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Dracula's Sexual Politics

In our last class we examined the Orientalist discourse informing the early chapters of Bram
Stoker's Dracula. While Stoker depicts Eastern Europe as a hybridization of the Orient and the
Occident, he utilizes alternate discursive forms to portray very different kinds of anxiety at home
within England.

For the analysis of this section of the novel, I'm going to draw on Michel Foucault's explication
of sexual discourse to expose how the regulation of desire is central to the fears Stoker develops
in his depiction of England. We tend to think of the Victorian era as a period of sexual repression
—an era where the topic of sexuality was verboten and taboo. In the first volume of The History
of Sexuality (1976), Foucault terms this assumption the “repressive hypothesis”: “For a long
time, the story goes, we supported a Victorian regime, and we continue to be dominated by it
today. Thus the image of the imperial prude is emblazoned on our restrained, mute, and
hypocritical sexuality” (3).

Foucault challenges the “repressive hypothesis” by proposing that Western European ideology
deployed an “incitement to discourse” that controlled what could be said or known about
sexuality rather than silencing it altogether: “Toward the beginning of the eighteenth century,
there emerged a political, economic, and technical incitement to talk about sex. And not so much
in the form of a general theory of sexuality as in the form of analysis, stocktaking, classification,
and specification, of quantitative or casual studies” (23-24).

Foucault maintains that the incitement to discourse effectively channeled sexual discourse into
specific, approved epistemological areas; it isn't the case that the incitement to discourse made
sexuality a topic for open discussion, but rather that it defined the ways sexuality could be
discussed and the venues wherein such discussions were permissible.

The incitement to discourse placed sexuality firmly under the unwritten rules of social
regulation; sexual matters became an extension of the Enlightenment predilection for scientific
study and medical classification. Foucault outlines four broad areas wherein sexuality was
deployed as discourse: “A hysterization of woman's bodies” (via the negative connotations
attached to sexual women), “A pedagogization of children's sexuality (via the negative
connotations attached to children's sexual impulses), “A socialization of procreative behavior”
(via the negative connotations attached to sexuality outside of the conjugal heterosexual couple),
and “A psychiatrization of perverse pleasure” (via the negative connotations attached to newly-
codified sexual deviancy and the pathology of homosexual desire) (104-105).

Notice that all four of the categories that Foucault defines encompass subjectivities of marginal,
dis-empowered members of society: women, children, the non-married, and the mentally ill. As
marginal figures, any member of the above groups is ripe for distortion to monstrous proportions
under the Gothic's disfiguring lens. Indeed, Stoker utilizes three of the categories cited by
Foucault to represent England as an unheimlich national home that harbors deviant types within
its sheltering borders. Let's examine two representational characters who embody aspects of
Foucault's sexual discourse. In Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra, we see the menacing
possibilities of the sexual discourses identified by Foucault underwritten in the petty dramas that
unfold with the arrival of Dracula.
Mina is acutely aware that her status as an unmarried woman carries with it shades of potential
spinsterhood and the possibility of becoming an “odd woman.” In her first letter to Lucy, she
begins by lamenting that as an unattached woman she has to work to earn her keep (53); if she
were already Harker's wife she would have the luxury of the leisure time that was the purview of
the properly married middle-class woman—she could be spending her time building “castles in
the air,” instead of being “overwhelmed with work.”

Indeed, as the post-script of this letter attests, Mina is also aware that an Englishwoman's status
is dependent on her attachment to a husband (54). Mina's curiosity about Lucy's potential
husband discloses the importance of the regulating discourse of what Foucault calls the
“socialization of procreative behavior”; this becomes especially important as the reader realizes
that Lucy's sexuality already shows the signs of eclipsing the discursive sexual correct inherent
to the normative heterosexual couple.

Notice that while Lucy claims to be in love with Arthur Holmwood, she simultaneously enjoys
the fact that three men desire her and even goes so far as to relish the thought of a polygamous
arrangement (55, 56, 59). Nevertheless, also note that Lucy is a self-regulating sexual subject of
the Victorian incitement to discourse; when Lucy says, “But this is heresy, and I must not say it”
she admits the proscribed limit of discursive sexuality and disciplines herself to keep from
straying from the proper social expectations. She is internally aware—if not consciously—that
the sexually free woman cannot be countenanced or accepted within her culture.

Lucy's potential for disordered sexual behavior is symbolized in the episodes where she is
discovered sleepwalking (72, 86). Indeed, as Mina remarks, if Lucy were to be discovered
sleepwalking in her nightclothes—revealing an eroticized female body before a gaze not her
husband's—this would be seen as an affront to public decency and a blemish on her reputation as
a good, chaste woman (92). Mina has good reason to be worried about Lucy's exposure; when
Mina finds the uncannily unconscious-yet-mobile Lucy, she is the very emblem of a woman in
the afterglow of sexual encounter (90-91).

Mina is also a self-regulating sexual subject who conforms to the strictures of nineteenth-century
sexual discourse. Her reaction to the idea of the New Woman, and the subjective distance she
places between herself and the figurative New Woman, exemplifies her acquiescence to a
proscribed feminine role (88, 89).

For those who haven't heard of the term, the New Woman was a feminine ideal promoted by
nineteenth-century feminists and derided by cultural reactionaries. The New Woman stood for
dress reform, the right to vote, and the right to employment outside of the home—among other
things. New Women were regarded with horror and disgust by social conservatives because they
represented a challenge to patriarchal gender binaries; this fear was often expressed in the idea
that the New Woman was an un-feminine woman, a manly woman, and perhaps a lesbian—a
literal aberration of sex that acted against the essential nature of womanhood. Even if we read a
degree of sympathy in Mina's laughing rejection of herself as a New Woman, she reaffirms her
traditional femininity and her place with the gendered binary of manhood/womanhood.