Dracula Gender Tropes and Victorian Sexual Panic
Women are told from their infancy, and taught by the example of their mothers, that a little knowledge of human weakness, justly termed cunning, softness of temper, outward obedience, and a scrupulous attention to a puerile kind of propriety, will obtain for them the protection of man; and should they be beautiful, everything else is needless, for, at least, twenty years of their lives.
A married woman shall, in accordance with the provisions of this Act, be capable of acquiring, holding, and disposing by will or otherwise, of any real or personal property as her separate property, in the same manner as if she were a feme sole, without the intervention of any trustee.
From this fertile liberal soil springs Mina Harker, a stark contrast to the typical Gothic woman. It is wrong to classify Mina as the Woman-In-Peril archetype, because though Dracula targets her, she is empowered with her typewriter and shorthand, organizing diaries and case studies. She is no damsel-in-distress by choice. Indeed, she uses her agency to foil Dracula’s assaults. When the men intend to withhold the extent of Dracula’s evil, she argues, telling them, she “had read all the papers and diaries, and that [she and Jonathan], having typewritten them, had just finished putting them in order.” Arthur reacts by asking, “Did you write all this, Mrs. Harker?”, which today certainly seems condescending.
Simultaneously, though, Mina retains her traditional role as a virtuous woman and good wife. She is faithful to Jonathan when he is months tardy and holds motherly values dear. Self-sufficient enough to travel to Prague, she nurses Jonathan to health, and they marry. Later, she independently decides to read his diary and consults Van Helsing.
Dr. Seward describes her tone as “diabolically sweet.” Luckily Van Helsing intervenes with his “little golden crucifix,” a symbol diminished in size to show its sublime power as a conduit of the ineffable. Later, Van Helsing explains to Arthur the peril his Undead wife represents:
Friend Arthur, if you had met that kiss which you know of before poor Lucy die, or again, last night when you open your arms to her, you would in time, when you had died, have become nosferatu. (Ch. 16)
The three sisters in Dracula’s castle foreshadow Lucy’s fall from grace. He feels guilt writing, afraid that Mina might someday read his words:
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.
In a saucy twist, Dracula would later get revenge by ravishing dear Mina’s pretty neck while she lies beside Jonathan.
“We must,” said Van Helsing grimly. “If the door be locked, I shall break it in.”
“May it not frighten her terribly? It is unusual to break into a lady’s room!”
Van Helsing said solemnly, “You are always right. But this is life and death. All chambers are alike to the doctor. And even were they not they are all as one to me tonight. Friend John, when I turn the handle, if the door does not open, do you put your shoulder down and shove. And you too, my friends. Now!”
Even so, Dracula is a capstone of Gothic literature, and its antagonist is perhaps horror's most notorious villain. Dracula’s feeding extinguishes life, and his nourishment constitutes anti-sex, the destruction of life. Dracula is not the summit of human terror though. The Twentieth Century proved beyond doubt humans were the real monsters.