Enthralled: Victorian versus Modern Day

This research paper was composed in my Literary Genres: Vampires class where we studied different texts about vampires. This class was one of my favorite classes at DSU since it was interesting and enjoyable to see how the image of the vampire has changed in literature. The objective of this assignment was to write a research paper on a topic of our choice using some of the texts we read in class as well as outside sources if needed. I chose to compare the female characters Mina Murray from the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker and Bella Swan from Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.

His eyes, which are black as the night he dwells in, seem to stare deep into the very soul of anyone who dares to meet his gaze. The hypnotic, velvet sound of his voice persuades and lures the weak and the innocent. His very presence alone allures and yet, terrifies the living. The vampire is a creature that has both horrified and “dazzled” many for generations. From the classic horror of Dracula, to the romance of Twilight, the vampire has transformed into one of the most idolized creatures today. Even though these legendary stories focus on this supernatural being, there is, and always has been, the damsel in distress who is victimized, or in more modern tales, enthralled, by the creature. These characters remain in the background of the vampire legends, so one may not focus entirely on how this particular individual has evolved in vampire literature. Although some characteristics of these female leads have remained, many have also changed drastically. Mina Murray of Bram Stoker’s, Dracula, and Bella Swan of Stephenie Meyer’s, Twilight, portray two significant examples of how the role of the female character in vampire novels has evolved from terrorized to mesmerized.

The character of Mina Murray, the female protagonist in the novel Dracula, begins the long line of vampire damsels in distress. The novel is set in London, England during the late nineteenth century. After the arrival of a mysterious client, Count Dracula, of Transylvania, unsettling events begin to occur throughout London. What was once thought as a strange illness, is later confirmed by Dr. Van Helsing as the presence of a demonic creature of the night; the vampire. Lives are lost and sanity is questioned as the quest in saving an innocent soul as well as destroying this vicious being is sought out. The falling action of this classic horror novel concludes with the demise of Count Dracula, and the preservation of the purity of Mina Murray’s soul.

Today, the damsel in distress of vampire literature is represented by Bella Swan in the novel, Twilight. The endless rain and fog of Forks, Washington seems ideal for many forbidden secrets. When an ordinary girl of seventeen, Bella, decides to move to this mysterious location, she discovers the biggest secret of all, and her life becomes anything but ordinary. The truth about the beautiful and alluring, Edward Cullen is revealed; he is a vampire. Against all odds, the “lion falls in love with the lamb,” and the two are inseparable (Meyer 274). Complications arise not only with the question of Bella’s endangered morality, but also of others of Edward’s kind who will stop at nothing for her blood.

Wilhelmina Murray, age nineteen, who later becomes Mina Harker, is the ideal Victorian woman of the nineteenth century. She works as an “assistant school mistress,” (Stoker 62) and is engaged to Jonathon Harker, who is employed at a law firm. Her physical appearance is scarcely mentioned by the author. She is only described as angelic and pure. Mina is quite nurturing and maternal as many characters approach her for comfort and reassurance. She is described by Dr. Abraham Van Helsing as having a “man’s brain” and a “woman’s heart” (Stoker 250). The meaning behind Van Helsing’s statement is that Mina is quite intelligent, but she is also kind and caring. Mina strives to become an ideal wife for her future husband, as the role of women during that time was a domestic role. For her time, Mina can be considered old fashioned as she is not part of the “New Women” of England. According to the Norton Anthology of English Literature website, the Victorian time period began to question the role of the woman in society, which led to “The Woman Question.”   During Mina Murray’s time, more opportunities for women were only beginning to emerge.

Protagonist, Isabella Swan of Stephenie Meyer’s, Twilight, is portrayed as a typical seventeen year old girl in high school. She moves in with her father, Charlie, who is chief of police in Forks, Washington. Bella describes herself physically as “I was ivory-skinned, without even the excuse of blue eyes or red hair[.  .  .  .] I had always been slender, but soft somehow, obviously not an athlete[.  .  .  .] My skin could be pretty-it was very clear, almost translucent-looking” (Meyer 10). Unlike Mina, Bella does not relate well to other people (Meyer 10). She is perfectly content on her own and does not feel comfortable expressing her emotions out loud. She is also quite clumsy and uncoordinated, as the Meyer points out throughout the book. What Bella does not achieve in gym class, she makes up for in the classroom however, for she is quite intelligent as she has previously taken AP courses in school. She is mature for her age as her mother described her as being “born thirty-five years old” and becoming “more middle-age every year” (Meyer 106). For Bella’s time, which is present day, she is rather old fashioned as well. She does not enjoy what her female peers enjoy doing such as attending dances or shopping for expensive clothing; she prefers to keep it simple.

For both Mina and Bella, the realization of the existence of vampires comes as a shock and utter astonishment. Mina Murray, however, experienced another emotion as well; grief. After the death of her friend, Lucy Westenra, Mina learns of the truth behind her companion’s death; vampires. After discovering the devastating and horrifying truth, Mina fought to compose herself and to prevent herself from collapsing with shock. “I lay back in my chair powerless[.  .  .  .] My brain was all in a whirl, and only that there came through all the multitude of horrors[.  .  .  .] It is all so wild, and mysterious, and strange[.  .  .  .] I didn’t know what to believe” (Stoker 238). Before Mina even meets, what she describes as the “monster,” she develops a feeling of pure hatred and horror for Dracula (Stoker 239). When Mina is finally confronted by the vampire, she recalls the event as a dream; “I was powerless to act; my feet, and my hands, and my brain were weighted” (Stoker 275). She describes the fog that enters her bedroom as getting “thicker and thicker, till it seemed as if it became concentrated into a sort of pillar of cloud in the room” (Stoker 275). When Dracula appears in his human form, Mina, first, gazes in terror into his “two red eyes” (Stoker 276). The very last memory of the dream was of the creature’s “white face” bending over her (Stoker 276). The author leads the reader into thinking that maybe Mina’s dream was a horrifying reality. The next day, Mina felt weak and fatigued throughout the day, not knowing the cause of her symptoms. What she will soon discover is that she is the “monster’s” current victim.

During the Victorian era, the very thought of vampires terrified most, if not all. One of the first descriptions of Dracula was by Mina, although she did not know who the man was, or the fact that he was a vampire. She describes him as being tall and thin “with a beaky nose and black moustache and pointed beard[.  .  .  .] His face was not a good face, it was hard, and cruel, and sensual, and his big white teeth, that looked all the whiter because his lips were so red, were pointed like an animal’s” (Stoker 185).  Dr. Abraham Van Helsing of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, describes the vampire of the Victorian age as being “so strong in person as twenty men; he is of cunning more than mortal[.  .  .  .]he is devil in callous, and the heart of him is not” (Stoker 252). Dr. Van Helsing continues by saying that Dracula can control “all the meaner things” such as rats, owls, bats, and wolves, as well as transforming into the creatures of the bat and the wolf (Stoker 252). The original vampire, also known as Dracula, cannot stay in the sunlight, if at all, for too long and can be warded off by garlic and anything sacred or holy. The creature can be destroyed by a stake through the heart and severing its head. The original legend of the vampire, however, changes throughout the course of time through the eyes of the “damsel in distress.”

Unlike Mina Murray, Bella Swan experiences an entirely different emotion when she realizes that the Cullen clan, including the mysterious Edward, were vampires. The truth began to reveal itself after Bella’s near death experience involving an out of control van in the school parking lot. “Two long, white hands shot out protectively in front of me, and the van shuddered to a stop a foot from my face, the large hands fitting providentially into a deep dent in the side of the van’s body” (Meyer 56). Bella was not only suspicious of Edward’s swiftness to her rescue, but also at his abnormal strength. When questioning her rescuer led her nowhere, Bella began to search for answers elsewhere. She finally found them through her new friendship with Jacob Black, a member of the Quileute tribe from La Push. His story of the rivalry of the Quileute werewolves and the “cold ones,” or vampires, brought goose bumps to Bella’s pale skin, mainly because “the cold ones” referred to the Cullens (Meyer 125-126). At first, Bella attempted to deny the truth. “It was all so stupid. I was sitting in my room , researching vampires. What was wrong with me?” (Meyer 135). Later, however, Bella began to accept the fact that Edward Cullen was in fact a vampire. “Edward Cullen was not . . .human. He was something more” (Meyer 138). Bella’s conclusion about Edward, however, would not stop her from falling in love with a supposed killer.

Vampires today have transformed from the vicious and heartless creatures of the night, to the beautiful and romantic beings that glisten in the sunlight. The novel Twilight altered the original legend of Dracula into the image of Edward Cullen. When Bella first caught sight of the Cullens, she described them as, “chalky pale” with “very dark eyes” and “purplish, bruise-like shadows” under their eyes (Meyer 18-19).  Overall, Bella viewed the Cullens as “devastatingly, inhumanly beautiful” (Meyer 19). As Bella began to put the pieces together, she lists the characteristics of the Cullens that sets them apart from the term “normal:” “the impossible speed and strength, the eye color shifting from black to gold and back again, the inhuman beauty, the pale, frigid skin[.  .  .  .] they never seemed to eat, the disturbing grace with which they moved. And the way he sometimes spoke, with unfamiliar cadences and phrases that better fit the style of a turn-of-the-century novel[.  .  .  .] He seemed to know what everyone around him was thinking” (Meyer 137-138). Similar to how Dracula drew Mina in, Edward is described to “dazzle” everyone around him (Meyer 167). Characteristics such as not being able to be in the sunlight and sleeping in coffins are myth for the vampires of Twilight. The Cullen clan, apart from most vampires, do not even drink human blood, claiming to be vegetarians, in a sense, by drinking animal blood (Meyer 186). One of the most altered characteristics of the original vampire legend is Edward’s diamond –like skin when exposed to sunlight. The only way to kill a vampire of Twilight is not by a stake to the heart, but by burning the pieces of the creature.

Both the characters of Mina Murray and Bella Swan portray the lead female role of vampire literature. Mina Murray became the victim of Dracula’s rampage throughout London, and was nearly transformed into a creature of the night herself. With the knowledge and courage of Dr. Van Helsing and his followers, Mina’s life was spared after the deed of slaying the vicious vampire was carried out. “But on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathon’s great knife[.   .  .  .] I saw it shear through the throat; whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart[.  .  .  .] the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight” (Stoker 400-401). Mina Murray was then released from the clutches of the demonic Dracula. Unlike Mina, Bella Swan did not consider herself a victim of Edward Cullen. In fact, she felt as if she could no longer keep away from him. “I was unconditionally and irrevocably in love with him” (Meyer 195). Bella willingly took the risk of becoming a vampire’s significant other, and even attempts to persuade Edward to turn her as well. By the end of The Twilight Saga, Bella Swan’s wish is fulfilled.

The female role has changed drastically throughout the course of vampire literature. Their perspectives of the creature that desperately thirsts for human blood has gone from complete and utter terror to absolute adoration and attraction.   Although some traits of the legend have remained, many have altered throughout the years. During the Victorian age, Mina Murray mentioned how Dracula is a monster. Today, the character Bella Swan viewed Edward Cullen as beautiful and alluring. The damsels in distress have, in a sense, helped define how the vampire legend has changed throughout literature.

Works Cited

Meyer, Stephenie. Twilight. 1st ed. New York: Little, Brown and, 2005. p. 10, 18-19, 56, 106, 125-126, 135, 137-138, 167, 186, 195, 274. Print. The Twilight Saga.

“The Norton Anthology of English Literature: The Victorian Age: Topic 2: Overview.” Home | W. W. Norton & Company. W.W. Norton and Company, 2010-2011. Web. 02 May 2011. <http://www.wwnorton.com/college/english/nael/victorian/topic_2/welcome.htm&gt;.

Stoker, Bram, and Maurice Hindle. Dracula. London: Penguin, 2003. p. 62, 185, 238-239, 250, 252, 275-276, 400-401. Print

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