Author(s): Carol A. Senf
Publication Details: Victorian Studies 26.1 (Autumn 1982): p33-49. Source: Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Jessica Bomarito and Russel Whitaker. Vol. 156. Detroit: Gale, 2006. From Literature Resource Center. Document Type: Critical essay
Full Text: COPYRIGHT 2006 Gale, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning Full Text:
[(essay date autumn 1982) In the following essay, Senf contends that, contrary to popular belief, Bram Stoker's treatment of women in his novel stems not from his animosity toward women in general, but rather from his negative reaction to some attributes of the New Woman.] Although Dracula,1 which was first published in 1897, has never been out of print and has been translated into a dozen foreign languages, it is only recently that students of literature have begun to take the novel seriously; and much of the recent scholarship has focused on Stoker's treatment of the women in the novel. For example, Stephanie Demetrakopoulos describes Stoker as a feminist and states: "The novel falls clearly into two parts, each half centered around a different type of woman."2 At the other extreme are Judith Roth, who argues that "hostility toward female sexuality" contributes to the popularity of the novel,3 and Judith Wasserman, who explains that the "fight to destroy Dracula and to restore Mina to her purity is really a fight for control over women."4 Taking a radically different approach is Brian Murphy, who argues: "It is absurd to complain (as, I am afraid, some have) of the excessively 'Victorian' treatment of Mina Harker. She is no Victorian; she is a medieval lady whose honor and virtue are protected."5 For Murphy, who is primarily interested in Stoker's creation of myth, the treatment of women in the novel is clearly irrelevant. Stoker's treatment of women in Dracula is not irrelevant to most readers. Accustomed to seeing themselves portrayed in literature as either angels or monsters,6 women may wonder why Dracula is the single male vampire in the novel while four of the five women characters are portrayed as vampires--aggressive, inhuman, wildly erotic, and motivated only by an insatiable thirst for blood. In fact the first half of the novel centers on the innocent Lucy Westenra's transformation into a vampire which must be violently destroyed; and Dr. Van Helsing destroys three women in Dracula's castle at the conclusion. (If Stoker had not omitted the original first chapter of the novel, there would have been one more monstrous woman--the Countess Dolingen of Gratz--whose tomb Jonathan Harker discovers on his journey to Dracula's castle. Generally anthologized as a short story, "Dracula's Guest" reveals the extent to which Stoker was influenced by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla.7) If it were not for Mina Harker, the reader might conclude that Stoker is a repressed Victorian man with an intense hatred of women or at least a pathological aversion to them. The second half of Dracula, however, shifts from the presentation of women as vampires to focus on a woman who is the antithesis of these destructive creatures. Furthermore Mina Harker not only escapes the fate of the other women: she is also largely responsible for the capture and ultimate destruction of Dracula. Indeed Stoker's treatment of women in Dracula does not stem from his hatred of women in general but, as this paper demonstrates, from his ambivalent reaction to a topical phenomenon--the New Woman. I
The first reference to the New Woman occurs quite early in the novel when Stoker has his heroine mention her almost as an aside: "We had a capital 'severe tea' at Robin Hood's Bay in a sweet little old-fashioned inn, with a bow-window right over the seaweed-covered rocks of the strand. I believe we should have shocked the 'New Woman' with our appetites" (Dracula, p. 90). Because the New Woman was a subject of controversy in journalism, fiction,...