In Bram Stoker's Dracula, how are the female characters' gender roles and sexuality a representation and/or a rejection of the New Woman in Victorian society?
The theory that Bram Stoker's 1897 novel Dracula was a response to the development of the new woman is most closely associated with the work of Carol Senf, who published an article on the topic of “Dracula: Stoker’s Response to the New Woman” in the scholarly journal Victorian Studies in 1982, and has elaborated on her initial insight in subsequent books.
According to this theory, the 1882 Married Women's Property Act and increasing independence of middle class women at the turn of the century evoked a corresponding male anxiety. In Dracula, this anxiety takes two forms, one represented by the women as vampires and the other by the women as victims.
The women as vampires are powerful, dominant, and highly sexualized. They roam free outside the home, and rather than being paragons of maternalism, regard children as food. Thus the woman-as-vampire reflects a patriarchal anxiety about what happens when women gain power.
The second role in which the women appear is that of women-as-victims. In this role, the female characters are sickly, weak, fearful, and dependent, needing to be rescued by men. Unlike Harker, the women are incapable of resisting the vampires, constructing a duality of good women as weak and powerful women as evil.
Carol Senf. “Dracula: Stoker’s Response to the New Woman.” Victorian Studies, 26 (1982): 33-49.