“All three [women] 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.” – Jonathan Harker in Dracula by Bram Stoker
In the spirit of Halloween and Victober (search #victober on Instagram!), I finally read Dracula by Bram Stoker. It was forever on my TBR list and I’m glad I finally got to it. Vampires, wolves, castles, and tombs – the novel did not disappoint and was the perfect October read.
One thing that did get on my nerves while reading was the character Professor Abraham Van Helsing going on and on about how perfect the character Mina Harker was. This also annoyed a cousin of mine who was reading it at the same time. When she sent me a text venting her frustrations, I had to give it some more thought.
In a lot of ways, through the never-ending praise of Van Helsing, Stoker presents Mina as “the angel in the house,” a very Victorian notion of a woman being perfectly pure and saintly. Even if married, they are presented, among many qualities, as chaste, or at most, only sexual beings for reproductive needs. Definitely not for pleasure.
The thing is, Victorian England was very prim and proper, even prudish, about sex. Some say they even covered up table legs so as not to cause offence! However, prostitution was a very real problem at the time…so they weren’t as squeaky clean as their customs and literature claimed to be.
There are three vampire sisters who show up in Chapter Three of the novel who are very sexually aggressive and enticing. Since they are vampires, they are unarguably meant to be read as bad (Dracula is NOT Twilight). Therefore, it can be read that women with sexual desires are monstrous, like the three sisters, and women like Mina are to be admired.
It would be very easy to say that this thinking perfectly captures the Victorian period and leave it at that. In some ways, we’ve become much, much more enlightened in the 21st century when it comes to female sexuality. Yet, in other ways, our culture still finds a way to shame any woman who isn’t “the angel of the house.”
Have you read Dracula? Did you ever consider what the novel has to say about women and their sexuality? Now that you have, do you agree with the reading? Or see it differently? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!