The two main female characters in Dracula, the famous novel by Bram Stoker, are Mina and Lucy. Both of which are extremely important to the text. Not only are they great character, from a psychological standpoint, but they add and give many things to the novel, becoming intrinsic to it for the way the plot runs around them, for the changes in point of view and for the portrayal of femininity and friendship.
First off, plot-wise Mina and Lucy’s journals and letters begin a new route the author took in terms of the story. Before this, the novel had centred on Jonathan Harker’s visit to Count Dracula’s castle, and his paranoia; however, with this the story, Stoker stops Harker’s plot and opens one where Mina starts to narrate eerie and peculiar events: Lucy’s sleepwalking, the ghost boat, Harker’s possible disappearance, among other things. Also, if the author had decided only to let Harker tell the story, not only would he have had a huge gap in time (because this character is unable to write for a very long time), but could have had the whole story questioned, for the unreliability of Harker’s point of view.
Continuing that thought, regarding point-of-view, the letters and journals of these two friends give the reader a different voice and a different way of thinking than the way Jonathan Harker did. These change in voices and tones are one of the things that appoint this novel as a direct precursor of modernism. It is not the really the epistolary nature of the novel, for Samuel Richardson, Pierre Choderlos de Laclos, Jane Austen and many others were doing this, many decades before Stoker, but that for one of the first times ever an author was playing with reliability and credibility from the characters. This is not saying that this is the first time that it was done (Emily Brontë did this with Wuthering Heights fifty years before, for example), or that it is the best example of this tool (several texts come to mind, from Woolf to Nabokov to García Marquez to Roth to Oates and even to Brontë herself), but it is one of the first times in literature where we can notice an author deliberately creating unreliable narrations.
In this case—although Lucy is more lively and immature than Mina, they both serve a more or less similar purpose to the general voice of the novel: they break off Harker’s irrational and shaky narrative (it is my belief that if the first four chapters of the novel were seen as a short story, nothing could be said for certain out of the true nature of Count Dracula, or the supernatural in general, for Harker’s writing is just plainly psychotic). The ending of that fourth chapter—being Harker’s last in a long while (that is, the last chapter that features a fragment of his journals or letters)—is very climatic; so the fact that Mina’s voice enters after that moment not only gives the reader a pause in the heavy plot but gives also a more reliable, calmer and objective view of things than our previous narrator.
Finally, Mina and Lucy’s voice gives the book a feminine and joyous touch. One very important thing to remember is that friendship between women was very rare in literature, by the time Dracula was published. Much like Woolf says in her essay A Room of One’s Own: “Cleopatra did not like Octavia. And how completely Antony and Cleopatra would have been altered had she done so! […] How interesting it would have been if the relationship between the two women had been more complicated. All these relationships between women, I thought, rapidly recalling the splendid gallery of fictitious women, are too simple. So much has been left out, unattempted. And I tried to remember any case in the course of my reading where two women are represented as friends.” (Woolf, V. 1928) Sure, Desdemona had Emilia, and Catherine (daughter) had Nelly, Elizabeth had Jane, but even in these cases, the friendship was sustained by either motherly feelings, family bonds, status, or other reasons. So for these two women—two equal women—to get along, for them to be friends and love each other so much, possibly even in a homoerotic way, gives the read an aesthetic and psychological pleasure. This novel pushes the boundaries of women in literature, even if in a subtle way, and it shouldn’t be unacknowledged.
These are a few of the reasons why Stoker’s female characters are groundbreaking characters: intelligent, independent, full of life. And although modernism wasn’t fully formed until the twentieth century, this gothic novel deserves a place among those who strongly influenced the future of literature.
Woolf, V. (1945) A Room of One’s Own. Penguin Books, London.