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The Woman in White’s Influence on Dracula

Similarities between Wilkie Collins’ 1860 novel The Woman in White and Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula have long been noted by critics and readers. Recently, I reread The Woman in White with fellow members of the Trollope and His Contemporaries group online that I have long belonged to. During this read, several similarities between the two novels stood out to me and some of the other members, particularly Ellen Moody, which I will discuss here. Personally, I believe Stoker was influenced in numerous ways by The Woman in White, many of which he may not have realized himself.

An 1880 portrait of Wilkie Collins by Rudolph Lehmann

The biggest and most often noted similarity between the two novels is their structure. The Woman in White is written as a compilation of various documents and eyewitness testimonies by various people involved in the strange events depicted in the novel. Stoker adopted this same technique for Dracula. While previous novels had claimed to be collections of documents—for example, Samuel Richardson’s novels and all the epistolary fiction that followed—Collins was the first to have multiple characters compile documents for the purpose of sharing them with the public and documenting events to provide evidence of what happened. By comparison, Richardson’s characters’ letters are simply “discovered” by the author who claims to be their editor. Stoker goes a step farther than Collins in Dracula by even employing new technology, such as phonographs, to compile the record, but the results are the same—numerous pieces by different eyewitnesses that are put together to create a complete narrative.

Several similarities also exist between Collins and Stoker’s characters beginning with the villains. Our primary villain in both novels is a count and a foreigner. Count Dracula is from Transylvania while Count Fosco is from Italy. Several scholars have written about how Dracula may be a commentary on the concern of Eastern European immigrants coming into England and the need to hold back that threat. (For more details on this theory, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.) Such prejudice or racism directed at foreigners is also apparent in The Woman in White when Laura Fairlie’s aunt marries Count Fosco, thus resulting in her being disinherited and only able to collect her inheritance should her niece Laura die. Of course, Count Fosco is not a desirable husband, but that the foreigner is made into a villain still suggests a note of racism in the text. Another foreigner in The Woman in White is Mr. Fairlie’s servant Louie, whom Mr. Gilmore describes as “miserable”; Louie, far from being a villain, is subservient and mistreated by Mr. Fairlie, but disliked regardless.

The primary female character in Dracula is Mina Harker. In The Woman in White, it is Marian Halcombe. Notably, the women have the same initials. Marian is similar to Mina in several ways I will discuss below, but as Ellen Moody noted, Marian also takes on the role of Mina’s husband, Jonathan Harker, when she is seen crawling on the rooftops so that she can overhear conversations in other rooms to learn her enemies’ secrets. Similarly, Jonathan Harker makes explorations of Dracula’s castle, including going out on the ramparts to try to find a means of escape.

Hints of homosexuality and fear of it also exist in both novels. In The Woman in White, Mr. Fairlie is a weak and effeminate male who is constantly whining and acting like a hypochondriac. Notably, he is also much impressed by Walter Hartright, complimenting him on how strong he is when he first arrives at Limmeridge House, suggesting a sexual attraction or at least an admiration for men who are stronger and, thus, manlier, than he is. By comparison Marian is very mannish and dresses in mannish ways.

Bram Stoker may have had homosexual feelings himself. He liked to play with gender themes in many of his novels, including The Lair of the White Worm and The Man.

While there is no overt homosexuality in either novel, there is a definite fear of it in the novels’ subtexts. Most notably, in Dracula, the men all fear the count as the alpha male figure who has the power to defeat and, thus, emasculate them, including by taking their women from them. Dracula succeeds in taking Lucy from the men who love her, and then he attempts to do the same with Mina. The most horrifying moment in the novel is when the men discover the count with Mina. Dracula has broken into Mina and Jonathan’s bedroom and apparently overpowered Jonathan, who lies there unconscious while Dracula forces Mina to drink blood from his breast. While Dracula does not drain Jonathan, that he takes Jonathan’s woman is sufficient to show he has unmanned Jonathan. This fear of a more powerful male draining another male of their manhood is a subtext for homosexuality and specifically fellatio.

A similar, though less explicit, event happens in The Woman in White after Walter Hartright falls in love with Laura Fairlie. However, Laura is engaged to Sir Percival, who also is depicted in alpha male terms. Walter leaves Limmeridge House just before Sir Percival arrives. He apparently feels unmanned that the woman he loves could prefer Sir Percival. Consequently, the next time we hear of Walter, he is described by Mr. Gilmore as having been seen walking about London looking “pale and haggard.” In other words, by taking his woman, Sir Percival has drained the manhood out of Walter Hartright.

Stoker takes this image of Walter walking about London and reverses it in Dracula. When Jonathan Harker first sees Dracula at his castle, the count is pale. Later, Jonathan sees him walking about in London and notes how he has grown young, which he has done by drinking blood. Jonathan is also weak and pale by the time he leaves Dracula’s castle, having undergone a great shock. The female vampires wish to feed on him, but Dracula tells them “This man belongs to me.” Stoker gives no indication that Dracula has sucked Jonathan’s blood, but perhaps we are to read between the lines. Again, the sense is that one man can drain the life and manhood from another. Later, Dracula warns all the men, “Your girls that you all love are mine already. And through them you and others shall yet be mine, my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed.” In other words, if Dracula comes to control the men, they will be his inferiors and thus be unmanned. They will become beta males whose job is to assist the alpha male in fulfilling his needs—both food-wise and sexually.

I will not go so far as to say there is lesbianism in Dracula between Mina and Lucy, although some critics have speculated upon this and Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula shows the two women kissing. However, hints at lesbianism definitely exist in The Woman in White. Marian, as previously stated, is very mannish in her behavior and how she dresses. She is also very protective of Laura, like a man would protect a woman—this is understandable given that they are sisters, yet the subtext is still there. It’s also noticeable that in the end, Marian does not marry. Collins could have easily married her off to one of the lawyers or doctors who are minor characters in the novel if he wanted to end the novel with neatly tied up marriage knots. Instead, that Walter ends up living with two women, Marian and Laura, may be reflective of the fact that Collins himself had two simultaneous mistresses, although they never all lived together. It also suggests that Marian wants to remain close to Laura and also that perhaps she feels some attraction to Walter. Certainly, Marian is more Walter’s equal than Laura. That Marian is mannish suggests a male homosexual bond between Marian and Walter while also suggesting a lesbian connection between Marian and Laura.

If Marian is a pseudo-man, it is telling that she admits at one point she would also fold Count Fosco’s cigarettes for him like his wife does—a sign not that she is attracted to him so much as that she would be submissive to him, just as men fear being submissive to a more alpha male.

Connections to Dracula also exist in Marian and Count Fosco’s relationship. Although the count has no supernatural powers, he insinuates himself into Marian’s mind so much that she states she can recall his conversation and hear it in her head later as if he’s in the room. Similarly, Dracula and Mina are able to communicate telepathically. Later when Marian is sick, Dr. Dawson accuses Count Fosco of using mesmerism on her.

Dracula, of course, does have supernatural powers, including the power of mesmerism through his hypnotic eyes. Dracula also has power over other, weaker animals, including rats and wolves. Fosco has power over, or at least an affinity for, his mice and birds, and he is even capable of taming a great violent dog by telling it that it is a coward.

Secret societies also come into play in both novels. Toward the end of The Woman in White, it is revealed that Count Fosco has belonged to a secret society, The Brotherhood, and he has a mark upon him showing that he has been denounced by them—a mark reminiscent of the Mark of Cain that made the biblical Cain an outcast. While Dracula is not a member of a secret society, per se, the vampires are a sort of secret society in themselves. Similarly, the men are part of a “band” in their efforts to defeat Dracula. While it remains questionable whether Stoker was inspired by Vlad Tepes in creating Dracula, we know Vlad belonged to the Order of the Dragon, from which the name Dracula is derived. Vampires are also outcasts, unable to receive heaven’s salvation. At one point, Jonathan strikes Dracula on the forehead, resulting in a mark remaining there, again recalling the mark of Cain. Later, Van Helsing presses a Eucharistic host to Mina’s forehead and it also leaves a mark there, showing she is an outcast now that she has become Dracula’s minion.

The latest film of The Woman in White, which aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre in 2018.

It’s notable also, although Collins only drops the name, that we learn Fosco has belonged to several secret societies, including the Rosicrucians. The Rosicrucians claimed to have two major secrets: the elixir of life, which provided them with life extension and also the philosopher’s stone which gave them the alchemist skill of turning lead into gold. Fosco does not claim to have either of these secrets, but he does have chemical (if not alchemical) knowledge that allows him to administer drugs to Marian. As a side note, numerous critics have commented upon how Laura ending up in an insane asylum may have been based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton locking up his own wife in such an institution. Notably, Edward Bulwer-Lytton belonged to a Rosicrucian society himself, and the title character of his novel Zanoni (1842) is a Rosicrucian.

Finally, early in The Woman in White, Walter meets “the woman in white”—Anne Catherick. Dracula also has its woman in white—Lucy, who as a vampiress preys upon many children before she is put to rest.

I don’t think Stoker plagiarized from The Woman in White, but I think too many similarities exist between the novels not to believe he was heavily influenced by Collins’ novel. I am sure Stoker was aware of how he adopted from Collins’ novel a similar narrative structure for Dracula, but I think the way he took Collins’ themes and characters and developed them on a more supernatural level must have been done largely subconsciously. Clearly, The Woman in White had a profound influence upon Stoker beyond his own awareness.

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Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and numerous other books. For more information about Tyler and his books, visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com, www.GothicWanderer.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Constance Fenimore Woolson’s Female Gothic Rebel: An Interpretation of Jupiter Lights

Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-1894) is generally regarded as an author of realism, but she was influenced by her famous great-uncle, James Fenimore Cooper, to create Gothic forest and island scenes in her early novella Castle Nowhere (1875) set near the Mackinac Straits, and while her later works are always set within the real world without any traces of the supernatural, she still used many Gothic elements to enhance her themes.

Constance Fenimore Woolson - the author of Jupiter Lights, whose title refers to lighthouses in Florida and on Lake Superior, both places Woolson visited and wrote about extensively.

Constance Fenimore Woolson – the author of Jupiter Lights, whose title refers to lighthouses in Florida and on Lake Superior, both places Woolson visited and wrote about extensively.

Woolson’s third novel, Jupiter Lights (1889), was regarded by many at the time of its publication as Woolson’s best work. After her death, however, Woolson—despite her first novel Anne (1882) being a bestseller in its day—was largely forgotten, and even when women’s texts were revived in the later twentieth century as a result of the women’s movement, Woolson remained in the shadows. I find this surprising because the heroine of Jupiter Lights, Eve Bruce, is one of the most surprising and even desperate heroines in literature, a woman not afraid to act as needed in a moment of crisis, and a character whom I believe Woolson was using to comment on and reverse old Gothic and biblical stereotypes about women. However, her rebellion against a patriarchal establishment through the pseudo-transgression she commits may have resulted in the men who determined the literary canon and even women who thought the novel went too far from celebrating this novel’s extraordinary achievement.

Gothic novels are frequently about a transgression that the main character commits and then feels deep regret over. As I’ve explored in detail in my book The Gothic Wanderer, the Gothic novels of the 1790s and beyond were highly influenced by Milton’s Paradise Lost (1667), a retelling of the Garden of Eden story. In both the Bible and Paradise Lost, Eve transgresses by eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge, and that story has been used for centuries to justify making women second class citizens to men. Can it be any accident then that Woolson names her heroine Eve? It is a heavy name to bear, so I believe Woolson knew fully her intentions in using it for her main character.

The novel begins in the years following the Civil War. Eve has been living in England but now returns to the United States. Her brother Jack had married a Southern belle, Cicely, and then died during the Civil War, but not before leaving a son, also named Jack. When Eve arrives in the South to visit Cicely and her nephew, she quickly learns that Cicely has remarried to a man named Ferdie. Eve is shocked by this second marriage when she is herself still grieving her brother. Soon after, she decides Cicely is not a fit mother for Jack and she begins to plot how she can take away Jack and raise him herself. To some degree, Eve seems overly emotional in her grief, and while she does not consider kidnapping Jack, she does continually try to convince Cicely to give him to her, thinking Cicely neglects him.

During this time, Ferdie is in South America on business, but when he returns, Eve soon learns the truth about Ferdie and Cicely’s marriage. Ferdie is an alcoholic, and when he is in his drunken stupor, he can explode into a rage; he is not above beating Cicely, and even worse, he once broke little Jack’s arm. Ferdie also suffers from more than drunkenness; he has a hereditary type of madness that at times consumes him. Woolson’s biographer, Anne Boyd Rioux, notes that Henry James was friends with Robert Louis Stevenson, whose The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde appeared in 1886. We don’t know whether Woolson, who was close friends with James, read Stevenson’s book, but Mr. Hyde is not such a far cry from the same kind of tormented man who can turn into a monster that she depicts in Ferdie, and not unlike Milton’s Satan, who changes from an angel into a demon, Ferdie has “hell within him” and is largely helpless to dispel it.

Eve is horrified at the danger to her nephew that Ferdie represents, so she plots even more to get Jack away, but before she can accomplish it, the family goes to Singleton Island to visit relatives. While there, Ferdie flies into one of his drunken rages and it is clear he intends to murder Cicely. In the night, Eve flees from the house with Jack and Cicely. They journey through the swamps to reach a boat to escape in during the most Gothic scene in the novel. With Ferdie pursuing them, the women climb into the boat, but Eve, realizing Ferdie will be upon them before they can push off, in desperation, shoots Ferdie. Then leaving his fallen body behind, the women make their escape.

Cicely feels that the only safe place for them to go is to Ferdie’s brother, Paul, who lives far away in a mining town called Port aux Pins, on Lake Superior, in Upper Michigan. The women journey there, all the while dreading both that Ferdie will pursue them and also that Ferdie has been killed. The words Woolson uses here to describe Eve’s agony are significant:

“But, once away, the horror had come, as it always does and must, when by violence a human life has been taken. She had dropped the pistol into the Sound, but she could not drop the ghastly picture of the dark figure on the sand, with its arms making two or three spasmodic motions, then becoming suddenly still. Was he dead? If he was, she, Eve Bruce, was a murderer, a creature to be imprisoned for life,—hanged. How people would shrink from her if they knew! And how monstrous it was that she should touch Cicely! Yet she must. Cain, where is thy brother? And the Lord set a mark upon Cain, lest any finding him should kill him. Would it come to this, that she should be forced at last to take her own life, in order to be free from the horror of murder? These were the constant thoughts of that journey northward, without one moment’s respite day or night.”

The mark of Cain is a frequent Gothic theme. The Wandering Jew and other Gothic Wanderer characters carry the mark of Cain on their brow, a sign that they are murderers or transgressors, and, therefore, cursed by God. Eve believes the only way to free herself from her guilt is to commit suicide, which is also a common Gothic theme. Many Gothic wanderer figures, including the Wandering Jew and the title character of James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampyre (1846) seek to destroy themselves. These two characters, in particular, often try to drown themselves or jump into volcanoes, but the sea and the volcanoes spit them up, refusing to let them die. Eve does not go so far as to attempt suicide, but later in the novel, she will try to lock herself away to prevent her murderous act from continuing to hurt those she loves, especially Paul.

While in Port aux Pins, the women remain silent about what happened to Ferdie. In time, Paul receives news that Ferdie was shot, and two negroes are suspected of having shot him. Eve then believes she is cleared from suspicion, but she holds guilt within her heart, even though she felt obligated to shoot Ferdie to save Cicely and Jack’s lives that night.

Cicely has fallen into a sort of mental illness by the time they reach Port aux Pins, so she is unable to provide any clarity about what happened to Ferdie. She only knows that she loves him and she wants to return to him when she learns of his gunshot wound, although Paul and Eve persuade her otherwise. She falls into great despair when she then hears that Ferdie has died.

Ferdie’s death leaves Eve in anguish over the belief that she is a murderer. Her anguish is all the greater because now she is falling in love with Paul. Added to that, Paul declares that if he ever finds out who killed Ferdie, he will shoot that man. He says he could never forgive his brother’s murderer—it must be blood for blood. Matters become more complicated when soon after, Paul and Eve confess that they love each other. However, Eve says she cannot marry him because a barrier lies between them. Paul thinks she means that she loves another man, and Eve lies when she confirms that she does because she feels she could not bear his anger and hatred if she confesses that she killed his brother.

Meanwhile, Cicely is consumed with grief over Ferdie’s death. She now curses Paul for not letting her go to him before he died, saying, “If you trust anyone, I hope that person will betray you,” an eerie foreshadowing for the day when Paul will likely learn the truth about Eve and the murderous act she committed.

Finally, consumed with guilt, Eve confesses to Cicely that she shot Ferdie. At this knowledge, Cicely goes mad. She begins reliving the events of that night and thinks they are on Singleton Island again where they were the night they escaped from Ferdie. Madness is also a common theme in the Gothic, although typically only the women go mad, such as Bertha Rochester in Jane Eyre, or they are accused of madness and locked up, as in Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White.

When Cicely eventually regains her senses, she sees Paul and Eve together and realizes they are in love. She then threatens Eve with telling Paul the truth, but before she can, the novel’s most dramatic and, for this reader, terrifying event occurs.

Jack is placed in a boat on the beach and inadvertently the boat gets washed out into the lake before anyone can stop it. Eve quickly gets into another boat and begins paddling out onto Lake Superior in pursuit, while Cicely finds a man to get another boat and follow her. The scene is terrifying because Lake Superior is enormous, and several times, the women lose sight of Jack’s boat. Many times they must call to Jack on the lake and listen for his cries and then try to follow in that direction, sometimes seeing the boat, sometimes losing sight of it. Woolson refers to the women here as “wanderers” as they cross the lake on their desperate quest. Living as I do on the shore of Lake Superior, I can well-imagine how terrifying as well as realistic this scene is and how nearly impossible it would be to catch Jack’s boat.

Eventually, the women are able, despite the wind and waves, to find Jack, aided somewhat in the night by the lightning flashing in the sky. They get close enough to Jack’s boat to pull it behind theirs, but then it becomes filled with water and Eve has to jump into it to grab the sleeping Jack as it capsizes. For a moment, Eve and Jack are underwater, and then they come back to the surface. Eve hands the boy to Cicely and somehow they make it to shore.

Cicely is now so grateful to Eve for saving Jack that she promises not to tell Paul the truth about Ferdie’s death. The near drowning is almost like a baptism for Eve, as if to redeem her sins, since she gains Cicely’s forgiveness. She has also had to sacrifice her life for another’s here, just as Christ did.

But despite Cicely’s promise, Eve is consumed with guilt, so she finally tells Paul the truth, including all the details of how Ferdie threatened their lives.

The women now return South with Jack, but Cicely remains mentally unstable. She wants to return to Singleton Island and the place where the murder happened. When she and Eve go there, she loses control of her emotions and tries to choke Eve, declaring, “How do you like being dead?” Fortunately, she then faints and Eve carries her “sister” home. This scene is significant with the wording “sister” because in the Bible, Cain tells God that he is not his “brother’s keeper” and yet Eve, who equates herself with Cain, is now caring for her “sister.” She acts more like a Christian than a murderer here, and in doing so, she is replacing the Old Testament law of vengeance with the New Testament gospel of turning the other cheek and loving your enemy.

Paul now follows the women South. He finds Eve and proposes to her, telling her he understands why she shot Ferdie and that she was brave to do it, but she refuses his proposal, saying he will hate her later. She then flees to Europe without Paul knowing, and Paul is angry when he learns that Cicely did not try to stop her. Cicely only replies that she wants to make Eve suffer.

At this point, Dr. Knox, who had attended Ferdie when he was dying, returns from a trip abroad. He had gone just after Ferdie had died so he had never been able to communicate the details of Ferdie’s death to Paul. He now tells Paul that he had cured Ferdie of the bullet wound, but Ferdie died soon after from a series of drinking sprees.

Relieved by this news, Paul goes to Italy to find Eve. She is in a “retreat center,” but Paul fears it is really a convent and that she is planning to take vows. Gothic novels are full of convents in which women are often forced into vows. The women at the retreat center tell Paul no one is being forced, but Paul is desperate and even violent as he pushes people aside and tears through the building until he finds Eve and takes her in his arms, and so the novel ends, with the assumption that Paul tells Eve she is not guilty of murder.

I find this novel fascinating because Woolson is clearly rejecting and reversing the role of transgressor in her character Eve. While Eve is ultimately relieved from the guilt of being a murderer, she is also not afraid to stand up to the patriarchal system that enslaved women—in this case represented by Ferdie, who is the true Gothic monster of the novel. In other words, Eve’s attempted murder of Ferdie, which can be seen as a rebellion against the patriarchal system, is not the transgression society would have us believe. The final scene where Paul tries to free her from the convent suggests that the old secrets often contained in monasteries and castles in Gothic fiction are now free to see the light of day. In fact, that no one is forced to take vows in the convent suggests that women no longer need be imprisoned in their lives by men or religion or social pressures.

Paul’s violent entry into the convent is also an act of defeating the past, like a storming of the Bastille, and pushing away the old to make way for the new. Would it be too far to equate Paul with St. Paul, preacher of the New Testament? After all, his last name, Tennant, might be translated as “tenet,” which isn’t a far cry from “testament.” Just as Christ redeemed mankind and replaced the Old Testament with the New, so Paul can love a transgressive woman and in a sense redeem her, though in truth, she needs no redemption for she is not a transgressor since she is not guilty of murder.

In the Bible, Eve says that the serpent made her eat the fruit. Modern language has turned this concept into the phrase, “The devil made me do it.” The same may be said in this novel, if Ferdie is seen as the devil. Eve did what she had to do to protect herself and Cicely and Jack, and in that sense, shooting Ferdie was self-defense. It was not a true transgression. Even so, when Eve learns that she is not a murderer, she also need no longer feel like she is cursed and bearing the mark of Cain. Instead, she is free to marry Paul—in a sense, she is redeemed by the “good news”—the gospel—that he preaches to her of her innocence, which frees her from what may later have been the confinement of a convent.

Eve Bruce is a true Gothic wanderer both justified in her transgression and redeemed even though it turns out she never needed redemption.

Even the most ardent feminists would not publicly advocate murdering an abusive husband, even in self-defense, and so I suspect that is why this novel and Woolson have not yet been embraced by feminist scholars. Even so, Eve Bruce is a true champion for women’s rights and one of the most powerful female characters in literature, a woman with a guilty conscience who nevertheless acts when necessary to protect those she loves. She is a female Gothic wanderer and one of the most extraordinary ever created.

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Tyler Tichelaar, Ph.D. is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, and the Children of Arthur series. You can visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, The Gothic and the Bible, The Wandering Jew