Van Helsing

My revenge is just begun! Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine (p.306).

 It is not only Dracula whose masculinity is questioned, both Seward and Harker reveal apprehensions and fears that show how unstable are the boundaries of self-definition. In the first part of the novel Harker’s situation and the experiences he endures threaten his sense of manhood, for not only is he at the mercy of a tyrannical older man, but his encounter with the three sister vampires places him in an unmistakably feminised position.They advance upon him, whilst he lies quietly ‘looking out from under [his] eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation’ (p.38) and then, at the end of the scene, overcome with horror, he faints, in the manner of a Victorian heroine. He subsequently suffers a nervous breakdown and does not return to the narrative until van Helsing validates his experiences and thus his manhood for this makes a new man of me. It was the doubt as to the reality of the whole thing that knocked me over. I felt impotent, and in the dark, and distrustful (p.

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222).Later Dracula returns to undermine his masculinity by effectively cuckolding him in the ambiguously sexual scene in which the vampire forces Mina to suck the blood from his chest. It is noticeable that the female vampires, including Lucy, prey upon children in a mockery of their traditional maternal role. Mina by contrast is placed upon a pedestal at the end of the novel for her ready acceptance of the proper position of wife and mother, the other women having not only flouted their maternal duty but also decent feminine decorum in their wanton, predatory voluptuousness.

This clear fear about feminine sexuality seems to be directly related to the appearance of a new female stereotype to disrupt gender roles in late Victorian society -that of the New Woman. Although there are several, sometimes contradictory, ideas about what exactly constituted a New Woman, both general types are relevant to the women in the novel, and what unites them both is the idea that principle lay at the heart of their conflicts with accepted opinion, and that their actions should be dictated only by personal choice.One view associated the New Woman with excessive sexual appetite that did not need require marriage for fulfilment. Of the two women, this is clearly of more relevance to Lucy, whose rhetorical question ‘why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?’ has been widely quoted in support of the argument that she is relatively relaxed in her sexual attitudes, as Senf puts it ‘her desire for three husbands suggests a degree of latent sensuality which connects her to the New Woman of the period’ (p.42).However, the passivity of the phrasing of the question, with the onus being on the men wanting the women rather than the other way around, and the idea of ‘saving trouble’ seems rather to suggest that by contrast Lucy is content to take an exaggeratedly traditional role, and avoid having to disobey the wishes of any man at all.

Lucy is also the most vividly described of the female vampires, and her new identity is all the more shocking because of her former apparent innocence as she tries to seduce Arthur ‘Come to me Arthur…my arms are hungry for you’.

It is also hinted that Lucy might have in some way, like Harker and Mina, complied with Dracula -all speak of being drawn in by him, yet unlike Mina, whose admission that she ‘did not want to hinder him’ (p.287) is followed immediately by remorse, Lucy describes the experience entirely in sensual, pleasurable terms, with the phallic symbol of the lighthouse and the common sexual metaphors of the deep sea and an earthquake describing what was clearly an overwhelming experience.Unlike Lucy, who as a more affluent and thus indolent Victorian lady has made no effort to improve her mind, Mina has a career and thus economic independence, and devotes her free time to teaching herself new skills. She also shows considerable strength of spirit and thought later in the novel, despite her easy acquiescence to the suggestion that she should stay in bed whilst the men sought out the Count, and her latter role as wife and mother, and thus to some extent conforms to the stereotype of the New Woman as an independent, intellectual career seeker, although she herself scorns the more extreme examples of New Womanhood.Both women, at some point in the novel, suffer from fits of hysteria, yet tellingly, although it was at the time considered exclusively a female condition, many of the men succumb similarly. Harker suffers from a ‘brain fever’, the scientific Seward, unable to comprehend events finds himself Going in my mind from point to point as a mad man, and not a sane one, follows an idea (p.193) and, disappointed in love, resorts to choral in order to sleep.Van Helsing reacts to Lucy’s death by fits of hysterical laughter and later observes that anyone reading about his encounter with the three vampire sisters would have just cause to doubt his sanity, and Holmwood succumbs to mad grief when he reads the account of Lucy’s death.

There is no clear dividing line between sanity and madness, with the lunatic Renfield’s occasional rationality only serving to emphasise this, and this was a preoccupation in the late nineteenth century. Pick writes that the novel tacitly questions the possibility of..

.sharp separations, in this like so many medical-psychiatrists of the period convinced that no complete dividing line lay between sanity and insanity but rather a vast and shadowy border-land.Both Renfield and Dracula represent the ease with which high born, well educated men could degenerate into madness. Degeneracy was a major issue at the end of the century; adapted to the social sphere from evolutionary biology and the ideas of constant progression and extinction, it was feared that instead of progressing society was going into decline, and in this decline, it was believed, insanity played an important role, as did the disturbance of traditional gender roles.

Two of the main proponents of such theories, Nordau and Lombroso, are mentioned in Dracula by van Helsing, indicating that Stoker was aware of their work.It is not only as a vampire that the Count is outside the bounds of normality, but also as a degenerate and a foreigner, a symbolic outsider onto which can be projected a range of contemporary anxieties. The novel was published in 1897, the year of the second Colonial Conference and during the period of ‘high imperialism’, and Arata has suggested that in Dracula the process is reversed, with the vampire threatening to colonise England.Dracula’s mission is facilitated by the symptoms of decline in England; as he grows ever stronger and more powerful the Englishmen seem inadequate and weak by comparison, and whilst he has spawned at least the four other vampires featured in the book, and nearly succeeds in converting Mina, it is only at the end of the novel that one of the five men manages to father a child, suggesting that in his own way Dracula is of superior fertility. Even this child, born as it is of the blood of six different men, one of them being Dracula himself, is no real triumph over the vampire and this multiple parentage only emphasises Arata’s notion of substandard fertility.

Although contemporary critics complained that Dracula would have been ‘all the more effective if he had chosen an earlier period’8 it is exactly its up to date detail and the clear rooting of fin de si�cle psychological fears specifically within their late Victorian social context that makes the novel so effective as an expression of contemporary social and psychological dilemmas, and thus so much more than simply a Gothic horror story. Dracula is certainly a novel about fear, but it is far closer to home than its mythical subject matter would suggest.