In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Chapter V explores letters between Lucy and Mina discussing Lucy’s multiple proposals and their respective relationships. Notions of polyamory and twisted gender hierarchies can be analyzed here to illuminate Lucy’s influence on men. However, when considering the context of its time Lucy must still abide by gender roles of obedience thus making letter writing a safe alternative for women to be their most authentic selves.
The opening of this passage poses a question: “why are men so noble when we women are so little worthy of them?” (Stoker 67). Lucy questioning her virtues and character for rejecting her suitor’s proposals follows the gender norms of its time. During the fin-de-siecle, the “New Woman” emerged as a controversial term designating women’s expansion into the public sphere as they grew more visible and mobile. Lucy balances a fine line teetering between behaving within the confines of society’s gender roles and depicting traits of the “New Woman.” The following sentence after Lucy’s initial question displays Lucy’s awareness of utilizing her femininity to her advantage. She questions her intentions for ridiculing a “great-hearted, true gentleman” highlighting Lucy’s divided mindset when it comes to men (Stoker 67). She acknowledges a level of superiority by making fun of the suitor, but she also stops herself and compliments him. She does not allow herself to go “too far” in questioning gender roles and regresses to her expected “womanly” behavior where she must be beneath men.
Lucy hints at ideas of polyamorous love as a solution to multiple proposals. Lucy questions, “Why can’t 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” (Stoker 67). An open marriage would not have been perceived in a positive light as it would allude to notions of promiscuity or perversion. Lucy understands this question is not appropriate for a woman to hold as it goes against the values of obedience, purity, and chastity. She must not say it aloud, but she is allowed to gossip about it within the confines of epistolography. Her suitor, Dr. Seward, repeatedly addresses Lucy as a little girl highlighting the gender hierarchy imposed while simultaneously belittling her character. Dr. Seward makes it clear that her rejection has not shamed or crushed him, instead, he goes out of his way to guilt Lucy into giving him a goodbye kiss. He plays the gentlemanly role well in complimenting his rival for having successfully won Lucy’s heart. He does it so well that Lucy feels guilty and questions herself for behaving like a flirt. Dr. Sewards asks “Won’t you give me one kiss? It’ll be something to keep off the darkness now and then,” insinuating he is worthy of recompense for her rejection (Stoker 67). Guilting Lucy into a sexual act is not consent and further reiterates the power men hold over women to satisfy their egos.
Although Lucy displays examples of behaving in accord with gender norms, however, her exceptional beauty affords her the privilege to, at the very least, write about men in a degrading manner. Letter writing allows Lucy and Mina to be honest about their feelings about men and encourages questioning gender roles.