Response to the figure of the New Woman in Stoker’s Dracula
Dracula was published by Bram Stoker in 1897 when this idea of theNew Woman was gaining strength and popularity changing the concept ofwomanhood in the west. He was one of the several authors whoresponded and condemned this idea of womanhood in his work. He sawthis perception as narrow, and immoral because he considered thewoman’s independence as a path to aggressiveness and sexualpromiscuity.
The definition of the Woman in the traditional and conservativeEurope was a direct contrast of what Stoker’s Dracula depicts inhis work. The conservatives depict a woman’s role as being asubmissive, a care person for the family, respective and to raisechildren. She was mainly a housewife expected to maintain her role inthe kitchen and within the family. She wasn’t supposed to take anyleadership roles or even to be a provider(Campbell, 451). She couldnot make any decision without her husband’s approval or even givean opinion in public concerning a sensitive matter. She was expectedto support her husband and stand by his side.
Stoker’s Dracula portrays a woman as someone who can take the roleof a man and do everything perfectly. She can be independent andself-sufficient without the man’s support. She is guided by herthoughts and desires and go against the traditional norms of thesociety, for example, riding a bicycle that was considered ataboo(Dowling, 438). She can also get an education, make her money,build a career and even take the leadership role in the society.Also, marriage and motherhood to her are an option, something thatwas unheard of in the conservative society, that Dracula was based.These qualities are among those features in the Victorian Womanhoodand the New Woman, however, these features needed to be molded andnatured in her to prevent her from breaking apart.
Stoker’s Dracula doesn’t portray the “New Woman” but a ladywho is trying to adopt to the changing womanhood definitions in thesociety, as the civilization matures(Lorrah, 36). The development ofthis concept in the society encounters the brewing fight for Women’sSuffrage that later takes the political form as it is popularizedusing posters, banners, pageants among others(Campbell, 115). Stokertries to explain how the woman in the society can take up the besttraits of a New Woman and incorporate them into the changes thatrevolve forming new standards of the admirable woman who can berespected by the people in the society.
Lucy Westenra in the novel is an ideal representation of Victorianwomanhood, something that is incompatible with the modern society shelives. Wilhemina Harker (Murray) on the other hand is a woman whoother than honoring the ideas of the traditional Victorian womanhoodshe still adopts certain modern qualities hence making her a newideal woman(Dowling, 436). He creates these two model women as arepresentation of the problems he sees in this “New Woman”development in his society.
Lucy is shaped to resemble the ideal Victorian woman womanhood, andthe errors she makes in the novel is specifically made to humanizeher character. Mina, on the other hand, is represented as a flexiblewoman who combines certain attributes of the New Woman and blendsthem with those characters in the Victorian womanhood so as to fitinto the late Victorian society. The cultural pressure on morality isdepicted when Stoker brings in the sexual desires of bothwomen(Dowling, 436). He displays Lucy autonomy as being sexual, andMina is portrayed using the female autonomy as he relates the two totheir capability in motherhood.
The greatest fears that Stoker highlights in his novel is that theNew Woman despises motherhood a feature that could eventuallydeteriorate the British Empire in future. Mina has portrayed a motherfigure who ultimately maintains this feature through the novel(Craft,52). Stoker uses mina to create compromise while allowing women toembrace good qualities in the New Woman and also ensuring that shepreserves good qualities of the traditional woman.
Stokes provides examples depicting the New Woman’s traits. He saysthat she should be feared a quality that scolds the ideals ofwomanhood and the gender expectations that the older Victorianqualities are seen in three women at Dracula’s Castle and then inLucy(Morgan, 17). Stoker applies the ancient superstitions of thevampire character in Dracula to point out the evil that can result ifthe New Woman reverses her roles and her sexual freedom.
When Stoker portrays Lucy as an ideal Victorian woman displaying herdesire to get married, run a household and raise children he portraysa male-dominated society that was highly organized and beautiful inthe novel(Lorrah, 40). She is also used to demonstrate devotion tothe past, and to demonstrate that the definition of womanhood sheperceives might fail to survive the changing times.
Stoker acknowledges that times are changing and so as the norms thatthe society holds. The New Woman is clear of what she wants, deservesand would do anything in her power to get it. Mina is represented asa replica of the two traits Stoker discusses here. Lucy is seen tohave a rigid mindset, and she represents a former Victorian woman whois unable to change as time goes and therefore, she is forced toabandon that trait (Dowling, 45).
Lucy’s character could be traced back to her upbringing because sheis raised by a single mother. She partially grows up knowing that afather is a sole provider and protector in the family. However, thisis short-lived because her father dies. As she grows up, she doesn’tsee a father figure around her, and her mother fails to play bothroles in her life because she finds it difficult to fit into the newrole(Craft, 51). She doesn’t see the danger that lurks behind afterher daughter is attacked by Dracula portraying utter ignorance andalso Lucy’s strange behavior around her male friends to be suitors.The fact that the society did not give women the right to knowledgeor information prevents Lucy’s mother to inquire about herdaughter’s illness from the male doctor. She also deals with herhealth issues limiting her from watching and protecting Lucy at homeor in the society.
The ignorance and lack of the mother’s protection make Lucy be avictim of the minor mistakes she makes in life, therefore, making thesociety see her as the New Woman(Dowling, 445). The aspect ofeducation is very important for any Victorian woman as depicted byStoker in this novel. A woman should be educated on how to keep hermarriage, morally acceptable behavior, child care and housekeepingincluding what the society expects from any woman. Lucy’s motherfails to nature this characteristic in her daughter, leaving her tolearn them herself in Etiquette School. Mina becomes close with Lucy,and she ends up relying on advice and guidance something she missesher mother.
According to Morgan on page 16, the lack of a father figure also putsLucy at a disadvantage because she lacks the guidance that could leadher to find a suitable marriage partner, and also her mother’sneglect makes her do things that go against the established moralbehavior in the society. The sexual aspect of the New Woman isdisplayed in this circumstance by Lucy as a whore because she resistsfeminist’s efforts that set standards that behavior can bejudged(Lorrah, 33). Lucy treats all her suitors with respect, and sheintends no harm to any of them. Hence, she solves issues with allgood intentions in mind a quality which is socially wrong.
Considering her background, Lucy is a Victorian woman who desires tobe married and raise a family, however, she fails to recognize hersuitor’s feelings and at the same time she doesn’t intend to hurtthem because of lack of knowledge of how to handle relationships(Morgan, 17). The heartless trait being incorporated in her from theway she treats her suitors is seen as a trait only possessed by a NewWoman. Even when she becomes a vampire the heartless element is notportrayed by Lucy.
The New Woman desire to cause chaos and disorder among friends is nota character Lucy displays in this novel. She is seen as a woman whokeeps a distance from other people’s affairs including crossingpaths with people(Craft, 68). Mina and Lucy in the novel are seen aswomen who like order in the society.
In conclusion, Stoker tries to display the Concept of the New Womanusing the smallest details that cannot be seen as a major issue inthe society. He tries to put out the fact that even the minutecharacters that people display in the society can end up costing themmuch more than just destruction of morals and social ties. It goesbeyond the state one is, but it can end up affecting even the futuregenerations.
Campbell, Karlyn Kohrs. Inventing Women: From Amaterasu toVirginia Woolf.Women’s Studies in Communication 31.2 (1998):111-26.
Case, Alison. Tasting the Original Apple: Gender and the Strugglefor Narrative Authority in Dracula.Narrative 1.3 (1993): 223-243.JSTOR.
Craft, Christopher. ‘Kiss Me With Those Red Lips’: Gender andInversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Bram Stoker’s Dracula.Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2003.39-69. Print.
Dowling, Linda. The Decadent and the New Woman in the 1890s.Nineteenth-Century Fiction 33.4 (1979): 434-453. JSTOR.
Lorrah, Jean. Dracula Meets the New Woman. The Blood Is the Life:Vampires in Literature. Ed. Leonard G. Heldreth and Mary Pharr.Bowling Green: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1999.31-42. Print.
Morgan-Dockrell, C. Is the New Woman a Myth? The New Woman.Ed. Juliet Gardiner. London: Collins & Brown Ltd, 1993. 16-19.Print
Stoker, Bram. Drácula. Miami: El Cid Editor, 2009.Print.