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Sexuality and the Vampire: Dracula versus Victorian Era Morality

Updated on July 13, 2017
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Kristen has been writing for over 30 years. She graduated from UCF with a B.A. in English-Creative Writing December 2015.

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Today when the topic of the vampires comes up, images of vibrant, youthful, beautiful, sensual death on two legs come to mind. Whether it’s Eric Northman in True Blood, Angel and Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Lestat de Lioncourt in Anne Rice’s The Vampire Chronicles, there is no denying they just ooze sensuality. Yet in the formative years of the emergence of the nosferatu in Western literature, they were portrayed as malevolent unnatural creatures that must be destroyed at any cost. Plus, it isn’t just the male vampire that are enjoying the positive modern revision of its nature; being a female vampire is not the cursed existence it was previously regarded to be. This can be seen in characters such as Selene from Underworld or Elena Gilbert of The Vampire Diaries. Somewhere along the line, the vampire stopped being “just a monster, he has become a sex symbol” (Rottenbucher).

Part of this transformation from hideous Hell-spawn monster to un-dead eye candy is the undertones of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Pikula points out “Contemporary readers who have learned to identify an erotic potential …may be somewhat surprised to learn that the text’s “quasi-pornographic” quality seems to have escaped the notice of most Late-Victorian critics” (283). Behind the guise of vampirism, Bram Stoker addresses sexuality through the lens of Victorian attitudes and morals.

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With vampire tales such as Coleridge’s “Christabel” and LeFanu’s Carmilla, we are presented with two different female stereotypes: the sweet pious virgin and the femme fatale. Leah M. Wyman, and George N. Dionisopoulos take the “dichotomy” further by defining three categories: “powerful whore … powerless whore… protected virgin” (Transcending The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy: Telling Mina's Story in Bram Stoker's Dracula) Mina Murray Harker, Lucy Westenra, and the Brides of Dracula are quite evidently representative of these groups. All are infected by Dracula; it is how far they change and how they react once they are that define them.

The Brides have already developed into vampires, and have been for some time when we first encounter them. It is quite clear they get pleasure from and embrace their change into “whores”. They take a great deal of delight when they encounter Jonathan Harker sleeping outside the confines of his room. They are seductive and aggressive, in that they seduce Jonathan to the point of nearly feeding on him, causing him to write in his journal “I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy” (Stoker 38). They even have the audacity to laugh and challenge the Count when he exerts his authority over them, “with a laugh of ribald coquetry” (38). The Victorian “angels of the house” would never think to go against the head of the household, much less in this disrespectful manner. When they meet their demise through Van Helsing, who views these women as “strange ones,” he describes their killings as “butcher’s work (371). He is unfeeling almost the entire time, as if he sees it as necessary to rid the world of them and their wicked ways. It is alluded to that they may not have received salvation from their demise, as “the whole body began to melt away and crumble,” as if displaying the decay of their departed souls (271).

Lucy’s transformation from human to vampire is chronicled through the first half of the novel. We can see that early on she is virtuous, yet does extrude a certain allure. This is evident in the fact she has three potential suitors who all propose on the same day (Stoker 56). From what the reader is told in her letters to Mina, she has been interested in only Arthur, but it is vague on whether she may have acted in a way that would have led the other two to believe they had a chance to win her heart. After the circumstances with the “Demeter”, she goes out in a sleepwalking trance “only in her nightgown” (89) and is found with Dracula by Mina (90). It is after this she allows him to come into her room. Though it is because of his power over her through her contaminated blood, she still is the source of his invitation into the household. Her actions are considered quite unladylike, but they are not of her own free will.

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When she finally dies and is reborn a vampire, she is afforded, through the previous sweetness and virtues she held in life, two advantages the Brides did not have. The first is that she never actually did kill anyone before she met her final demise. Van Helsing points out that because of this, they need to act quickly “to take danger from her forever,” the danger being eternal damnation (Stoker 202). The other is that she had her fiancé, Arthur Holmwood to send her to eternal rest and peace, and restore her “sweetness and purity” (Stoker 216). She is given death by the man she loved, out of his deep devotion, which allows her to soul to be saved.

Mina, of all the women, is the only one who does not become a full pledged vampire, is without a doubt is the “virgin” of Wyman and Dionisopoulos thesis. From what the reader can gather, she has not attracted a large number of male aficionados like her friend Lucy. She is engaged from the beginning of the story and does eventually marry. When she speaks of the men of the group, she refers to them as “good” and “brave” (Stoker 311). She doesn’t tell her husband of her nightmares and trouble sleeping, as it will distress him (257). She even “went to bed when the men had gone, simply because they told me to” (257). She is devoted to her husband and unquestioning of the men in her life. She is the very essence of the Victorian feminine ideal.

Mina does nothing that would allow Dracula to hurt her. It is actually through the actions of Renfield, in allowing the Count to enter the asylum Which puts her at risk (279). After he forced her to partake of his blood, she immediately declares herself “Unclean, unclean!” (284). This is something none of the other women did. Once she is tainted, she solicits promises from all the men, including her husband, to end her if they fail to destroy the Count and she is “dead in the flesh” to “drive a stake through me and cut off my head” so they can be protected from her and save her soul from damnation (331). Her unwavering devotion, piety and sweetness are rewarded once the men finally destroy Dracula and free her from the curse. Of the three female types, only our protected virgin is spared.

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In spite of all the time and effort spent on the depiction of the women, the novel “revolves around both male and female characters attempting to define themselves, and each other, by exploring various facets of sexuality and power” (Wyman and Dionisopoulos). It may not be as front and center as with the ladies, but there is a glance into the male side of it with Jonathan, as well as with the close friendship of Arthur and Quincey.

It is not by accident that, when anticipating a visit by Van Helsing to discuss his time at Castle Dracula, Jonathan writes “I felt impotent (emphasis mine), and in the dark” (Stoker 188). It seems that, from his first moments with Dracula, his manhood is diminished by the ancient nobleman. The Count takes an immediate liking to him and insists on spending many nighttime hours with him in conversation, even showing, from what we can tell from Harker’s journal entries, a fondness toward the young solicitor. When the Brides attempt to take him, Dracula’s words to them are “This man belongs to me!” signaling to Jonathan the loss of control over his own fate to the vampire (39).

This is supplemented when Dracula, under Jonathan’s very nose, takes Mina and starts her conversion, putting him “in a stupor such as we know the Vampire can produce” to leave him helpless in their own bedroom (283). He finds that, for all his efforts and firm determination to safeguard his wife, he was unable to. It is from this point Mr. Harker has taken a fondness for his Kukri knife, “which he now always carries” (336). This could be observed as not only a symbol for his lost masculinity, but also as the method in which he intends to reclaim it; which he does as “it shear through the throat” of the Count (377).

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All of the men are good friends, but Arthur Holmwood, Lord Godalming and Quincey Morris seem closer than the rest. It is hinted at many times throughout the novel of the trips the two of them have taken together over the years to foreign lands and hunting expeditions, though Dr. Stewart has been known to accompany them from time to time. Quincey is the only one of them who is with Arthur almost the entire time his father is dying, only leaving to bring a letter for him to Jack for news of Lucy’s condition (Stoker148). They come to Hillingham together when Lucy is about to pass (153). They come to the asylum together (204, 229). They are almost always paired off together when there is a task to be accomplished in the pursuit of Dracula, such as breaking into Piccadilly (299) and sanctifying the properties in Mile End and Bermondsey (301).

There is a moment when Quincey, “with instinctive delicacy, just laid a hand for a moment on this shoulder” as Arthur is recalling the pain of losing Lucy (229). This is a very tender act on his part of a man’s man from Texas. Though they are both shown to prefer women, their relationship is very reminiscent of the gentleman vampire/human companion of Romantic period stories. While they are both alive, neither one marries. Quincey is the one to plunge the knife into Dracula’s heart (377), the only male in the story to kill a male vampire. Arthur does marry sometime after the passing of Quincey (378). It’s as if their friendship and affection is so strong, no woman could truly become a part of their lives until one or the other passed on.

With the nosferatu, there has always been a perceived sexuality about them, whether it is about penetration, the sharing of body fluids or creating progeny. Today’s vampires are beautiful creatures and seem to not be as tortured, if at all, by their very nature. Whether they detest or take pleasure in the blood drinking and other vampiric limitations, they seem to enjoy the other benefits, such as eternal youth, immortality and superhuman strength. This mirrors the modern views of sexuality; there will be benefits and pitfalls to being sexually open. The Victorian vampire, with his “high aquiline nose… parted red lips…sharp white teeth…and the red eyes,” (Stoker 287) “without a speck of colour about him anywhere” (15) is intended to epitomize something entirely different. It is meant it symbolize if you give into your sexual desires, it spells your doom. This is seen in the particular character that meet their violent end, either because of sexual assertiveness, or perceived unnatural affections. It is no wonder that Bram Stoker depicts his symbol of physical yearning as walking death. Vampirism was not a conversion with pros and cons; it was damnation and to be avoided at all cost.

Works Cited

Pikula, Tanya. "Bram Stoker's Dracula and Late-Victorian Advertising Tactics: Earnest Men, Virtuous Ladies, And Porn." English Literature in Transition 1880-1920 3 (2012): 283. Academic OneFile. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

Rottenbucher, Donald. "From Undead Monster to Sexy Seducer: Physical Sex Appeal In Contemporary Dracula Films." Journal of Dracula Studies 6. (2004): 34-36. MLA International Bibliography. Web. 22 Apr. 2014.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Maud Ellmann. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.

Wyman, Leah M., and George N. Dionisopoulos. "Transcending The Virgin/Whore Dichotomy:Telling Mina's Story in Bram Stoker's Dracula." Women's Studies in Communication 23.2 (2000): 209. Academic Search Premier. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.

© 2017 Kristen Willms

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