Gender in Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'

The Sexual New Woman

Term Paper 2006 17 Pages

American Studies - Literature



1. Introduction

2. Gender and Sexuality under Historical Aspects
2.1. What is gender?
2.2. Gender roles in the Victorian Age
2.3. The New Woman (after 1880)

3. Gender in Dracula
3.1. The Weird Sisters
3.2. The Crew of Light
3.3. Jonathan Harker
3.4. Count Dracula
3.5. Lucy Westenra
3.6. Mina Harker (before Murray)

4. Conclusion


1. Introduction

Bram Stoker’s vampire story Dracula is set in fin de siècle England. The temporal setting was not coincidentally selected, but it was prudently chosen. It was a time of radical change, the change of women’s role in society. Women grew more and more independent from male dominion and that again altered their attitudes as well as their behavior. As a result, men experienced the “New Woman” (coined by Sarah Grand, a radical feminist novelist) that almost entirely appeared weird - if not even preternatural - to them. Primarily, their recently acquired sexual liberalness frightened men to the utmost. Something demonical must have beset them; something bad must have poisoned their minds and their blood. Stoker, too, believed in the potentially evil spirits of sexual power. In his works, and especially in Dracula, Stoker copes with society’s “unprecedented anxiety and uncertainty about the social roles, sexual nature, and natural spheres of activity of men and women”1 by hiding female independence, aggressiveness, and sexual insatiability behind the mask of the demonical influence of vampirism. Vampirism in this case symbolizes feminism, which affects every person - whether male or female - that comes into contact with its supernatural powers. It blurs fixed gender boundaries and challenges Victorian society. Therefore, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a feminist novel, especially concerning sexuality.

2. Gender and Sexuality under Historical Aspects

2.1. What is gender?

Gender is a term not only relating to the biological differences between the male and the female sex. It is rather a collective name for the classification of men and women according to values, beliefs, and conventions - especially of their social roles and thereof deriving expectations. These expectations are determined by society and culture and often fixed in laws. Violation could entail complete social exclusion.

2.2. Gender roles in the Victorian Age

In the Victorian Age conducts of behavior were generally applied to women. Consequently, I will predominantly examine women’s roles. Women at these times had to act in the exact boundaries that were assigned by culture and society. Either they lived as virgins or married and became wives and mothers. Marriage was the highest gain to achieve, but at the same time it was their undoing. Marriage withdrew all their legal rights and subjected them to their husbands. Property and decision making were placed in the husbands’ hands as “in law a husband and wife are one person, and the husband is that person.”2 Women were assigned to their own sphere - the home. Their tasks extended from domestic service to homemaking as well as childbearing and child raising. If they earned money outside the home, it was out of the question to keep it. Clear-cut boundaries divided the two genders: Men acted “[…] competitive, assertive, […] and materialistic” and Women ought to be “pious, pure, gentle […] and sacrificing.”3

The most stringent differences, however, appeared to manifest themselves in sexuality. “’Victorian sexual morality’ is generally represented as bourgeois, oppressively heterosexual and patriarchal, and terrified by any deviations from this standard.”4 Women were classified as asexual beings. Only men experienced pleasure from sexual intercourse and so, for their sake and for the sake of motherhood, women had to submit their bodies to the will and the needs of their husbands. A woman’s willingness was out of the question as she had no permission to deny her conjugal duties, so, abuse in the bedroom was no scarcity. Horrible experiences in the bedroom and general sexual dissatisfaction made women describe their marital sex as “[…] hateful, dreadful, and disgusting.”5 Sex in general was despised, sexuality had to be repressed. Until their wedding night women had to preserve their purity and to chastely cover their bodies.

2.3. The New Woman (after 1880)

“’Victorian feminism’, which had brought about changes in property and marriage laws that ‘gave wives legal status independent from their spouses, enabling them to own and inherit wealth’,”6 frightened the conservative part of society. The definitions of masculinity and femininity were challenged as the New Woman strove for independence. The domestic sphere was abandoned or at least depreciated. For those who stuck to the traditional gender boundaries the survival of the human race was considered the most eminent threat as “the compatibility of […] maternal functions, intellectual development and social emancipation”7 was questioned.

Likewise, women sought freedom in matters of sex. They did not want to repress their sexual desire any more and just act submissive to the male sexuality. Women wanted their part of sexual pleasure. And that was no more inevitably bound to marriage. As women now had the right to divorce and to attain custody of their children they were able to live much more independent lives. Sex became an issue, as women started to become aware of their bodies. Their need to catch up on that matter was further fueled by the publication of a great number of studies concerning psychology, pathology, and sexology in the 1880s and 1890s.

3. Gender in Dracula

Dracula was written and placed in a time when the foundations of gender were put to the question and finally structured anew. The fight between conservative and modern factions raised questions concerning women’s role at home and in society - particularly in matters of sexuality. In literature, too, this alteration was issued and the Victorian role model was challenged and finally transformed to modernism. Successively, I will decode how Stoker used his main characters to reflect the disintegration of the old gender roles and which repercussions he entailed.

3.1. The Weird Sisters

The three women represent the inner conflict of the Victorian man. They embody all features of the “New Women” as they are overtly sexual and extremely voluptuous. They act as sexual beings and openly express their desires. All three offer themselves to Jonathan Harker playing off their “deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive”8 and promise him an unforgettable sexual encounter. This situation is at the same time a dream come true and a nightmare to every Victorian male. On the one hand they could indulge in an unrestrained and mutually desired sexual adventure. On the other hand, however, such female behavior threatened male dominion and their ability to maintain control. Therefore, these women are displayed as preternatural, “[throwing] no shadow on the floor,”9 making Jonathan “uneasy, [feeling] some longing and at the same time some deadly fear”10 and laughing “a silvery, musical laugh, but as hard as though the sound never could have come through the softness of human lips.”11 The scene in which the three women want to bite Jonathan resembles rape, but with reversed roles: male passivity facing female aggression. The sexual implication is intensified by relating to the act of biting as “kissing.”12 As here vampirism and sex are linked and vampirism is evil, sex is declared evil as well. So, in order to retain control over his own reason and to remain master of society the male Victorian has to destroy the three depraved women.

3.2. The Crew of Light

The four vampire hunters, Van Helsing, Arthur Holmwood (=Lord Godalming), Dr. John Seward, and Quincey Morris, are introduced as god-fearing brave men whose characters are based on goodness and integrity. They are perfect models of the Victorian male ideal. Three of them, Dr. Seward, Arthur Holmwood (Lord Godalming) and Quincey Morris, asked for Lucy Westenra’s hand in marriage. Although her decision is made for Arthur, the three men remain the best of friends. This unshakable loyalty foreshadows the fight between good and evil.

Even though the outward appearance of the four is described in predominantly manly terms, their behavior is partly very ambiguous. They show distinctly female behavior sobbing on each others shoulders and declaring their mutual sympathy over and over. The most prominent scene shows Van Helsing becoming hysterical after Lucy died:

“The moment we were alone in the carriage he gave way to a regular fit of hysterics […] He laughed till he cried and I had to draw down the blinds lest anyone should see us and misjudge; and he then cried until he laughed again; and laughed and cried together, just as a woman does.”13

Features as hysteria and lack of control are generally female characteristics. Their application to the men is once more pointing out that the traditional gender boundaries are blurred. The growing female independence threatens male dominion and therefore feminizes men, leaving them confused and uncertain about how to behave properly.

But the men try to defend and to recover their manliness. Each of them donates blood to Lucy and these transfusions are connected to control and sexuality. Control is exerted by keeping Lucy alive by the blood of her four friends - all of which are male and highly praised for their effort. The sexual side of the donations is pointed out as Van Helsing wants to keep their transfusions a secret to Arthur: “It would once frighten him and enjealous him, too.”14


1 Eltis, p. 452

2 Jones, p. 402

3 Woloch, p. 125

4 Mighall, p. 62

5 Battan, p. 176

6 Eltis, p. 452

7 Eltis, p. 453

8 Stoker, p. 52

9 Stoker, p. 51

10 Stoker, p. 51

11 Stoker, p. 51

12 Stoker, p. 51

13 Stoker, pp. 209-210

14 Stoker, p. 156


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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461 KB
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Institution / College
University of Leipzig – American Studies Institute
Bram Stoker Dracula Mina Harker Jonathan Harker Count Dracula New Woman Sexuality Crew of Light Vapirism Gender




Title: Gender in Bram Stoker's 'Dracula'