DRACULA – Modernism and “New Woman”

12 Jun

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The “Norton” edition fails to address the plight of working class women for whom the transition to an industrialized – instead of an agrarian – economy was singularly the greatest impetus towards women’s rights. Women were very often employed in the new factories in preference to men as they were cheaper, compliant and easier to control with the economically beneficial addition of their children who were considered free labor. For the first time in the modern era, women had become principal earners and seen to be able to work alongside men or even in place of them. The so called “New Woman”in the earlier part of the century would have been a rarity indeed, given her societal subjugation and lack of access to higher education however, with the advent of the new century things were changing rapidly; women were schooled, allowed to divorce and in many cases granted the right to own property and were no longer considered the chattel of their husbands. To white-wash the entire Victorian period as a repressive society towards the feminine would therefore be disingenuous. The eighteen hundreds were a march of progression not only in industrialization and Capitalist economics but also in sexual parity.

Stoker’s women – in particular Mina and Lucy – have been androgenized and one has to question the author’s motivation? Why it is that Mina’s is the principal diary; why are we allowed to see into the minds of Stoker’s women and why are they given such broad sexual license? The principal action through much of the novel is either conducted by or associated with Mina. Why does Stoker personify a principal character as a woman when the Norton edition would have us believe they were so downtrodden and that Victorian Patriarchy was allegedly so afraid of the rise of woman? Given the period that “Dracula” was written Britain stood at the dawn of a new century with the rejection of Romanticism and the advent of Modernism. Clearly new cultural perceptions were beginning to appear – as is evident both in the poetry and literature of the later nineteenth century – and rather than viewing the suppression of women we should perhaps be receptive to their awakening during a century where women began to achieve their first vestiges of equality. Stoker from his descriptions and subjugation of the expected feminine stereotype is clearly demonstrating an enlightenment and broadness of mind that obviously wasn’t his alone. Given that “Dracula” is a novel of its period, we are perhaps misreading an enlightenment novel that had already made the switch from sexual division to the incorporation of the female and its reclassification as equal. We have to also consider the men in the novel and see how ridiculous they become when they interact with women. In all things they are committed to action and honor and societal obligation and yet when a woman is suddenly in the picture they are emasculated and revert to becoming children, blubbering simpletons or love struck buffoons. Stoker is demonstrating extremes of character, where we can clearly see that the sexes are able to perform a duality of roles and that the masculine and feminine are interchangeable. Clearly, as “Dracula” demonstrates, those traits traditionally associated with one sex no longer, at the dawn of the twentieth century, hold true.

The three vampires adopt male roles and rather than supplicant actively seek what can only be described as sexual congress with Harker. This is a no holds barred description of women as sexual aggressors. We also see the awakening of the dominant in Mina as well, who decides, despite the fact that she is “merely a woman,” to visit her sick husband and take control of his affairs. It’s thanks to her foresight and ability to work with the latest technology – the typewriter – that she is able to order man’s affairs and throw light on what had been a confusion of facts. Lucy who holds the fate of men in her hands with her several proposals is even able to dazzle and distract her suitors in death! Not only that but she also destroys that most sacred sacrament of the feminine – motherhood – when she feeds off children in her undead state. Rather than a giver of life the feminine is cast in the masculine role as a taker of life. Throughout the novel it is either the women who hold the reigns or who are given license to do so by the men who, in their company, are mere walking shadows – poor players perhaps – of what society expects them to be. This transition within sexual power play politics is undoubtedly reflective of the period in which it was written and self evident of the onset of Modernism.

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