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The Role of Women in Bram Stoker's "Dracula"

Term Paper 2014 14 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Literature

Excerpt

Content

1. Introduction

2. The role of women in the Victorian era

3. The ‘New Women’ movement

4. Images of women in Dracula
4.1 Lucy Westenra
4.1.1 Education and lifestyle
4.1.2 Seduction of Lucy by Dracula
4.1.3 Lucy as a vampire
4.2 Mina Harker
4.2.1 Mina as a caring wife
4.2.2 Seduction of Mina by Dracula
4.2.3 Thoughts of Mina on the modern woman

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Bram Stoker´s novel Dracula presents two different kinds of women of the Victorian era: Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker. This era is characterised with the emerging ‘New Woman’ movement. Many critics persuade us, that Mina and Lucy embody paradigmatic representatives of the ‘New Women’ ideas and behaviour.

In this work the main characteristics to the female characters of the novel will be given, considering the reasons of their actions by contrasting their Victorian and ‘New Women’ features.

2. The role of women in the Victorian era

Devoted to family, decent and home-loving – this is how the common Victorian women are usually described. The woman is dedicated to and supports her husband always, striving for the same objectives, never being competitive to him, sacrificing herself daily. Innocence, dignity, purity and chastity are her virtues. In the Victorian era marriage was probably the most significant aspect in a woman’s life. For many women it was just a condition of survival. Society disapproved of women making their own living, or supporting themselves, they inescapably depended on men’s income: “Barred by law and custom from entering trades and professions by which they could support themselves, and restricted in the possession of property, women had only one means of livelihood, that of marriage.”[1]

Moreover, women in the discourse of the Victorian era had to be virgins and free from thoughts of sexuality and love, to be at least considered as a potential wife. However, this requirement of absolute purity was not valid for men, who had freedom and could participate in premarital sexual relationships. After marriage rights, property and in fact even the identity of women were under the total control of their husbands. Marital rape and beatings were legal. Any money or property brought into the marriage by the wife belonged to husband, as did the children. It’s not surprising that many women considered marriage as a kind of slavery.

In reality women played an important role as wives, taking into consideration they not only took care of the household, but also helped with their husband’s work, and sometimes were in charge of managing the finances. But they were perceived by men not more than like “overly emotional and mindless creatures ruled by their sexuality, or simply the sex”.[2] Motherhood also wasn’t really respected. “Mothers were valued socially only if they were ‘good’ mothers, good according to rigid moral standards of propriety not only in behaviour but also in opinion.”[3]

Prostitution was legal in the Victorian era. It represented the second category of women – the first pure chastity wife and mother. Those were sexually-crazed and depraved prostitutes, who also served the desire and fantasy of men as ‘Femme Fatale’. Paradoxically, it seemed to be the only professional activity for women provided and protected by law. And generally society envisaged women working at home only. “Many men regarded prostitutes as the necessary evil to protect the pure, who otherwise might unwittingly provoke the male to rape them.”[4]

In summary it can be said, that the women in Victorian era had no right to anything due to the patriarchal discourse. At the same time they had to be ideal women, the “angel in the house”[5]. Such unfair social systems had to break eventually. A new movement – the first wave of feminism – emerged.

3. The ‘New Women’ movement

The term ‘New Women’ embodies a new representation of womanhood which arose in Victorian society in the beginning of 1860s as a reflection to lasting and comprehensive oppression performed by men and the male-dominated discourse. It was a strong force in challenging not only the views of separate spheres, but also the Victorian example of the ideal domestically confined woman.

The new woman was released from the domestic ideology that defined women’s place in the Victorian era. To her slanderer, she was a result of the decadency and decline of social values. The ‘New Woman’ was supposed to choose independence over marriage and having children, deny monogamy and bourgeois customs for sexual freedom, professional identity, political consciousness and hierarchy.

In the 1880s and 1890s women were engaged in a variety of upheavals and social problems. They were seen as a danger to middle-class hegemony, to the ideas of domestic space. In a world with strict gender rules governed by a strict ideology of the dichotomy of the ‘angel in the house/fallen woman’ the representatives of the ‘New Women’ movement were figures that served to question the nature of sexual identity and the ways it dictated public roles.

The term was introduced by Sarah Grand in 1894; actually her article referred to novels devoted to the changing perception of modern women, raising problems of her place in both the public and the private spheres. The novelists Olive Schreiner, Grant Allen, George Gissing and Thomas Hardy explored the woman who took a space outside social convention and chose to live on the margins, often being punished for acting in such way. Unlike Victorian society these above novelists perceived the New Woman not as a harm, pathology and danger but with loyalty.[6]

4. Images of women in Dracula

4.1 Lucy Westenra

4.1.1 Education and lifestyle

Many critics argue, whether Lucy Westenra can function as a representative of the ideal Victorian woman. I will support the idea that she fits the typical Victorian image of women, considering her dominating desires presented to the reader: to marry, have children and manage a household.

To explore Lucy as a character we should comprehensively focus on the main areas of her life. The first one is her family background. As it is well known, Victorian society was a patriarchal one, so Lucy had been raised observing and following a male lead in all spheres. Lucy’s mother died when Lucy was a child but before she did not take care of Lucy properly.

While Mrs. Westenra adores and takes great pride in Lucy, she is not equipped to fulfil the role of mother and father to Lucy. Stoker does not give Mrs. Westenra the faculties to adapt to her new role. Mrs. Westenra’s greatest deficiency is ignorance; she cannot see or understand the danger Lucy is in when Lucy is being attacked by Dracula, nor does she observe any reproachable behavior in Lucy’s actions with her three male friends and would-be suitors. Mrs. Westenra is herself ill, so in the spirit of chivalry none of the men inform her of the seriousness of Lucy’s illness.[7]

Mrs Westenra did not try to get any information about Lucy’s illness, a fact which is not surprising for the Victorian times, when women were not supposed to the intricacies or seriousness of illnesses. It is scandalous, but it would be indecent for a woman to know much about illness, even if it was related to her daughter, she could not require information from a male doctor. Moreover, Mrs Westenra had problems with her own state of health and was concerned about it, too. So she was not able to observe and protect Lucy in society and at home.

The second aspect of exploring of Lucy’s character is education. Mrs Westenra died before Lucy came of age, so she could not prepare her for marriage, explain how to manage household and behave in society properly. Lucy got education at an etiquette school, where she meets Mina, who later plays for Lucy not only the role of a friend, but also takes over some traditional mother functions. These are two sources of Lucy’s knowledge about society in society as guide principles. Mina could not replace a father figure for Lucy, informing her how to behave with a man and how to choose the suitable one. Lucy had three men following her and nobody could interfere. It made Lucy err against standards promoted by society for proper behaviour. However, under these circumstances Lucy behaves quite well.

[...]


[1] Kent, 1990

[2] Abrams, 2001

[3] Abrams, 2001

[4] Remi-Hébert

[5] Remi-Hébert

[6] Remi-Hebert

[7] Moore, 2012, p. 8

Details

Pages
14
Year
2014
ISBN (eBook)
9783656900368
ISBN (Book)
9783656900375
File size
465 KB
Language
English
Catalog Number
v292909
Institution / College
Friedrich-Alexander University Erlangen-Nuremberg – Institut für Anglistik / Literaturwissenschaft
Grade
2,3
Tags
role women bram stoker dracula

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Title: The Role of Women in Bram Stoker's "Dracula"