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Women of Dracula Dickens Vision of the New Woman of the Turn of the

Century
Bram Stoker's horror fantasy Dracula was published on May 26, 1897. Dracula was not an
immediate bestseller, although reviewers were unstinting in their praise. The contemporary
Daily Mail ranked Stoker's powers above those of Mary Shelley and Edgar Allan Poe as well
as praised his novel more than Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, a Victorian undying classic.
Its success had many reasons, since apart from being skillfully written, it played on Victorian
hunger for sensation and their sexuality, suppressed by strict moral codes. But the novel
contains more than that it is a comment on changes in society, which Stoker witnessed.
Stoker lived and wrote in a time of social revolution among women - the rise of a new kind of
female characters, unknown to his predecessors the New Woman. The New Woman was
almost a new gender, since she ceased to be the ideal of Victorian times, which was the Angel
in the House. The angel as the essential part of a blissful marriage was very strongly rooted in
the Victorian mind. It was a popular Victorian image of an ideal wife and woman; the angel
was gifted with merits suitable for a lady - she was charming, graceful, sympathetic, selfsacrificing, pious, obedient and above all, pure. But with the rise of the suffragette movement,
which started around 1860, women started seeking their own fortune, frustrated by their
social and economic situation. Gradually females started to break from their household

chains, often working to earn their own living, but most scandalous of all they started to
seek sexual freedom, up to this moment reserved to men. Stoker, raised in a time of high sense
of morality, seems to disapprove of that. He shows his opinion about New Women in
Dracula, but his treatment does not stem from his hatred of women in general, but from his
ambivalent opinion of the New Woman. The best proof of this is the fact that both his female
characters: Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra possess features of the New Woman, but each has
a different set of them. One is shown as a perfect companion and wife, self-reliant and working but
still charming and virtuous,

something definitely positive and appealing, while the second is

punished for her latent sexuality by death and threat of damning her sole for all eternity.
As fara as goes their background, Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra are close childhood
friends. Mine, more prominent in the story than her friend, begins the story as Miss Mina
Murray, a young school mistress who is engaged to Jonathan Harker. Lucy is a 19-year-old

daughter of a wealthy family, a vivacious young woman who is much praised for her beauty,

purity and surprisingly sweet nature. Both her and Mina are very much idealized in the book,
but Lucy differs from Mina Harker in one important aspect: she is sexualized. Stoker used

Lucys character to create a foil to the modest, level-headed Mina, who is shown as rather
cool and sexually apathetic. While Mina is already engaged when the story begins, Lucys
qualities earn her three suitors, all of whom propose to her on the same day!

It is interesting to notice, that Miss Lucys hair is most probably of light shade of red and it
was believed that redheads have fiery tempers and sharp tongues. In Victorian times many
authors, when characterizing their heroes, used a kind of color code: brunettes were seen as
wise and mature, blondes were innocent, immature and often nave, but red hair color was
surprisingly pejorative and was connected with sexuality. Marie Magdalene, the first biblical
fallen woman, was portrayed as a red-haired woman in the works of art like Tiziano Vecelli,
Jules-Joseph Lefebvre, and many other artsts especially Pre-Raphaelites.

Significantly, red was thought to be a mark of a beastly sexual desire and moral degeneration.
Stoker definitely was aware of that, as well as other superstitions about red hair color. In the
English translation of Malleus Maleficarum (The Hammer Against Witches) it is pointed out
that:
Those whose hair is red, of a certain peculiar shade, are unmistakably vampires1.
Despite all this it is important to note that before Lucy becomes Draculas victim she is not
portrayed in a negative manner on the contrary. Lucy is portrayed as a sweet girl, who is
quiet, pretty, and well bred, with a good moral education. But while Mina stays resolute and
rather cool, it is Lucy's desires that lead to her downfall. It is her bodily beauty, not the beauty
of mind or soul that captivates men. She also displays a kind of playfulness about her
desirability that Mina never feels. Lucy flirts a lot, which leads on three men to propose to her
on the same day.
Lucy seems to enjoy her popularity, despite later having a hard time rejecting two of her
suitors. She even exclaims:
Why cant they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this
trouble? But this is heresy, and I must not say it!
1

The Malleus Maleficarum was published in 1487 by Heinrich Kramer and James Sprenger.
English translation by Montague Summers in 1928

This creates a juxtaposition between the women, since Mina is betrothed to only one man,
who later becomes her husband. One acts feminine and one is taking on masculine traits, with
Lucy being on the unfavorable side, because of her natural promiscuity (a trait seen as
reserved for men, not women). This unfortunate attribute makes her vulnerable to Dracula's
bite, and she changes into a vampire rather quickly, if we compare her to Minas long
transformation. Perhaps it is Lucys want of freedom, which is the reason that the Counts
attack on the poor girl looks embarrassing for the men, and appear to be sexual; she is tossing,
moaning and discovered breathless and flushed. She is driven by her desires. Her inability to
resist her own nature means that, despite the efforts of her friends and her moral upbringing, she
is easy prey for Dracula. In Bram Stokers opinion women should not succumb to their
desires, as through all XIX century women were seen as weak and easily tempted
to sin they were regarded as physically and morally substandard to men.
After her transformation into a vampire Lucys previous innocent desire for three husbands
becomes a form of sexual predation. Once Lucy becomes a vampire she poses not only a real
danger, as she hunts for babies, but also a serious moral threat. She is trying to seduce her
own fiance, Arthur, and is dangerous to any man within her reach. Perhaps that is why Stoker
portrays the scene in sexual tones;
My own heart grew cold as ice, and I could hear the gasp of Arthur, as we recognized
the features of Lucy Westenra. Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed. The sweetness
was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuousn
wantonness2
It seems that Lucys desires and passions became visible when she is turned into a vampire,
and her unhealthy infatuation must be brought under control, which realizes itself through
her staking some critics even claim that the stack and plunging it into Lucys chest and heart
is a Freudian symbol of masculine control over female passions.
Mina Harker on the other hand, seems to represents the typical submissive female desired by
Victorian era men. She is a perfect representation of the Angel in the House, a Victorian ideal
2

All quotations from Dracula come from the text released May 9, 2008 by Project Gutenberg Online http://www.gutenberg.org/files/345/345.txt

woman who should be submissive and meek towards her husband. She is a school mistress
teaching etiquette and decorum, a typical respectable female profession in XIX century, but at
the same time she is doing many things considered by Victorian standards as masculine, like
administration, shorthand and journalism. Nevertheless, despite her masculine traits she is not
considered unfeminine, just the contrary. She is both supportive and maternal to the men she
is with, and able to take any risk to help them. According to Van Helsing;
She has man's brain, a brain that a man should have were he much gifted, and a
woman's heart.
This means that while still possessing all traits of a ideal woman, she has some masculine
traits of the New Woman, but, in opposition to Lucy, only those which may be considered
merits, as the is not a damsel who needs a mans helping hand every minute of her life. She is
a woman who works as a respectable teacher and she is dedicated she hopes to be of use to
her husband not only as a housekeeper, but also wants to help him at his job, since women
were expected to quit job after marriage. But most of all she keeps her desires under control.
She had strict moral standards. For example, she compares her behavior before and after she
started teaching, and she finds Jonathans innocent caress as improper:
Jonathan was holding me by the arm, the way he used to in old days before I went to
school. I felt it very improper, for you cant go on for some years teaching etiquette
and decorum to other girls without the pedantry of it biting into yourself a bit.
Later, when she receives Draculas blood she very much regrets her one moment of sexual
release. It fills her with shame and feeling that she is now dirty and her soul became
unclean. Later she does everything to repent her weakness, while Lucy never claimed any
regrets. During her transformation Mina shows self-control and devotion, using her vampire
powers to help the hunters track Count Dracula down. She willingly agrees to a session of
hypnosis, in order to find the Count through their connection. She also always sets her
husband above herself, and his good above hers.
It is perhaps reflected by the way Stoker treats her at the end of the novel: she is the only
woman who survives, while the other perish painfully and cruelly. Lucy is decapitated and

stacked, laid to rest on the day originally scheduled for her wedding, and the three voluptuous
vampire brides, who were trying to seduce Jonathan are similarly punished for their deeds.
As a conclusion, I believe that Lucy is a representation of those New Woman features that
Stoker disliked sexual liberation and reversal of gender roles so characteristic of the New
Woman. He compares them with what is ideal to him, modesty of the Victorian model of a
household angel, dedicated to her family and husband, who is modest and chaste, with a
strong sense of morality. He dislikes the New Woman features of Lucy, while approving of
traits he attributed to Mina. In his eyes a woman should remain the leader in the household, a
mans support and his companion through life. He does not approve of equality of sexes, but
at the same time does not resent changes in general and the portrayal of Mina Murray is the
best proof for his views.