Mesmeric rapport: The power of female sympathy in Bram Stoker's Dracula

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Abstract

Scenes of mesmerism and hypnotism in Gothic novels are commonly read as symbolic of sexual assault that reinforce traditional hierarchies of gendered power. In contrast, Bram Stoker rejects the trope of the helpless woman controlled by the all-powerful mesmerist in his depiction of Mina Harker’s psychic connection to Dracula. Rather, he presents this connection as a means by which Mina can regain power after a traumatic assault, and does so by employing nineteenth-century feminist rhetoric which presented telepathy as a powerful extension of women’s natural faculty for sympathy. The word ‘sympathy’ appears an unusual number of times in Dracula, compared to other Gothic or invasion fiction of the period. In his use of this word, Stoker engages with a number of nineteenth-century discourses, including moral philosophy, feminism, and mesmerism. Each of these branches of thought viewed sympathy as an inherently female virtue. In the novel, feminine sympathy is presented as the means by which the vampire can be fought and destroyed without compromising the humanity of those that fight. Thus, a consideration of the depiction of sympathy in Dracula suggests that Stoker was far more receptive to New Women and the feminist movement of the 1890s than is often allowed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)366-380
Number of pages15
JournalJournal of Victorian Culture
Volume23
Issue number3
Early online date31 May 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jul 2018

Keywords

  • mesmerism
  • telepathy
  • Gothic fiction
  • feminism
  • new woman
  • history of feminism

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