Vampiric Sexuality vs. Victorian Sensibility: Fight!

I believe that re-analyzing Stoker’s Dracula through Christopher Craft’s “‘Kiss Me with Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” is an essential part of understanding the novel as a whole. Accounting for many of the other articles we have read for class, providing information relating to the time period and the varied internalized crises relating to the changing time, Craft’s analysis of Dracula through with a focus towards sexuality and gender offers deeper insight into the metaphors and commentaries of the novel. In my previous blog post, I analyzed the ways in which Lucy’s transformation into vampirism corrupted her feminine purity on multiple levels: sexual, religious, and social. Craft delves further into the ways vampirism is a corrupting force on a religious and social level because its first corruption is sexual.

Here, we take “sexual” to be intertwined with sex as a penetrative act and sex as it distinguishes gender: the vampire blurs this boundary of what sex means within the binary of a person, as Victorian England understood a “person” to be. Through the “subversion of conventional Victorian gender codes”, Craft writes, Stoker perpetuates a feeling of anxiety throughout the entirety of Dracula (444). By repeatedly reinforcing that Stoker is creating anxiety, Craft establishes the imagery of the vampiric mouth as the central focus in the confusion of sexuality and gender delivered by vampires.

Where in my analysis of the vampire-Lucy’s confrontation with the Core Four of the novel I initially observed that the focus on her mouth brought to mind sexual undertones, I also attributed it to the vampire’s means of both feeding and spreading her corruption to others. Craft in no way refutes this, but he takes this shallow analysis further, questioning the vampiric mouth in its refusal to obey the gender binary. “Are we male or are we female? Do we have penetrators or orifices? …Furthermore, this mouth, bespeaking the subversion of the stable and lucid distinctions of genders, is the mouth of all vampires, male and female” (446).

Craft sets up the importance of the literal penetration required by vampires to both feed and to spread their vampirism early, referencing Jonathan Harker’s experience with the vampire wives. He emphasizes the ways in which these vampiric women and Harker’s experience with them inverts the traditional male and female roles of penetration, dominance, and submission (444). He goes beyond this inversion to bring attention to Dracula’s fixation on Harker himself, and the way in which this fixation heightens the anxiety Stoker creates throughout the novel, that “Dracula will seduce, penetrate, and drain another male” (446). Craft emphasizes this as “monstrous heterosexuality”, as it uses both the gendered and sexual confusion presented by Dracula as a character to twist the heterosexual normality required by the time; after all, Craft writes, “only through women may men touch” in Dracula (448).

The most crucial part of Craft’s analysis is that he attributes the physical act of penetration as a masculine device. As masculinity was considered the pinnacle of Victorian society in terms of social standing and morality, this attribution is significant. The vampiric mouth, Craft writes, is a form of “deformed femininity” – even in Dracula himself, because the mouth brings to mind imagery of female genitalia. Vampiric penetration is a corrupting force: it sexualizes Lucy Westenra and threatens both her and Mina Harker’s feminine purity. Because of this corruption, the demonic forces produced by it require “corrective penetration”, done by the pious, mortal men (450, italics added).

Van Helsing, like Dracula, is foreign. He is differentiated by his his almost fanatic piety. It is Van Helsing that creates in Mina an almost religious vessel, touting her to be “one of God’s women”, Van Helsing who drives the Core Four in their hunt to rid the vampiric forces from English soil, Van Helsing who carries the primary religious implements crucial in completing the acts of destruction. It is because of Van Helsing’s religious fervor that he is able to utilize parallel penetrative implements to initiate the “corrective penetration” (450). He is able to perform blood transfusions for Lucy (penetrating her via needle), and provides similarly phallic-like objects such as crosses and stakes when it appears that it is necessary to escalate the penetration. Lucy’s “corrective penetration” is viscerally similar to rape; because Lucy has been corrupted in both her gender and sexually, Van Helsing is forced to exorcise the challenge to his ordered, binary understanding of acceptable gender roles that Dracula creates.