Gothic novel Dracula written by Irish novelist and short story writer Bram Stoker is one of the most prominent and loved horror stories in the world literature. Being an example of horror fiction, the novel hides a great number of underlying messages, deals with many social problems of Victorian England, and makes the reader think about the relationship between men and women in general through the portrayal of the main male and female characters.
In the center of events is a young man Jonathan Harker who becomes a hostage of Count Dracula, a Transylvanian vampire. The latter’s aim is to visit England, and on reaching his destination Dracula attacks Lucy, a friend of Harker’s fiancee. When Harker escapes from the horrifying castle and three female vampires, he marries Mina. Together with his friends Harker organizes the Crew of Light leading by a Dutch doctor Van Helsing. Eventually Mina becomes a victim of Dracula, and if the Crew does not kill the vampire Mina will become a blood drinking monster like Lucy. Dracula leads them on chase back to his castle where they finally kill him. Mina is healed, and all of them live happily ever after.
Thus, at first sight the story resembles any other monster story, but in reality the understanding of every character helps to realize the issue of gender and sexuality that was considered important at those times. In the novel, the gender roles are blurred, and the gender stereotypes are disrupted. The male characters sometimes act in a feminine way, and vice versa women are depicted as strong-willed, determined and active.
The major female characters in the novel are Mina Murray, Lucy Westenra and the three brides of Dracula. The portrayal of all these women represents the Victorian attitude towards gender and sexuality and the concepts of an ideal woman and the New Woman. In Victorian society, women had very narrow gender roles. A Victorian woman can either be virginal and pure or a married mother of cute children. Otherwise, she was believed to be a whore without a name and reputation.
Mina Murray is the typical Victorian woman. She is the most complex and ambiguous character in the novel as she possesses both feminine and masculine traits of character. She is on her way from the perfect woman to the New Woman. In fact, she had all the qualities of both types of women but she uses those of the New Woman very carefully, remaining dedicated to the general idea of perfect wife and innocent female creature. Thus, despite the fact that she in as an embodiment of the Victorian virtues namely innocence, Christian faith and purity, she possesses many masculine traits that are not typical for femininity. She is practical, supportive, intelligent and resourceful. Van Helsing claims that she is a ‘woman with man’s brain”. Beside, Van Helsing says: “She is one of God's women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist – and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so sceptical and selfish”.
Mina’s sexuality remains enigmatic throughout the novel. She never gives voice to her sexual desire. Even when she is tainted by Dracula, she feels smitten by dirtiness, ashamed and regretting. However, Mina is not lost as Lucy, and it can be due to the fact that before Dracula’s attack she has followed the moral principles of that age in good faith. The character of Mina Murray is contrary to the one of Lucy Westenra who represents the quite opposite traits.
Lucy Westenra, a friend of Mina is depicted as naïve and frivolous but at the same time her innocence and purity is not lost. While Mina is a perfect woman, Lucy is the aberrant one. She is blonde, innocent and vulnerable. In contrast to Mina who is exclusive to only one man, Lucy attracts men and eventually three of them decide to marry her. In fact, her promiscuity is the trait that makes her vulnerable and due to this trait Lucy becomes the first victim of Dracula. She is passive becoming a vampire, and that is why she transforms into the monster in short period of time. She possesses natural sexiness and attractiveness which come out as she becomes a vampire. All the hidden feelings and desires are not limited by any norms and she let them come out. She gives up and let the vampirism capture her soul. While Mina, transforming into a vampire and being connected to Dracula regrets and tries to help the Crew of Light, Lucy does nothing but frees her desires and eventually becomes “a thing”. Vampirism symbolizes the hidden sexual energy that is finally freed. The femininity and purity can be restored only when “a thing” is destroyed.
Although Mina and Lucy are different, the two mentioned women both embody femininity while the images of female vampires from Dracula’s castle are horrifying and not usual for those times. Female vampire takes on the majority of men’s traits. These women have forgotten about passivity and innocence and are depicted as non-moral and sexualized. In his diary Jonathan wrote: “There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips”. Such a representation of non-moral women is the perceived danger represented by the New Woman. The concept of the New Woman originated in the late 19th century and related to the image of the woman who is independent intellectually, politically and sexually. This woman has power, and she is able to make her own decisions. The Victorian men were afraid of these changes as the New Woman could symbolically suck the life out of them. The problem was that no one knew what the result of women’s emancipation could be. In the novel it is seen, that the society was afraid of independent women and sure that it cannot have any good result.
In this way, what the New Woman signified was a blurring of the lines between the two genders. The New Woman was creative and practical, independent and active. She caused a re-ordering of typical gender roles. In the Stoker’s novel, Count Dracula causes the blurring of the boundaries between genders. What is interesting, not only the female characters of the novel become violent and determined like men, but at the same time, the male characters become more feminine. They are depicted as helpless, effeminate and even hysterical.
For instance, Jonathan Harker’s feminine traits are seen when he is attacked by the three female vampires in the castle of Dracula. He lies helpless while the three women impose the fear and control the situation. The blurring of boundaries between the genders is also obvious when Dracula puts his guest in a feminine position himself. He says that “this man belongs” to him. Later on, when Harker manages to escape he is ill not only physically but also mentally. The main symptom of it is hysteria, which was considered a woman’s ailment. Besides, one can notice a feminine side of Van Helsing, when he behaves hysterically and womanlike. Generally, through the male characters Stoker brings many fears. Among them are the male fear of being feminine and fear of women in general. Speaking about the male characters represented in the novel, one cannot but analyze the main character, Dracula. He cannot be controlled either by men or women. His own gender role is even more questionable than that of Mina, Lucy, or Jonathan. He wants to posses everyone and lets everyone’s hidden desires and fears come out.
Precisely all the events in the novel Dracula, as well as all its characters give the readers a hint at the issues of gender and sexuality. Each character’s storyline can explain their role not only in the story but generally in society. Bram Stoker presents all the gender fears of society through the main characters. Mina, being an embodiment of all Victorian virtues, possesses all the traits of the New Woman but still remains devoted to the principles of society. Despite the fact that she is a victim of Dracula and is on her way to vampirism, she regrets and feels sorry about it, and such feelings would experience any other “perfect woman” if she were Mina. Lucy, on the contrary, gives up under the pressure of vampirism that symbolizes hidden sexual power. Her femininity is expressed through her frivolous attitude towards man and passivity that eventually destroys her. Another type of woman is a female vampire, which represents the fear of woman’s independence and domination. Thus, Dracula blurred the boundaries between sexes through vampirism, giving a way to innocent women’s hidden desires and masculine traits of character that was weakened under the pressure of norms and principles of society. By means of the male characters author represents the fear of women in general and fear of being feminine. Almost all the male characters possess some feminine qualities that appear especially when they deal with the New Woman.
Summing up, Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula is one of the most significant horror stories not only due to interesting plot and dynamic storyline. It makes the reader think about many urgent problems, including sexuality and gender roles in society. The Victorian view towards men and women separated the opposite sexes, and the majority of people acted in accordance to their social role. When the situation began to change and women became more independent and reserved, the concept of the New Woman was invented. In Dracula, the reader can see the general attitude of people towards the changing of values and fears that appear as the result of these changes. That is why this literary work is very valuable in terms of gender and sexuality discussion as it can explain many of Victorian moral concerns and the relationship between men and women in general.