Empowerment Through Female Sexuality in “Dracula”

In “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization,” Stephen D. Arata says that “In the novel’s (and Victorian Britain’s) sexual economy, female sexuality has only one legitimate function, propagation within the bounds of marriage. Once separated from that function, as Lucy’s desire is, female sexuality becomes monstrous” (632). Aided by some scholarly research, I would like to continue this discussion and put forward my own observations about the sexuality of the women in Dracula.

As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly sexual. Jennifer Wicke observes that “It is not possible to write about Dracula without raising the sexual issue” (Mighall 62). In the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Jerrold E Hogle state that Dracula is a “male-oriented Gothic work” (Hogle 11) but that a “repressed, archaic, and thus deeply unconscious Feminine is a fundamental level of being to which most Gothic finally refers, often in displacements of it that seem to be old patriarchal structures” (Hogle 11). In Victorian society, a woman was either a pure and innocent virgin – or else she was a wife and mother. If she was neither of these, she was considered a whore and consequently, unworthy of being a part of society. Joseph Valente observes that Mina Harker is not given enough seriousness by the males around her and occupies a “minoritized and yet idealized social margin, that of properly feminine fragility, dependency, non-self-sufficiency, heteronomy in sum…” (Valente 124). Martin Tropp points out that this may have been because Stoker wrote Dracula at the time of William Acton’s book on the functions of reproductive organs, which claimed that women had no sexual urges, and that those who displayed any were low and vulgar. It also declared that love of home, children and domestic duties were the only passions that women felt. Because Dracula sets up a scenario in which the battle between good and evil will be contingent upon female sexuality (both of the main female characters. Mina and Lucy, are preyed upon by the Count, who renders them voluptuous and blood-crazy, a complete opposite of their former chaste and modest selves), Dracula is thought of as a male-oriented gothic as noted by Jerrold E. Hogle. After Lucy becomes a raving vampire, Van Helsing’s men see no other alternative than to destroy her, thereby returning her to a purer and more socially respectable state.

But while this suggests that Stoker, in arranging this order of affairs is advocating the killing of his female characters, it also points out that he acknowledges the poweof female vampires, and has to kill them off so as to oblige his Victorian male readers. After Lucy’s transformation the men watch vigilantly over Mina, fearing that they will lose another epitome of Victorian womanhood to the depraved world of vampires (and hence lose them to freedom. In a note that echoes what I call “male understanding” of the Original Sin, that is that women will lead men to their fall from grace, Dracula mocks Van Helsing’s crew with the words; “Your girls that you all love are mine already, and through them you and others shall yet be mine” (Stoker 323). In other words, the men are afraid both of associating with the socially outcast and with that which will bring about their own ostracization. To avoid this fate, Arthur Holmwood drives a stake deep into Lucy’s heart in order to kill the demoniac identity that she has now assumed. “The language with which Stoker describes this violent act is unmistakably sexual, and the stake is an unambiguous symbol for the penis” (Sparknotes 19). Dracula can only attack willing victims, so it follows that Lucy had wanted to be seduced. The blow comes from Lucy’s fiancé, Arthur Holmwood. “When Holmwood slays the demoniac Lucy, he returns her to the role of a legitimate, monogamous lover, which reinvests his fiancée with her initial Victorian virtue” (Sparknotes 19). While all of this sounds very depressing and suggests that the woman’s free spirit has been stamped out, it reveals once again her hegemony as a vampire, and why the men cannot accept her in that form.

Dracula is layered with other sexual nuances besides the activities of the main characters. The Weird Sisters that Harker meets in the castle are, for example, representatives of the subversion of Victorian ideals because they are sexually aggressive. Harker thinks he has had a nightmare, but this episode can also be called his ultimate dream – indeed a secret fantasy, for the Weird Sisters offer him more sexual gratification in one instance than his fiancée Mina does during the entire course of the novel, and Harker himself calls the experience “both thrilling and repulsive” and one for which he waits in “languorous ecstasy” (Stoker 256). These sexually advanced women are then destroyed because they are empowered by their vampirism – and their ability to seduce men and satisfy their appetites (where hunger for blood symbolically suggests sexual hunger) in a way “normal” Victorian women were not expected to do. Also, the need for multiple victims to satiate a female vampire’s appetite for blood is a given, whereas it would be unthinkable for a respectable Victorian (human) woman to have multiple partners to satiate her sexual appetite. The power of these female vampires again brings the battle between good and evil into their control. This need not be looked upon as though women are responsible for all the troubles of mankind. Rather, one may argue that women are able, with their judgment and actions, to determine what happens to their men.

Arata, Stephen D. “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies. 33.4 (1990): 621-645. Print.

Hogle, Jerrold E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Mighall, Robert. Sex, History and the Vampire. Eds. Hughes; William and Smith. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Walker Books. 2004. Print.

Tropp, Martin. Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape Modern Culture (1818-1918). London: McFarland and Company. Inc.,1990. Print.

Valente. Joseph. Dracula’s Crypt: Bram Stoker, Irishness, and the Question of Blood. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Print.

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