Senior Capstone Experience by Leah Duff ’21
Submitted to the Department of English
Advised by Dr. Katherine Charles
From the beginning of modern horror as a genre, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been an essential example of the inherent homoeroticism of monster fiction. It is widely accepted in Dracula scholarship that the sexual alignment and gender expression of the vampire is indeterminate, and therefore inherently queer. The portrayal of female sexuality and the blurring of strictly defined gender lines is fundamental to the creation of the vampire monster. However, few influential criticisms have specifically examined how the queer-coded women vampires in Dracula function as an independent part of the book’s transgressive sexual themes. The characterizations of the main female figures are rarely examined in the context of their own, subtly Sapphic coding. If their queerness is noticed at all, it is often analyzed in the context of how it helps, hinders, or reflects the male characters. Furthermore, most of this limited examination is centered around the essential characters of Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker. But the first female vampires the reader meets– the three unnamed women living in the Count’s castle, who for this essay will be referred to as ‘the sister-brides’– set the aesthetic and behavioral standard for both of the other, more popularly known examples of female vampirism in the rest of the book. Despite only appearing in a grand total of five scenes, their influence on the story’s aesthetic is over-arching. For example, the way the undead Lucy looks, speaks, and moves “with languorous, voluptuous grace,” (Stoker 227) is a direct echo of the sister-brides. Long before and after Lucy’s part in the story, the phantoms of these unnamed women haunt the narrative as an ephemeral threat, rarely there in physical form but often lurking in the realm of possibility, the innate human fear of the unknown. As such, their characters occupy the focus of several dense, concentrated, and strange moments in the story of Dracula.
Therefore, in this essay I will use the figures of the Count’s sister-brides to examine the role of the female vampire’s sensuality not as a satellite to the masculine, but as a form of independent power both over men and over other women, and as a means of emancipation from restrictive Victorian gender roles…
Because of Dracula’s status as a foundational pillar of the horror genre, this fear/violence reaction against queer-coded women characters – who are often portrayed as monstrous and therefore vilified – has become part of a lasting tradition which continues in media today. I believe it is important to re-examine how we view the female, queer-coded monstrosity in Dracula so we can understand how it has become a part of our modern consumption of horror. Understanding the historical context and motivations for Stoker’s portrayal of female sensuality and queerness can help us, both as creators and consumers of fiction, to understand and deconstruct such tropes in ways that can better the future roles of women in our media.