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In the 1872 novella Carmilla and the 1897 novel Dracula, both Le Fanu and Stoker bestow the treatment of women as a catalyst for exposing the dangers of gender stereotypes, to illuminate social concerns and injustices for the reader that were occurring at the time in Victorian. These injustices are mirrored in the above statement. Both authors allude to the idea that attitudes towards women reveal unwelcome aspects of human behavior, causing the reader to become weary of extreme gender stereotypes and in some ways the development of the New Woman. This is manifested through literary critic Karan Volans Waters who states that ‘the new Women’s sexual independence made her particularly troublesome to the patriarchal society’. It is the characterization of Laura as poor, helpless, and the property of her father in Carmilla that causes the reader to become aware of the unfair stereotypes put upon women. However, in Dracula, it is in the setting, that Stoker alludes the reader to these unjust stereotypes by making them more believable and accessible. Ultimately, the treatment of women is utilized by both readers as an allegory for the corruption of society and the stereotypes it implements on women.

Stoker and Le Fanu both bestow the corruption of society through the growing sexualization of women in Dracula and Carmilla through overly sexualized and descriptive character foils. In the Victorian Era, a time of intense sexual repression, it was common for vampire stories to reflect the fear of feminine sexuality that was rampant in society. In Dracula, chapter three, the vampire sisters seduce Jonathan Harker in an attempt to feed off him. Here the sexualization of women is illuminated through Stoker’s description of the three sisters’ appearance,’ brilliant white teeth’ and ‘voluptuous lips’. Stoker uses these promiscuous positive adjectives to emphasize the idea that female vampires are perhaps more dangerous than Dracula in the way that they retain the facade of traditional feminity, an idea also present in Carmilla. In addition to this, Dracula’s breath is described as ‘rancid’ whereas the fair vampires are ‘sweet in one sense, honey-sweet’. Stoker’s use of the adjective ‘sweet’ further emphasizes this sexualization because of their ‘pleasurable’ appearance and Jonathan Harker’s reaction to it which causes him to question whether he is dreaming or not, a theme which is also present in Carmilla. Furthermore, Stoker creates a semantic field of awe through his commentary upon Harker’s fixed state. The female vampires are zoomorphic in their presentation, providing them with stereotypically masculine qualities. Their ‘sharp white teeth’ could be viewed as phallically, penetrating human flesh, whilst Lucy’s on the other hand ‘adamantine, heartless cruelty’ is an attribute that, out of context, would likely be associated with male gothic villains’.Stoker creates these female vampires as aggressive, domineering, and embracive of their sexuality to terrify a contemporary reader and warn them of the consequences of women attaining too much power; ‘there was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck, she licked her lips like an animal’. The simile Stoker implements compares the female vampire to a predator and Harker to her prey. In addition to this, Harker’s description of the vampire ‘arching her neck’ echoes this animalistic, subhuman gothic creature which torments people and therefore frightens the reader through the supernatural, a theme also common in Carmilla. This also causes the sisters to appear radically different from the feminine ideal that the character of Mina Harker embodies. The Victorians did hold a high stance on the nurture of children but the sisters do the opposite and devour them, this aggressive behavior causes a contemporary reader to feel frightened and threatened. These attacks blur the line between supernatural and reality and this too is seen in Carmilla and Laura’s attacks. Stoker does this to emphasize the rebellion going on during the Fin De siècle whilst also creating quite a disturbing image of children being eaten and inevitably causing Dracula to be of Gothic Literature. Stoker disagrees that women should be given more freedom arguing that ‘such pivotal change would be the downfall of society’, therefore both a contemporary reader and a 21st-century reader can see that the character foil of the three vampire sisters was utilized to mirror Stoker’s views on the dangers of ‘confident women’ at the time in Victorian. Stoker’s depiction of the sisters could be considered to embody the very worst Victorian nightmares regarding womanhood and Harker’s reaction after encountering them could also convey late nineteenth-century anxieties concerning the feminization of men. Therefore, both Stoker and Le Fanu may have used the sexualization of women to criticize the corruption of society during the Decadence Era. However, Stoker may also be criticizing the ideal of the New Woman and encouraging the Victorian reader to rethink the power dynamics between men and women. Whereas, Le Fanu encourages the reader to move with the time and the changes that come with it. Stoker intends to shock a Victorian reader with his creation of the three sisters because, in the Victorian, any behavior by women that was not virtuous and chaste was seen as profoundly bad.

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Arguably, in antithesis to this, in ‘Carmilla’ Le Fanu portrays Carmilla as a symbol of female power through the sexualization of her behavior towards Laura. In Chapter One, Carmilla appears to Laura in a ‘dream’ and attacks her, this dreamlike state is also present in Chapter Three of Dracula with the three vampires. Le Fanu disturbingly constructs an oxymoron through the deliberate rassemblement of Laura’s awe, ‘her murmured words sounded like a lullaby’ compared to the brutal and painful attack which Carmilla commits, ‘she then awoke once more with two stabbing pains in her breast’. the simile mirrors society’s expectations of women to be ‘seen and not heard’ as well as to act natively, pleasantly, and childishly. Originally, lullabies have been singing to young children to help them sleep and feel safe. Ironically, Le Fanu constructs Carmilla’s words to ‘sound like a lullaby’ and ultimately causes Laura to feel safe when in reality she is not safe as Carmilla is preparing to kill her. Le Fanu’s representation of the female vampire in Carmilla was the first of its kind and represented the female same-sex relationship. Both the tyrant and victim within his novella are of the female sex, which subverts the common female victim; male tyrant stereotype. This therefore represented growing concerns over the growing independence of women within the development of the women’s movement. On the one hand, Carmilla’s vampiric lesbianism implies that female sexuality is dangerous and pathological, but on the other hand, Laura doesn’t wholly reject Carmilla, and she seems even grow from the experience together. Literary Critic Fox puts forward this view as he argues that ‘Laura is far from a docile victim’ but actively embraces the other within herself’.Furthermore, Le Fanu creates irony when he has Laura’s father disregard the supernatural when Carmilla is a true form of it. One literary critic argues that ‘Stoker responds to Le Fanu’s narrative of female empowerment by reinstating male control in the exchange of women’.While there are moments in the book in which it seems as if Carmilla genuinely does love Laura, the erotic nature of her bites makes her love for Laura inseparable from her desire to kill her. The vampire figure within Carmilla also embodies characteristics of homosexual desire. Botting claims ‘Carmilla’s unnatural desires are signaled by her choice of females as her victims’, however, this homosexual desire is further emphasized when Laura narrates how, in her company, Carmilla is ‘gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so hard that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover…her hot lips traveled along my cheek in kisses’ (34). This open show of deviant sexuality transcends the boundary of socially acceptable norms.

Whilst it is apparent that both ‘Dracula’ and ‘Carmilla’ can be read as allegories of social constraint, it is also clear that both Le Fanu and Stoker demonstrate the corruption of society through the gothic device of gender transgression as a way in which to further illuminate conflicting ideas about women’s perceived sexuality and status and the stereotypes implemented on them. In Dracula, Stoker constructs a juxtaposition between Lucy and Mina, in an attempt to expose the hidden workings of the New Woman in the Victorian as well as ultimately emphasizes his disapproval of the growing development of feminism. Stoker presents the character arc of Mina Harker as the perfect ideal of a Victorian Woman, ‘the perfect wife’. Mina is constructed by Stoker to illustrate his version of what an exemplary Victorian woman is like. Van Helsing describes Mina in the novel as ‘one of God’s women, fashioned by His hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist. Stoker’s deliberate use of the religious language ‘God’ emphasizes how highly he thinks of such women. Perhaps, Mina is the ideal of the virgin mother Mary, and her attained virginity and dedication to her husband make her so well-liked. Mina’s speech in the novel constructed by Stoker emphasizes her dedication: ‘I have been working very hard lately, because I want to keep up with Jonathan’s studies, and I have been practicing shorthand very assiduously’.she would ‘be useful to Jonathan’ because she is ideal. She is also seen thinking very highly of men in general and their independence from women: a brave man’s hand can speak for itself; it does not even need a woman’s love to hear its music. Whereas, Lucy is not seen committed physically and emotionally to one man alone throughout the novel. She is described as a voluptuous, beautiful woman who is approached with three proposals from three different suitors. Lucy complains to Mina asking her: ‘Why can’t they let a girl marry three men or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?’ (Stoker 96). Although she would do this if she were allowed to, she recognizes that she has uttered words of heresy after saying them. This shows that although such a thought is seen as utterly promiscuous, immoral, and forbidden in Victorian culture, it does not stop her from mentally crossing the boundaries set up by the social conventions of society.

She is not seen committed physically and emotionally to one man alone throughout the novel. She is described as a voluptuous, beautiful woman who is approached with three proposals from three different suitors. Lucy complains to Mina asking her: ‘Why can’t they let a girl marry three men or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?’ (Stoker 96). Although she would do this if she were allowed to, she recognizes that she has uttered words of heresy after saying them. This shows that although such a thought is seen as utterly promiscuous, immoral, and forbidden in Victorian culture, it does not stop her from mentally crossing the boundaries set up by the social conventions of society. Lucy is portrayed as someone who is driven by her sexual openness and flirtatious, tempting nature. Her physical beauty holds the interest of all her suitors and she enjoys the attention she would not get otherwise from the men of her society. This, in a way, helps Lucy to equalize herself to the same male gender that is claimed to be superior to females. Conversely, Mina is shown to be content with her monogamous status in society and does not feel the need to use her feminine sensuality to prove anything. Mina’s sexual desires, if any, remain unknown throughout the novel. By presenting Mina in this way, Stoker provides a stark contrast between the sexuality of Lucy and Mina. Mina’s perspective on the subject is left untold to illustrate that it shouldn’t be a woman’s concern to think about such things and that all a Victorian woman’s role entails is succumbing to a man’s sexual needs and desires. Stoker uses Mina and Lucy to confirm his sexist Victorian beliefs about the roles of men and women in society. The social construct of the time involved women being inferior to men in all areas of life, except childbearing and child upbringing. Their value was only seen in their maternal qualities and their submissiveness to men. Through Mina’s character, Stoker exhibits the ideal, virtuous, Victorian woman and shows, through her survival, what the benefits of following this model are. He also goes to show what happens to women when they feel that they should be seen as equals to men. Women who attempt to use their sexuality to attain power and break free from the patriarchal boundaries of Victorian society will end up ruined, just like Lucy.

In parallel to this, Le Fanu in Carmilla constructs a juxtaposition through the character arcs of Laura and Carmilla. Carmilla is a classic vampire, a complex, evil, bloodthirsty being. Whereas Laura is an example of the ideologies of the fallen women. Thus, Carmilla particularly could be read as a criticism of the way women were forced to live their lives. his scene could be interpreted as one between lovers – which could be used as a plot device to shock the readers, as Le Fanu tried to provide an escape for his readers by freeing them from the sexual repression that society forced on them, and he did so by bringing attention to a controversial topic such as lesbianism. But it did not seem to be enough for Le Fanu who pushed his criticism even further by dealing with the topic of vampirism as well in the character of Carmilla. By having a female vampire in his story, the writer also managed to defy the usual stereotypes from the few stories dealing with vampires before Carmilla.

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