Throughout the novels and short stories we’ve read, a trend I’ve noticed is how many of the female characters seem to lack complexity. Victorian gender roles heavily influence this characterization. It’s no secret that there was a ton of gender inequality during this era. Dracula reflects this inequality through its portrayals of different female characters.
Early in the novel, Johnathan Harker is almost killed by three female vampires. He details the experience in his journal: “The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal” (Stoker, 42).
The women here are very openly sexualized, seeming to seduce Harker into some sort of trance in which he cannot retaliate. Even though he is promised to Mina, he simply cannot resist their advances. The dichotomy of “thrilling and repulsive” suggests that he both desires and detests them. Harker also directly compares the woman to an animal, depicting the women as less than human because of their sensual nature.
This passage reminds me of a published disquisition from 1486 known as the Malleus Maleficarum (Hammer of Witches). This text spends a lot of time emphasizing why women are more likely to commit heresy (not abiding by the Church’s values/ beliefs). In one section, it suggests that “From women’s natural physical weakness, there is a mind prone to error, and a disposition susceptible to change and collaboration with evil to achieve the object of her lust” (O’Leary, J., Monash University).
Though more discrete and under the guise of benevolent sexism, I believe Bram Stoker employed many of the same ideas in Dracula. He paints women as inherently weak and easily corrupted, reinforcing the idea that men need to control (or in his words, “protect”) women for their own sakes. To him, femininity is inferior to masculinity. He further proves this by making the male characters fawn over Mina, who “…has a man’s brain, a brain that a man should have were he much gifted, and a woman’s heart” (Stoker, 27). The only acceptable woman is one who serves men and abides by social norms. Still, she cannot be too feminine/ embrace her femininity, as that would give her too much power. A classic double bind. #LucyDeservedBetter
P.S. If anyone would like to read the journal article on the Malleus Maleficarum I mentioned, here is the link: