Throughout Gothic literature, the portrayal of the female identity has a profound impact on the interpretation of a story. Many Gothic novelists illustrate women in a certain light, highlighting the stereotypical role of women and the contrasting concept of the “New Women” in the Victorian era. Amidst the unearthly buildings and grotesque sceneries of the Gothic, this genre establishes the birth of women empowerment and sexuality, advancing literature and nonconformity for generations to come. However, one Gothic author, in particular, depicts the “New Women” differently; in the novel Dracula, Bram Stoker celebrates the traditional women through his portrayal of two types of females; the ‘predator’ and the ‘victim.’ With this, Broker characterizes unchaste women as heinous and pure women as heroic. Stoker depicts the three brides of Dracula as frightening by-products of women defying traditional, Victorian behavior. The oversexualized women paralyze Jonathan Harker’s mind and body through their “intolerable, tingling sweetness,” ultimately reversing the role of the submissive (Stoker 45).
Stoker displays the brides’ alluring beauty in a type of way that labels them as satanic, bewitching women. This presents the paradox of pain and pleasure, in which these women use voluptuous manners to seek domination over men. These indecent women have the potential to challenge the stability of the patriarchy and order of a family. Not only does Stoker explain why impure women should not be apart of society, but he goes as far as to give them the power of destroying the good in humankind by framing Harker’s character as young, naïve, and innocent (Stoker 9-19). In addition, the three daughters lack self-control; therefore, Dracula “[swoops]” in and “[hurls] the women” from one of their victims, essentially saving an innocent life (Stoker 47). Stoker makes the brides deserving of a punishment and an intervention from a dominant male, in an effort to restore their wrongdoings and prevent an atrocity from occurring.
Overall, a male figure has to come to the rescue and tame the unruly women, establishing the notion that the “New Woman” exerts chaos and wickedness, while the obedient Victorian woman preserves the goodness of everyday life. Even when Van Helsing sees the “voluptuous” brides, he fears for the safety of his “dear Madam Mina,” who represents all that is innocent (Stoker 408). In this scene, Stoker presents the idea that vulgar women will encourage other women to follow in their footsteps, creating a domino effect if they are not stopped. All in all, men like Helsing and Stoker fear for what women like the three brides can cause and maltreat. Similar to the sexualization of the brides, Lucy veers away from the attributes of an ideal Victorian woman. Before Lucy’s transition to a vampire, three men long after her because of her endearing pure qualities. However, her identity and livelihood start to blur, as she portrays a salacious creature, who at one point demands Arthur Holmwood to “kiss” her (Stoker 180). This indication of sexual aggression points out that even on the brink of dying, Lucy still has the ability to control a male counterpart. In a period where women obey and take orders from their husbands, Lucy’s contrasting morals and unruly desires reveal that Stoker wants Lucy to be perceived as an inhumane being. Starting as a pure woman, the quick changeover from good to evil communicates the depth of the issue at hand; unchaste women are the antagonists, not just in the novel, but in the real world as well. Moreover, Stoker once again incorporates a male figure to save Holmwood from the kiss of the soon-to-be vampire, as Helsing “[hurls]” Holmwood across the room away from Lucy (Stoker 180).
Thus, the author incorporates Lucy to approach the interpretation of the New Woman, while Helsing emphasizes Victorian men’s fears of women breaking free from social restraints. Not only does Stoker portray Lucy in a sexual nature, but in a foolish manner as well; Lucy asks G-d to “shield [her] from harm,” however, the soon-to-be vampire has a significant role in the misfortunes in her own life (Stoker 162). Specifically, since abandoning the status quo of an ideal woman, Lucy develops impurities that lead to the death of herself and loved ones, signifying Stoker’s opposition against women defiance. Contrastingly, Stoker reserves Mina’s purity to picture her as the embodiment of the perfect woman. In Mina’s first letter to Lucy, Mina asserts that she tries “to be useful to Jonathan,” highlighting her commitment and loyalty to her relationship (Stoker 63). Portraying Lucy as a wholesome character, Stoker confesses his admiration for obedient women, who respect their spouses and the societal standards that go into being a wife.
The author aligns his beliefs with that of the majority of the Victorian era population, connecting Lucy with favored qualities and behaviors. Additionally, Mina gets “quite uneasy about” her partner’s lengthened absence, symbolizing her as a faithful and compassionate figure (Stoker 72). While the three brides and Lucy spend their time attempting to seduce and exercise control over men, Stoker writes that Mina worries about her partner and tries to take up new activities in an effort to please and connect with him. Mina could have gone off with another man, one who is healthy and present, but Stoker has Mina take care of Jonathan when he returns feverish from Count Dracula’s castle. Not only does Mina represent traditional values of the Victorian woman because of her maternal instincts, but she also embodies the Victorian woman because of her unsexualized etiquette.
Moreover, when Dracula tempts Mina to rebel, she instead utilizes their telepathic connection “to help” a group of men destroy him and his curse (Stoker 320). Mina risks her life and well-being, demonstrating her selfless and heroic demeanor. Overall, Stoker displays Mina, an ideal Victorian woman, as the protagonist of the novel. Conclusively, Stoker links hypersexual females with evil and associates compliant, chaste females with goodness and favorability. A prominent theme throughout the novel is the author’s feminine portrayal, particularly their sexual tendencies. Stoker believes women of impurity harm society as a whole and put many people at risk.
However, with a new wave of feminism and women empowerment in the Twenty-First Century, this notion does not retain any merit. Men and women need to realize that they cannot alter other people’s lives to fit their societal expectations. No one should tell women what they should or should not do with their lives, but rather, the population needs to embrace acceptance and originality.