The Fin de Siècle was an era filled with revolutionary change. At the heart of changing perspectives, was a shifting discourse surrounding the definition of femininity. The exploration into gender questioned ideas of good and bad, modesty and sin, the devil and God, and how all these comprised a woman’s role in society. This exploratory discourse is represented in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, through the evolutionary shift of damsel, Lucy Westenra. In a concluding passage on her vampirism, the language used to describe Lucy’s metamorphosis shows the polar perspectives of female purity during the end of the Nineteenth century.
Lucy Westenra is first introduced to the novel as the embodiment of an angel. She is beautiful, pure, and absolutely captures the attention of all men who cross her path. Lucy is always categorized by the “angelic beauty” of her eyes, and on her deathbed this pure form of beauty is especially present (154). As Lucy succumbs to death her beauty grows, “restoring the beauty of life” back into her corpse (158). Her likeness to “light” and “loveliness” marks a sort of dedication to her purity. While Lucy is a human on earth, she is akin to such adjectives to mark her as a proper, pure woman – the ultimate form anyone could hope for. It is in the peace and serenity of death that she truly shines “every hour seemed to be enhancing her loveliness” and Lucy continues to allure all her male solicitors (162). Stuck between her two forms, and the two worlds of life and death, Lucy is still viewed as pure and lovely. In the liminal space Lucy occupies before her soul is completely overtaken by the “devil” she is able to shift into a transcendent pure beauty. In death, she is akin to an angel more than ever, and the men, specifically her husband Arthur, have trouble resisting her dazzling beauty (155). In life Lucy is just irresistibly beautiful and filled with natural “light and loveliness” (155). Because of her perceived purity, she is given grace even as sin slowly overtakes her fleeting soul.
Once Lucy is fully transformed into a vampire, her beauty does not leave her but the discourse surrounding her shifts. Where she once embodied purity through her beauty, in her new form her apperance is sinful, transforming her into a sort of seductress. Lucy the vampire’s sweetness has turned to “adamantine heartless cruelty” and her purity to “voluptuous wantonness” (199). Later, the blood stains her, in turn staining her reputation and forever “stain[ing] the purity of her lawn death robe” (200). The sin has transformed her, and therefore transformed the innocence of her beauty. Lucy is no less beautiful, however the interpretation of her beauty has shifted and turned her into a ravaging seductress. Even her characteristic eyes have changed, they are now “unclean and full of hell fire” no longer the “gentle orbs” they once were (200). Although her appearance has shifted, Lucy’s grip on the men in the story has not, and they are still wildly (just now sinfully) attracted to her. In a climatic moment, Lucy beckons to Arthur, drawing him into her: “leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together” (200). Lucy is more direct than ever, and her call is irresistible – Arthur has to be physically restrained from her as if he is resisting a siren. As Lucy has been overcome by the devil, her beauty has turned to sin. Like the blood that stains her robes, her sexuality has now been asserted – forever staining her reputation.
Over the course of Dracula, the dialogic shift in the description of Lucy’s beauty tracks the expression of feminine sexuality, and the perception of it during the Fin de Siècle. In life, Lucy’s beauty is representative of an inherent purity marking her as angelic. However, when she overcomes a formal shift, her beauty transforms with her. Lucy the vampire is now seen as dirtied by the blood she craves, newly aligning her to the devil and sin. This classifies beauty as something inherent and uncontrollable, and when a woman becomes in control of it she somehow becomes dangerous – as if she was bloodthirsty. The expression of Lucy’s beauty throughout Dracula tracks the end of the 19th century’s understanding of a woman’s sexuality and, in turn, power.