While overt sexual activity was not present in Dracula, sexual themes were manifest in the vampire literature of the previous century. The original vampire poem written by Goethe , The Bride of Corinth, drew upon the story from ancient Greece concerning a young woman who had died a virgin. She returned from the dead to her parents’ home to have sexual experiences with a young man staying temporarily in the guest room. The strong sexual relationship at the heart of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Christabel was expanded in Carmilla, the popular vampire story by Sheridan Le Fanu . In Gottfried August Bürger’s ballad Lenore, known in English by Sir Walter Scott’s translation, the vampire invite a woman with whom he had been in love to return with him to the grave where they love each other forever.
Stoker used the vampire as a metaphor for the Victorian view of sex as innately dangerous. In Dracula, sex with the Count transformed women into seductive sirens and horrific baby killers – the opposite of the Victorian ideal of chaste and nurturing womanhood. Originally, only female vampires were especially beautiful. Lamias and other such spirit-like vampires were always ugly in their true form, but had the ability to shift their appearance to that of a beautiful maiden, in order to lure men to them.
With the coming of the Victorian age, both the male and female vampire became beautiful and both exhibited a sexual appetite, though both vampire and vampiress retained the beauty as only a facade. The penetration of skin by sharp canine teeth easily evokes both violence and eroticism. In anger or distress the vampire still revealed its ugly, more corpse-like side.
Bram Stoker used his novel Dracula to explore two very different examples of female gender identity. The character of Lucy Westenra corresponds to the traditional image of the woman at this time, weak, superficial and flighty. She is seemingly incapable of taking care of herself, a characteristic that eventually leads to her death after she is bitten by Dracula and turned into a vampire. The other female character of Stoker’s novel is quite different. Mina Harker is, under Stoker’s pen, a fine example of feminine strength. While Lucy falls under Dracula’s power, Mina is able to use her powers of reasoning and intuition to thwart Dracula’s goals. With her guidance, the male characters in the novel are able to find Dracula and destroy him. Mina is the embodiment of Stoker’s impression of a newer model of female gender identity. She is capable of being intelligent, forceful and powerful, without the added detraction of being sexually promiscuous.
The sexual nature of vampirism manifested initially in Dracula during Jonathan Harker’s encounter with the three vampire brides residing in Castle Dracula. Harker confronted them as extremely appealing sex objects but who embody an element of danger. Harker noted, “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with their red lips” (chapter 3). Stoker went on to describe the three as sensual predators and their vampire’s bite as a kiss. One of the women anticipated the object of their desire, “He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all.” And as they approached, Harker waited in delightful anticipation.
Attention in the novel then switched to the two “good” women, Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray. Lucy, as the subject of the attention of three men, reveled in their obvious desire of her before she chose Arthur Holmwood, the future Lord Godalming, as her betrothed. Mina, to the contrary, was in love with Jonathan and pined in loneliness while he was lost in the wilds of Transylvania.
While preparing for her wedding, however, Lucy was distracted by the presence of Dracula. While on a seaside vacation in Whitby, Lucy began sleepwalking. One evening, Lucy was discovered by Mina in her nightclothes across the river. As Mina approached, she could see a figure bending over Lucy. Dracula left as Mina approached, but she found Lucy with her lips parted and breathing heavily.
Thus began Lucy’s slow transformation from the virtuous and proper, if somewhat frivolous, young lady, into what Judith Weissman termed a “sexual monster.” By day she was faint and listless, but by night she took on a most unladylike voluptuousness. Shortly before her death, she asked Arthur to kiss her, and when he leaned toward her, she attempted to bite him.
Stoker’s understanding, however unconscious, of the sexual nature of the vampiric attack became most clear in the blood transfusions that were given to Lucy in the attempt to save her life. Arthur, who never was able to consummate his love for Lucy, suggested that in the sharing of blood he had, in the eyes of God, married her. The older and wiser Abraham Van Helsing rejected the idea, given the sexual connotation for himself and the others who also gave her blood. But by this time, the sexual interest of Dracula in women was firmly established and led directly to the most sexual scene in the book.
Having given Lucy her peace (and, by implication, returned her virtue) in the act of staking and decapitating her, the men called together by Van Helsing to rid the world of Dracula, were slow to awaken to his real target-Mina. When they finally became aware of this, they rushed to Mina’s bedroom.
There, they found Dracula sitting on her bed forcing her to drink from a cut on his chest. Dracula turned angrily to those who had interrupted him. “His eyes flamed red with devilish passion …” Once Dracula was driven away and Mina came to her senses, she realized that she had been violated. She declared herself unclean and vowed that she would “kiss” her husband no more.