The Threat of Gender Inversion in Dracula

As Christopher Craft outlines in his article “’Kiss Me with Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, there are models of what masculinity and femininity should look like, defined by the symbolism of blood and biting. The Count blurs the boundaries of those models, and influences others to do the same. The presence of gender roles and sexuality in Dracula are important to Dracula’s characterization as a threat to England’s values, something that will disrupt the status quo.

Craft notes the symbolism of the mouth in the novel; it holds the power of conveying sexuality, the fangs acting as a phallic substitution in the metaphor of biting as sexual penetration. Victorian gender norms dictated that the act of penetration was masculine, while the female’s role is to submit. These roles are quickly reversed in the novel when Jonathan Harker is attacked by the three vampire women. The sexuality of vampirism is emphasized by the decidedly erotic language used to describe the scene. The “voluptuous lips”, the “hot breath on [Jonathan’s] neck” (Stoker 45), and the detailed sensuality all draw comparisons to sex. But Jonathan, a man, is submitting to the vampire women. He even describes his passionate anticipation of the act of his neck being bitten, his eagerness to be penetrated by the women. The penetration is averted by Count Dracula’s discovery of the situation. The Count angrily claims that the right to Jonathan’s penetration is his own, while the women tauntingly argue that he is incapable of love, making the erotic connotations of vampirism even more explicit.

Jonathan makes clear in his writing that he is conflicted about the desire he felt towards the vampire women; he realized it was wrong, but felt strongly attracted to the women regardless. Jonathan is susceptible to the influence of Dracula through his effeminate tendencies, but avoids a complete transformation into a vampire through his recognition of the taboo of masculine submission.

The fates of the other characters who are preyed upon by Dracula are determined by their attitudes towards the power dynamic represented in the act of conversion into a vampire. In order for the conversion to be completed, the victim must suck the blood of the vampire who infected them. Count Dracula’s next two targets, Lucy and Mina, would have to penetrate the Count with their fangs to finalize their transition into a vampire. Lucy, whose secret wish to marry multiple men foreshadows her susceptibility to breaking societal taboos, becomes a vampire. It is worth noting that Lucy’s “purification” from vampirism is accomplished by her husband driving a stake through her heart. Her complicity in the reversal of the masculine nature of penetration is cured by Lord Godalming, characterized as a strong and noble man, penetrating her with a stake. The vampire is defeated by the reclaiming of penetration by an ideal masculine figure.

Mina is forced to drink the Count’s blood, but avoids Lucy’s fate through her sheer conviction and horror at being made to penetrate the Count. Mina is also characterized with traits that other characters identify as masculine, such as resourcefulness and courage, while also being a prototype of the pure and modest woman. This duality could also have played a role in her ability to resist becoming a vampire; her “masculine” intellect allows her to recognize her submissive nature as a woman.

In my earlier analyses of the xenophobic themes in the novel, Dracula can be seen as a threat because he is a foreigner with values that are incompatible and harmful to English society. The Count’s intentions of subverting Victorian gender roles are another reason his invasion of England must be prevented; his infection would also result in males and females taking alternatively dominant and submissive roles. The inversions of gender dynamics in the sexual metaphor of vampirism are another reason why Dracula is such a threat to English society