Portrayal Of Lucy Westenra And Mina Murray English Literature Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: English Literature|
|✅ Wordcount: 1775 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
Dracula, the 1897 novel by Bram Stoker, is a tale composed against a background of social concerns and anxieties of Victorian England in a rapidly changing world. One of the most important upheavals in this time of turmoil concerned feminism and the role of women in Victorian society, with the terrifying spectre of the ¿½New Woman¿½ solidifying rapidly into a real threat. In Victorian England, gender roles were distinct, with women being expected to confine themselves to the domestic realm and become ¿½the Angel in the House,¿½ responsible for setting a moral example for her children and being of complete service to her husband.
In examining how the female characters ¿½ Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray/Harker ¿½ are dealt with in Dracula, a greater insight will be gained into the degree of transformation undertaken by the women from a Victorian woman to a New Woman in the face of Dracula¿½s seductive power.
Lucy Westenra is initially depicted as innocent, beautiful, and virtuous¿½not at all the sexual suspect or foreigner that would seem to indicate a susceptibility to vampirism. Despite this appearance of her character, however, the behaviour of Lucy, even before she succumbed to vampirism, would have been questionable to a Victorian audience.
Most notably, she takes a sort of gloating pleasure in having been proposed to three times in one day (Stoker 86). Even more disturbing to a Victorian reader, Lucy muses, ¿½Why can¿½t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her¿½?¿½ (Stoker 90). Although she immediately dismisses the idea as blasphemy, the reader gets the sense that she was serious. This reluctance to confine herself to one man is not her only sign of questionable sexuality.
Lucy sleepwalks, ¿½a habit traditionally associated with sexual looseness¿½ in Victorian England (Spencer 210). Despite Lucy¿½s seeming virtue, there are indications that her sexuality is on the verge of asserting its appetites throughout the early portions of the novel. This blooming sexuality is what makes her susceptible to vampiric attack.
As Lucy succumbs to Dracula¿½s advances, she comes to resemble the vampire women encountered by Harker. Her sexuality becomes more blatant as her vampirism progresses. When she is dying, she speaks to Arthur in a ¿½soft, voluptuous voice,¿½ a phrase which recalls the voluptuousness of the three female vampires in Castle Dracula (Stoker 237). Her initiation into the vampire group becomes complete when Van Helsing notes that the two bite marks on her neck have completely disappeared (Stoker 235).
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Later, Stoker describes vampiric Lucy as moving with a ¿½voluptuous grace¿½ and having a ¿½wanton smile¿½ (Stoker 310). She has become the aggressive female through contact with Dracula. Lucy is now fully endowed with “masculine” appetites and, like the fanged women Harker encountered, she is acting as a dominant presence over males. She has become monstrous and unnatural, which is in keeping with the Victorian idea of ¿½the sexualization of woman as deformation¿½ (Craft 120). This unnaturalness is also emphatically underscored by her rejection of the mother role typically associated with women during this time period. Instead of nursing the child ¿½clutched strenuously to her breast,¿½ she feeds from it, slowly killing it (Stoker 310).
Dracula is to blame for Lucy¿½s metamorphosis into a monstrosity, ¿½for he is the ultimate social adulterer, whose purpose is nothing if it is not to turn good Englishwomen like Lucy…away from their own kind and customs¿½ (Stevenson 140).
However horrifying Lucy¿½s transformation might have been to a Victorian audience, Mina Harker¿½s aborted metamorphosis would have been even more horrible. As Van Helsing says, ¿½she is one of God¿½s women, fashioned by His own hand¿½ (Stoker 277). Mina seems to fit the ideal of the Victorian Woman, as a virtuous, devout, almost asexual individual. While she sometimes acts as the quiet organiser of the men, she is generally meek and servile to their wishes, for example, she learns typing and short-hand with the main motive of being of use to her future husband Jonathan.
Stoker never reveals anything detailed about Mina¿½s physical appearance, and she seems to be an object of adulation rather than desire. Mina acts as more of a mother figure to Jonathan, ¿½nursing him through his illness.¿½ The motherly-wife and nurtured husband were considered the ideal spouses in Victorian England (Spencer 216). Mina is quite literally the Angel in the House, or the ideal Woman embodied.
Yet even the ideal demonstrates vulnerability when forced into an overtly sexual situation. Mina, through no fault of her own, becomes subject to Dracula¿½s advances, yet seems to take some enjoyment in them despite her horror. During her last encounter with the Count, as he drank from her neck, she admitted that she ¿½did not want to hinder him¿½ (Stoker 425). This desire for the Count would have been damnable to a Victorian audience, who saw “sexual desire rather than sexual activity [as]¿½the true source of danger¿½ (Spencer 217).
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Although Mina never makes the full transformation into the aggressive, sexualized female vampire, there are aspects of her character that bend gender expectations a bit. Specifically, Dr. Van Helsing remarks upon her level of intelligence numerous times as being abnormal for a young woman. When Mina tells Van Helsing that she can inform him all about what happened to Lucy, he remarks, ¿½Ah, then you have a good memory for facts, for details? It is not always so with young ladies¿½ (Stoker 269). He also repeatedly calls her, ¿½you so clever woman¿½ (Stoker 269). If a learned man such as Van Helsing compliments Mina¿½s intelligence, then it might be safe to assume that men did not expected to encounter a woman with such common sense during the Victorian era. As Van Helsing puts it, ¿½[Mina] has a man¿½s brain¿½a brain that a man should have were he much gifted¿½ (Stoker 345).
To a certain extent, Mina is becoming a modern woman by demonstrating her intelligence and therefore somewhat defying the gender stereotype of women being inferior to men. However, she doesn¿½t pose any really threat to the dominant male as she uses her intelligence to help others on a divine mission rather than furthering her own interests, a Victorian audience could perhaps accept this inversion of gender roles.
Like Lucy, Mina become contaminated by Dracula and slowly becomes deracinated, growing more like a vampire and less like an Englishwoman. However, before her transformation is complete, Dracula is killed and Mina is re-assimilated into English society with little difficulty, providing a happy ending for the Victorian audience.
Both Lucy and Mina are introduced in the novel as embodiments of the Victorian woman ideal, a role of purity and femininity. However, when the women begin to transform into vampires, they are seen to take on traditional male roles, which undoubtedly horrified the Victorian reader.
However, neither of these two women are allowed any agency; even through their ¿½infidelities¿½, they play the passive role, Lucy asleep while blood is pumped from each man into her, and Mina¿½s seduction described in terms of ¿½forcing a kitten¿½s nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink¿½. It is Dracula, the monstrous, foreign creature that is blamed for the corruption of Lucy and Mina. The role of the Victorian man is clear here, as the vampire hunters act out what they feel is their duty ¿½ to rescue their women from the clutches of Dracula and vampirism and return them to holiness. They return their women to their rightful place and re-establish proper roles, by a violent ¿½staking¿½ Lucy. This metaphorical rape, repeated by Van Helsing with the three Transylvanian vampires, ¿½re-establishes normative models of both gender and history¿½, imposing male reason on female sexuality, with the women ¿½grateful and passive toward their brave male deliverer¿½.
In Carmilla, Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu takes the tradition male power role and gives it to the women, while Stoker, in Dracula, repossesses the female body for pleasure and exchange and puts the power back in the hands of men. In Carmilla we meet a woman who bears angelic features in her outward appearance only. At first, she seems to be the ideal companion for Laura fulfilling all Victorian claims. The homosocial bond between women served patriarchy to keep women whom they treated rather as objects than as individual beings with a will of their own out of the so-called male business. As the idea of the new woman – with their social, political, and sexual freedom – was feared in society, Carmilla is feared by Laura¿½s father as soon as he notices her dangerous potential. The role of the female vampire identifies and challenges gender roles of women in the Victorian age, as well as symbolise New Women. Carmilla, goes even further in its defiance of the male/female heterosexual norm by featuring a lesbian relationship between its two main characters, only made possibly through the vampirism and supernatural nature of the story. It is through Carmilla and Laura¿½s homosexual relationship that they are able to gain freedom from male dominance and a patriarchal society. Besides marriage, becoming a vampire is one of the only ways that female sexuality is licensed in the Victorian era.
While Bram Stoker¿½s Dracula has laid the foundations for the horror genre of film and literature, it also provides some interesting social commentary about Victorian England. In particular, the female characters and their relationships to the issues of sexuality, gender roles, and nationality are very revealing about the anxieties of the times.
In their full and partial transformation into vampires, Lucy and Mina lose their feminine passivity and innocence and are expected to become like the highly sexualised and immoral succubi trio. They go from being sweet and pure Victorian women (female victims) to being ¿½languorous[ly] voluptuous¿½ and ¿½carnal and unspiritual¿½ New Women (female vampires). This is precisely the perceived danger represented by the New Woman. However, because Mina is never fully transformed and manages to be restored to her role as a Victorian woman, it can be concluded that Lucy better represents the New Woman archetype as she completes the transition to vampire and in doing so gains sexual and social freedom from the constraints on women in Victorian society.
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