“Dracula” and Women of Classic Literature

One of my favorite YouTube channels is Overly Sarcastic Productions. They’re a two-person team: Blue does videos that focus on history (usually ancient Greek/Roman) while Red does videos on myths, classic literature, and modern tropes. They’re both hilarious and educational, so if you haven’t checked them out, do so.

A couple of years ago Red put out a video on the 19th century classic Dracula, and it was so funny that I ended up buying a copy of the book and reading it over the holidays. (Yes, I was reading it on Christmas Day. Judge all you want. Just remember that a hallowed holiday tale involves three ghosts trying to convince a rich asshole to be good by terrifying him with visions of his own death.)

This was the first time outside of school that I had read a book that was written more than twenty years ago. Some would consider that weird, seeing as I have a bachelor’s in history and go through books like a smoker goes through cigarettes. But I tend to resist reading anything that was written more than a generation ago on account of one thing: women.

Racism, ableism, and homophobia are also all factors, but I’ll admit that it’s the casual sexism in classic literature that really gets under my skin because it’s a more personal attack on me. Think of all the old classics: Huckleberry Finn, Lord of the Flies, even books written by women like Frankenstein (which I got for Christmas because it was on my wishlist because Overly Sarcastic Productions did a video on that one, too). If there are any girls or women around, they’re pushed to the sidelines and usually have no real bearing on the plot. On the rare occasions that they are front and center, their stories revolve around romance (Romeo & Juliet, Pride & Prejudice, Les Miserables, et cetera). They don’t get to make monsters or go on adventures down the river or, as I found out over the holidays, kill vampires.

I picked up Dracula because of one character and one character only: Mina Murray. She fills the Lone Vagina trope as the only woman in a group of guys (often used by writers today in the hopes of satisfying us feminists). According to Overly Sarcastic, Mina is a fiercely intelligent woman who, aside from Van Helsing, contributes some of the most vital pieces of information to the group in hunting and killing Dracula. She also gets married to one of the characters about halfway through, so there’s none of that ridiculous romantic subplot going on.

Maybe it’s just because Red hyped her up so much in her video, but I wasn’t that impressed with Mina. The fact that she’s there and actually helps her friends in their quest is significant, especially when you consider how old this book is. But I found it annoying how all of the men–from her husband to Van Helsing–would all insist on how smart and resourceful and awesome she is . . .only for her to contribute very little to their efforts, and only then at the end.

That doesn’t make it a bad book. Not at all. I enjoyed reading it. And I’m not a person who usually reads horror. I prefer that in my movies. But it definitely is not as feminist or pro-woman as many people make it out to be.

I will say this for Dracula: there’s some romantic drama near the beginning concerning another woman, Lucy, and the fact that she has three suitors. She ends up picking one of them to marry.

Think about any story–or possibly even real-life situation–where something like that has happened. How does the ex-boyfriend usually react? Not well. Usually he’s either bitter, or a crybaby, or decides he’s never going to speak with the woman again despite years of knowing her.

So how does it play out in Dracula? The two ex-boyfriends carry on as adults! They remain friends with both Lucy’s fiance and Lucy herself without any resentment or hoping for an affair or any of that crap. It’s a refreshingly drama-free romance and I wish more ex-boyfriends–fictional and otherwise–acted this civil.

Then Lucy is killed, rises as a vampire, and has to be beheaded by her husband, thus destroying a solid half of all meaningful women in this story.

And that’s why I don’t read classical literature.