Bram Stoker’s Dracula was written during the Victorian era, and the novel acts as a time capsule to societal beliefs and standards of the time. The encapsulation of these values can be seen in the way the novel engages with the gender roles that society presented to men and women. Women were isolated and suppressed in all aspects of their society. Men, however, were able to flaunt the authority and freedom that society had gifted them with. Dracula explores the taboo theme of female sexuality by treating it as a far-off fantasy, since at the time these concepts could not be a reality. With Dracula as his means, Stoker presents Mina and Lucy as two forms of the Victorian Woman. Mina is the model woman who upholds Victorian society, and Lucy is a fallen woman that presents a threat to the institution and is therefore ruined.
Mina depicts what the ideal version of a Victorian woman is like. Mina is impressively loyal to her husband, Jonathan, and exemplifies through her actions throughout the novel. Not only is she intelligent and educated, Mina also works to obtain skills to help make Jonathan’s life easier. This can be seen from one of her journal entries in the novel, “I have been working very hard lately, because I want to keep up with Jonathan’s studies, and I have been practicing shorthand very assiduously. When we are married I shall be able to be useful to Jonathan…” (Stoker 59). Mina balances her hefty workload as an assistant schoolmistress with studying the skills needed to “be useful” to Jonathan and his own work. Despite her own intellect and abilities, Mina still manages to make herself a subservient wife to Jonathan, and thinks more highly of men than women. These ideals easily correlate to the standards of a Victorian society. Mina’s ability to fit in the role of the New Woman in Victorian society is also well-articulated in this quote by Dr. Seward: “Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has a man’s brain—a brain that a man should have were he much gifted—and woman’s heart.” (Stoker 238). The men in the novel love that Mina is educated, but they also like that they are still able to hold dominance over her. She does not pose a threat to their masculinity, yet she can engage in sophisticated conversations with the men.
In addition to her intelligence and will to appease her husband, Mina also demonstrates sexual restraint, something that was deemed extremely important in Victorian society. Her sexual desires remain unknown throughout the novel. But, this could be interpreted as a subliminal message by Stoker to say that women shouldn’t be concerned with sex, unless it entails succumbing to a man’s sexual needs or desires. Instead of engaging in sexual behaviors, Mina instead uses this energy towards a maternal instinct. She uses her natural instinct to help the men around her, which is best seen when she lets Arthur and Quincey cry in her embrace, so that they could feel a mother’s comfort: “He stood up and then sat down again, and the tears rained down his cheeks. I felt an infinite pity for him, and opened my arms unthinkingly. With a sob, he laid his head on my shoulder, and cried like a wearied child, whilst he shook with emotion. We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit is invoked; I felt this big, sorrowing man’s head resting on me, as though it were that of the baby that some day may lie on my bosom, and I stroked his hair as though he were my own child.” (Stoker 233)
Mina is the one to let Arthur finally grieve the loss of Lucy, and he felt as though he could do this because of Mina’s motherly nature. She focuses her maternal instincts on those around her who need it, rather than engaging in sexually needy practices.
Lucy, however, is the opposite of what the ideal Victorian woman is. More so, Lucy represents represents the characteristics of a “fallen woman” or a woman who was promiscuous. Lucy was not physically or emotionally committed to Arthur until later in the novel,and she had significant trouble choosing from one of her three suitors. This can be seen in her complaints to Mina: “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 64). Lucy admits that this would be heresy later in the passage, but even the notion of having this thought shows that she is willing to cross societal boundaries and conventions to appease her needs. Thoughts like Lucy’s were promiscuous and forbidden in Victorian culture, but Lucy does not appear to be overly concerned with the forbidden nature of her desires. Lucy does not appear to agree with typical sexual conventions of a Victorian woman. She does not want to just appease a man’s desires, she also wants her own preferences to be fulfilled. To satisfy her own sexual hungers, Lucy unconsciously expresses her desires and longings privately by sleepwalking. The consequence of privately expressing these thoughts is that she is bitten by Dracula as she sleepwalks. She continues to sleepwalk after being bitten, and Lucy continues to progress into a permanent vampire state. Because of this, Lucy unashamedly expresses her suppressed sexual impulses, which defiles any semblance of purity she had left. Lucy’s vampire existence depicts all of her long-standing, restrained sexual impulses and passions that she had. This sexual hunger becomes even more heightened throughout her life and death as a vampire. Additionally, Lucy does not have the maternal instinct that Mina has. She does not show interest in maternal qualities, and even mistreats young children in the novel. This can be seen in her vampire persona, since she actively pursued and harmed young children to satisfy her own cravings. Lucy found her own needs to be more important than a child’s needs. Her impure desires and lack of maternal qualities make Lucy the opposite of what a Victorian woman should be.
Mina and Lucy are both attacked by the Count, however, they are attacked with for different reasons. Mina, once again, appeases the societal requirements of a dutiful wife. When the Count threatens Jonathan, Mina steps in to protect Jonathan and put his safety above her own. Interestingly, through the Count’s attack on Mina, Stoker shows the male desire to exploit women for their innocence and submissiveness. While Mina initially succumbs to what Dracula wants her to do, she then realizes the consequences of these actions, and how they have made her impure. While she remains defiled, she still actively helps the other men in the novel who are pursuing Dracula. Whereas Lucy is attacked and ultimately killed for a different reason. Lucy is the model for a sexually aggressive woman that uses sexuality and beauty as a way to gain dominance over men. By killing Lucy, Stoker wanted to show readers that this sexual openness would not work as a way to dominate men, and that it would not last in the strict conventions of Victorian culture. By having her husband, Arthur, stake and kill Lucy, this restores her to the strict definitions of Victorian purity. This can be seen in this passage: “There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing that we had so dreaded and grown to hate that the work of her destruction was yielded as a privilege to the one best entitled to it, but Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity.” (Stoker 220).
By killing the vampire Lucy, the men were able to bring purity back to Lucy’s corpse. The demon-like or vampire qualities, also known as her sexual desires, were finally rid from her body. The men in the novel are also able to reassert their social dominance over Lucy once more, she was no longer superior and suppressed by them once again. Because of this, Lucy could be fully dead as a socially acceptable Victorian woman.
Lucy and Mina’s different outcomes from the Count also result in an interesting question. Why was Mina spared when Lucy was not? The reason Lucy was not spared was due to impure social and sexual behaviors. However, Mina was spared because of the reasons Lucy was not. Over the course of the novel, Mina demonstrated nothing but pure and correct social behavior. Mina uses her intelligence and resourcefulness as her means to help and service the men in their pursuit of Count Dracula. Mina had a “man’s brain” and put the men’s safety above her own, even if it meant sacrificing herself. For her devout loyalty and skills, Mina was spared, unlike Lucy.
While Stoker’s beliefs aren’t outright throughout the novel, the nature of his depictions of Mina and Lucy clearly convey the sexist and concrete gender roles of Victorian society. The Victorian culture only saw the values of women being their submissiveness and their ability to possess natural maternal instinct, making them inferior to men in everything except for the bearing and raising of children. Stoker has Mina exhibit the ideal aspects of a Victorian woman’s identity. This is seen as the favorable lifestyle, as Mina survives her encounter with Dracula. And, Lucy’s character, is almost a warning to readers. While real women may not be physically ruined like Lucy was, but those who took part in her behavior would be outcast and demeaned by society. With the female characters of Mina and Lucy, Stoker shows that the New Woman was permitted within society, so long as these women didn’t threaten the dominance of men.
- Stoker, Bram, and Andrew Elfenbein. Dracula. Longman, 2011.