Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The ‘‘Bloofer Lady’’ in Bram Stoker’s Dracula: the bloodthirst of a child hunter



Any reader of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) remembers how Lucy Westenra transforms into a vampire after the continuous attacks of  the Count.  Her transformation into the so-called ‘‘bloofer lady’’ emphasises her new existence as an undead creature. Nevertheless, as Leslie Ann Minot examines, the ‘‘bloofer lady’’ has ‘‘received relatively little critical attention compared to the multiple, complex psychosexual analyses of other scenes of ‘‘vamping’’ in the novel’’ (207). But why this lack of interest ? And why did Stoker decide to change Lucy into this new beast? This blog post will try to find some answers to these questions.

Sadie Frost as the "Bloofer Lady" in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
To begin with, I will explain the term ‘‘bloofer lady’’. Even though the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) does not recognise this expression, the Urban Dictionary describes it as ‘‘a (female) vampire; most probably from a child's mispronunciation of beautiful’’. It also gives a quote from the novel. Stoker may have employed the phrase after Dickens’s ‘‘boofer’’ for ‘‘beautiful’’ in his Our Mutual Friend (1864-65), adding the ‘‘l’’ to the word as a possible relation to ‘‘bloody’’. Therefore, with this term, we can imagine a connection between the vampire and her victims, the children of Hampstead Heath. This could be one of the reasons why scholars reject any further analysis on her figure, that is, Lucy’s unsavoury attacks upon children.

One of the main features of this new vampire is her maternal luring of children. Together with the obvious sexuality female vampires portray in Dracula, the image of Lucy as the ‘‘bloofer lady’’ holding a child in her arms to feed on it leads to unpleasant conclusions. Stoker insists on reminding us of Lucy’s depravity when the vampire hunters gather to kill her and she tries to seduce Arthur:

‘‘The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous
wantonness…With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast…When she advanced to (Arthur) with outstretched arms and a wanton smile he fell back and hid his face in his hands. She still advanced, however, and with a languorous, voluptuous grace, said, ‘‘Come to me Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!’’’ (196-197).

This juxtaposition of her desire of consumption of the child’s blood with her wantonness towards her suitor suggests that her means of ensnaring the infants can be sexual. Thus, was Stoker warning Victorian society against possible child abusers like the ‘‘bloofer lady’’? There is, I think, some evidence to support this point of view.

Illustration of the "Bloofer Lady" by comic artist Jae Lee


Perhaps thanks to his background as a journalist, Stoker introduces his creature ‘‘the bloofer lady’’ through articles in the Westminster Gazette: ‘‘The neighbourhood of Hampstead is just at present exercised with a series of events which seem to run on lines parallel to those of what was known to the writers of headlines as ‘‘The Kensington Horror’’, or ‘‘The Stabbing Woman’’ or ‘‘The Woman in Black’’’’ (165). However, he also takes advantage of the ‘‘developing conventions of crime and sex-scandal reporting in the English press into which the ‘‘Maiden Tribute’’ campaign fit’’ (Minot 209).  This scandal refers to the movement against adolescent prostitution exposed by the Pall Mall Gazette newspaper in 1885 by editor W.T. Stead, a friend of Stoker.  Stead claimed that ‘‘countless girls were being sacrificed to the insatiable ‘‘London Minotaur’’ in a horror far worse than those recalled in myths of ancient Greece’’ (Bingham and Settle).

One of the means of attracting girls into prostitution echoes the way the ‘‘bloofer lady’’ approaches her victims by luring them away. In the novel, it is mentioned that one child ‘‘wants to play’’ with the ‘‘bloofer lady’’(182), though we do not see what games they play together. This can represent how children and teenagers were chosen, followed and ensnared by a ‘‘nicely-dressed lady’’ of a gang who provided virgins to their clients. The ‘‘bloofer lady’’ can be compared to the ‘‘decoy girls’’ who ‘‘we know that they promise gifts, money, nice clothes, pony rides, and freedom’’ (Minot 213). Stead denounced this entrapping in his newspaper giving the experiences of some victims. Stead even ‘‘bought’’ a 13-year-old teenager, Eliza Armstrong, to condemn the ease to obtain those sufferers. He was convicted for it to a three-month term at Coldbath Fields and Holloway Prisons.

In Dracula, children not only like the ‘‘bloofer lady’’, but they also are familiarised with her: ‘‘It is generally supposed in the neighbourhood that, as the first for a walk, the others had picked up the phrase and used it as occasion served’’ (Stoker 165). Minot states that ‘‘through the representation of child victims in the Hampstead Heath scene, Stoker is able to tap into an ambivalent public discourse about victims, villains, and heroes that employs fear of and proactive use of imposture’’ (217). I agree with her: victims are afraid of but at the same time desire to be with the female vampire.

To sum up, I have attempted to answer the two central questions that the creature of the ‘‘bloofer lady’’ seems to pose. First of all, I consider it strange that no more attention has been paid to this important section of the novel. I consider the reason to be down the taboo nature of abusing an infant or teenager, which seems to have out critics off analysing these scenes. Moreover, this blog has tried to see why Stoker transforms Lucy into this dark seductive vampire whose prey are children. My conclusion is that the author was interested in portraying the social problem of children prostitution. Stoker’s friendship with the editor W.T. Stead, who fought strongly against this crime and published articles about it in his newspaper Pall Mall Gazette, encouraged the writer to include the issue in the novel.


Tatiana Fajardo Domench is currently studing an MLitt in the Gothic Imagination at the University of Stirling.




Works Cited:

Bingham, Adrian and Settle, Louise, ‘‘ Scandals and silences: the British press and child sexual abuse’’ (4th August 2015) in ‘‘History and Policy’’ http://www.historyandpolicy.org/policy-papers/papers/scandals-and-silences-the-british-press-and-child-sexual-abuse (accessed 1st April 2017)

Kreisel, Deanna K. ‘‘Demand and Desire in Dracula’’ in ‘‘Economic Women: Essays on Desire and Dispossession in Nineteenth-Century British Culture’’ (ed. Lana L.Dalley, Jill Rappoport) (Ohio State University: 2013)

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/276363596_Economic_Women_Essays_on_Desire_and_Dispossession_in_Nineteenth-Century_British_Culture (accessed 1st April)

Minot, Leslie Ann, ‘‘Vamping the Children: The ‘‘Bloofer Lady’’, the ‘‘London Minotaur’’ and Child-Victimization in Late Nineteenth-Century England’’ in Victorian crime, madness and sensation (ed. Andrew Maunder, Grace Moore)(Aldershot: Ashgate, c2004), ch.14.

Stoker, Bram, Dracula (First published 1897), Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford University Press: 2011)

Urban Dictionary, ‘‘Bloofer’’ http://www.urbandictionary.com/ (accessed 1st April 2017)

Images:
. Sadie Frost as the ‘‘ Bloofer Lady’’: https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/736x/fb/8f/a1/fb8fa143d57ee0ad6041add20a03dfd7.jpg
. Illustration of the ‘‘Bloofer Lady’’ by Jae Lee for Dracula (Penguin Classics:2006) : https://s-media-cache-ak0.pinimg.com/originals/3a/d3/a9/3ad3a960c5de94a40580886f60e94d7c.jpg

No comments:

Post a Comment