“What would an angel say, the devil wants to know”

At the risk of exposing myself to categorization and thereby being easily dismissed as one of those girls I am going to post a second consecutive blog entry protesting the villianization of our novel’s females. (Cross my heart it just caught my attention twice; this isn’t my agenda…at least not all of the time).

In Dracula, the lovely Lucy and the steadfast Mina are both consistently praised for their sweetness, their goodness, their angelic qualities, but as soon as either of these women evidence sexuality, or too much cleverness, or worst of all—a  ghastly combination of both, they are immediately bitten by the beast and demonized.  I believe that this dichotomy can be directly related to the one Gilbert and Gubar establish in their article–in patriarchal literature women are either angel or monster.

Unfortunately, length restrictions will only allow us to examine one example of this in any depth (and also saves me from a spoiler alert) so we will focus this observation on our first lady with a biting problem, Lucy.  Lucy, with her great beauty and playful, loving nature is quickly marked as a female in a dangerous position.  A woman can be beautiful as long as she is ignorant of her beauty, and meekly accepts what fortune and fate bring her way; but as we saw with Gwendolen in previous weeks an ownership/possession/manipulation of that beauty is a capital crime that will get a girl damned quicker than you can say ‘malignant male gaze’.  I believe that Lucy is punished by Dracula’s bite BECAUSE she is beautiful, playful and loving, or what some modern readers would call a flirt.  We read in Lucy’s correspondence to her friend Mina that she is not at all vain about her trio of proposals that take place during the course of a SINGLE DAY, and yet in the same breath she settles down to a detailed account of each (70).  Furthermore, her exercise of her not inconsiderable powers over the crusty Mr. Swales and later the good (if foreign) Dr. Van Helsing shows that she recognizes her influence over men (80, 137-38).  This female power must not be born, G&G forecast what is in store for Lucy if she begins to fail in her performance of ‘the angel’, “If they [women] do not behave like angels they must be monsters” (53). Lucy’s awareness of her beauty and her affect on men needs to be punished by making that sexuality perverse and evil.  Therefore she is transformed from the angel of men’s imaginings to a seductive devil attempting to bestow life-threatening kisses on unsuspecting admirers. We witness the physical transformation as she is described in heavenly language in one sentence:  “and she looked her best, with all the soft lines matching the angelic beauty of her eyes” and just one short sentence later a “strange change” comes over her as she crosses from a pure women to a sexualized monster with eyes “dull and hard,” breathing “stertorous,” and a “soft, voluptuous” voice (192).  (The word ‘voluptuous’, seems to become her main characteristic post-change as it is used no less than a million* times to describe her in the next half-dozen pages.) The final showdown in the graveyard between the white knights of morality and the hissing Lamian beast can easily be seen as a crusade against sexuality when Lucy’s most sinister attack on the men is the attempt to lure her fiancée into an embrace.  Thankfully, Lucy takes a line from Fiona Apple’s book, admits her criminality and her monstrous appetites and then dies a terrible death in retribution.

As the novel goes on we see this pattern played out again with Mina, though she is not demonized as much for her sexuality as she is her cleverness, because as Gilbert and Gubar point out, “for women in particular patriarchal culture has always assumed mental exercises would have dire consequences,” such as, I don’t know, literally becoming a monster. This condemnation of a female with mental acuity presents a whole other nest of problems, but it is Lucy’s demonization and subsequent vanquishing that is most troubling in the first part of the novel. It proves that there is no space for a woman to be something other than angel or monster.

Post Script: I may be on board with my aforementioned categorization if this guy is the spokesperson

*Admittedly an exaggeration, however I did count at least four uses of the word which seems a bit excessive to my mind.

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