Dracula (1897) written by Bram Stoker, is a Gothic novel composed in England in its late Victorian age. Its engaging use of invasion literature exposed the oppressiveness in this society and to a transitional period, specifically involving the evolution of the New Woman and fear of the ‘other’, its unfolding narrative reflected the fears and anxieties of the era. Dracula holds a mirror up to the late-Victorian society, towards the epoch of where social norms and beliefs were being challenged and subject to change and the conflict and contrast between the new and the old values created the inclinations for fears and anxieties. In Dracula, Stoker explores the creation of the New Woman as it led to a change in a male-dominated culture and the fear of the other opposing classic social principles. It was a hallmark text that was well received at its time albeit with societal criticism in its taboo-breaking and continues to influence in contemporary times.
Dracula challenged Victorian conservative values of femininity by foregrounding female sexuality in its characterisation of the females and the alluring setting of Transylvania as a direct contrast to the British setting. The rise of the New Woman distinguished an age where women who were once suppressed in a conservative society became the subject of sexuality, desire and promiscuous conduct. The novel Dracula recognises and reflects how this fear and anxiety was perceived by patriarchal and how this threatened the traditional Victorian society not only in terms of changes for women but how his caused sexual unease for men. The visual imagery and use of antithesis in ‘All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips” There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear,” allows Stoker to engage the audience to create contrast between Jonathan Harker’s longing for Dracula’s wives, against his fear of them. Upon seeing them Harker quickly demonstrates that his intrigue of these women comes from their unnatural and perverse characters against the traditional form of women, as shown by the first sentence. As a prolific example of the stereotyped Victorian society, Dracula’s Jonathan Harker sets the foundation in which his immediate expression and judgement of Dracula’s wives goes against the standards of what the Victorian society would expect of all women. As the first character in Dracula to witness Dracula’s wives, the novel reflects how all women of the late-Victorian society had the expectation to conform to specific notions of gender respectability of the doting wife and mother. The implication of consonance within Dr Seward’s entry “The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” creates the unearthly feeling and transition from the purity and innocence of Lucy to her promiscuous nature. The New Woman was a defining moment in Victorian society, changing the cultural appropriations women had to conform to and it was often criticised by the conservative public. Dracula reflects the fears of the New Woman through how even though Dr Seward is recognised for his factual, scientific beliefs as a result of his many degrees, even he succumbs to the Victorian fears of the New Woman, seeing the harm in this newfound sexuality, instead of realism. As told through the perspective of Dr Van Helsing in “Ah, that wonderful Madam Mina! She has man’s brain, a brain that a man should have were he much gifted, and a woman’s heart,” Mina’s characterisation depicts that she has become the embodiment of the most distinguishable traits of both sexes; the brain of a man and the heart of a woman, and thus allowing her to be a rising symbol of the New Woman, by her desirable nature. Being seen as a desirable being, through her intellectual and emotional maturity, Dracula instils the anxiety that Mina poses towards the men of the late Victorian era, through her development as a New Woman, rather than adhering to her gender role.
The fear of the ‘other’ or anyone that was not English was also considered a threat to Victorian society and reflected as a major concern in the novel. It was a significant fragment towards the exposure of the late-Victorian society to reverse colonisation, immigration to Britain and their experience of diverse cultures, in which Dracula became the projection of the late-Victorian society’s worst anxieties and fears. At the height of Queen Victoria’s reign, Britain was a global empire based upon imperialistic power, which evidently created contact with other nations, instilling the fear of a more diverse, unconventional colonisation. The fear is reflected in the physical setting which introduces the social conflict of the narrative: “One of the greatest and suddenest storms on record has been experienced here, with results both strange and unique.” The foreshadowing of Dracula’s arrival through the storm created the characteristic fear of foreign invasion that made the novel relevant to the fin de siècle epoch, a term used to signify themes of cultural decline. Dracula became an imitation of the late-Victorian era, building the tension and unease through the storm, depicting chaos and change whilst creating the emergence of a strong oppositional force, Dracula. Similarly, the idea of foreign immigration and reverse colonisation was seen as a flood of change and it was their beliefs based upon a national, racial and moral sense that saw the foreign as a potential threat and fear against the British imperialistic power. “We are in Transylvania, and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things.” Through the use of metonymy, associated with the concept of liberalism, described in “Transylvania” and “ways” this suggests to the argument that the concept of diversity within culture and values was an obstructed subject to the Victorian people. Dracula alludes to this in the last line, referring to the Victorian society’s limited view on world culture, provoking their fears of immigration to Britain and anxieties against experiences alongside non-European nations. “The books were of the most varied kind, history, geography, politics, political economy, botany, geology, law, all relating to England and English life and customs and manners.” Through the use of cumulative listing, Stoker reveals how Harker discovered Dracula’s view and enthusiasm upon learning about England. The late-Victorian era had involved experiencing various humanities other than the English society, however, it also manifested into a fear involving reverse colonisation and instability once foreigners would arrive. Stoker presents the Victorian’s fears of the foreign through Harker to enable to speak from the perspective of a stereotypical English man, aligning the character’s views with the era’s beliefs that outsiders would desire to become a part of their founded English society.
Dracula became a reflection of the late-Victorian era, offering an insight into the society’s values, thoughts, fears and anxieties. It tackled the two prevalent issues that rocked the conservative community, including the New Woman who was perceived as a threat to the male-dominated society and the Fear of the Other, an opponent to the traditional, orthodox culture. Dracula offered a glimpse into the perspectives of the men and women of the late-Victorian society, citing their point of views as they witnessed the change from the old to the new.