Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula came out in the year 1897 and is considered one of the most popular and finest pieces of literature in the study of the late nineteenth century British culture, also known as the fin de siècle. According to Browsers Bookshop, “Dracula has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature and has spawned numerous theatrical, film, and television interpretations.” In my opinion, Stoker’s novel revolves around the theme of different characteristics found in both men and women and he does so, by challenging and reinforcing the gender norms of the Victorian period. His novel also gives an insight on the masculinity of men and how they should act if they are to help with the expansion of the British rule.
The setting of the novel takes place in Transylvania and revolves around the person named Count Dracula. He desires to relocate to England as England was one of the most powerful countries at that time and the people of Transylvania knew who he was. He invites an estate agent named Jonathan Harker to aide him in buying a property and hence, he can fulfil his wish of relocating to England. Jonathan received a warm welcome from Dracula upon his arrival to the castle. While Dracula was away, Jonathan found his way to a library inside the castle. In the library he found a vast collection of English books. “The books were of the most varied kind-history, geography, politics, political economy, botany, geology, law-all relating to England and England life and customs and manners” (Stoker 18). It is pretty evident that Dracula has a lot of interest in England and wants to learn more about the country from Jonathan. While referring to his collection of books, Dracula says, “But alas! as yet I only know your tongue through books. To you, my friend, I look that I know it to speak” (Stoker 19). Dracula wanted to enhance his English speaking skills through the help of Jonathan, so as to easily blend in the community when he finally moves to England. He considered himself as a master in Transylvania and wanted to feel the same in England and not be seen as a stranger by other people when they hear him speak.
Jonathan soon realizes that he has become a prisoner of Dracula. Dracula finally moves to England and Jonathan escapes the castle soon after. The plot goes on to reveal about the characters of Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker. Lucy has a sleepwalking disorder which makes it easier for Dracula to make her, his victim. All the blood from her body is sucked and as a result she requires blood transfusions. She is contributed blood by Professor Van Helsing, Dr. John Seward, Arthur Holmwood and Quincey Morris. Lucy eventually dies and becomes known as the “bloofer lady” who abducts children in the night. Mina also becomes one of the victims of Dracula but she was saved by the eventual killing of Count Dracula.
By reading Stoker’s novel, it is quite evident that the dominance of men is portrayed throughout the novel. Right from the beginning, Stoker describes how great men are in the sense that they are responsible for performing all tasks and protecting everybody. Dr. Seward and Professor Van Helsing were the two males who were called upon to check on Lucy when she was ill. While examining Lucy, Van Helsing suggested, “Young miss is bad, very bad. She wants blood, and blood she must have or die. My friend John and I have consulted; and we are about to perform what we call transfusion of blood—to transfer from full veins of one to the empty veins which pine for him. John was to give his blood, as he is the more young and strong than me” (Stoker 114). Lucy was also given white garlic flowers by Van Helsing to help her, with her illness. “These are for you, Miss Lucy…but not for you to play with. These are medicines. I put him in your window, I make pretty wreath, and hang him round your neck, so that you sleep well” (Stoker 122).
Towards the end of the novel, out of the six people who were chasing Dracula, five of them were male. All men were determined to complete their mission, which was to kill Dracula and they ultimately succeeded. Even though their lives were in danger, they did not stop in reaching their ultimate goal. As Mina describes, “Nothing seemed to stop or even to hinder them. Neither the levelled weapons nor the flashing knives of the gypsies in front, nor the howling of the wolves behind, appeared to even attract their attention” (Stoker 351). The men ordered Mina to stay at a distance while they approached the caravan in which Dracula was being transported by the Gypsies. Jonathan slits Dracula’s throat and Quincey stabs Dracula in the heart and as a result, Dracula’s body crumbles into dust. Throughout the novel, men were portrayed as symbols of bravery and courage. While on the other hand, apart from Mina, women were seen as symbols of helplessness. It can also be noted that women were mostly the victims of Dracula.
In Of Queen’s Gardens, John Ruskin states the gender norms found in the Victorian period. “The man’s power is active, progressive, defensive. He is eminently the doer, the creator, the discoverer, the defender. His intellect is for speculation and invention; his energy for adventure, for war, and for conquest, wherever war is just, wherever conquest necessary” (Ruskin 1865). Stoker reinforces gender norms by showing characteristics of doer, discoverer, and energy for adventure, war and conquest in a man through the character of Dracula himself. Dracula shows all these traits as he was eager to move to England by learning more about it through Jonathan and ultimately start a war and conquer the land. John Ruskin also states, “[Woman] must be enduringly, incorruptibly good; instinctively, infallibly wise — wise, not for self-development, but for self-renunciation: wise, not that she may set herself above her husband” (Ruskin 1865). Stoker challenges gender norms by showing bravery and strength in women through the character of Mina. Mina was credited for figuring out what Dracula was up to and the reasons behind Lucy’s sufferings. The text refers to Mina as “She has man’s brain—a brain that a man should have were he much gifted—and a woman’s heart” (Stoker 218). Stoker shows that not all women are infallibly wise as Westenra (Lucy’s mother) removed the garlic scented flowers from Lucy’s room, harming her own daughter. Stoker also challenges gender norms by portraying that men can also become weak and emotional at times. Arthur was broken and emotional when he witnessed the death of Lucy.
The argument Stoker is trying to make in his novel is that each gender can have different set of traits as each individual is different of each other. Hence, to judge a person based on specific gender norms is morally incorrect. Overall, the characters are viewed in a negative light if they transgress gender norms. This is evident from the text that even though Mina figured out what Dracula was up to, it was suggested that she should remain out of the plan of destroying Dracula as she is considered to be weak. “Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer—both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams” (Stoker 218).
Overall, for the Victorian readers, Dracula’s move to England and his collection of English texts can be viewed as preparations for war. It is quite evident from a Victorian reader’s perspective that a strange and powerful foreigner is showing a lot of interest in their country and wants to live there without being noticed. With the aid of maps and his extensive research, Dracula can easily conduct a major attack from within the country. Moreover, the challenges against gender norms can also be viewed as a threat by the Victorians. By outlining all the traits a man possesses and a man should possess, Stoker’s novel serves as a guide to men on how to be masculine. And it certainly sheds light on the gender norms present in the Victorian period.