Study Guide

Dracula

by Bram Stoker

Dracula Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy Dracula Analysis

Interest in vampires, like the creature itself, never dies. Bram Stoker’s novel focuses on the victimization of women. Stoker’s view is opposed to that of the “New Woman,” a feminist construct of the late nineteenth century. Stoker makes references to the New Woman in Dracula through Mina, characterizing her as a well-informed woman of the 1890’s. Mina sets herself above the New Woman, rejecting the concept for its sexual openness. The overall structure of Dracula indicates that Stoker employs Mina to reject the concept of the New Woman, represented by the female vampire as energized and aggressive female sexuality.

The first half of the novel presents woman as vampire. Stoker focuses on the female vampire by introducing the three female vampires who live in Dracula’s castle, then centering on Lucy, Dracula’s first English victim. In the second half, the focus of the story is the fight to save Mina, shifting away from the presentation of woman as vampire. The focus becomes the fight against vampirism, and, metaphorically, against energized female sexuality or the New Woman.

Lucy, the primary female focus of the first half of the novel, is turned by Dracula into one of “those awful women.” The New Woman exists in her personality, however latent, surfacing when Lucy is vampirized by Dracula. In her vampirized state, she no longer suppresses her desire. Van Helsing takes it upon himself to protect men from the evils of the vampire, and, hence, the evils of the New Woman. Lucy, confronted by the men in her crypt, takes on the full-blown characteristics of the New Woman, preying on a child and speaking of her wanton desire for Holmwood. By calling Holmwood to her side, Lucy suggests that he break with the patriarchy. This does not happen because Lucy is summarily destroyed by the men; the vampire/New Woman is destroyed by the patriarchy.

The scourge of vampirism/New Womanhood also calls at Mina’s door. Mina represents traditional Victorian womanhood but also feels the effects of vampirism/ New Womanhood. Dracula seduces her, forcing her to drink his blood from his breast while her husband sleeps in the same bed. The patriarchy comes to Mina’s rescue. As the vampire’s, or New Woman’s, influence over Mina grows, Dr. Seward metaphorically sees the New Woman overcoming the traditional woman. The role of Stoker’s male characters is to prevent the acceptance of the New Woman by keeping women in their place, and, hence, the patriarchy in order. To do this, the men must destroy Dracula. Van Helsing chooses to fight the vampire to save the patriarchy.

At the novel’s end, by destroying Dracula, Van Hel-sing and the men destroy vampirism and, metaphorically, the New Woman, preserving the sanctity of womanhood and the patriarchal order. Stoker’s novel is therefore anti-New Woman and antifeminist. It came at a reactionary time when literary England was up in arms against the very idea of the New Woman.