"Mina the Vampire Slayer": Female Sexuality and
Power in Two Vampire Stories
by Carrie-Anne DeDeo
At first glance, Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the
hour-long TV series which premiered in 1997 and is, as of this writing
in March of 1999, in its third season, bears little resemblance to the
book which started the vampire craze - Bram Stoker's Dracula,
published a century earlier. And yet, looks can be deceiving. Although
the trendy - and often skimpy - clothing and bandied about pop-culture
references of Buffy clearly mark the series as a product of a
far different culture than that of the Victorian England of Dracula,
the underlying tensions of the two texts are far similar than one might
think. Beneath the surface differences in the treatment of their heroines,
the two texts converge in similarly problematic anxieties about gender
Unlike other latter-day adaptations of the vampire legend - such as
films like The Hunger and Anne Rice's Interview with a Vampire
novels - which actively shatter accepted tenets of vampirism, such as
the danger of sunlight or crosses to vampires, Buffy relies heavily
on the guidelines for vampirism established by Stoker in his novel.
In Buffy, as in Dracula, vampires can be killed by direct
sunlight and harmed by holy water and crucifixes (Golden 125). When,
for instance, Buffy's crucifix necklace touches her vampire boyfriend
Angel's chest, it leaves a burn-mark similar to that left on vampire-defiled
Mina Harker's forehead by application of a Holy Wafer in Dracula
("Angel;" Stoker 302). And unlike the sympathetic portrayals
of vampires advanced in Rice's novels and in the 1960s soap opera Dark
Shadows, the vampires shown are not good or even human. They are,
in the words of Buffy's Watcher Giles "demon at the core. There's
no halfway" ("Angel"). Van Helsing's pledge that "Devils
or no devils, or all the devils at once, it matters not; we fight him
all the same" holds true both in Dracula and on Buffy,
where representatives of good band to combat forces of evil (143).
Just how the forces of good organize themselves in each text reveals
much about the assumptions about gender roles present in their cultures
of origin. Buffy Summers, a teenage girl, is the Vampire Slayer - "One
girl, in all the world, a Chosen One. One born with the. . . strength
and skill to hunt the vampires, to stop the spread of evil" (Giles/Buffy,
"Welcome to the Hellmouth"). Her friends, the so-called Slayerettes,
and her Watcher Giles only provide assistance and support, whereas Dracula's
Mina is merely a minor - and weaker - member of a large group of men,
including her husband, who fights in order to protect her. Without doubt,
the image of the petite Buffy fighting and killing vampires week after
week forces the viewer to recognize this young woman as strong and powerful.
Despite her physical passivity in the novel, "sweet-faced, dainty-looking"
Mina reveals she too is strong and necessary to the fight against evil,
even if in less obvious and physical ways than Buffy (226). Seward credits
Mina's skill in typing and work in compiling hers, Harker's, and his
diaries as providing the key without which they "could never have
found the dates otherwise" (232). The information Mina provides
while under hypnosis - visions echoed in Buffy's prophetic dreams ("Welcome
to the Hellmouth," "Prophecy Girl," "Surprise,"
"Innocence") - makes it possible for the group to ascertain
Dracula's location in Transylvania. In the book's end Note, Harker describes
Mina as "a brave and gallant woman," responsible, in large
part for the destruction of Dracula. Though within the constraints of
Victorian society, Mina cannot express her bravery physically, as Buffy
does, she provides an indispensable role in the slaying of a vampire
While the degree to which each individual young woman, as a representative
of good, can directly fight evil results from the differences in their
societies gendered norms of behavior, the texts' commentaries on Buffy
and Mina's sexuality seem eerily similar. The ease with which Buffy
incorporates skimpy tanktops and frank discussions of teenage relationships
belies the program's underlying anxieties about sex. In Buffy,
as in Dracula, fears about sex and its consequences, as they
relate to the text's overarching concern with the relationship between
good and evil, are reflected in lesser characters, as well as in their
heroines. Lucy Westenra, the beautiful but shallow girl who wonders,
"Why can't they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want
her," proceeds, in the coded sexuality of Stoker's Victorian England,
to become the most sexualized creature in the novel (68). She obtains
her wish - mixing her blood through blood transfusions, in what her
fiance Godalming sees as being "as if they two had been really
married and that she was his wife in the sight of God" - with four
different men (181). Lucy's out-of-control sexuality, which develops
through her encounters with Dracula, ultimately becomes destructive
to those around her. "[H]ad [Arthur] met that kiss. . . before
poor Lucy die," he would have become one of the Un-Dead (220).
In order to prevent her from "working wickedness by night and growing
more debased by day," the sexualized Lucy must be destroyed (221).
Sexuality and evil, in Dracula, cannot be separated.
Just as the descriptions of Lucy's sinfulness and evil as a vampire
conjure sexual connotations, the sexual energy of various characters
on Buffy almost invariably results in evil. Faith, another slayer,
who gets sexually excited after fighting vampires and who has a one-night
stand with Buffy's friend Xander, functions as a foil to Buffy in a
manner similar to which Lucy parallels Mina ("The Zeppo").
Faith's uncontrollable energy - both sexual and in fighting vampires
- leads her to kill an innocent man and ultimately to offer her services
to the vampires attempting to take control of Sunnydale, California.
As with Lucy, the connection drawn between Faith's promiscuity and her
ultimate union with evil forces provides a warning for the heroine of
Both Mina and Buffy, as the heroines, confront sexual temptations similar
to those of Lucy and Faith, but unlike them, Mina and Buffy are able
to emerge successful from the conflict. Like Lucy, Mina - a character
who heretofore had lacked any sexual element, even in her marriage with
Jonathan Harker - becomes incredibly sexualized as a result of her encounters
with Dracula. Her most explicit encounter, in which Dracula forces her
to "either suffocate or swallow some of" his blood, is described
twice - once by Dr. Seward and once by Mina, who interjects with orgasmic
exclamations of "Oh my God! my God!" throughout her retelling
(294). Buffy's introduction to sexuality also comes at the hands of
a vampire - Angel, a two hundred year old vampire cursed with a soul
- to whom she loses her virginity on her seventeenth birthday ("Surprise").
In both cases, the element of danger present in the young woman's sexual
awakening both increases the intensity of the experience, both for the
character and the reader, and results in an - at best - ambivalent statement
about the woman's sexuality.
As with Lucy, the sexual experiences of Mina and Buffy have negative,
even evil, consequences. Mina's encounters with Dracula put her in "worse
than mortal peril," threatening to damn her soul as well as kill
her body, and indirectly cause the death of Quincey Morris (294). As
a resulting of experiencing "complete happiness" with Buffy,
Angel loses his soul and becomes evil again ("Surprise," "Innocence").
The texts themselves do more than hint at this connection between the
heroines' sexual awakenings and the resulting evil unleashed upon the
world. Mina calls herself "Unclean! Unclean!" and describes
the scar from the Host on her forehead as a "mark of shame"
which she shall bear "until the Judgment Day" (302). Buffy,
despite her love for Angel, must impale him in order to save the world
and then runs away from Sunnydale ("Becoming: Part Two").
Mina and Buffy survive and remain on the side of good, as Lucy and Faith
do not, only because they make the connection, hinted at in the other
cases by the text, between their own sexuality and the resulting evil
and take action in response to the evil they see themselves as having
had a part in creating. In fighting evil, however, they must deny their
What then, are these two vampire stories from wildly different times
and cultures saying about female sexuality? At first glance, it seems
simple to dismiss both as misogynist portrayals as female sexuality
as necessarily uncontainable and dangerous. To make that statement,
however, ignores the nuances of the two texts in their very different
presentation of their heroines. To be certain, Mina and Buffy are central
to the action of the tales - both contributing to the destruction of
evil in the guise of the vampire - but their presence also is necessary
for the meanings promulgated by the texts. For all the praise of her
as a "gallant woman," Mina's true place in Dracula
is laid bare in her husband's final words of the novel - "some
men loved her, that they did dare much for her sake" (382). Mina
in effect is significant only in her relation to men, and her sexuality
is thus defined solely as a threat to their power. Buffy, however, is
an active participant in her series. She fights evil - even when fighting
evil means killing the man she loves - for the sake of the world. Herein
lies the difference between Mina and Buffy's sexuality. For Buffy, sex
is ultimately viewed as a positive force - with the capacity for producing
"complete happiness" - when it occurs out of love rather than
excess, and Buffy's slaying of Angel is a sacrifice made more significant
by its contrast to the positive depiction of their sexual relationship.
For Mina, however, renunciation of Dracula's evil must include the renunciation
of her own physical needs and desires. The roles played by social mores
and conceptions of gender and sexuality are, in the end, more than incidental.
Indeed, the difference between Victorian England and 1990s America causes
the subtle - but significant - valuation of the connections between
good and evil, between women and sexuality in two very similar, yet
significantly different, texts.
Golden, Christopher and Nancy Holder. Buffy, the Vampire Slayer: The Watcher's Guide. New York: Pocket Books, 1998.
Leatherdale, Clive. Dracula: The Novel and the Legend.
East Sussex, England: Desert Island Books, 1985.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Signet, 1992.
Whedon, Joss, creator and executive producer. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Twentieth Century Fox Television, 1997.
Originally web-posted at http://www.people.fas.harvard.edu/~dedeo/ by the author.