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The Role of the Weird Sisters – An Analysis of the Vampire Women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Of greatest importance to the narrative are the three vampire women who live in the far reaches of Count Dracula’s castle. Stoker considers their depiction to reflect the worst Victorian nightmares of femininity. Jonathan Harker’s reactions after meeting them also reflect late nineteenth-century concerns about the feminization of men.
Female gender identities were narrowly defined in Victorian society. Women are generally considered to be of two types, the fallen wife and mother or fallen woman. Vampire women, or ‘weird sisters’, as Harker calls them – referring to the three witches Macbeth – can be considered an exaggerated literary equivalent of these fallen women. With their “wonderful white teeth” (p.37) and “luxurious lips” (p.37), they are portrayed as overtly sexual beings. Their appearance and behavior are in stark contrast to Jonathan’s fiancée, the virtuous Mina, whom he describes as “not in common” (p.53) with vampire women.
During his seduction, Jonathan’s reactions to the strange sisters are decidedly ambivalent: “Deliberately luxuriant, it is thrilling and repulsive” (p.38). He meets them in a distant room in Dracula’s castle while he is in a vague state of consciousness, a common motif in Gothic literature: “I think I am asleep; I think so, but I am afraid, for all that happened next was startling. True” (p.37). Seen from a Victorian context, Harker is portrayed in a somewhat feminine pose, with gender roles reversed, as he is the man seduced by women at a time when men were expected to play the role of seducer in nineteenth-century society.
It can be argued that the vampiric women’s actions in seducing Harker represent newfound concerns about the emergence of the New Woman. The New Woman was a type of woman who challenged prevailing Victorian notions of femininity. Although Mina can be considered a new woman, having a career before marriage gives her financial independence, she discusses this class of women disdainfully. Regarding attitudes toward marriage, “I suppose the new woman will not accept in the future; she will propose herself” (p.89). In their seduction of Harker, female vampires can be considered the new women in light of Mina’s comments.
In the context of Gothic literature, Stoker encounters several conventions, one of which is through the character of Jonathan Harker in Dracula’s Castle. Among eighteenth-century Gothic novels, Ann Radcliffe’s was influential The Mysteries of Udolfo, it follows a young woman – ‘fearfully sensitive’ and prone to fainting – who is trapped in a remote castle and at the mercy of male predators. in Dracula Stoker subverts convention by having a male character in this role, a detail consolidated by Harker’s reaction to his terrifying encounter with the vampire women: “Fear overcame me, and I fainted” (p.39). He assumes the role usually played by women in the Gothic narrative.
Mina’s character as a new woman is further supported during her encounter with the strange sisters much later in the story. The vampire women are shown calling out to Mina, referring to her as ‘sister’ in their invitation to join their ranks.
Jonathan’s “anguish of blissful anticipation” (p.38) when seduced by vampires is echoed in Van Helsing’s own anxieties when tormenting undead women. He also mentions women’s sexual attractiveness in similar tones to Harker: “She is so beautiful to look at, so beautiful, so wonderful”, (p.370). If Victorian masculinity could be undermined by the threat posed by sexually attractive women, Van Helsing’s female vampires can be seen as a revival of male patriarchy.
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