The Ideal Victorian Woman
How it works
Bram Stoker’s Dracula really captures the evil nature of the vampire, but what about the women in the novel? One of the primary concerns for women in the Victorian Era, which Dracula was written, was the role and place they occupied in society. According to the scholar Robert Frost, the way Stoker represents women in the novel says a lot about the time and the Victorian society as a whole. By analyzing the novel’s characters Mina, Dracula’s three wives, and Lucy through a feminist lens, readers can understand the Victorian views of women in society, and how purity and sexuality play a theme in the novel.
Frost’s article “Virgins and vampires: Robert Frost examines Bram Stoker’s treatment of the Victorian woman in Dracula”, depicts sections of Stoker’s novel and how they prove the views of Victorian women in that era. In Dracula, Stoker describes some women as overly sexual beings and others as pure and chaste. These different depictions can be seen as a reflection of the ideal Victorian women. Frost states, “In the Victorian society, women that were pure and chaste were favored. Women that were not pure and chaste were looked down upon and usually did not partake in societal events” (Frost). Similar to the ideas of the Victorian Era, Stoker writes the two similes of sexual and impure women as evil, and the pure and chaste women as faithful and heroic. The perfect characters that represent this, are Mina and the Count’s three wives.
The characterization of Mina is the perfected model of the ideal Victorian woman. Frost states, “Mina’s loyalty, her sober patience and diligence mark her out as the ideal partner in matrimony” (Frost). Which is true, in the novel one of Mina’s letters reads, “I want to keep up with Jonathan’s studies. When we are married I shall be able to be useful to Jonathan… I can take down what he wants to say… at which also I am practicing very hard” (Stoker 46). Here Mina doesn’t think about herself or why she wants to be educated, she only wants to be educated to help her future husband Jonathan. This is a perfect example of a Victorian woman who is seen as the “perfect wife/woman” in society, not actually expressing her individual self, but a useful pawn to her husband. Additionally, Mina is also not overly sexualized which can also represent the values of a Victorian woman. By having her not sexualized, Stoker keeps Mina pure and highly valued, essentially symbolizing the ideal Victorian woman as a whole.
Opposite from Mina is Dracula’s three wives, which are characterized as impure and highly sexualized. According to Frost, “Victorian beliefs of women that express their sexuality are considered impure and immoral, which is where the Count’s wives lie” (Frost). This is proven when Stoker directly connects sexualized females to vampires, which are viewed as evil in the novel. In other words, Stoker and possibly other people at the time placed women that are highly sexualized as evil or immoral in society. On top of that, readers may think women were quite possibly looked down upon because of their seductive power over men. In Dracula when Jonathan encounters the three wives he states, “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain…” (Stoker 32). This passage labels sexual women as temptresses of evil and challenges the Victorian standard. So of course, society would outcaste these women for disrupting the home and family, and why Stoker would link sexual women with evil.
Lastly, there is Lucy who doesn’t quite fit in with Mina or the three wives, but in-between them. Lucy symbolizes the virtuous woman who is slowly taken by evil. Frost describes Lucy as “a recognizable type of Victorian coquette but is in no way malicious and her faults are mitigated by her youth and warm-heartedness” (Frost). As described, Lucy does have similar qualities to Mina, but there is a major difference between the two. Lucy is presented more sexually than Mina. Lucy’s beauty is way more emphasized, but not quite like sexualization of Dracula’s brides. This possibly could have been foreshadowing of Lucy’s fate, which is when Dracula eventually gets to Lucy. Lucy now a vampire, Stoker describes her as highly sexual, “The sweetness was turned to…heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (Stoker 102). Lucy is characterized as both the chaste and the impure Victorian woman. Stoker is able to show the ideal Victorian woman potentially transforming into an evil, sexualized woman of society, all by giving Lucy two personalities in the novel.
The major themes in Dracula are purity and sexuality, which is shown with the types of Victorian women, and the representation of them in Victorian society. Frost reiterates, “they serve to illustrate the contradictions and ironic tensions within the Victorian value system as a whole” (Frost). Basically, Mina is shown as the ideal Victorian woman through her purity and loyalty to her husband; Dracula’s three wives symbolize the evil and social stigma surrounding highly sexualized women in Victorian society; Finally, the possibilities for women in Victorian society to be tempted by evil going from pure to impure (vampirism).