In Christina Rossetti’s poem “No, Thank you, John”, the speaker, who is most likely a woman, has a tremendous amount of agency for a woman in Victorian society. When the speaker says, “I have no heart? Perhaps I have not;/ But then you’re mad to take offence/ That I don’t give you what I have not got,” she is getting angry with John because he is asking something of her that she cannot give. He is saying that she has no heart, but then is also getting angry because she won’t give her heart to him. This is extremely important to the poem because this idea of love in marriage is stressed over and over at the beginning of the first two stanzas. The speaker wants to be in love when she marries and that is a very unorthodox idea in this society because women often married for economic stability instead of love. Rossetti, in this poem, may be giving power back to women by demonstrating that women have the power to say no and can marry whoever they want. We see other examples of women going against societal norms of marriage in Lady Audley’s Secret when Lucy decided to change her identity and remarry despite the fact that her first husband was still alive. This showed that a woman could have two husbands. The difference between these two texts mentioned is that the speaker in “No, Thank You, John” is not punished for her agency, while Lucy in Lady Audley’s Secret is later taken to an insane asylum as punishment. This poem could potentially prove that women can have agency and choose their own lifestyle, whether to marry or not, without being punished for stepping outside of societal bounds. We can also see a contrast in many works, such as Rebecca, where the women are mainly seen as wives who perform more traditional roles, such as maintaining the household, and initially choose to marry wealthy men for economic security, instead of seeking out their own desires for love.
High libido—or any amount of sexual energy save for that which was necessary for reproduction, and then only between a married couple—was severely condemned by Victorian society. According to Heather Marie Ward in Psychosexualism in Victorian Literature, 19th century society placed “immense importance on semen,” so that it was considered “more important in the male body than blood” (53). Semen was thought to be the bodily fluid that helped “men maintain their physical and mental strength” (Ward 53) and loss of that bodily fluid led to health defects in the Victorian male. Thus, sexual relations were heavily discouraged. This sort of atmosphere did not allow for much exploration of oneself or one’s sexual preferences. People were forced to turn to literature and the arts as a sort of escapism from the uptight propriety of Victorian society. Dracula was revolutionary in its perverse nature. The first blatantly sexual scene in the novel was Jonathan’s twisted encounter with the three vampiric women, in which Stoker placed an emphasis on body parts (“voluptuous lips…red lips…human lips…arched neck…went on her knees” (Stoker 45)) and phrases (longing… wicked, burning desire…sweetness…coquettishly…agony of delight…voluptuousness…licked her lips…lower went her head” (Stoker 45)) that are reminiscent of sex. Such overt imagery was not usually present in the literature of the day, and understandably caught the attention of Victorian readers. Second was Dracula’s rape of Mina, in which he demanded her silence, threatening that if she so much as “made a sound,” he would “dash [Jonathan’s] brains out” before her eyes. Dracula forced Mina to exchange blood with him. Strangely, though, he forces her to “swallow some of the blood” from an open “vein in his breast,” a perverse inversion of breastfeeding, and therefore a perverse inversion of gender roles, which seems to demonize the exploration of masculinity and femininity. Sex and sexuality were grossly misunderstood and underdiscussed by Victorians, and even by Stoker. The Athenaeum review of Dracula suggested it was a book solely for the lower class to be reading. However, it addressed an important topic—sex—vital to the human experience, which the upper classes would not deign to discuss.
What’s so funny about the book Dracula is that the titular character is largely absent for the most part of the novel.
If you think about it, he’s barely around in the book: his presence, character and eccentricity (and status as a monster) are established early on in the book, but his main atrocities are the reason we and the characters fear him. His conversion of Lucy into a vampire, the massacre of the Demeter’s crew and his attempt to convert Mina are some of the main evils he’s done, and almost all of it happens off-screen.
We are made aware of his evils through second-hand account mostly, and we are built up an image of a true plotting mastermind but he’s scarcely seen throughout the book, and his final scene doesn’t even have him truly awake and interacting with the rest of the cast. Yet despite this, Dracula is the premier horror character. Stoker ended up creating a modern myth that everyone in the world can claim some knowledge to know of, Dracula is iconic and a symbol as the vampire and a face of the horror genre itself. But why is he so venerated as a character?
Well, obvious reasons like vampires are cool and badass aside, let’s examine his cultural impact on the Victorians. We’ve talked a lot about Dracula being the stand-in for a Occidental evil that Western imperialism was being made aware of — the rising up of immigrants after the effects of colonization, especially by the British — and how this plays into a lot of Victorian fears. The Victorians were staunchly afraid of the foreigners coming into their country, and how different they were in looks and culture. They didn’t like any of that. What made Dracula so effective by being a relatively absentee monster is what made this fear possible in the first place. The idea of this hypothetical foreigner who exists, whose superstitions and beliefs were dangerous because they’re different from yours, is definitely a kind of scary one. I mean, it persists into modern day thinking as well, with people being afraid of immigrants for a similar kind of anxiety.
Dracula as a character plays into those anxieties and his perpetrated evils only make the anxieties stand out even more, and thus it’s important to Victorian readers he gets vanquished. The final battle being against Gypsies is even more so apparent, that’s a literal battle against foreigners by the Western imperialist cast.
In summary, Dracula works so well as a character not because he’s actually scary, but because his actions played well into Victorian fears of a potential foreign danger to their nation.
In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Mina Harker, Lucy Graham and Dracula are given roles in which they act as mothers. Mina Harker acts as a mother to Arthur after he loses his wife, and feels strongly about the idea that women have a matriarchal instinct as shown the quotation “We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit is invoked; I felt this big, sorrowing man’s head resting on me, as through it were that of the baby that some day may lie on my bosom” (Stoker, 245). Van Helsing believes that Mina has the intelligence of a man and the heart of a woman, and that this is a good combination. Mina acts as the perfect caretaker for many of the characters within the novel, including her husband after he returns from Transylvania ill. Despite believing in the idea of the “new woman” in the beginning of the novel and defying the gender stereotypes of the time period, Mina returns to stasis and becomes an example of the ideal Victorian woman as she settles down and becomes a mother.
Lucy Graham, originally presented as the ideal Victorian woman who would have loved to enjoy married life with her husband, opposes this stereotype. When she becomes a vampire, she takes life from children instead of nurturing them, as found in this quotation “With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone. The child gave a sharp cry, and lay there moaning” (Stoker, 226). Once turned into a vampire, Lucy rejects the role of a mother entirely. As well, in becoming a vampire, Lucy received blood transfusions from multiple men which was described as something similar to bigamy, as Arthur believed that he felt truly married to Lucy after he gave his blood to her. For Lucy, becoming a vampire meant rejecting the roles of the Victorian wife and mother.
As well, when Dracula interacts with Mina Harker, he takes on the role of the mother, forcing her to drink his blood from his chest as found in the quotation “With his left hand he held both Mrs Harker’s hands, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare breast…” (Stoker, 300). Dracula has repeatedly shown signs of femininity throughout the novel, such as his fascination with Jonathan and that he expresses emotion by telling the women in his home that he is capable of love, further connecting him to the theme of female sexuality. When placed in roles suggesting motherhood, vampires such as Lucy, the three vampire women in Dracula’s home, and Dracula himself demonstrate horrific behavior. Vampires appear to be representative of the idea of women expressing their sexuality during the Victorian era, which was something, according to the novel, was meant to be feared. Vampires reject monogamy, chastity, and motherhood, and are thought to be impure and dangerous to society, much like the idea of the Victorian woman doing these things.
In Stoker novel Dracula is an extremely powerful character. He possesses superhuman strength, immortality, hypnosis and even the ability to disappear in an instant. As the book comes to an end, tensions mount as the vampire hunters slowly close in on Dracula. Preparing for the final battle between our heroes and Lord Dracula, which shockingly never occurs. Stoker never gives Dracula a chance to utilize his incredible powers in battle. Instead, he allows his Victorian characters to take advantage of one of Dracula’s few weaknesses, the daytime. The hunting party outsmarts the far more powerful vampire, reinforcing the idea that Victorians can defeat any individual by using more adept ways of thinking.
Like Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Stoker uses the final pages of his novel to reset all of the troublesome events that occurred. In the final battle, the five men defeat Dracula’s team of gypsy’s fairly easily, and the only protagonist who died was the American Quincey Morris. While this was sad, it would not have had a huge emotional effect towards the Victorian readers, because Quincey was American. Stoker created Dracula to be so powerful, that if he fought against the men, it would be unrealistic for them not to endure extreme casualties. By defeating Dracula so easily English dominance is reinserted into the story, the threat of the foreign invader is vanquished and Mina’s purity is restored. All of these things calmed the nerves of his Anglican readers but in reality, Stoker created a villain far too powerful to be taken down with brute force, so he allowed his characters to use their superior intellect to beat them.
Dracula represents the anti-semitic beliefs that existed in Victorian England during the 1890s, for Dracula, along with other characters in the novel, embody the Jewish stereotypes that were emphasized at the time. In 1897, the British feared “reverse colonization,” a potential decline in England’s race, morals, and spirituality. They were specifically threatened by the people from the “east,” which is represented by the inhabitants of Transylvania (Arata 623). However, Dracula represents, more specifically, Victorian England’s fear of the Jews, for “his peculiar physique, his parasitical desires, his aversion to the cross and to all the trappings of Christianity, his blood-sucking attacks, and his avaricious relation to money, resembled stereotypical anti-Semitic nineteenth-century representations of the Jew” (Halberstam 333). Furthermore, there are other instances that suggest Dracula’s representation of the Jewish stereotypes. For example, while Jonathan Harker goes to Whitby to find out that Dracula has shipped fifty boxes “of common earth” to London, he asks one of the carrier’s men about the cargo. The man remarks, “… There was dust that thick in the place you might have slep’ on it without ‘urtin’ of yer bones; an’ the place was that neglected that yer might ‘ave smelled ole Jerusalem in it” (Stoker 243). According to the carrier’s man, the house smelled of Jerusalem, implying that the old, repulsive smell is associated with Jewishness. The foul odor represents the Jews’ disapproved presence in England, as the smells “marked them out as different and indeed repugnant objects of pollution” (Halberstam 341).
There are also stereotypical Jewish references near the end of the novel when Jonathan, Dr. Van Helsing, and Dr. Seward attempt to track down Dracula’s one remaining box. Jonathan finds out that the box was received, upon request, by a Jewish man named Immanuel Hildesheim. Jonathan reports:“We found Hildesheim in his office, a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theatre type, with a nose like a sheep, and a fez. His arguments were pointed with specie… and with a little bargaining he told us what he knew” (Stoker 371). There are many anti-semitic implications in this passage. It is noteworthy that it is specifically a Jew who helps Dracula retrieve the box, as it implies that a Jew would act as an ally for Dracula and his evil plans. Furthermore, Hildesheim exhibits Jewish stereotypes: his nose “like a sheep” and his particular interest in money were common anti-semitic beliefs. This further suggests that Jews were viewed as a threat to the Victorian English society, as the Jewish stereotypes are present throughout the novel.
Throughout Bram Stoker’s Dracula, there is a question of gender roles and a threat of female sexuality. In Victorian society, there was often a repression of female sexuality that was dictated by the strict traditions and rigid gender roles. A woman was either a virgin who was seen as pure an innocent, a wife and mother, or she was a whore. Lucy, one of the most outwardly sexual female characters, had at one point wondered “why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (63). She questions traditional sexuality through her desire to have multiple husbands. When Dracula turns Lucy into a young, ravishing vampire the men see no other option but to destroy her and return her to her pure state. When Stoker kills off Lucy, one of the most powerful female characters, and it causes the readers to draw the question of whether this was because of the threat of female sexuality she imposed on the novel. The three female vampires at the beginning of the novel were outwardly sexualized and seen to be very beautiful but very dangerous women. Stoker displayed their sexuality as a threat through physical descriptions of their physical attributes and the type of mental and emotional trance that they put their victims in. The vampires beauty and sexuality is what drew in their victims and is also what lead to the danger of their victims. This can be seen as Stoker warning the readers of the threat of powerful female sexuality, as too much of it leads to harm and downfall. This theme is seen as far back as Adam and Eve, where a woman’s desires lead to the downfall of humanity.
Bram Stoker uses the novel Dracula as a platform to work through his feelings regarding gender during the Victoria era through his character, Mina. This became evident to me in the second half of the book where Stoker struggles to go even a page without fluctuating between describing Mina in a masculine way and then feminizing her again. This is important because it shows the struggle that people in this time period were going through. Whether society should allow woman and feel comfortable with woman out of their domestic, motherly space in order to be a brave, independent woman. This is represented when Stoker writes as Mina in Mina’s journal on page 245, “We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit is invoked…”. This was the scene where Mina is comforting Arthur who is sobbing in the arms of Mina, being described as being like a “baby” or her “own child” (Stoker 245). Just five pages later, the Professor says “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” (Stoker 250). In the passage on page 250 is where the men are deciding to not let Mina do the mans work with them anymore with the reasoning of being “a young woman and not so long married” (Stoker 250). Even though Mina has proven to have a “man’s brain” and had been helping the men with their hunt for Dracula, they decide on this page that she is no longer fit or able to work with them on this matter (Stoker 250). This is where Stoker’s real feelings on a woman’s role in Victorian era society shines through, keeping her in this household and taking her out of any masculine role of helping with the hunt. Mina is stripped solely down to being seen as someone who should be in the domestic space, being the new wife, and possible future mother. This is important because on that very page they decide to keep her within the domestic she is described to have these masculine features that not even the men she is with have. The feminine qualities within her overpowered what were seen as masculine tendencies back then. This continues to happen up to the very last page of the novel where she is described as a wonderful mother, but on the same page is also described with the same adjective as the manliest man in the book, Mr. Morris… “gallant” (Stoker 401 and 402). It is interesting to use this word for the manliest, American cowboy in the book and also Mina. This stands out to me to be the perfect way to end the novel because even on that very last page, Stoker is still struggling to separate Mina from being masculine and being a completely feminine character.
Throughout the book, the clash between the Englishmen (sans Van Helsing, Quincy) and foreigners from the eastern reaches of Europe figures prominently. Part of the terror of Dracula is his unknowability, which comes in large part from his foreignness. The entire book leads up to the slaying of Dracula, unquestionably the story’s great villain, but in the moment of truth, the only battle that takes place is with Transylvanian “peasants or gypsies of some kind,” (Stoker 397) who attempt to carry the coffin Dracula is contained in up to his castle. That Quincy, the only main character death of the novel (if you don’t count Lucy), is murdered in this conflict not by Dracula, but by the “gypsies” who stab him in his efforts to reach the coffin, is indicative of the fact that ultimately, Dracula the vampire is not the true threat to the peace of the little squad we’ve followed: the greatest threat is foreigners out of a collective “east” (the reason Van Helsing and Quincy get a degree of a pass– they’re from the Western side of the Danube).
During the final battle, the foreignness of the “gypsies” is reinforced every time the focus falls on them. Mina notes that “the leader of the gypsies” on his horse looks “like a centaur…” (Stoker 399) quite literally introducing the idea that these foreigners are half human and half beast, much like Dracula himself, who they associate with in the beginning when Harker visits by helping him carry boxes and at the end by transporting him again in the box of Transylvanian earth. The same centaur-like leader speaks “in a fierce voice” that Mina can’t understand (Stoker 399) and which further emphasizes his dangerous nature. The entire troupe is disorganized and animalistic. When the leader of their camp commands them, they “formed round the cart in a sort of undisciplined endeavor, each one shouldering and pushing the other in his eagerness to carry out the order” like a pack of dogs shoving together over a piece of meat (Stoker 399). They are a dehumanized mass, irrelevant except to reinforce the idea that foreigners (in this case presumably Transylvanians) are dangerous, but in an inept and ultimately cowardly way, as we can see when they “instinctively cowered aside and let him [Jonathan] pass” (Stoker 400) and in their messy efforts to follow orders.
The importance of the villainy of foreigners falls on two fronts. For the audience it rings like an imperialistic argument about the inherent inferiority of non-westerners. That every “eastern” character in Dracula is dehumanized literally to the point of being like a human-beast hybrid (centaur, vampire) emphasizes the superior humanity of Western peoples. The author, it would seem, allows himself the same degree of allowance that he gives to his other non-English but Western characters, like Van Helsing and Quincy. Because he’s from Ireland (and they’re from the Netherlands and the U.S.) despite being foreign he is decidedly Western and therefore “deserves,” as the text seems to suggest, an exception to the dehumanizing effects of being an “Eastern” foreigner.
Blood is an interesting object in Dracula. For the Count, it is simply his means of living. Without it, Dracula cannot be Dracula. We talked about blood in class and how it can be perceived as a symbol of life or love or a religious symbol. But I want to explore it as something that is a little more controversial. I think that blood is used to symbolize male power and dominance. Blood is so valued in this novel, just like power. Dracula, a man, needs blood to live as stated before. He is portrayed as a dominant and feared figure throughout the whole novel, which reinforces male dominance as well.
“I tried to kill him for the purpose of strengthening my vital powers by the assimilation with my own body of his life through the medium of his blood.” Renfield, also a man, says this in the novel trying to assert himself and make himself more powerful. This quote is very typical of a man, in any time period. Men are constantly seeking out more power and more wealth however they can get it, whether that is having more land or being on a high political platform. Men often talk about continuing on their “bloodline” in the Victorian Era. This is a theme we’ve seen before in “My Last Duchess” where the narrator speaks so highly of his “900 years old name.”
So why does this matter? Gender roles in the Victorian Era do seem to be shifting, so it might make sense for Stoker, a man, to want to keep his role as a man the same. So he slips in this metaphor of the meaning of blood to make sure that he is doing what he can to keep things the way they are in the time of progressive change. We’ve often seen authors take progressive stances in their novels, but then make their audience feel a little better after just rocking their whole world. In Lady Audley’s Secret, Lucy was a main plot driver, but Braddon didn’t want to give her too much power because that would just shock the world into an apocalypse. I think that is what Stoker is trying to get at here with this symbol of blood.