Monstrosity and motherhood in Bram Stoker

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Lisa Hopkins looks at the representation of motherhood in Bram Stoker’s writing, declaring that:

Much critical attention has been paid to the representation of female characters in the novels of Bram Stoker. Often, his patent uneasiness about women has been attributed to his fear of the New Woman movement, to which Dracula, in particular, openly refers. […] I want to argue that Stoker’s response to the figure of the New Woman, and indeed his figuring of his female characters in general, is radically inflected and informed by the shaping circumstances of his early life in Ireland and his Irish identity – particularly when it comes to his representations of women as mothers or motherly, which are deeply rooted in the representations of maternity in the cultural imagery of his Irish background.” (p.5)

Dracula, instead of progressing, like so many other Victorian novels, towards a closing marriage, ends instead on an image of motherhood. The final paragraph of the novel is ostensibly offered as a celebration of domesticity, continuity, and affective ties.” (p.6)

Motherhood, then, is encoded at the close of the novel not as any idyllic image of Madonna and child – indeed the child sits not on its mother’s knee, but on Van Helsing’s, and Mina herself is silent throughout the closing ‘Note’ – but as a merely temporary refuge from precisely the kinds of sexual knowledge that initially unleashed the horrors of vampirism amongst the Crew of Light. In fact, despite its structural status as narrative telos, this closing representation of motherhood is fissured by the same kinds of ambiguity that have made many of the novel’s images of maternity only slightly less obviously monstrous than the figure of the Count himself. The figuration of motherhood as implicitly monstrous is pervasive.” (p.7)

Mother-figures in Stoker are closely and consistently associated with monstrosity.” (p.8)

Hopkins analyses both The Snake’s Pass and Dracula in some depth, concluding that “Stoker’s writing […] on one level insists on a separation of the sexual and the maternal while, at another, radically confounding them, seeing maternity as in fact impossible to confine within its appointed bounds but dangerously, monstrously, manifesting itself elsewhere. This is a patterning which seems, ultimately, only partly explicable in terms of a response to the unease generated by the New Woman. Underpinning it, surely, is a widereaching and deep-seated psychological unease with woman as mother, which may well be attributable to Stoker’s own feelings of ambivalence about the devouring mother and the maternal wife. Moreover, in his response to these two Irish women, we may well see Stoker as encoding a broader aspect of Irish culture as a whole, with its emphasis on the power of the mother who is also, in the legend of the pregnant women in the cave, available for marriage, or who, in the case of the Virgin Mary, transcends sexuality altogether to offer only maternity.” (p.8)

Ref: Lisa Hopkins (1997): Vampires and Snakes: Monstrosity and motherhood in Bram Stoker, Irish Studies Review, 5:19, 5-8

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