Lucy Westenra: An Analysis

Posted by  Been
August 9, 2013

An analysis of Lucy Westenra from Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ as specifically suggested by the passages and descriptions about Lucy in the novel.

Lucy Westenra: An Analysis

Lucy Westenra fulfills a specific function in ‘Dracula’ - that of tragic victim.  She is a vibrant beautiful girl of nineteen who falls prey to Dracula and becomes undead herself.  That she is one of only two main female characters, both of whom are pursued by the vampire, and that she is painted with such deliberate strokes before her undoing appear as narrative choices to simultaneously show the horror of falling prey to a vampire and to inspire a greater empathy for Mina’s plight when it is her turn to be pursued.  Whatever his intent in the time, Bram Stoker perhaps unwitting endowed Lucy Westenra with traits that have enabled her to be largely misinterpreted or painted as something of a ‘free’ and gossipy girl in modern portrayals.  However I believe, in examining the passages of ‘Dracula’ that pertain directly to Lucy, that this portrayal is somewhat false and colored largely by her trio of suitors and the specific words used to describe her once she has become undead.  I believe Lucy is a pure victim, an innocent beauty subverted by Dracula, and meant, in narrative terms, to represent the good and evil in women and the truth of their perception in the time the novel is set.

Lucy’s physical description in the book is problematic.  Though it is widely assumed that Lucy is blonde there are, in fact, only two references to her hair color.   The first comes right before her death in chapter 12 when her hair is described as being brushed to “sunny ripples” across the pillow.  The next time her hair color is referenced is in chapter 16 in which the now-vampire Lucy is described as being a “dark-haired woman”.  Either Bram Stoker didn’t care enough about Lucy’s hair color to recall it accurately or he intended the darkening of her hair to visually enforce the loss of innocence that came with her undead transformation.  More consistent are the descriptions of her “sweet purity”, “sweetness”, “loveliness”, and the “beautiful color” in her cheeks.  Lucy is nineteen years old and is variously described as wearing white, specific details designed to highlight her innocence and beauty.

Modern interpretations of ‘Dracula’ at times see fit to portray Lucy as gossipy, flirtatious, and rather free with her affections.  The redheaded Lucy of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, while undeniably lovely in life and horrific as a vampire, nonetheless painted her as a rather saucy girl, deliberately using double entendre and coy wordplay to openly flirt with all three of her suitors even in each other’s presences.  She is shown as the studied opposite of demure, responsible Mina Murray.  She is seen as social butterfly, a glamorous counterpart to her more solemn friend.  This misinterpretation of Lucy stems in part, I believe, from the fact that she entertains three marriage proposals in a day from three equally dashing suitors.  Modern spin puts a wanton color on her because of this but the text does not support such a reading.  The only times all three men seem to be together in her presence are after she becomes engaged to Arthur Holmwood and once she has fallen ill and they are fighting to preserve her life.  She doesn’t toy with the two suitors she has no interest in marrying, either.  The text is explicit in describing, via her first letter to Mina in chapter 5, her affections for Arthur Holmwood.  

“I love him. I am blushing as I write, for although I think he loves me, he has not told me so in words.  But, oh, Mina, I love him.”

It is equally as pointed in describing her rejection of the other two suitors, via her second letter to Mina in the same chapter, and how each pains her.  She writes that she felt “a sort of duty to tell him that there was some one” in reference to John Seward’s proposal, though at that point she had no assurances that Arthur loved her back.  She was acting out of honesty, being true to her feelings.  And she tells Mina that she “can't help crying” because “it isn't at all a happy thing when you have to see a poor fellow, whom you know loves you honestly, going away and looking all broken hearted” which signifies that she did not take either the proposal or her rejection of it lightly.  Nor did she entertain it for any length of time despite not knowing where she stood with Arthur.  She deals with Quincey Morris’ proposal in a more lighthearted manner due to his “good-humored” and “jolly” demeanor but regrets her lightness immediately and bursts into tears.  She then writes to Mina that though she was crying she “was able to look into Mr. Morris' brave eyes” and told him “out straight” of her love for Arthur.  She laments, in her letter, that women can only marry one man.

“Why can't they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble? But this is heresy, and I must not say it.”

This is the single most misinterpreted quote, for out of context it makes her seem callous and greedy.  But taken with the rest of her letter in consideration, it shows that she was writing out of the pain of being put in the position of having to reject two worthy suitors in order to be true to her own feelings.  In truth the novel gives no indication that Lucy courted any of the men for she appears to have fallen in love with Arthur almost immediately upon being introduced to him.  Thus her position was an awkward one in which three men simultaneously propose to her though she herself appears as nothing but virtuous, her mind already settled on a single man.

Additionally, Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra appear to have been written as opposites in financial situation only.  They appear to share a certain purity and a single-minded devotion to their husbands-to-be.  If anything Mina is the more modern woman, having a job, traveling independently to meet up with Jonathan Harker when the nuns write to her of his illness, and transcribing both her journals and Dr. Seward’s on a typewriter to aid in Van Helsing’s study of Dracula.  Yet Mina is ever seen as demure and Lucy as the wild-hearted antonym.  Lucy is the one, however, who writes that they shall soon “settle down soon soberly into old married women” and “can despise vanity”.  She also writes that she doesn’t know if she will use slang in her speech as she doesn’t know if Arthur will like it.  In this way she is written as wholly indicative of the period’s perception of what a good wife should be.  One who chooses to adhere to her husband’s ideals and plans to settle into his vision of domestic bliss.  Both Lucy and Mina are singularly devoted to their chosen men and talk of Arthur and Jonathan fills much of their correspondence and conversation.  

Lucy is written as a sweet, generous girl, one who is virtuous by nature and sensitive to the suffering of others.  At the time of her mother’s death, in chapter 11, when she is menaced by a wolf and her maids are all unconscious, she writes “I am back in the room with Mother. I cannot leave her” and later she braces for the worst and prays for Arthur when she writes “My dear mother gone! It is time that I go too. Goodbye, dear Arthur, if I should not survive this night. God keep you, dear, and God help me!”.  There is no indication in the text that Lucy is other than a true friend to Mina and a sincere and beloved girl whose instincts were to honesty and devotion.  She rather embodies the ideal woman a man of the time sought to marry.  And her seeming perfection as a beautiful innocent serves as glaring counterpart to what she becomes once undead.

It is worthwhile to ask why Dracula selects Lucy as his first victim.  There are multiple theories and as no single reason is offered by the text, we will extract meaning from what is given.  Lucy is afflicted by sleepwalking and the Westenras reside in Whitby on the seashore, overlooking the harbor.  These two details give the vampire opportunity.  Dracula arrives in the ship Demeter, her crew dead or gone, her captain strapped dead to the wheel, on the crest of a wild storm.  The Demeter comes ashore in the Whitby harbour.  It is entirely possible that Lucy is circumstantial, chosen because of her proximity to the harbour where Dracula first lands and due to her propensity for walking about in her sleep.  When the whole of the text is explored and Mina’s singular importance to Dracula is revealed, however, Lucy’s selection seems to stem both from accident and intent.  If we assume Mina to be the ultimate target - given that Dracula knew of her before sailing from his interactions with Jonathan Harker - then we can also assume that Mina’s proximity to Lucy combined with Lucy’s own circumstances make her an ideal target.  Narratively she is chosen because of her extreme virtue.  She is sweet and unspoiled and beautiful.  Thus the subverting of the ideal by turning her into a vampire serves to highlight exactly how horrific a creature Dracula is.

When Lucy is made a vampire, careful attention is paid to describing how she appears and behaves in opposition to the Lucy we got to know before her death.  Lucy in her coffin is described as “more radiantly beautiful than ever” with lips “redder than before”.  Once animated, more sensuous and savage language is used.  

“The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness.”

“Lucy's eyes in form and colour, but Lucy's eyes unclean and full of hell fire, instead of the pure, gentle orbs we knew.”

As a vampire Lucy is given vices in direct opposition to the many virtues she possessed when alive.  She is shown as predatory.  She moves with a “languorous, voluptuous grace”.  She openly attempts to seduce Arthur.  She feeds off a child then throws the child to the ground.  She becomes furious and full of malice when Van Helsing presents a crucifix.  She appears as a “devilish mockery of Lucy's sweet purity”.  Her entire character is subverted.  She becomes the direct counterpart to what she stood for in life.  This is both a commentary on the evil that Dracula subjects her to and a suggestive look at the duality of women.  For within all women there must be, the text suggests, this expansive capacity for both virtue and voluptuousness, for sweetness and savagery.  The intervention of outside forces, in this case the vampire, twists the woman’s purpose and turns her into something she should not be.  Lucy is the most extreme example and she must be freed from the devilry subverting her by killing that which makes her undead.  Once she is staked by Arthur, true death gives her back her purity and untainted beauty.  

It is noteworthy that throughout the novel Lucy Westenra does little to nothing to direct her own fate.  She is not simple-minded but she is not devious either.  She merely takes what is dealt to her and proceeds accordingly.  Of three suitors, she loves one.  She deals with the other two in the honest way that defines her virtue.  Once engaged, she devotes the whole of her time and thought to Arthur.  While she is ill, wasting away after Dracula’s attack, she fluctuates between the good and bad of her virtue and the darkness subverting her character.  But she chooses no course for herself.  She merely responds to what is given to her, both by her protectors - Van Helsing, Arthur, Seward - and her attacker - Dracula.  Whichever influence is the greater is the one she responds to.  Stoker imbues Lucy Westenra with great gifts, even allows her to appear as a free thinker with her talk of slang, and makes her desirable and sweet, but he does not give her choice.  She is an accessory to the whims of the men in her life.  So she is indicative of the time period as a whole.  She represents the ideal wife both to Arthur and to Dracula, for she does not stand in opposition to either but embodies the desires of each in turn.

It is this lack of agency in her own destiny that is the truest tragedy of Lucy’s story.  Her spiral into illness and eventually a mockery of life as one of the undead is horrific.  Her innocence is overwritten by darkness and she has no say in it.  She is a victim in the most absolute sense of the word.  I reject the notion that Lucy Westenra was a coy flirt and somehow instrumental in her own downfall for the text says otherwise.  Lucy represents the purest tragedy of the novel and she is unforgettable and deeply moving because of it.

Copyright Corinne Simpson

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