Burn the witch!

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:

https://warwick.ac.uk/fac/cross_fac/iatl/reinvention/archive/volume6issue1/oleary/

2 thoughts on “Burn the witch!”

  1. I felt that this poor view of women was also present in the two poems we went through. In the poems we went over, anything bad that occurred in the short stories seemed to be the fault of the women present. In the Lady of Shalott, the woman seems to be at fault for her death in that she gazed at the wandering knight and was killed because of her own actions. In La Belle Dame San Merci, rather than blaming the wandering knight for not being a good enough interest for the woman mentioned, it instead her fault that she left him broken hearted along with all her other suitors.

  2. I related this back to the poem No Thank You, John. I thought this was a good comparison because a poor woman no longer loved a man but the man insisted that she still loved him. This relates back to Dracula because the sexuality in the novel had many factors. The power of women and what they could and could not do. No Thank You, John, had a similar feature because a woman did not love a man anymore but felt she was trapped and blamed she did not have a heart anymore. This is similar in sexuality because both texts show the difference between men and women and how the victorian age refined them.

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