The Victorian age is generally thought of as a time of social perfection and rigid oppression. Society was changing which brought in new ideas and concepts while also serving to emphasize old customs of the past as people tried to cling to the way of life they were familiar with. Women were beginning to question their social roles as well since more and more opportunities became available to them through the factories and in other professions. Women who chose to embrace the new concepts were considered to be deviant because they defied the customs of the past in favor of living in the present.
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In Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, the concept of deviant women is explored through the characters Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra.
At the beginning of the novel, Mina Murray is seen as the more deviant of the two women because she is working as a school teacher’s assistant. As a schoolmistress, Mina is a working woman, which automatically labels her deviant, but keeps some respectability because her profession is considered within the realm of ‘female’ roles. She is seen as a fine, upstanding young woman because she is in a semi-professional position, properly meek, properly engaged, and loyally attempting to make herself useful for her future husband.
In chapter 5 she writes to Lucy: “When we [she and Jonathan] are married I shall be able to be useful to Jonathan, and if I can stenograph well enough I can take down what he wants to say in this way and write it out for him on the typewriter.” In this account of her current activities, there is no mention of what she might want for herself, only what she can do for Jonathan’s benefit. Since she is doing all the right things to uphold the traditional roles and values of women, her deviance in working is deemed acceptable as long as she stops working once she’s married.
Lucy Westenra appears to be a proper Victorian young lady at the opening of the story because she does not need to work to support herself, but she is deviant in many other ways. Her activities are the acceptable activities of a fashionable lady. She attends picture galleries, walks in the park, and goes for rides in the country.
She is thrilled to have three proposals of marriage in a day but deviates from Victorian rules by making her own decisions regarding which proposal she’ll accept. Even this early in the story, it is seen that Lucy struggles to break out of the bounds of her strict Victorian definition in order to find her own voice and character as she expresses excess of emotion that is considered deviant. By chapter 8, Lucy is sneaking out at night and meeting with Count Dracula, as is described in Mina’s journal, in terms that suggest sexual imagery and activity.
However, both women are seduced to some degree or another by the Count, who doesn’t see the need for all the social constraints observed in England. He is obvious about his sexuality and his desires, something neither woman is used to and something they both find attractive. The Count shows Lucy how to release her emotions and enjoy life, finally feeling the blood coursing through her veins in the desire she always knew she had.
He does the same for Mina, but she is more rooted in her society through her engagement with Jonathan. While both women’s lives will be changed forever as a result of her encounter with the Count, Mina will be able to grow old and have a family while Lucy is forced to suffer a stake through the heart as a means of ridding society of her type of overtly deviant behavior.
As the novel progresses, both women demonstrate signs of resistance against the socially established ‘norms’, predictably more pronounced in Lucy than in Mina. It is guessed that it was because of her excessive need to express her emotions and a stubborn insistence upon having some control over the events of her life that Lucy ends up in the mental institution where much of the action of the story takes place. Lucy’s dual nature in the asylum could easily be explained by the fact that she’s been locked up, to begin with. It can be seen that she struggled with attempting to fit society’s definitions of what she should be despite being what she was.
This was perhaps the result of having a previous difficulty in conforming to the social roles she was expected to play, and the awakening of her sexuality with the introduction of a man willing to explore it with her.
Her death could also be attributed not necessarily to the vampire Dracula but to the dangerous nature of the blood transfusions, she was receiving. Mina herself admits to being a willing and active party to her seduction within her diary, indicating an awakening sense of sexuality in the breast of that young lady as well. However, these awakening ideas are not part of the constrained and ‘civilized’ social ideals of the upper class and are therefore condemned as ‘other’ by blaming them upon an unnatural creation (Dracula) and mental illness.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Penguin Popular Classics, (2007).