Dracula and the "savage women"
During the 19th century, a quarter of all women were diagnosed with hysteria. The term literally means “of the uterus” and symptoms included paralysis, hallucinations and nervousness. Dracula’s kiss appears to inflict similar symptoms; Lucy sleepwalks and becomes increasingly restless and “voluptuous” (p. 180; p.286) as the Count continues to feed from her.
Feminist scholars have argued that hysteria was a culturally defined disorder, resulting from the rapidly changing role of women in Victorian society. Women invaded higher education and the workplace, but still upheld the puritan ideals. Hence, hysteria was the product of ambivalence and repressed sexuality. This duality is successfully depicted in Dracula; Mina is educated and eager to work, whereas Lucy is unmarried at an age when she would normally be considered a spinster. Yet, they are both chaste and express happiness at the prospect of marriage.
George Beard believed that hysteria was the result of “overcivilization”. Contrary to other male characters in the novel (e.g. Harker, Godalming) the Count remains untamed by civilization. Western Europeans would consider his origin barbaric, by both temporal and geographical criteria. He represents the sexually and culturally “other” (Hatlen, 1980) whose true power lies in that he is both frightening and desirable. His seduction of Lucy and Mina gradually turns them into “savage women”, a term used to describe patients diagnosed with hysteria.
The different fates that await the two women seem to support the theory that hysteria was a cultural construct. Furthermore, they convey the anxiety of Victorian men at the prospect of female liberation (Briggs, 2000). “Overcivilized” Lucy and Mina both become sexually liberated by the Count. For Lucy, embracing this sexuality leads to punishment via vampirism. Mina, saved by the male characters, conforms to their view of sexuality as evil and accepts her traditional role as a female. Thus, she remains alive and is restored in the eyes of both God and man.