The Blood Is the Life: Vampires in Literature

By Leonard G. Heldreth; Mary Pharr | Go to book overview

3
DRACULA MEETS THE NEW WOMAN

Jean Lorrah

No one would want to claim that Bram Stoker's Dracula is on a par with Homer or Shakespeare, but it has remained a focus of popular interest for over a century and a focus of critical attention for decades. Nonetheless, let us admit at once that the style is faulty, the plot hangs on coincidences, the humor is heavy-handed and damaging to the progress of the plot, and the sentimentalism is frequently overdone. Those points dispensed with, we can look at the things that have given this novel great appeal for the past hundred years.

The attack of the vampire is an obvious symbol for rape, and that sensational aspect has given every vampire tale for the past two centuries a ready-made audience. Yet Dracula, coming about midway between the first adaptations of the folk-tale into literature and the present, immediately became and still remains the standard against which all vampire stories are judged. Dracula is the one vampire everybody knows.

People who first read Dracula as teenagers are often startled to find upon re-reading it as adults that they had forgotten—or not understood— the sexual implications of the book. A great deal of recent criticism has focused on that aspect of the novel: it is rife with rape, incest, adultery, sado-masochism, and homosexuality, all carefully kept at the symbolic level except for one notable scene.

But the really interesting thing that has been overlooked all these years is that, despite the sexual overtones, the book is a testament in favor of what was called, in the last quarter of the nineteenth century, the New Woman. Most of the critics who have mentioned this figure in the novel take the text as opposing her, even finding her as frightening a monster as the vampire. A close examination of the roles of women in the novel, though, tells a different story.

While Bram Stoker never took a public stand in favor of feminism, his mother was an advocate of what little women's movement there was in Ireland, and there is evidence in Stoker's other works that he was interested in the relationship between men and women, and was an

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