Gender Inequalities in the Victorian Society
Bram Stoker was an Irish writer who lived during the nineteenth century. His best known novel, Dracula was published in 1897 and is commonly classified as a horror novel. The story, however, reveals symbols and themes of sexuality. The women in this novel appear to solely play the role of mothers, or simply as a sexual outlet for men. Women were disadvantaged both sexually and financially during the Victorian period. For a woman to have sexual desires were more of a fantasy rather than reality. Women were supposed to desire marriage for the sole purpose that it would allow them to become mothers; they were not to pursue sexual desires. Women lived with hardships, while men were lifted up and given freedom and authority. It can be argued that Stoker’s aim in his writing is to bring light to the inequality that existed between women and men in his culture. While his writing can be interpreted in many ways, it reinforces masculinity; it is showing what a woman should be like and what happens to a woman that does not follow the Victorian culture.
Stoker depicts Mina and Lucy in great amount of detail. Throughout the novel Stoker depicts the two characters of Mina and Lucy as opposites to describe and contrast the two different kinds of women that he believed existed in the Victorian era; the ideal, being Mina, and the rebellious, being Lucy. Mina is innocent, submissive and possesses strong maternal qualities while Lucy is adventurous, dangerous, and who wishes to take risks and break free from the restricted rules of how a woman should be. There is no doubt that both women are aware of the dominance men assert on women in their society. They certainly hold different views of what a woman should be like but despite this they get along very well. The inequality between men and women is clearly illustrated when Lucy says: “My dear Mina, why are men so noble when we women are so little worthy of them?” (Stoker 145). It clearly shows that women are well aware of how they are perceived by men, and it also challenges the male power. Being noble is showing fine personal qualities and high moral standards, yet men see women as inferior to themselves, which means they are not truly noble at all.
Van Helsing, the doctor, describes Mina as “She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist…” (Stoker 465). She is the perfect Victorian woman. Her goodness is a guideline for how men and other women should be. The phrase “other women” further suggests that Mina’s character is what should be the norm and what other women like Lucy should be like. Mina is an intelligent and educated woman whose mission in life is to stand by her husband’s side and put his life before hers. Stoker shows Mina’s dedication to her husband through her speech: “I have been working very hard lately, because I want to keep up with Jonathan’s studies, and I have been practicing shorthand very assiduously” (Stoker 132). This clearly shows what a woman’s life in the Victorian era was like. Mina’s life, amongst many other women’s life, revolved around pleasing the man and not allowing themselves to have ambitions or dreams of their own to work for and achieve. Today, such thoughts are bizarre; however, during the nineteenth century many women saw men as superior to them. Lucy on the other hand, who could be considered a modern by the way she thinks, falls into Stoker’s second category of Victorian women, the not so controllable woman. She clearly expresses her sexual desires and one man is not enough for her. Three different men end up proposing to her, which is a choice Lucy finds very hard to make. She complains to Mina saying: “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 145). This showcases that even though such thoughts were seen as immoral and forbidden in the Victorian culture, it does not stop a spiritually free woman like Lucy from expressing her wishes even though they were not allowed. Furthermore, this shows a rebellious side of her.
Lucy is incredibly beautiful, which is well noticed by the surrounding men. Stoker depicts her as flirtatious with an open mind to sexuality. She uses her beauty to get attention, and she certainly enjoys it. As men were claimed to be superior to women, this is Lucy’s way of bringing herself to the an equal level as men. In contrast, Mina does not express any sexual desires throughout the novel. In fact, it seems like she does not feel like she has to prove anything by using her feminine sensuality. The contrast between Mina and Lucy is obvious to the reader. Mina does not express her perspective on the inequality between men and women, which illustrates her opinion that a woman should not be concerned to think about such things. What the role of a Victorian woman entails is giving in to a man’s sexual needs and desires. Lucy’s character does not agree with this. Since society does not allow a woman to live out her sexual desires openly, she does it through sleepwalking. In this state she can freely and unconsciously express her inner desires. This is why she turns out to be Dracula’s first victim. In the hidden part of her mind, that cannot be seen by the world, there are sexual urges and passions. When she sleepwalks she has no control of these urges and passions. Instead of her controlling them, they control her; therefore, she is the first one to fall under Dracula’s spell.
The reason for why Mina does not fall under Dracula’s spell so fast is because she is not full of sexual neediness; therefore, she has much less to restrain. Mina’s maternal instincts direct her in all her decisions throughout the novel. Like a mother would, she cares for everyone around her like they are her own children. This is strongly showcased when Mina offers Arthur and Quincey a shoulder to cry on. A quote that significantly shows her maternal instincts is: “…We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother-spirit is invoked; I felt this big, sorrowing man’s head resting on me, as though it were that of the baby that some day may lie on my bosom, and I stroked his hair as though he were my own child” (Stoker 568). When someone is in need of care Mina’s maternal instincts kick in instantly and this is something she cannot control. She will always put everyone else before herself without a doubt. To contrast, Lucy does not obtain such traits. She takes no interest in caring for others, which is very obvious to the reader as she becomes a vampire. All her suppressed desires come out, and she has no conscience that will restrain her evil thoughts. A perfect quote to showcase her lack of maternal qualities is: “With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched, strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone. The child gave a sharp cry, and lay there moaning” (Stoker 523). Her cravings consume her maternal and moral thoughts that makes her rather feed on the child than to feed the child itself.
Through the final attack on Mina, Stoker shows his belief that women are weak and vulnerable because of their instincts to care for others and putting the life of others before their own. Furthermore, by destroying Lucy, Stoker illustrates the take back of masculinity and male dominance; her beauty and sexual openness is a threat to the Victorian society. The destruction of Lucy showcases what happens to a woman that uses her beauty to gain power over men. Throughout this novel Stoker continuously reminds the reader that women are inferior to men by depicting them as weak in making their own choices. In a man’s world being stronger and caring less about others and more about oneself is power. Through Mina’s character, Stoker shows what the benefits of choosing to be the ideal Victorian woman brings, which is survival. Furthermore, through Lucy, he showcases what happens to women that want to be seen as equals to men. Women that do not follow the boundaries of the Victorian society will end up like Lucy, ruined. Men are, according to Stoker, superior to women in all areas except for childbearing and child upbringing.