In Victorian England, as men clung to the sanctity of the patriarchy, they were increasingly becoming more and more frightened of their own women. Bram Stoker capitalized on this fear in his iconic novel, Dracula. In 1897, a "New Woman" was emerging in Victorian society, coinciding with the women's suffrage movement throughout England. (Auerbach) This New Woman, riddled with feminist awareness, would be the cause of fodder for Stoker's heroine, Mina Harker. (Auerbach) Because this New Woman was aspiring to be independent of patriarchal male dominance, (or had already obtained said independence) to the old guard of Victorian society, she was viewed as perverse. (Auerbach) The New Woman was a mutation of the woman the patriarchal society wanted her to be. The New Woman's strides towards economic and sexual changes in society as a whole should be viewed as terrifying. Stoker takes these beliefs, and applies them to his female characters in Dracula.
It can be found that the female characters in Stoker's Dracula can be applicable to many schools of feminist thought. Female vampires in Dracula can reproduce on their own, hunt and kill children, and have a tendency to target men to "kiss," all of which are atypical of conventional female gender roles of the time. Lucy Westenra has the audacity to court three men at once (and receive three wedding proposals from them on the same day). Because of this, Lucy can be tied to the third and fourth wave feminist belief that a woman can be unabashedly control of their sexuality.
Lucy's transformation to vampire is also jarring. Lucy transforms from a fair, beautiful woman with luxurious waves of golden curls, into a dark haired, smoldering temptress that feasts on innocent children, and beckons her former betrothed to join her in sensuous delights (Stoker). The inherent voluptuousness and carnal sexuality of the three female vampires that reside in Dracula's castle is also discussed in depth by Stoker. Jonathan Harker, the first character introduced in Dracula, fears these vampire women much more than Count Dracula himself. Upon seeing these three female vampires for the first time, Harker remarks:
"All three had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips." (Stoker)
Like the Victorian New Woman, these female monsters are perverse, unnatural, and horrifying, as they neglect to conform to what traditional Victorian society expects of its women.
Mina Harker, the heroine of Stoker's story, is eventually spared from turning into a vampire by Dracula because of the "good men" that exist in the world, even though there may be monsters in it. (Stoker) Although Mina has traits of the Victorian New Woman, which include intelligence and working out of the home, Mina never strays from being a supplicant wife. Mina mocks the New Woman of the Victorian era, insinuating that these women will sleep with their husbands prior to a proposal of marriage. The reader can also picture Mina chortling while insinuating that one day these women will do the proposing to their potential husbands. Mina writes in her journal:
"Some of the 'New Woman' writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won't condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself." (Stoker)
Mina adheres to her gender role. Because of this fact, she is spared from a gruesome fate. Mina's relationship with her husband, Jonathan, can also pique the interest of a feminist reader, as at some points, this relationship is atypical. In Dracula, upon his return from Transylvania and his encounter with the Count, Jonathan has a mental breakdown. Stoker describes him as being "hysterical," which is an interesting choice of words, as at that time, "hysterical" was almost always used to describe women. (Stoker) Throughout this difficult time in their marriage, Mina, instead of taking control of the household, remains a steadfastly loyal, doting, worrying wife. Mina remains in her lane, and instead of insisting that her husband obtain mental health care, stands by her man.
The choice of Dracula's victim also shows how Victorian society did not view women as autonomous individuals. Instead, they were extension of the men that they were the property of. The prime example is how Dracula chooses not to attack Jonathan himself. In lieu of attacking Jonathan directly, he attacks Jonathan's wife; profaning Mina and making her unclean. (Stoker) Mina is then under the care of Jonathan and his companions, helpless to kill the monster that tainted her. It is only through the death of Dracula that Mina's honor and purity can be restored.
Bram Stoker's Dracula addresses the fear that patriarchal society has in regards to women's feminist awakening and breaking of patriarchal chains. In Dracula, female vampires refuse to adhere to gender roles, much like the Victorian New Woman, making them both equally terrifying monsters. A modern day feminist can read the novel and recognize the female vampire monsters within Dracula as heroines who are on the front line of resistance against the exploitation and oppression of women from their patriarchal male overlords.
Nina A. Auerbach, David J. Skal. "Preface." Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Norton Critical Edition, 1997. ix-xiii.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Norton Critical Edition, 1997.