“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” (L.P. Hartley)

I know that, and yet by the time I finished Dracula it was all I could do not to scream at the screen, “Haven’t you heard the Madonna-whore complex?!”

Of course, he hadn’t. Freud didn’t write about it until 1912, and Dracula was published in 1890.

Still. I couldn’t get through more than a few pages in the book without encountering a gem like this:

Theda Bara (“the vamp”)

“She lay in her Vampire sleep, so full of life and voluptuous beauty that I shudder as though I have come to do murder. Ah, I doubt not that in the old time, when such things were, many a man who set forth to do such a task as mine, found at the last his heart fail him, and then his nerve. So he delay, and delay, and delay, till the mere beauty and the fascination of the wanton Un-Dead have hypnotise him; and he remain on and on, till sunset come, and the Vampire sleep be over. Then the beautiful eyes of the fair woman open and look love, and the voluptuous mouth present to a kiss–and the man is weak.”

17th-18th c.

Or this.

“It would overwhelm her and make despair just when we want all her hope, all her courage; when most we want all her great brain which is trained like a man’s brain, but is of sweet woman.”

Really, can you blame me?

Okay. That’s enough. Misogyny hunting is boring.

If that’s all there was to women in Dracula, you wouldn’t be hearing about it here.

Fortunately, under the Victorian party-line there were more complicated gender relations in Dracula.

Mina, Dracula’s resident Smurfette, really was invaluable. Most of the major breakthroughs came from her ideas or research. The men were theoretically in charge, but sometimes they seemed more like Mina’s minions. Sure, they’re avenging her friend on her behalf, but having people run around to do your bidding is a sure sign of power, isn’t it?

More interestingly, there were dire consequences when the men decided to leave Mina out of their plans in order to protect her. It is there that Dracula finds the party caught off guard (spoiler warning*) and makes Mina into a vampire, the one thing they feared most of all.

In fact, the dangers of disregarding people on the periphery is a subtle theme that runs throughout the book. The vampire hunters run into trouble when they ignore or overlook not only women but a mental patient, “superstitious” foreigners, and ethnic minorities. In fact, every time a white man pontificates about his superiority it’s pretty much a sure sign that someone’s going to die.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking on my part, but I can’t help wondering if all that protesting was just a cover for a more complex examination of sex and gender roles. Or, maybe he was just doing what he had to do in order to get away with writing sexy vampires in 1890.

And who am I to judge? It’s not like we aren’t still doing it.  

Twilight anyone?

*Is it really necessary to give spoiler warnings for a book that’s over 120 years old?

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