From the years 1887 through 1901, the British Empire entered a period known as the Victorian Era. This era, which is better known for the enormous prosperity it brought upon the British middle class, was also marked by the increasing concerns in “The Great Social Evil”, a reference to prostitution. These concerns were founded on the idea that women in this era were to remain pure and chaste unless bound to their husbands through marriage. Violating these restrictions would result in the loss of all Victorian virtues and the expulsion from the household. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which coincidently is set in the Victorian Era, a similar pattern emerges due to the presence of a blood-sucking UnDead known as Count Dracula. Stoker’s novel celebrates the paranoia brought upon the Victorian people at the very sound of the word “sex” (Leatherdale 145). The author is ultimately trying to convey the theme that sexually assertive women in the novel are to be destroyed because they compromise men’s self-control in a society that must be dominated by them. Lucy and Mina’s respective transformations into the new women as well as the three vampires encountered by Jonathan Harker in Dracula’s castle all greatly reinforced the theme introduced by Stoker.
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Lucy Westenra’s character portrayed before and after her encounter with Dracula demonstrates accurately what Stoker intended to bring forth in his novel. The reader is first introduced to Lucy early in the story, and the impression of sexuality is immediately felt. In one of her early letters to Mina, Lucy talks about the many experiences she has had with men, in particular, Arthur Goldaming. She constantly emphasizes her love for him in the letters yet she still mentions other men and how they too have marked her life in a more than positive way. This is very unusual behavior for a woman in the Victorian Era who must typically be docile when it comes to love and sexuality. She continues by whining about how “[they can’t] let a girl marry three men, or as many as [she] want[s]â€¦” (Stoker 50). That statement proves without a doubt that Lucy has many desires she can unfortunately not satisfy because of her social class. When Dracula beings his assault on the innocent Lucy, the latter begins her long descent into vampirism and Van Helsing and his team take full advantage of the situation. “Her admirers and the medical men are obliged to put in what Dracula has taken out – blood” which is traditionally associated to intercourse (Leatherdale 150). Quinsey Morris and Dr. Seward, who had previously declared their love for the poor Lucy, now had the opportunity that only Lord Goldaming could ever dream of, making love to this woman. The same could be applied to Van Helsing “who despite his age retains a keen eye for female beauty” (Leatherdale 150). The four blood transfusions depict exactly how men’s discipline can turn to recklessness in the face of sexuality. Stoker does not stop here. When Lucy’s transformation into the UnDead is successful, her once “erotic presence” becomes “the wanton voluptuousness of male fantasy” (Leatherdale 151). As a matter of fact, during the team’s visit to her tomb, she taunts her lover to “comeâ€¦come!” which is hardly resisted by Arthur (Stoker 181). Arthur “seemed under a spell” by the “diabolically sweetâ€¦tones” given off by the Undead Lucy (Stoker 181). He opened his arms wide to the opportunity of at last fulfilling his sexual desires with Lucy. This obviously left him in a vulnerable position which is certainly unacceptable for a man in the Victorian Era. This left the team with no other choice than to destroy the undead Lucy and bring back the pureness which is essential for a Victorian lady. Arthur had the honors of driving a stake through the new woman’s heart, which can also represent a penis. Arthur thus had the last word on Lucy’s fate, and he brought her back to what truly matters for him, innocence and pureness. This related to the theme proves that sexually assertive women in the novel need to be destroyed because they leave the men vulnerable and this is unacceptable.
Contrary to her good friend Lucy, Mina portrays the ideal woman in the Victorian Era. Displaying humbleness and chastity throughout the novel, Mina gets spared from Dracula’s fangs for the first half of the story. As a matter of fact, Mina never speaks of sexuality or desires despite being married to Jonathan. As Van Helsing says, Mina is “one of God’s womenâ€¦” (Stoker 161).
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