampiric taint from the mixing of blood, interrelated. For example, Mina is transformed into an object of idealization and chivalric concern, and as a result of this “protection,” she is also attacked by Dracula and emotionally altered as a result of her exclusion – both of which occur precisely because the men remove her from their counsel and leave her unattended.
The text is used to show that these women – in a sense “new women” representatives – are dangerous and in need of “correction,” which occurs in the novel through punishment, including death and destruction, and the denial of authority. The sexual aspects of the New Woman are vilified through association with the monstrosity of vampirism, and what vilifies the intellectual woman in the text is her challenge to male intellect and authority.
The attack on the sexual woman begins with Jonathan’s assault by the vampire women at Castle Dracula, which then justifies the attack on Lucy when she takes over as their “modern” equivalent; since he gets no retribution against these vampire women, it is necessary in the text to have Lucy punished for her seemingly similar challenge to gender roles as a result of her potentially promiscuous behavior. The attack on the intellectual woman begins with what Johnson calls Mina’s “discourteous act” in first handing Van Helsing her shorthand diary, which he is unable to read.
The sexual woman in the text is first represented by the “weird sisters” (Stoker, 80) at Castle Dracula, through both their role-reversing assault on Jonathan and their anti-maternal behavior in feeding on the “half-smothered child” given to them by Dracula when he halts their attack (Stoker, 71). These women symbolize what Griffins calls “the worst nightmare and dearest fantasy of the Victorian male: the pure girl turned sexually ravenous beast” (Stoker, 143), with these vampire women being classified as frightening — and by extension, all modern or sexual women ~ in part due to the emotional confusion they create in men.
Although they are described by Jonathan as “ladies by their dress and manner” (Stoker, 68), having “brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls” and “a silvery, musical laugh” (Stoker, 69), their effect on Jonathan is described, through his own reporting, to make him uneasy (69) due to their “deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive” and his reaction that he “felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me” (Stoker, 69).
Interpreting Jonathan’s mixed emotions as resulting from a fear of an inability to sexually handle three women presents an interesting parallel later with Lucy, who wistfully speaks of being able to marry three men (Stoker, 91). By presenting women’s sexuality as aberrant and monstrous rationalizes the violence that is utilized in destroying Lucy and the vampire women, and the text is therefore suggesting, through this vampiric taint, that all sexual women are dangerous and need to be destroyed. It is this destruction, in addition to physical death, that sends the message that there is no redemption for “new women”.
Seward’s diary records the event that lets Lucy “take her place with the other Angels” (253): “The Thing in the coffin writhed … the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur … [drove] deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it” (Stoker, 254). Similarly, Van Helsing records “the horrid screeching as the stake drove home; the plunging of writhing form, and lips of bloody foam” as he “restore[s] these [vampire] women to their dead selves” (Stoker, 412).
From the beginning of the novel Mina is presented as different from the vampire women, signifying that the woman who challenges gender roles through her intellect is different from the sexual woman. Jonathan’s journal distinguishes her from the “awful” vampire women: “Mina is a woman, and there is nought in common [with the vampire women]. They are devils of the Pit! ” (Stoker, 85). Once the sexual woman has been dispensed of through Lucy’s death, the text then attacks the intellectual woman through Mina; and it is not until the former is eradicated that Mina’s talents are presented as dangerous or threatening.
Although Charles Prescott and Grace Giorgio opine: “Lucy’s transformation and destruction function as cautionary examples for Mina. She learns not only that vampires and transgression must be brutally brought into line but also what can happen to anyone outside the Victorian codes of normalcy” (Stoker, 151), it is only after she is stripped of the ability to use her intellect, as she is silenced by Van Helsing and excluded through the presumably chivalric protection of the men, that she becomes sexual.
Descriptions of violence against women – a retribution for their challenge to gender roles – serve to impart the message that there is no redemption for femininity, that despite any atonement or transformation, their transgressions are considered so heinous that they must be destroyed. Interestingly, the eradication of Dracula, described merely as his “crumbl[ing] into dust and pass[ing] from …
sight” (Stoker, 418), without the brutality that is levied against the female vampires, serves as proof that the destruction previously described is in reprisal for the female transgression of gender codes, and not a necessity in ending the threat of vampirism. Works Cited Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Glennis Byron. Ontario: Broadview Literary P, 2000 Kline, Salli J. The Degeneration of Women: Bram Stoker’s Dracula as Allegorical Criticism of the Fin de Siecle. Rheinbach-Merzbach: CMZ-Verlag, 1992
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 30 September 2016
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