Vampire Women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Angela Carter’s “The Lady of the House of Love” Bram Stoker’s Dracula mirrors the gender and sexual anxieties as well as the cultural fears of the late nineteenth century relating to the perception of women in society, while Angela Carter’s story “The Lady of the House of Love” portrays the exact same objectification a hundred years later. What Stoker’s and Carter’s vampire women have in common is their quest to escape objectification in order to claim power over their own bodies and an authentic existence.
It is believed by most critics that Dracula is a novel that indulges the Victorian male imagination, especially in the sphere of female sexuality. The fact of the matter is that in Victorian England, society had extremely rigid expectations of female sexual behavior. They were offered three roles: the mother, the lunatic and the whore. The mother represented the image of purity and was the so called “angel of the house”; the lunatic women were considered those who desired more out of their life, who turned to other things than merely their household and for neglecting their family, they were labeled insane; and lastly, the whore was naturally, any woman free enough to explore her own sexuality, and as such, of no consequence to society.
Stoker presents his reader with the embodiments of what Victorian society believes a woman should be: pious, innocent and pure. But Dracula threatens to turn pious women like Mina and Lucy, into their opposites, into women noted for their voluptuousness, a word Stoker turns to again and again with an unapologetically open sexual desire.
But, the most prominent images of female sexuality let loose are the three ravishingly beautiful vampires: “In the moonlight opposite me were three young women… 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” (Stoker 43). These three women represent both Jonathan Harker’s dream and his nightmare. Moreover, they are the embodiment of a dream and nightmare for the whole Victorian male imagination.
These women portray what the Victorian ideal orders women should not be, voluptuous and sexually aggressive. This fact makes their deadly beauty both an open invitation of a sexual fulfillment and a fatal curse. It is evident that these women offer more sexual gratification to young Harker in just two paragraphs than his fiancée Mina does during the entire course of the novel. In the end, it is exactly this sexual aggression on part of the women that threatens to undermine the foundations of a male-dominated society by compromising their ability to maintain control.
This is why it is of the utmost importance to label women into the three, previously mentioned types and treat them accordingly, thus purging the Victorian society of any possible threats. The objectification and subjugation of women in Angela Carter’s short story collection The Bloody Chamber is part of the latent content of her exposed version of the traditional fairy tales, of which “The Lady of the House of Love” could be a loose rewriting of The Sleeping Beauty. “Wearing an antique bridal gown, the beautiful queen of the vampires sits all alone in her dark, high house” (Carter 84) and she is the only Carter’s heroine who manages to objectify a man, instead of being objectified herself.
She is condemned never to be happy with a man because, like a werewolf, her insatiable hunger causes her to kill her potential mates: “She rises when the sun sets and goes immediately to her table where she plays her game of patience until she grows hungry, until she becomes ravenous. She is so beautiful she is unnatural; her beauty is an abnormality, a deformity… Her beauty is a symptom of her disorder, of her soullessness. ” (Carter 85) It is obvious that she, just like Stoker’s three beautiful vampires, is liberated from the conventions of being a female.
But, she is shackled by her own hunger. In addition, her story allows the readers to view the other side of the objectification, and how it harms both parties: “The blood on the Countess’ cheeks will be mixed with tears” (Carter 87). She is the proof that liberation is not for everyone, it is only for the strong ones, those who are aware of the fact that going against conventions and society results in one being an outcast, an undesirable part of the society he willingly shunned.
Accordingly, the Countess falls into the whore type of the Victorian female differentiation, because she chooses to explore her sexuality, but at the same time, realizes that she is stuck doing Sisyphus work. Even though the three vampire women were not given a deeper insight by Stoker, they still represent a powerful image of female liberation.
In the same manner, Carter’s Countess lives her liberated life in solitude and constant wait for the hunger to become unbearable. Freeing oneself from the shackles of conventions is difficult, but continuing one’s life afterwards, is sometimes even harder. References: Carter, Angela. The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories. New York: Penguin Group, 1993. Print. Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Barnes & Noble Inc, 2003. Print.
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