The Role of the Weird Sisters – An Analysis of the Female Vampires in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The three female vampires who inhabit the more remote areas of Count Dracula’s castle are of great importance to the narrative. Stoker’s depiction of them could be considered the embodiment of Victorian femininity’s worst nightmares. Jonathan Harker’s reactions after meeting them also convey late nineteenth-century anxieties about the feminization of men.
Female gender identity was narrowly defined in Victorian society. Women are generally considered to be of two types, either the loving wife and mother or the fallen woman. The female vampires, or “strange sisters” as Harker calls them – referring to the three witches of Macbeth – could be considered the exaggerated literary equivalent of these fallen women. With their “shining white teeth” (p.37) and “lustful lips” (p.37), they are presented as overtly sexual beings. Their appearance and behavior are in stark contrast to that of Jonathan’s fiancée, the virtuous Mina, whom he describes as having “nothing to do” (p.53) with female vampires.
During his seduction, Jonathan’s reactions to the strange sisters are decidedly ambivalent: “There was a deliberate voluptuousness that was both exciting and repulsive” (p.38). He meets them in a distant room of Dracula’s castle while in an ambiguous state of consciousness, a common motif in Gothic literature: “I suppose I must have been asleep; I hope but fear that everything that followed was startlingly true” (p.37). Seen from the Victorian context, Harker is presented in a somewhat feminized position, with the gender roles reversed, as he is a man seduced by women, while in nineteenth-century society men were expected to take on the role of seducer.
It is debatable whether the actions of the vampire women in their seduction of Harker represent newfound anxieties about the emergence of the New Woman. The New Woman was a type of woman who challenged prevailing Victorian notions of femininity. Although Mina may be considered a new woman, with her financial independence gained from a career before marriage, she discusses this class of women with disdain. Regarding the attitude towards marriage, she states that “I suppose the New Woman will not condescend in the future to accept; she will make the proposal herself” (p.89). It seems that in Harker’s seduction, female vampires can be considered New Women in light of Mina’s remarks.
In the context of Gothic literature, Stoker confronts several conventions, one of which is through the role of Jonathan Harker in Dracula’s Castle. In eighteenth-century Gothic novels such as Anne Radcliffe’s influential novel The Mysteries of Udolfo, it’s a young woman – of “quivering sensibility” and very prone to fainting – who finds herself trapped in a remote castle and at the mercy of male predators. in Dracula Stoker has broken convention by having a male character in this role, a detail consolidated by Harker’s reaction to his terrifying encounter with the female vampires: “horror seized me and I sank unconscious” (p.39). He is a man who takes on the role usually held by women in the Gothic narrative.
Mina’s role as New Woman is further supported during her encounter with the Strange Sisters much later in the story. The female vampires are shown to be attracted to Mina, calling her “sister” in their invitation to join their ranks.
Jonathan’s “agony of delightful anticipation” (p.38) when he is seduced by the vampires is echoed in Van Helsing’s own anxieties when he stakes the undead women. He also notes the women’s sexual attractiveness in a Harker-like tone: “She was so beautiful, so radiantly beautiful, so exquisitely voluptuous” (p.370). If Victorian masculinity can be undermined through the threat posed by sexually attractive women, then Van Helsing’s reliance on female vampires can be seen as a reassertion of male patriarchy.
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