My Opinions

The Patriarchy’s Deadly Fear of the New Woman

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Victorian life is very contained, conformed, and composed. That is, until some mysterious foreigner known as Dracula comes along. Through the journey and tragedy of the novel, readers paint Dracula as this villain that corrupts a pure and conservative society. However, with a close look at the text and its plethora of sexual innuendos, one can see that Dracula did not transport these new and untraditional habits from Transylvania to England on the ship with him; he simply dug up what was already there, buried inside of the characters, especially the women. The women in the novel are victimized, but these sexual events they are a part of in the novel are, something they wish their society allowed them to engage in, something they enjoy and desire in the pits of their stomach. What is hidden deep down in the women is what is known as repression.

 

Although Sigmund Freud’s theory on the uncanny was produced after Dracula, it can be used to understand the women of the novel. Freud’s theory says the uncanny is created through a collision of familiarity and unfamiliarity in an embodiment. In Dracula, the women are painted by the men as uncanny through their repression. The ladies of this Victorian Era were expected to be reserved, then get married to have sex and produce children. However, examining repression aids readers in unveiling that what women in the novel truly desire is to be free, child-less, and to have non-traditional or animalistic sex unlike the women decades and centuries before them. The female repression can be used to dissect the sexual innuendos braided into the vampirism of Dracula, to unveil the sexuality and modernity of the female characters–Lucy and Mina– in Bram Stoker’s novel, that ultimately displays the peak of the uncanny “new woman” that rose during the 19th century.

 

A “new woman” is a term that was established in the late nineteenth century, in 1894, three years before Dracula was published. “New woman” is a term used to describe women of the nineteenth century who was “Less constrained by Victorian norms and domesticity than previous generations, the new woman had greater freedom to pursue public roles and even flaunt her “sex appeal… She challenged conventional gender roles and met with hostility from men and women who objected to women’s public presence and supposed decline in morality.” (1). Lucy and Mina can be defined as “new women”, or early versions of feminists, because of their progression in the novel –like being technologically intelligent, being independent, and emotionally strong– and their desires shown through repression. They no longer have the same desires of marriage, children, and sex that women before them, and even in the same era as them, have. This makes them “new women”. Although they do not explicitly or voluntarily practice “new women” ideals, they desire it deep down, and Dracula is able to unclothe their repressed sexuality and modernity.

 

These “new women” like Lucy and Mina are uncanny because they are women, but they are not the same women that came before them.  They pose a threat current society and its structure because they want to change the gender roles and expectations to make room for things like polygamy, sexual liberation, and choice in motherhood. These women are specifically threats to men and the patriarchy system. Men expect these women to stay the same forever, submissive mothers hanging around their homes, but because these women want to get out, hold off on children and marriage, get jobs, and be free the men in the novel are terrified. Because of this, the women, more than Dracula, create the uncanny in the novel. Although Lucy and Mina repressed their modernity in the text, the weird sisters, the three vampire women, did not. They were unique, sexual, ravenous beings that did not fit into Victorian womanhood, which is why Stoker calls them weird. Jonathan even says at one point that “there was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear” (42). This quote shows the men love the sexual liberation and progression when it benefits them, but spite and fear it at the same time because they do not wish for the domination, intelligence, and power that comes with this new sex in the “new women”. Jonathan and the rest of the men in the novel and in the real society of England know their patriarchy is threatened once women begin to liberate, educate, and masculinize themselves.

 

The weird sisters express their modernity and sexuality explicitly, but Lucy and Mina’s seep through their repression, which creates the uncanny tone because of what it reveals about the characters. Repression is defined by Freud as “unconscious desires”. From the surface the women seem to be enduring pain and suffering, deep down they desire these sexual and life practices Freud’s theory aids in the categorization of Lucy and Mina as uncanny “new women” because through these sexual hints in the novel, one can see the shift in the women from past decades and centuries of women to the current less-restricted women. Its uncanniness is birthed from the disassociation of womanhood. The characteristics and practices of the novel do not fit the traditional mold of womanhood, which causes fear in the men because it threatens to disrupt the patriarchal order. This female repression is something that comes to the open that should have remained hidden because of the fear it produces in the text for the characters.

 

One example that showcases the lingering modernity the men fear is one of Lucy’s first letters. She sent the letter to Mina–on the 24th of May– and talks about all of her suitors she had for marriage and the stress it caused her. Lucy says, “Just fancy! Three proposals in one day!… I feel so miserable, though I am so happy… Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (58-59). She makes a small remark about wishing she could marry all of them because she does not want to disappoint two, or maybe she does not want to choose just one. She is literally crying because she wishes so desperately she could keep all three of them. This shows she wishes for a society where women had the freedom to have multiple partners and not be tied down to just one for the rest of their life. This dream becomes true for her later on in the text through bodily fluid transfusion. After Lucy starts getting bitten, the doctor decides she needs blood. Although Arthur ends up being her fiancé and is the man that will be donating his blood to her, the other men also volunteer themselves. This transfusion of blood shows how Lucy is all of the men’s like she wished to be. The transfer of the blood, a bodily fluid, is as close to marriage and sex as two people can get without actually being married or having sex. They all inject their bodily fluid into her body marking her as their joint property.

 

Freud says repression in Lucy is the type that is hidden but seeps into thoughts and ultimately becomes a reality through some force. He says, one can kill a person by merely desiring his death!” (8). In Lucy’s case, she secretly desired polygamy and in a indirect way, she got it. What the small remark about wanting to marry all of her suitors shows readers about Mina is her desire for sexual liberation. She likes all three of these unique men in different ways, and desires to have all of them. Everything she desires or likes is not in just one man, it is in three. Therefore, she feels women should be allowed multiple partners to be completely fulfilled in love and sex. Bram Stoker brings her desire to life through the vampirism, staking, and the multiple blood transfusions in the novel.

 

Another large scene that reveals Lucy’s sexual repression is her death scene. After she becomes a vampire and begins to terrorize the town, all three men she wanted to marry decide to go put an end to it by plunging a stake through her heart. Dr. Seward describes the staking of Lucy as a daunting task. He says, “the body shook and twisted and quivered in wild contortions; [Arthur] looked like a figure of Thor as his trembling arm rose and fell driving deeper and deeper… while the blood from the pierced heart welled up and spurted around it…The great drops of sweat sprang out on his forehead and his breath came in broken gasps. It had indeed been an awful strain on him.” (192). The night of the staking is September 28th, which is the day Lucy told Mina her and Arthur were to be married. Because of this, the staking can be read like a haunting honeymoon or graphic loss of virginity. It is described incredibly sexually, like penetration, or even a gang rape. The men stand around watching as this man penetrates his vampire wife. There’s an intrusion of privacy and sexuality of the women by the men. They even contemplated who would get to do it in the beginning. This shows how men take ownership over women’s sexual liberation which they define as too uncanny and unconventional to exist in Victorian womanhood.

 

There’s also the sexual innuendos that hint at their disinterest and delay in motherhood. When Lucy becomes a vampire, she preys only on children. She doesn’t choose to prey on women or men, she chooses children. Stoker has her choose children to signify her resentment and spite towards them, for children is not something she desires. She lures them sexually to suck their blood and kill them. On September 25th, the neighborhood of Hampstead began solving the mystery of the “bloofer lady” that has been luring children away. “Bloofer lady” is interpreted to mean beautiful lady. The newspaper entry says the children always have the “same tiny wound in the throat and had the common story to tell of being lured away by the bloofer lady.” (160). This murdering and maturity of children shows the desire for Lucy to not have children. Instead of being innocent in the novel, the children are beings that can be lured sexually like the adult males of the novel.

 

This is used to show the power of the female beauty and sexuality and the dangers of the liberated female. Freud says, “the un- canny proceeds from repressed infantile complexes, from the castration-complex, womb-phantasies, etc” (7). This occurs with Lucy and her young victims–she is painted as an animalistic woman instead of the typical mother. The men think the liberated female is a dangerous female, so once Lucy becomes a vampire which signifies the tainting of her purity, she becomes a threat to the society that they take care of in the end. It also symbolizes how liberated women are unfit mothers. Lucy is no longer able to be a mother, to bring life into the world, she is only capable of destruction and death. This destruction enhances the uncanny embodiment of the women in the text, for women are supposed to be nurturing and naturally maternal figures but she is the antithesis of this societal stereotype.

 

Mina is a more maternal figure, who appears to be the pure poster board image of Victorian womanhood, but she also shows signs of sexual repression in the text. When the men walk in on her in the asylum with Dracula, she retraces the events that happened in the room with Dracula. She says, “when the blood began to spurt out, he took my hands in one of his, holding them tight, and with the other seized my neck and pressed my mouth to the wound, so that I must either suffocate or swallow some of the–Oh my god! Oh my god!” (252). This scene can be depicted as an oral sex scene. It can also be depicted as an orgasm that she is experiencing from the pleasure of the blood penetration. And, Mina admits she enjoyed this strange sexual blood transfusion when she says, “I was bewildered, and strangely enough, I did not want to hinder him. I suppose it is a part of the curse that such is, when his touch is on his victim.” (251). Mina appears to be forced to participate in this mingling of biting and blood sucking with Dracula, but she admits she enjoyed it and found it pleasurable.

 

It’s something she does not fully understand, therefore she is afraid, but she is mesmerized and does not want him to stop. The enjoyment of this form of sex shows her repressed modernity. This is a form of modernity because it’s an untraditional type of sex, and it is with someone who is not her husband. Oral sex is considered “dirty sex” that virtuous women are not supposed to have, especially with other men. Mina has committed adultery with Dracula. However, her husband is in the bed next to them, which can be interpreted as a threesome, which is very modern and “dirty”. Or, it can be interpreted as the lack of masculinity of Jonathan as his wife progresses, becomes sexually liberated, and has multiple sexual partners. Out of fear, to prevent emasculation, Jonathan reclaims domination over his wife by the end of the novel.

 

This control the men of the novel have over the women and their desires is their reaction to fear. They fear what will happen to their masculinity and their power if they allow women to remove their societal chains. The men come together to defeat the coming of the “new woman” just like they come together to defeat Dracula, who is perceived as the light switch to these women’s sexualities and progressive identities. By putting an end to Dracula, it’s like they are putting an end to this female progress they are afraid of throughout the text. And, this is apparent through Mina. Mina is a very advanced female character in the novel. She knows about all the latest technology and forms of communication, and she is also strong for the men in the novel. Most of all, she put together this book. In Dracula’s presence readers grasp the strength, power, and intelligence of Mina, but once Dracula is destroyed, she goes back to that submissive wife role. She even has a child in the end with Jonathan, who says named Quincy who all the men name after themselves, claiming her nine months of pregnancy and labor of the baby as theirs.

 

Less than thirty years after Bram Stoker’s timeless and famous gothic novel was published, the sexual revolution took place with women seeking sexual liberation. These women also existed in Dracula, and were painted as uncanny beings because of the unfamiliarity and newness intertwined in the traditional woman, and also because of the closeness to reality. Bram Stoker brings light to the presence of controversial topics and desires– like female sexuality and sexual liberation– that existed in the novel’s conservative Victorian women by digging up repressed desires through Dracula and the sexual vampirism. Readers are able to validate this idea of female sexuality, sexual liberation, and the idea of the “new woman” by using Freud’s theory of uncanniness and repression as a scalpel for the text and its sexual innuendos involving Lucy and Mina in the novel.

 

Although the two women were not explicitly sexual and dominant creatures like the weird sisters were in the novel, one can see that deep down they desire the freedom to be so. There’s a dream of polygamy, sexual liberation, intelligence, independence, a choice of motherhood, and freedom in womanhood. Using the theory, one is able to accurately grasp this. The sexuality and modernity of women in the novel, the peak of the new woman, and then later on how the “new woman” fits into the conservative society and its boundaries is captured in the theory, vampirism, and sex. The men in the text fear the uprising sexuality and modernity of the women around them, but what they fail to realize is that Mina’s repressed modernity they deem as uncanny is what saves them all in the end.

 

Thanks for reading! Have you read Dracula? What did you interpret from it? What do you think about the new woman or patriarchy over time? Comment in the comments below! And remember to subscribe to be entered to win cool prizes each month!

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15 thoughts on “The Patriarchy’s Deadly Fear of the New Woman”

    1. It’s a really great book. There’s so much intertwined into it. There is lots of graphic violence though. Those scenes are important to the context though. I definitely recommend reading it though!

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  1. I’ve not read it in years. One of my favorites. That’s it, it’s back on my To Read List. 🙂

    I think though, that there was, at least in the reinterpretations in TV in and movies (no big surprise) that Lucy and Mina became more like Dracula’s (the lead male role model) cronies. They were more like Stepford Wives, and sex slaves, than liberated, free thinking, women.

    As I said, it’s been years since I read it, so my memory is tainted… it will be interesting to go back and see what you saw as far as them being liberated. Thanks for the push. Great post! 🙂

    Another of my favorite is Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Have you read it?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes! I think the idea is that even if they did become Dracula’s slaves, they displayed modernity and sexuality like the weird vampire sisters in the novel.

      And yes, I have read Frankenstein another amazing classic!

      And I hadn’t read Dracula since freshman year of high school so it was great reconnecting with it. My analysis was completely different this time. And, it was such a better book the second time around.

      Liked by 1 person

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