Bite Me Baby One More Time: Sexual Consciousness and Erotic Desire in Bram Stoker’s 'Dracula'

Christina Kolias

An Introduction to Sexual Consciousness and Desire:

Bram Stoker’s Dracula presents this thematic notion of sexual consciousness through the examinations of the following characters: Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, and Lucy Westenra. Stoker stylistically pits sexual agency against sexual desire in a Victorian Era that epitomized repression. Dracula uses literal and metaphorical eroticism to draw a line between sexual assault and sexual fulfillment. This then elucidates how characters’ thoughts and actions become displaced outside the realms of Victorian prudish philosophy. Many forms of scholarship depict Jonathan, Mina, and Lucy to be victims of vampiric rape, but I am arguing that they are not victims at all. Many scholars, like Jordan Kistler, have come to explain how characters in this psychosexual novel “regain power after a traumatic assault” (366). However, this is where I situate myself in the bounds of this scholarship because I believe all three characters display a means of sexual agency and power before (and during) these erotic scenes in the text. Vampirism is intertwined with components of hypnosis, which is also why a majority of critics take a rape-like argument to this text in marking how victims lack a perceived consciousness over their actions. Hypnosis and eroticism are clearly juxtaposed among Dracula’s characters in terms of how they closely connect in helping express one’s repressed sexual desires. My thesis promotes an erotic reading of the novel and proves that when hypnosis is employed, characters’ truest erotic cravings are typified thus leading to the creation of three types of figures in Dracula that I label as follows: the erotic daydreamer, the anti-angel-in-the-house, and the sexual enigma.


A Synopsis on Hypnosis:

Michael R. Nash’s article, “The Truth and the Hype of Hypnosis,” sheds some light on scholarship that exist behind the knowledge of hypnosis. He initially illustrates that people under hypnosis are not “passive automatons but instead are active problem solvers who incorporate their moral and cultural ideas into their behavior while remaining exquisitely responsive…” (49). Essentially, this backs up my belief in coming to prove how subjects in the novel do not say or do anything they would not otherwise want or desire in their conscious lives, thus they do have jurisdiction of their own agency. In support of this, Matthew C. Brennan introduces Carl Jung’s process of individuation that depicts how the inner self is exposed through one’s dreams and more importantly, denying these desires decenters oneself (49). Nash further reports how a person’s ability to react to hypnosis has nothing to do with “gullibility, […] trust, aggressiveness, submissiveness, imagination or social compliance” (49). In relation to Dracula, this comes to bare truth to my initial allegation in that Jonathan, Mina, and Lucy’s actions are predicated on sexual awareness and initiative, not naivety or obedience. My point here is this: Nash aims to prove that subjects under hypnosis are not docile and lifeless beings whose actions do not reflect who they truly are. Actions guided under hypnosis are effortless to one’s existent desires (in a sexual context) and show no means of disconnection to their authentic personality.


The Curiously Erotic Daydreamer: Jonathan Harker

In Dracula, the initial conception of hypnosis is introduced in Chapter III in the depths of Jonathan’s journal writing. At this point in the novel, Jonathan is under Dracula’s watch in his castle. He warns Jonathan to never roam the castle and to only sleep in the chamber he is assigned to, but he dismisses this warning. Jonathan’s desires override his better judgement. He tells his readers how he felt “some sense of freedom” (Stoker 59) in being outside the shackles of his room, which comes to excite him in a mental and physical context. Jonathan finds himself at a locked door when one reads, “Here was an opportunity which I might to have again, so I exerted myself, and with many efforts forced it back so that I could enter” (Stoker 61). Now, this means of entry comes to have an erotic innuendo and nuance. Jonathan opening the door to this new chamber is metaphorically indicative of him opening the flood gates to his own newfound sense of sexual identity, which he has formerly repressed in the name of Victorian sexual anxiety. This idea of Jonathan forcing his admission into this room comes to support this claim that he is trying to uncover his truest sexual desires. Dracula tells him to not do something, but he does it anyways in pursuit of this sexual awakening. Jonathan later admits how “The Count’s warning came into my mind, but I took pleasure in disobeying it” (Stoker 62). This idea of “pleasure” is indicative of mental and sexual stimulation. This marks the inception of Jonathan coming to act on his own erotic impulses, which verifies the idea that his internal thoughts manifest as external urges.


As Jonathan enters this room, he soon realizes he is not the sole occupant. Three young vampiric women approach him, and he journals the following: “I felt in my heart, a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth” (Stoker 63). This alone proves how Jonathan is quickly eclipsing his prior Victorian notions. He is acknowledging the veracity that exists behind his sexual desires and does not want to repress it anymore. He wholeheartedly is craving these three lusty vampires and in the back of his mind, he is reflecting on what his pious and virtuous fiancé is going to think, but he still continues. Even Dejan Kuzmanovic notices that Jonathan suffers from a “temporary identity crisis” (412), but he seeks this satisfaction. Jonathan further elucidates, “I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes” (Stoker 64). Jonathan appears to be in a dream-like state, but he is conscious and coherent enough to recall what is taking place with these women. In simple terms, he is displaying aspects of sexual fantasy in a time where sex and sexuality were frond upon. Michael Mason’s The Making of Victorian Sexuality even comments, “In our culture the Victorian age has a special place: more than any other era it awakens in us our capacities to feel hostile towards a past way of life…” (1). Jonathan is literally and figuratively awakened to new sexual possibilities that formerly had no place in this Victorian morally-based code of conduct thus displaying the dualism in his character. This erotically-charged scene becomes more salacious with the excessive use of sexual diction. I would even go as far to say that this is indicative of pornography. Stoker uses erotically-charged words like “moisture,” “churning,” “tingle,” “shivering touch,” and “languorous ecstasy” (64) to adopt orgasmic rhetoric. This sexual hunger penetrates Jonathan’s mental deliberations of what a full-blown Victorian gentleman (pun intended) should think and do. He is portrayed as, to quote Tanya Pikula, “the shy virgin” (294). However, this is just a façade that is broken down when he has this sexual revival with these women that invigorates repressed desires he did not know existed within him. His libido is being ignited and he initially is repulsed by it, but then gladly accepts the thrill.


Chapter XXI illuminates more of Jonathan’s newfound sexual desire when Mina and Dracula share a moment of intimacy. The four men (Van Helsing, Quincey, Arthur, and Dr. Seward) believe that Mina is in some type of trouble and they break down the door to her bedroom. Again, we have this door imagery that comes to mirror this knocking down of Victorian sexual morals with the setting of a bedroom. The men are depicted to “burst open” (285) the door, which does have a sexual ring to it and it comes to parallel the means of sexual discovery that exists behind closed doors. Even though this scene will be used for further explication for Mina’s section, it is also important to note that Jonathan is in a deep sleep on the bed when this scene takes place. He is depicted as follows: “…his face flushed and breathing heavily as though in a stupor” (285). Once again, this is proving that Jonathan is assuming this role as the erotic daydreamer. The use of the word “stupor” indicates that Jonathan is in a trance amid this sexual scene taking place, but I would even go as far to say that Jonathan is fully conscious of his sexual desires here. He is getting sexually excited by what he is watching between Mina and Dracula as if it were porn. To take a case in point, Pikula articulates how “Jonathan was aroused by watching Mina perform oral sex on Dracula” (295). Stoker’s diction is intensely orgasmic and erotic upon describing Jonathan’s tranquil state on the bed with the use of phrases like “face flushed” and “breathing heavily.” He intently is gaining some form of pleasure from this and is indeed cognizant and enamored by what he is surveying. It is repeatedly proven that Jonathan obtains some form of sexual stimuli when engaging or watching non-monogamous forms of sexual activity, which comes to kindle erotic desires that he may have never pursued as a Victorian gentleman.


The Sexual Enigma: Mina Murray

Mina Murray is introduced as being the perfect embodiment of a Victorian woman. She portrays herself to be this very pious, innocent, submissive, and motherly figure. However, her emergence as a New Woman creates the persona of her as this sexual enigma. In referencing back to the erotic scene in Chapter XXI, Mina is embodied to be this kitten (or pussycat) that is forced to drink milk from a saucer (Stoker 285). I would even add that this symbolism illustrates the idea of a female vagina. Let’s take it a step further in explicating how the kitten consuming this milk is giving light to the idea of physical consumption in that Mina is kneeling while giving fellatio to Dracula, thus causing the idea of milk to even be perceived as a sexual bodily fluid, like semen. Catherine Wynne’s book Bram Stoker and the Gothic: Formations to Transformations supports how Mina is discovering her own sexual desire and newfound sexual power. This kitten-like rhetoric portrays her vagina to be “‘a vagina that kills” (Wynne 132) in terms of how Mina plays a key role in Dracula’s later demise. Her sexuality becomes a weapon once she discovers it. For readers that contend this scene to depict a sexual assault, I would draw their attention to the ambiguous language that Mina uses in the subsequent statement: “‘Unclean, unclean! I must touch him or kiss him no more. Oh, that it should be that is I who am now his worst enemy…” (Stoker 287). In making a case for an erogenous reading of this passage, I would like to closely investigate Mina’s use of the words “him” and “he.” It is ambiguous as to who she is referring to as this male figure. I reason that she is referring to Jonathan, not Dracula. This encounter with Dracula has been a means of sexual liberation and an erotic breakthrough in that she cannot view her relationship with Jonathan in the same way after being with Dracula in this form. Mina quickly sheds her title as the submissive female who is just “useful to Jonathan” (Stoker 78) in that this new-fangled sexual power allows her to erotically please herself.


Mina is depicted as “one of God’s women” (Stoker 200), but also to have a “man’s brain” (Stoker 242). We see this dualism in her once again. She is dichotomously a Victorian, yet not a Victorian woman. Mina, as Alan P. Johnson elucidates, inhabits a “conscious and willing conformity to her society and yet also a life of largely subconscious rebellion against it…” (21). Dracula himself symbolizes the sexual potential that lies within her through igniting her underlying sexual needs. Upon referring back to the scene in Chapter XXI with Dracula, Mina appears to be traumatized, but when she is asked to explain what just occurred she is fixedly able to elaborate every conscious detail of her “horrible fancies” (Stoker 289) for two and a half pages. Mina even randomly screams, “‘Oh my God! my God! what have I done?” (Stoker 291) and she is described as follows: “Then she began to rub her lips as though to cleanse them from pollution” (Stoker 291). The language of “Oh my God! my God!” bluntly represents a delayed orgasm from the previous bedroom scene. This explicates how Mina is now flushed with this wisdom of sexual consciousness in being able to ignore Victorians’ polluted perspective on sex. Retelling this narrative is a means of erotic arousal in that she is gaining pleasure from just speaking of it. Christopher Craft backs this up by labeling her rhetoric as “verbal ejaculation” (125). Her level of sexual desire and awareness is no longer at the unripe level it was at the beginning of the novel. Stephanie Demetrakopoulos even elucidates how only fallen Victorian women came to enjoy the act of sex (106), which categorizes Mina as this lusty Victorian woman with a newfound sexual appetite. Mina’s dual self is presented here through her oscillating enigmatic behavior between being an old Victorian woman and a New Woman. As this scene plays out, Mina says the following when the four men refuse to take her along to hunt Dracula: “‘Fear for me! Why fear for me? None safer in all the world from them than I am’” (Stoker 361). Mina is essentially a mysterious character that plays both roles of dramatic victim and skilled penetrator. She cultivates this psychological connection with Dracula that allows her to, as Jordan Kistler notes, “form a mesmeric rapport” (379) with him and a sexual bond. Mina even voicing the phrase, “Why fear for me?” exhibits this confident self-perception of not being a passive participant, but a woman who knows who and what she is doing.


The Anti-Angel-in-the-House: Lucy Westenra

Mason’s text discusses how Victorians were constantly torn between sexual repressive codes of morality and anti-repressive codes of morality. He asserts that Victorians categorized one’s sexuality to have firm foundations in “human personality” (3), which is important to keep in mind when dissecting Lucy Westenra’s sexual passions and her dual sense of self-desire. Upon reading her exchange of letters with Mina in Chapter V, one explicates how Lucy is painted out to be this beautifully indecisive nineteen-year-old virgin. Her back and forth written dialogue with Mina is symbolic of her wavering and vacillating sense of self. For example, she articulates to Mina how they both plan to “settle down soon soberly into old married women” (Stoker 80). Here she is acknowledging her submission to Victorian marital constructs in that her main objective is “to be courted” (Johnson 23). This again mirrors nineteenth century ideals in that the woman is presumed to only live up to her purest potentials as a wife and mother. However, in another letter to Mina she presents a new side to herself upon writing, “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (Stoker 82). This line sanctions to uplift her status as this cliché Victorian woman in that she is recognizing her sexual appetite for multiple men. These sexual desires manifest later in Chapter VIII.


When Mina and Lucy meet in Whitby, Lucy sleepwalks during the night where she makes contact with Dracula by the East Cliff in the parish churchyard. Her sleepwalking sequence is noted by critics to leave her vulnerable to Dracula’s attack, but I believe that she displays total control of mind and body. When Mina finally locates Lucy, Mina depicts the following in her journal: “When I bent over her I could see that she was still asleep. Her lips were parted, and she was breathing –not softly, as usual with her, but in long heavy gasps, as though striving to get her lungs full at every breath” (Stoker 113). Lucy is erotically depicted to be quite orgasmic in how she is gasping for air, trying to catch her breath. I would further concede the idea of how the phrase “lips were parted” adopts an image of a female vulva, which metaphorically and literally opens Lucy up to further sexual possibilities. Demetrakopoulos’ ideas are prevalent here too in that “Several sequences make it clear that Lucy finally wants Dracula –is, in fact, excited by him from the beginning” (104). The bite marks on Lucy’s neck further allude to some form of penetration that is not just penile, but nonetheless, Lucy expresses satisfaction from an erotically endowed event. This all comes to introduce Lucy to a world of sexual possibilities that she inwardly thought, but never outwardly expressed.


Moreover, three days after Lucy’s sleep walking sequence, Mina writes an entry in her journal that reads, “On the East Cliff, reading and writing all day. Lucy seems to have become as much in love with the spot as I am, and it is hard to get her away from it…” (Stoker 115). Lucy has developed quite the affection for this spot in Whitby. I would argue that the sense of attachment Lucy expresses towards this location is similar to how someone would not forget where and how they lost their virginity. Even the use of the word “hard” has sexual implications through Lucy fantasizing about the sexual satisfaction she once felt here. This place has mentally and physically left a mark on her in a way that, as Charles E. Prescott and Grace A. Giorgio articulate, ignites her “taste for extra-marital sex” (507). Lucy comes to move further and further away from obtaining a domestic lifestyle. She does not seem to want a marital partnership, but a boy toy or a friend with benefits. Mina’s depiction of Lucy “fading away” (Stoker 117) juxtaposes Lucy fading away from becoming this weak and meek angel in the house figure and into a female that is sexually strong-willed and conscious of her robust desires.


Lucy’s ultimate death suitably juxtaposes her death as the archetypal angel in the house. In the staking of Lucy, John Allen Stevenson acknowledges how it “reflects a hostility toward female sexuality felt by the culture at large” (145). This exhibits Lucy’s mindful attempts to undermine a society that was trying to develop domestic creatures, not sexual ones. Chapter XII supports this ideal in that readers fathom that Lucy is dying. Arthur is eventually summoned to her room to say goodbye when Lucy yells, “‘Arthur! Oh, my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!’” (175). Lucy is becoming what Pikula terms as “sexually aggressive” (291) through these attempts to entice Arthur into her crypt. Lucy is trying to seduce Arthur on purpose with the intentions of perverting him before Van Helsing pulls him back in time. This scene faultlessly depicts Lucy as “an image of manipulable femininity” (Craft 128) in how she concocts this plan and tries to execute it. Victorian women were seen to be these wholesome asexual domestic figures, but Lucy comes to rebel against these genders norms by attempting to use her sexual prowess as a means of patriarchal destruction. As the plot continues, Lucy does indeed die, but she is reinvigorated as a vampire. In Chapter XVI, Arthur is ultimately the one to drive the stake in Lucy to kill her once and for all, but this scene is also erotically charged. One reads, “He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake…” (Stoker 226). The stake is metaphorically used as a phallic symbol and the diction of Arthur’s arms coming to rise and fall even mirrors the idea of an erection in that Lucy’s prior potential to be this submissive angel in the house figure was once a symbolic turn-on for him, but the sexual “foul Thing” (Stoker 226) Lucy has become hushes his sexual appetite. Lucy’s death metaphorically alludes to the killing of her attempts at modernizing Victorian female sexuality to omit the cultured path of becoming the angel in the house that is obviously not destined to be.


This sexualized reading of Stoker’s Dracula initiates new modes of erotic normalcy in a Victorian era that standardized anti-sexual behavior. Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, and Lucy Westenra come to terms with underlying sexual desires that early nineteenth century modes of thinking taught them to repress and extinguish. Their encounters with vampires engross them all into states of hypnosis and fixated dream-like sequences that, in turn, make them fully cognizant of their fruitfully active sexuality. Stoker’s risqué and sexually ambiguous work is penetrated with lewd and seductive rhetoric that compliments the hidden element of sexual fantasy in how characters come to terms with their inner erotic desires to be outwardly expressed. Dracula proves itself to be quite the fin de siècle text that sexes up Victorians in a way that sucks the life out of old nineteenth century modes of prudish thinking.


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Biography


Christina graduated Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in English. She is currently a first-year English M.A. student at CSUF pursuing a vocation in post-secondary teaching. She works as a tutor for CSUF and the Corona-Norco Unified School District. Christina also interns as an Editorial Assistant for Boom California.