Gypsies, Peasants, and a Castle Full of Gold

Jonathan Harker writes of his visit back to Transylvania after a seven-year absence: “Every trace of all that had been was blotted out” (419). When I read this, I pictured total destruction, a once lush landscape replaced by ashes, an uninhabitable post-apocalyptic world. Essentially, I imagined that when Dracula turned to dust, his whole world did, too. However, just as that mental picture began to solidify, Harker informs us that the castle still stands. Though all around is waste, this emblem of domesticity, albeit perverted, looms as ever before, prompting me to wonder what happens to the other inhabitants of Transylvania.

Harker’s description of total desolation contrastsed with his acknowledgement of what still exists captures Stephen D. Arata’s attention as well. In his article “The Occidental Tourist: ‘Dracula’ and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization,” Arata addresses Harker’s Note, insightfully exploring several meanings. He poses that just as Dracula himself has been “blotted out,” Jonathan’s old view of Transylvania is erased. Similarly, he shows that all the journal entries, letters, and other apparently inauthentic writings about their experience are rendered untrustworthy; their validity has been “blotted out” (Arata 644).

These explanations clarify Harker’s note for me, but even these points leave a giant question mark regarding the state of the locals.

For hundreds of years, the Dracula family has occupied the same foreboding castle, and seemingly an entire culture has been built on superstition surrounding this nearly mythical man. The other people associated with the land are, like Dracula, described in mythic terms, with the leader of the gypsies being likened to a “centaur” (Stoker 416). As soon as Jonathan and Quincey slay the Count, the gypsies “turned, without a word, and rode away as if for their lives” (418). The wolves follow suit, and it seems that all who were once in service to darkness are now freed. Their departure hardly seems to celebrate newfound liberty, though; they can only fear the ones more powerful than their previous master and hope to avoid the wrath of the powerful five who “surrounded” them (416).

Like the gypsies, the local peasants are made mythic by their association with Dracula. Both the peasants who greet Jonathan on his first journey and those who encounter the band of travelers later in the book show great concern and compassion for the wayfarers. Their care stems from their knowledge of the evil surrounding the Count, a knowledge that informs all they do. Though some may have actually encountered Dracula, most have based their lives solely on what they have heard in stories. And while their knowledge is by no means empirical or exhaustive, they survive by it.

What happens, then, when their entire system of belief is shattered with nothing to replace it; or is it? Do the peasants even find out about the Count’s obliteration? Even if the gypsies were to spread the news, the peasants may still live in fear, now of the Westerners who have the power to slay Dracula.

Seven years later, no one seems to have settled around or in the castle, though doing so would be safe after the Count’s death. The gypsies likely still roam in fear; likewise, the Harkers give no indication that the peasants know anything has happened to the powerful force they fear.

Van Helsing boasts: “We want no proofs; we ask none to believe us!” desiring only that young Quincey Harker know of his mother’s pluck (419). Proofs or no proofs, the peasants and the gypsies may have been eager to believe their life-altering story were it told to them.

Arata, Stephen D. “The Occidental Tourist: ‘Dracula’ and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies 33.4 (1990): 621-45.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Glennis Byron. Toronto: Broadview, 1998.

“‘Strike in God’s Name'”: Religion and Reverse Colonization

Stephen Arata discusses an idea that it has become common to think of in connection with Stoker’s Dracula: reverse colonization.  The novel, he says, is full of “fear that…what has been represented as the ‘civilized’ world is on the point of being colonized by ‘primitive’ forces” (623).  He reads the story’s preoccupation with blood as a racial concern: “In Dracula vampirism designates a kind of colonization of the body.  Horror arises not because Dracula destroys bodies, but because he appropriates and transforms them…if ‘blood’ is a sign of racial identity, then Dracula effectively deracinates his victims” (630).  I found it interesting that though Arata deals at length with the political and physical implications of vampirism as reverse colonization, he does not address the spiritual dimension of colonizer-becoming-colonized, something which in my reading of Dracula I couldn’t help but notice.

The idea that the colonizer goes into what he might call a ‘barbarian’ society and ‘civilizes’ it according to his society’s view of what it means to be civilized has long included a catechetical aspect.  The colonizer, under the impression that the natives of the society are pagan savages, takes it upon himself as part of his colonizing venture to instruct these ignorant people in the ‘true faith.’  But how would this arrangement change in a reverse colonization situation?  One scene in Dracula that gives us at least a partial answer to this question is the scene in which the un-dead Lucy finally “‘die[s] in truth’” (184).  This scene represents a reclaiming of the ‘true faith’ and a casting off of pagan beliefs that have begun, along with the political and racial threats, to infiltrate the colonizer’s society.  It can, in fact, be seen as a reverse Crucifixion and Resurrection.

On the night when Van Helsing, Seward, Holmwood, and Morris go to the graveyard to make Lucy join the ranks of those truly deceased, Van Helsing notes, “‘Two nights ago my friend Seward and I came here’”  (179) – making that very day the third day since Seward and Van Helsing first found the tomb empty.  The reversal from the Christian story is located in the men’s (or at least Van Helsing’s) foreknowledge that the tomb will be occupied and that they must descend into it then in order to do any good, rather than going to the tomb, finding it empty, and realizing the joyful truth that the Lord has risen, never again to die, as his disciples find.  There is nothing joyful, but only horror, for the men who learn that the emptiness of Lucy’s tomb at night means only that the “‘curse of immortality’” (183) has befallen her.  To end this curse, a wooden “‘stake must be driven through her’” heart (184); this recalls the image in Scripture of the soldier who pierced the side (read ‘heart’) of Jesus on the cross with his spear, as the final proof that he was truly dead (John 19:34).  This ‘crucifixion’ to which Lucy must be subjected is blessed for the opposite reason that Jesus’ is: his comes with the promise that he will rise again; Lucy’s with the promise that she will not.  And it is the men who experience a ‘resurrection’ from Lucy’s tomb and the scene of her ‘crucifixion,’ as Van Helsing promises Arthur: “‘from this grim tomb you will emerge as though you tread on air’” (184).  This crucifixion, though it does, as Jesus’ did, bring forgiveness (Arthur’s forgiveness of Van Helsing, p. 186) by the grace that is Lucy’s true death, does not become the source and symbol of a new faith, but rather an attempt by a people threatened by reverse colonization to defend the old – and in their eyes, true – faith.

Arata, Stephen. “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian     Studies 33:4 (1990). 621-645. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, Inc. 2000. Print.

“Alas! But that sentence is all a puzzle is it not?”

Throughout the novel Dracula a strange emphasis is put on the spoken word. HeHe, punny. But really! The levels of English speaking by three characters, Dracula, Dr. Van Helsing and (strangely enough) Quincey Morris have a lot to tell us about the Victorian anxieties the text is laboring under, specifically the fear of “reverse colonization”.

While reading this novel what began as amusement with Van Helsing’s quaint turn of phrase, soon devolved into confusion and then into disbelief. Dr. Van Helsing, a man who’s education is made MUCH of and who apparently has a command/knowledge of multiple languages (French, German, Latin, Dutch and English), is forever portrayed to the reader as speaking broken, hobbled English. (The examples of this are numerous, simply look at any portion of the novel where Van Helsing makes a prolonged speech, and I defy you not to want shake the book in frustration!). In a discussion with Lindsay Fenton (who is apparently a muse for many of us, keep it up L!), she pointed out that the pattern of the good Professor’s errors is inconsistent with that of other learners of English. For example, the Professor makes numerous blunders when it comes to verb conjugations and yet can still construct complex-compound sentences, and convey scientific theories and lingo without difficulty.  I believe it’s clear to many that this broken speech is indicative of an English language speaker attempting to create a speech that betrays the speaker’s foreignness, but why would Stoker so tax himself with this cumbersome dialogue? (An answer after the break!)

Before we answer that question I think it would be pertinent to consider Dracula’s speech in the novel.  Though our villain has limited opportunities for speech because he too, is an outsider, in fact possibly “the strangest of all strangers” with his dual foreign identity and vampiric identity, what he says when he does speak and how  he says it is very interesting.  When Jonathan remarks on how well the Count speaks English the Count replies, “I thank you, my friend for your all too flattering estimate, but yet I fear that I am but a little way on the road I would travel. True, I know the grammar and the words, but yet I know not how to speak them” (28).  The Count’s linguistic sophistication (though he still uses the foreign “my friend”—like Van Helsing) is impressive here, as well as his knowledge of the importance of language learning in moving to his new dream-home.

Third, and probably strangest of all, we have Quincey Morris, the cowboy American with his charming and direct mode of speech.  Though Quincey is obviously an English speaker, it is American English that our British gentlemen do not use and which sets him apart (subtly, albeit) from his compatriots.  When Lucy first describes him to Mina she says “I must tell you beforehand that Mr. Morris doesn’t always speak slang—that is to say, he never does so to strangers or before them, for he is really well educated and has exquisite manners –but he found out that it amused me to hear him talk American slang, and whenever I was present, and there was no one to be shocked, he said such funny things” (78).  Apparently, in polite company Quincey’s Texan English is inappropriate, ya’ll. In order to fit in and be considered educated and well-mannered Quincey, like Dracula, must linguistically assimilate.

Of these three characters, two of them pose a threat to the British Empire. Unfortunately, I don’t have Stoker’s  ability to build suspense, so I’ll just tell you, it’s the Count and the American. In Steven D. Arata’s article, “The Occidental Tourist: “Dracula” and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization” he analyzes “The decay of British global influence, the loss of overseas markets for British goods, the economic and political rise of Germany and the United States, the increasing unrest in British colonies and possessions, the growing domestic uneasiness over the morality of imperialism” and concludes that this “combined to erode Victorian confidence” (Arata 622).  Unlike the good doctor, Dracula and Quincey Morris  have as “the marauding, invasive Other,” adopted British culture and in the case of Dracula “mirrored [it] back in monstrous forms” (624).   Though the rough and tumble cowboy is ostensibly on the side of the good he poses too much of a threat, through the ease in which he assimilates and works with in the British* language and culture, to be allowed to live. So, of our Vanquishing crew ,he is the only casualty.  Dracula overtly states that his passion for English is caused by a desire to forever be “Master” in whichever area he finds himself (28), thus he too must die.  Luckily, Dr. Van Helsing does not scare readers of the Victorian era with a firm grasp of the language and through his muddled speech presents himself (though easily the smartest and most capable among them) as lovable (almost laughable) and most importantly, non-threatening, he will not try to colonize the British by learning their own language! And so Van Helsing, “live to fight another day, no?”

Arata, Stephen D. “The Occidental Tourist: ‘Dracula’ and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies 33.4 (1990): 621-45.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Glennis Byron. Toronto: Broadview, 1998.

“Other Courts” of Judgment

In an essay entitled “‘Fighting Even with Death’: Balfour, Scientific Naturalism, and Thomas Henry Huxley’s Final Battle,” Bernard Lightman characterizes scientific naturalism as “the English version of the cult of science in vogue throughout Europe during the second half of the nineteenth century” (325).  As the title suggests, the essay describes the disagreement subsisting between Huxley, one of scientific naturalism’s most prominent proponents, and Arthur J. Balfour, who, in 1895, published a critique of naturalism, The Foundations of Belief.  Whereas Huxley argued in favor of a “[system] of speculation from which the supernatural is excluded” (339) and “attacked those within and outside the [scientific] profession who were determined to go beyond [the boundaries of proper science] by bringing improper theological concepts into science” (340), Balfour, who endeavored to “[disengage] naturalism … from science itself” (331), maintained that “true science has no quarrel with theology or religion, for all science says is that matters such as the existence of God are beyond its jurisdiction and must be tried ‘in other courts’” (332).  In other words, Balfour did not oppose science; he objected to the naturalists’ criticism of “spiritualism and other beliefs that allowed for the existence of the supernatural” (325).  Balfour considered, “If naturalism … be the whole truth, then is morality but a bare catalogue of utilitarian precepts; beauty but the chance occasion of a passing pleasure; reason but the dim passage from one set of unthinking habits to another” (328).  Convinced of the reality of God, morality, beauty, and reason, Balfour considered scientific naturalism irrational.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – published only two years after Balfour’s critique of naturalism and Huxley’s subsequent response (“Mr. Balfour’s Attack on Agnosticism”) – engages in that same debate.  Throughout the story, Dr. Van Helsing champions Balfour’s distinction between science and scientific naturalism and opposes Huxley’s neglect of the supernatural.  Van Helsing is a scientific man who believes in God and the immortality of the soul, as well as in the enemies of God and the soul.  Before Lucy’s death, Van Helsing speaks of the danger of losing Lucy “body and soul.”  After her death, he speaks of her soul’s bondage and hopes for the time when “the soul of [that] poor lady whom [they all love] shall again be free.”  When that hope is at last accomplished, he rejoices that Lucy is no longer “the devil’s UnDead.  She is God’s true dead, whose soul is with Him.”

All of these passages evidence Van Helsing’s belief in the supernatural, but what about his admiration for science?  In listing science among the weapons he and his allies will use to fight Dracula, Van Helsing indicates that he does not consider his belief in the supernatural to be in conflict with scientific study.  As Balfour “made it clear … that his critique of naturalism [was] not meant to annihilate science” (331), so also Van Helsing advocates the use of multiple sources of knowledge.  He appeals both to “sources of science” and to “traditions and superstitions” in the fight against Dracula and the UnDead.  “For enemies more mundane,” he recommends a “revolver and [a] knife.”  For those which are spiritual, he presents his allies with “a portion of Sacred Wafer.”

Van Helsing acknowledges both natural and supernatural realities, and, throughout Dracula, he demonstrates how imperative it is not to ignore the supernatural, for men do not fight enemies in whose presence they do not believe, and if not fought, such enemies will prevail.  Van Helsing asks his friends, “A year ago which of us would have received such a possibility [the existence of vampires], in the midst of our scientific, sceptical, matter-of-fact nineteenth century?”  And yet the “other courts” of which Balfour spoke proved to them just such a reality, which to ignore would have been fatal, both in this life and the next.

Works Cited
Lightman, Bernard. Evolutionary Naturalism in Victorian Britain. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009. Print.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. The Project Gutenberg, 2013. Web. 27 Feb. 2013.

Empowerment Through Female Sexuality in “Dracula”

In “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization,” Stephen D. Arata says that “In the novel’s (and Victorian Britain’s) sexual economy, female sexuality has only one legitimate function, propagation within the bounds of marriage. Once separated from that function, as Lucy’s desire is, female sexuality becomes monstrous” (632). Aided by some scholarly research, I would like to continue this discussion and put forward my own observations about the sexuality of the women in Dracula.

As the novel progresses, it becomes increasingly sexual. Jennifer Wicke observes that “It is not possible to write about Dracula without raising the sexual issue” (Mighall 62). In the introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction, Jerrold E Hogle state that Dracula is a “male-oriented Gothic work” (Hogle 11) but that a “repressed, archaic, and thus deeply unconscious Feminine is a fundamental level of being to which most Gothic finally refers, often in displacements of it that seem to be old patriarchal structures” (Hogle 11). In Victorian society, a woman was either a pure and innocent virgin – or else she was a wife and mother. If she was neither of these, she was considered a whore and consequently, unworthy of being a part of society. Joseph Valente observes that Mina Harker is not given enough seriousness by the males around her and occupies a “minoritized and yet idealized social margin, that of properly feminine fragility, dependency, non-self-sufficiency, heteronomy in sum…” (Valente 124). Martin Tropp points out that this may have been because Stoker wrote Dracula at the time of William Acton’s book on the functions of reproductive organs, which claimed that women had no sexual urges, and that those who displayed any were low and vulgar. It also declared that love of home, children and domestic duties were the only passions that women felt. Because Dracula sets up a scenario in which the battle between good and evil will be contingent upon female sexuality (both of the main female characters. Mina and Lucy, are preyed upon by the Count, who renders them voluptuous and blood-crazy, a complete opposite of their former chaste and modest selves), Dracula is thought of as a male-oriented gothic as noted by Jerrold E. Hogle. After Lucy becomes a raving vampire, Van Helsing’s men see no other alternative than to destroy her, thereby returning her to a purer and more socially respectable state.

But while this suggests that Stoker, in arranging this order of affairs is advocating the killing of his female characters, it also points out that he acknowledges the poweof female vampires, and has to kill them off so as to oblige his Victorian male readers. After Lucy’s transformation the men watch vigilantly over Mina, fearing that they will lose another epitome of Victorian womanhood to the depraved world of vampires (and hence lose them to freedom. In a note that echoes what I call “male understanding” of the Original Sin, that is that women will lead men to their fall from grace, Dracula mocks Van Helsing’s crew with the words; “Your girls that you all love are mine already, and through them you and others shall yet be mine” (Stoker 323). In other words, the men are afraid both of associating with the socially outcast and with that which will bring about their own ostracization. To avoid this fate, Arthur Holmwood drives a stake deep into Lucy’s heart in order to kill the demoniac identity that she has now assumed. “The language with which Stoker describes this violent act is unmistakably sexual, and the stake is an unambiguous symbol for the penis” (Sparknotes 19). Dracula can only attack willing victims, so it follows that Lucy had wanted to be seduced. The blow comes from Lucy’s fiancé, Arthur Holmwood. “When Holmwood slays the demoniac Lucy, he returns her to the role of a legitimate, monogamous lover, which reinvests his fiancée with her initial Victorian virtue” (Sparknotes 19). While all of this sounds very depressing and suggests that the woman’s free spirit has been stamped out, it reveals once again her hegemony as a vampire, and why the men cannot accept her in that form.

Dracula is layered with other sexual nuances besides the activities of the main characters. The Weird Sisters that Harker meets in the castle are, for example, representatives of the subversion of Victorian ideals because they are sexually aggressive. Harker thinks he has had a nightmare, but this episode can also be called his ultimate dream – indeed a secret fantasy, for the Weird Sisters offer him more sexual gratification in one instance than his fiancée Mina does during the entire course of the novel, and Harker himself calls the experience “both thrilling and repulsive” and one for which he waits in “languorous ecstasy” (Stoker 256). These sexually advanced women are then destroyed because they are empowered by their vampirism – and their ability to seduce men and satisfy their appetites (where hunger for blood symbolically suggests sexual hunger) in a way “normal” Victorian women were not expected to do. Also, the need for multiple victims to satiate a female vampire’s appetite for blood is a given, whereas it would be unthinkable for a respectable Victorian (human) woman to have multiple partners to satiate her sexual appetite. The power of these female vampires again brings the battle between good and evil into their control. This need not be looked upon as though women are responsible for all the troubles of mankind. Rather, one may argue that women are able, with their judgment and actions, to determine what happens to their men.

Arata, Stephen D. “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies. 33.4 (1990): 621-645. Print.

Hogle, Jerrold E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Mighall, Robert. Sex, History and the Vampire. Eds. Hughes; William and Smith. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Walker Books. 2004. Print.

Tropp, Martin. Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape Modern Culture (1818-1918). London: McFarland and Company. Inc.,1990. Print.

Valente. Joseph. Dracula’s Crypt: Bram Stoker, Irishness, and the Question of Blood. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002. Print.

The One in Which Two Points are Made

Although I know that it is best not to overwrite for a blog, I fear that I am forced to make two arguments this week as a result of separate conversations with two worthy ladies on the matter of Dracula. I beg your forgiveness for my self-indulgence and can offer only the assurance that will be moderately unique arguments in return.

My first point comes from a discussion with Lindsay Fenton on the roles of the lady vampires in Dracula. While discussing their hyper-sexualization, she coined the term “Draculatrix.” Although the term was meant as a joke, I do think it opens up an interesting line of discussion. Stephen D. Arta writes that “Late-Victorian fiction in particular is saturated with the sense that the entire nation – as a race of people, as a political and imperial force, as a social and cultural power – was in irretrievable decline,” and argues that Dracula is a direct expression of reverse colonization, a fear that decline was contracted like a disease amongst primitive natives (622). He argues that these concerns are primarily a result of guilt and fear, but one of his phrases triggers an interesting alternative. Arta refers to this imaginations as “fantasies of reverse colonization,” and I believe that it here that the Draculatrix term may be of some service (623). Although Arta’s article moves on to discuss race, this idea of fantasy–particular in its modern connotation–deserves to be dwelt upon. I would like to suggest that the English fantasy of “reverse colonization” is very much a sexual fantasy that draws upon an attraction to the inherent “power exchange in sexuality.” If this sort of kink is viewed as corruption, as it so often is, it may be appropriate to remember that power corrupts. In aphorism, power corrupts for unspecified reasons, but I’d like to argue here that it corrupts because of boredom. The absolute power of the British Empire had grown boring, and Royal had either to find pleasure in conquering or in being conquered. A solider may prefer to conquer, but a clerk like Jonathan Harker may well prefer to be conquered.

While this sort of argument has undoubtedly been made before, I do think that it offers a much needed fresh look at discussions of gender in Dracula. Yes, clearly the book is ragingly misanthropic, (no scene is worse than the staking of Vampire Lucy which involves a man pushing a hard rod into for the first time and against her will pain and bleeding, before she finally slips into docile bliss. This idea is, unfortunately, still prevalent today) but looking at the debate as between “how one loves” rather than “who one loves” may be beneficial (Marie qtd. in Haber 1). To put it another way, the problem is that sexual abuse by people in power has been tacitly condoned for years. The fact that it is primarily men in power is a problem, but the problem of abuse is separate (if undoubtedly related).

My second argument emerges from a deep desire to offer something relatively original that would greatly improve, or at least alter, the reading the book. My answer is surprisingly simple: Van Helsing must be a Vampire.

I know that such a claim is surprising, but, fortunately, Nicole Bouchard has already done a good deal of the research for me. Read her post and observe the striking similarities between Dr. Van Helsing and the good Count. The consider the following:

1.) Van Helsing never looks in a mirror
2.) Both have no interest in youth or sunshine (Dracula 14, Van Helsing 134)
3.) Both are referred to as Master (Dracula throughout, Van Helsing 180)
4.) While we observe that the cross has power, Van Helsing mentions that it only effects young vampires (114)
5.) The only proof that the Host is the Host in Van Helsing’s word
6.) The only proof for much of what Van Helsing claims about vampires is Van Helsing’s word
7.) Van Helsing’s vampire lore  strongly implies that he he has encountered them before, but he makes no mention of these encounters
8.) Despite Van Helsing’s unwillingness to engage in combat due to his old age and supposed infirmity, he is absolutely prepared to (and apparently capable of) break down Mina’s door (158)
8b.) He also travels constantly and forgoes sleep and still has apparently limitless energy.
9.) Mina holds his hand and her heart goes cold (134)
10.) Reinfeld recognizes him (137)
11.) Vampires are made by receiving vampiric blood as much as giving and yet Lucy does not appear to receive Dracula’s blood. She does, however, receive Van Helsing’s.
12.) We never see Van Helsing eat (and I don’t know if they cannot or if Dracula simply doesn’t like to)
13.) Although Vampires are weakened in the day, we in fact see Dracula walk in daylight a number of times.

I could go on, but I trust my point is made. Dracula is undoubtedly a vampire, but it’s hard to know that Van Helsing isn’t. Given the Victorian concerns of knowing, this may be a fruitful way to explore the novel. I confess that I don’t believe this is true, but, then again, I don’t think that anything in the novel is true. Van Helsing’s exertion of will through the bodies of his “crew of light” is, in many ways, just as dominating or domineering as Dracula’s exertion of will through his gypsies. This is a connection worth exploring. The fact that we don’t and blindly accept Van Helsing’s word on account of his “proofs” is troubling.

The Face Tells All?

When I first encountered the vivid and detailed description of Dracula, I expected Stoker to present the quintessential Victorian evil character. This seemed to be supported by Jonathan’s introduction into the account in his journal where he states, “I had now an opportunity of observing him, and found him of a very marked physiognomy” (48). Jonathan uses that key word, “physiognomy,” immediately implying that the description of Dracula to follow will reveal telling aspects of his character and personality.  (Perhaps coming across this article earlier this week influenced my expectation as well). Reading along, I remembered the court scene in Mary Barton where Gaskell debunks the ‘science’ of physiognomy by pointing out its inaccuracy in the case of Jem. I wondered whether Stoker would also use this description as a critique, but the details seemed to depict Dracula as unequivocally evil and other.

Both his nostrils and teeth are described as “peculiar” and the “general effect” of his appearance as “one of extraordinary pallor,” the adjectives suggesting an otherness, a beyond normal. There is an impression of unappealing excess with the “teeth…protrud[ing] over the lips,” a “heavy mustache,” “very massive” eyebrows, and hair described twice as profuse. The “extremely pointed” ears and “sharp white teeth” are completely other, the latter quite threatening in its difference, and the “cruel-looking” mouth doesn’t leave much room for a positive interpretation of his character. Furthermore, Jonathan gives all this with an air of the scientific, depersonalizing the subject of his observation. He moves through each of the Count’s features systematically, often choosing to use “the” instead of “his,” and summing up his description with Dracula’s “general effect.”

Now, Dracula certainly lives up to this ‘other’ and ‘evil’ description (adding to it the red eyes, etc. along the way). However, when Mina gives a description of Dr. Van Helsing in her journal (pg 219), the depiction is remarkably similar to Jonathan’s of the Count. Expecting to see Stoker’s use of physiognomy (seemingly) consistently played out with a ‘good’ description of the clearly ‘good’ character Van Helsing, I was struck by the parallels between their features. They each have thin noses and active nostrils as well as “big, bushy brows.” They both have excessive and curly hair and broad, strong chins.

It appears that in these descriptions Stoker does indeed critique physiognomy, but not by simple subversion. Van Helsing, like Dracula, is a stranger, an other from another country. And yet, his ‘otherness’ is portrayed in a positive light. The description is still given in an observational and vaguely scientific manner, but the adjectives “fine,” “good,” “well” are sprinkled throughout. Furthermore, though the characteristics are similar, they are contrasted in their effect. While Dracula’s mouth was “set” and “cruel-looking,” Van Helsing’s is “resolute.” The essential meaning is the same, but the connotation wildly differs. It seems that while Stoker aligns the characters in their otherness, he also sets them at odds. Van Helsing is the possessor of knowledge as not only an MD but a PhD and lawyer as well, while Dracula devours knowledge as an outsider (the obscure books about London in his library). Van Helsing uses science to counter the Count’s spiritual demonism. In his article “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization,” Stephen D. Arata notes how several critics have “rightly stress[ed] the archaic forces unleashed by the Count, forces which threaten to overturn the progressive, scientific world of contemporary Britain” (626). Dracula is an invading other, while Van Helsing is an other that seems to join or at least further this developing scientific element of the British identity.

We are left with a conflicting pairing, a seeming adherence to and critique of physiognomy, and in doing this, Stoker complicates the characters of Dracula and Van Helsing and all that they stand for.  It appears that though Van Helsing’s strangeness is worth noting, it is not as threatening as Dracula’s, and perhaps science and rationalism is at the root of that.

Arata, Stephen D. “The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization.” Victorian Studies. 33.4 (1990): 621-645. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Glennis Byron. Toronto: Broadview, 1998. Print.

Is Dracula…Jesus?

I’d like to begin by citing the section of Arata’s piece in which he discusses Victorians’ fascination with the occult and “elemental energies…seen as dissipated by modern life, [making] them dangerous but deeply attractive” (624). He is drawing from Patrick Brantlinger here, in a combination of borrowing and extending, since he drops it in as support for his own argument about the Gothicism that informs Dracula and tapped deep-seated concerns in late 19th-century England. He extends it to symbolize the reverse colonization topic on which his article focuses, so he does use it as a load-bearing wall, not just a building block. Arata’s contention is that Vics were intrigued by the paranormal, the supernatural, as a response to the increasingly rationalistic, Enlightened era that prized science over faith more and more. I propose that Dracula could be read as symbolizing Jesus and the mysticism of Christianity.

Now, before you fall off your chair protesting the innumerable references to Christianity as a counter to Mr. Pointy-Tooth, let me clarify this. I’m not referring to Christianity as a religion, a system of beliefs and practices; I’m referring to the supernatural element of faith that underlies that or other belief structures like Islam or Judaism. The Victorian mentality placed a great emphasis on the external appearance, avoiding impropriety and visible signs of irrationality. Any expression of religious fervor (Ezra Mordecai from Deronda, for instance) would be viewed with some suspicion and alarm; the miraculous aspects of Christianity were likely glossed over from most pulpits in favor of moral excellence and good deeds. Coupled with the rise of Darwinism and the lingering effects of the Enlightenment, European attitudes toward the paranormal were mixed: “dangerous but also deeply attractive.”

All this matters because Dracula, as Arata argues, embodies the supernatural; he lives seemingly forever on earth, avoiding physical death; his sustenance is not food or drink, but rather blood; he can disappear and reappear in manners that violate physical laws, as well as shape-shift. So let’s examine my outrageous claim briefly, comparing Drac’s attributes with the more fantastic elements of the Bible. First, Dracula is dead, but yet living. Sound familiar? John 11:25-26: “Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die;  and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.’” Jesus himself died and rose again, making him analogous to vampires (if not zombies, as some have irreverently noted), and he offers to make us like him.

How does one become a vampire? By drinking of the Master’s blood while their old self is being eliminated; death must come before life. Paul this time: “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4). Once Dracula had drained his victims to the point of death, they are recreated by imbibing his blood, his life force. Jesus, Paul notes, said something very similar: “In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (I Corinthians 11:25).

There are many more examples we could explore: the everlasting life that Jesus spoke of and that Dracula seems to enjoy; Jesus’ ability to pass through locked doors (John 20) and Dracula’s similar ability; the connection between creating followers who are new creatures unlike the old. What binds all this together is again the notion that the workings of God are opaque to science and rationality since they operate in the spiritual realm hidden from empirical study and verification. Victorian England, like all epochs of humanity, has been simultaneously fascinated and confounded by the unexplainable and the supernatural, which is why Dracula resonated so profoundly.

“P.S.—I need not tell you this is a secret”

As I read Mina’s letters, Dr. Seward’s diary, and Jonathan’s journal, I can’t help but feel slightly invasive. At the same time, leafing through pages that were purportedly never intended for others’ eyes has a certain sneaky appeal that can’t help but intrigue readers. As much as I’d rather not have others perusing my own deep, dark secrets, I’m unashamedly engrossed by the correspondence in Dracula; the private made public attracts people’s attention.

If this story were set today, would it still be presented as it is? (This has nothing to do with recent vampire trends, with which I am entirely unfamiliar). I love journaling and corresponding through letters, but the possibilities for communication have exploded beyond the options Stoker had available in 1897. Technology has given people the ability to be both more public and more private than they could be in Dracula.

I can imagine reading Lucy’s tumblr and seeing how happy she is that people are trying to save her life. Or Mina might have made a meme of Lucy sleepwalking that embarrasses her enough to have a sleep test conducted. Vampire problem potentially avoided. #Giveblood might trend on Twitter, or British kids might tweet: “jus chillin with @Blooferlady on hampstead hill” with an Instagram of a white figure slightly darkened by an artsy antiquing effect. Characters might be more likely to share their private stuff with the world, and some of their problems could be avoided. Conversely, those characters who are serious about security could hide their digital accounts so that they would never be discovered.  If Jonathan still wanted his diary to be private, for example, then he might password protect it so securely that not even his beloved Mina could hack in. The whole issue of privacy and what individuals choose to share with a community becomes grossly important.

My goal is not to make a statement about social media in 2013 but to examine the timeless implications of shared secrecy. Imagining the novel in a different context highlights the voices we are allowed to hear and perhaps the silence of others. Even though I think the Count would be all over Facebook today (his appearance in Hyde Park eerily seemed like creeping on someone’s pictures and he does seem to be obsessed with walls), I think Stoker would delete Dracula’s account.

In his book Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies, Patrick Brantlinger addresses the question of subalterns—those who cannot represent themselves—speaking out. He contrasts the change in representation of African slaves after slave narratives began to be published to the consistently harsh treatment of Australian Aborigines. With few exceptions, the Aborigines had their voice taken from them in literature by the writer-as-ventriloquist.

Similarly, Stoker doesn’t give the Count his own voice. In the beginning of the novel, the compiler explains how the following fragments of communication came to be organized. The reader can rest assured that the account is a completely trustworthy “history” and that “all needless matters have been eliminated” (Stoker 29). Perhaps the Count would not have written any letters, but if he had, would they have been written off as “needless matters?”

Brantlinger, Patrick. Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2009.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Glennis Byron. Toronto: Broadview, 1998.

*The title quotation may be found on page 88 of Dracula.

“Don’t go to the castle”

Having recently lived in Slovakia, I could not help but feel a sense of nostalgia in reading of Jonathan Harker’s long voyage across Eastern Europe (“Central”, if we’re being politically correct) in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. While I never encountered any barbaric Slovaks with “big cowboy hats,” I did spend many hours on trains, sharing Jonathan’s delight in the beautiful countryside, and fortunately never arrived at such a sinister destination as Transylvania (33). This caricature of the “‘dark places’ of the earth” seems to even persist today. The 2005 film Hostel depicts young American backpackers seduced by beautiful women into a tortuous dungeon outside of Bratislava. Sound familiar? Needless to say, the people of Slovakia were not pleased. Stoker’s use of the distant unknown allows one to examine Victorian cultural preconceptions.

I was struck by the connection between gender, sexuality, and imperialism in the Brantlinger article and the text. Stoker presents a topsy-turvy world in which female sexuality threatens conventional domestic roles and the “backwards,” “primitive” Eastern culture threatens the foundation of Western scientific rationalism. This becomes clear in Jonathan’s sexual encounter with the three seductive women. In his depiction of the hyper-sexualized woman, Stoker severs her from the Victorian feminine ideal by stripping away any connection to motherhood. The women pounce on the bag of a “half-smothered child” (71). Later in the novel, Stoker presents Lucy as teetering on the edge of conventional morality by affirming men’s nobility while simultaneously proposing “heresy”: “My dear Mina, why are men so noble when we women are so little worthy of them?….Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?” (91). Both Jonathan and Mina entertain the idea of multiple partners. There is a sense of the stereotypical Victorian repressed desire.

Additionally, in the preface, the editor references Christopher Craft’s reading of the latent homoeroticism underlying the narrative. This seems to fit with Brantlinger’s emphasis on the domain of masculine sexual intimacy within the colonies. Craft gives the example of Dracula’s desire for union with a male particularly upon Jonathan’s shaving incident. One could make the case that Dracula is rather possessive of Jonathan: “How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me!” (70). Craft’s argument is certainly plausible.

Stoker also portrays the stereotypical “primitive” superstitions of the peasants in contrast with the rational, scientific Western practices.  The presence of the crucifix and acknowledgement of St. George’s Day ground the novel’s tension. While Jonathan is naturally skeptical, it is telling that he ends up relying on the crucifix for safety against Dracula. Is Stoker affirming the power of the supernatural? I am certainly intrigued by Stoker’s background as an Irish individual living in England with Ireland’s rich history of Celtic paganism and Christianity.



Hey, Harker! What’s the Time?

“Left Munich at 8:35 P.M.”  This record of time, from the journal of Jonathan Harker, constitutes the first sentence of Dracula.  It is the first of sixteen such records, specific not only as to the hour but even to the minute.  Among the remaining fifteen, the presence of “6:46,” “3:34,” and “10:18” – all signifying times of train departures or arrivals – indicates attention to precision.  Compared with the complete lack of reference to such specific times in Mary Barton and Daniel Deronda (there is not a single reference to the specific minute of any hour in either text), sixteen is striking.  Of what significance is the regard for time which is apparent throughout Dracula?

In a lecture entitled “The Victorians: Time and Space,” Professor Richard Evans makes clear the connection between Victorians’ sense of time and technological progress: “The railway, the steamship, the telegraph and the telephone not only speeded up communications on several different levels, they also completely transformed people’s perceptions and experience of time, indeed they transformed the nature of time itself.”  Evans describes the process of the standardization of time in connection with the above technological developments, as well as the effects of that standardization on European individuals and culture.  In addition to influencing notions of time, Evans observes that “mechanization and industrialization” “[advertised] the power and wealth of [a] nation.”  Competitions of shipping speed, for example, “soon became a symbol for the prowess of… countries.”

In light of Evans’ explanations, I would like to suggest that the English characters’ regard for the precision of time in Dracula (for all sixteen of the time records come from English characters’ journal or diary entries) represents these characters’ sense of the technological and, consequently, cultural superiority of England in comparison to that of Central Europe.  When Jonathan writes an account of his initial trip to Transylvania, for example, he notes, “The train started a little before eight, or rather it ought to have done so, for after rushing to the station at 7:30 I had to sit in the carriage for more than an hour before we began to move.  It seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to be in China?”  His judgment regarding punctuality corresponds with his judgment of culture.  In the same journal entry, Jonathan uses the adjectives “strange,” “barbarian,” “picturesque,” and “harmless,” as well as the phrase “wanting in self-assertion,” to describe, for example, the Slovaks he sees in “the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.” While “picturesque” and “harmless” are not necessarily negative qualities, coming from an Englishman describing another culture, it is hard not to take “harmless” as “inferior in terms of defense” or “easily subjugated.”

Despite the English characters’ sense of technological and cultural superiority, however, the events of Dracula and the role of Dr. Van Helsing, who is Dutch, suggest that the technological development that prompts the English sense of superiority is not without its drawbacks.  First, Count Dracula’s use of technology for his own evil ends (for example, his strategic use of modern modes of transportation) presents a reminder that villains and criminals can make use of new technologies just as much as those whose aims are noble.  Technology, therefore, cannot in itself be a sure cure for all varieties of cultural ills.  Second, the scientific, naturalist thinking that accompanied English technological advancement results in the main characters’ initial blindness to the real nature of the situation, for at the beginning of Dracula, the English characters all consider tales of and precautions against vampires as mere superstition.  If not for the Dutch Van Helsing, it does not seem likely that the other characters would have figured out (or accepted their conclusions about) what really killed Lucy and threatened their own lives.

Works Cited

Evans, Richard. “The Victorians: Time and Space.” Gresham College.  Museum of
London, London. 13 Sept. 2010. Lecture.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. The Project Gutenberg, 2013.
Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

The Other Dracula

In the “Debates” chapter of Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies, Patrick Brantlinger points out that “one of the ironies in the history of male identities is how activities that have traditionally been associated with masculinity seem frequently to have both encouraged and hidden homosexuality” (68). He also mentions that “Despite the tragic treatment that most Victorian authors give to interracial romance, there were many interracial unions and mixed-race populations throughout the Empire,” giving the example of Catherine and Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, whose “love is so powerful that they declare themselves to be each other – metaphorically a vampire, Gothic version of that hybrid figure, the double-goer” (72). With the help of some scholarly research, I would like to examine the character of Dracula as having these contradictory traits and mixed identities, and I will also briefly look at the role of blood in these contradictions.

The reason that Gothic Others or spaces can abject multitudinous cultural and psychological contradictions and thus face us with those paradoxes in disguise, is that the spectral characters, images and settings possess the hidden reality that contradictions of all kinds are not discrete, but that each “lesser term” is contained in its counterpart and that difference emerges from “standing against and relating to independency” (Hogle 11). For example, Dracula can “disgorge blood from his breasts as much as he can penetrate flesh with his phallic teeth,” be attracted by both sexes, be western and eastern simultaneously with his white complexion blended with aquiline features, be aristocratic as well as consort with homeless gypsies (thus threatening class boundaries), be both sophisticated and manifest a “child-brain,” morph into animals as well as various human guises, and “can be nearly all things on the continuum between a very earthy being bound by time, and the unearthly demon surviving across centuries” (Hogle 12). It seems that Dracula is omnipotent – not only can he smoothly cross lines of liminality and be a number of different things, but he can confer some of his powers to those around him. In what is known as the “fellatio/breastfeeding scene,” (Mighall 71) the “danger” posed by Dracula is that he does not merely infect Mina by drinking her blood, but also forces her to drink his, perpetrating a series of reversals: of “a potential wife and mother at Dracula’s breast, of a vampire as a willing victim, of an obscene parody of childhood innocence used to illustrate adult violation. Dracula uses force to make the woman his slave, but also to wean her from passivity to a frightening new power” (Tropp 139).

Blood plays a crucial role in the novel, as it is the life-giving fluid and can alter gender conventions or realities. The Count tells Harker at one point that “blood is too precious a thing in the days of dishonorable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told” (Stoker 110). When Dracula recounts his family history, he relates blood to ancestry and the races that he speaks of: which have died out. He predicts “the coming of a war between lineages, between the East and West, the ancient and the modern, and the evil and the good” (Sparknotes 18). This can he compared to foretelling that the lineages will have “bad blood” between them, to use an idiom. Blood is implied in a sense as a thing which causes the rise and fall, indeed continuation of races, and which carries on their legacies – not semen, as one would imagine when thinking of siring children and carrying on one’s name. Later, the depiction of Dracula and his minions feeding conjures up the image of bodily fluids being exchanged Lucy is “drained” almost to the point of losing consciousness when the count “penetrates” her. Dracula’s drinking of blood also extends his physical life, thereby strengthening his virility and potency. Blood is used, therefore, to alter conventions and to allow Dracula to assume many contradictory qualities all at once. Dracula’s multifaceted (though not sparkly like Edward Cullen’s) character is what makes him so fascinating and memorable to readers, then and now.

Brantlinger, Patrick. Victorian Literature and Postcolonial Studies. Edinburgh: Edinburgh   University Press, 2009. Print.

Blanchard, Matt and Morgan, Benjamin eds. Sparknotes: Dracula by Bram Stoker.New York: Spark Publishing, 2002. Print.

Hogle, Jerrold E., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gothic Fiction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.

Mighall, Robert. Sex, History and the Vampire. Eds. Hughes; William and Smith. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula.London: Walker Books. 2004. Print.

Tropp, Martin. Images of Fear: How Horror Stories Helped Shape Modern Culture (1818-1918).London: McFarland and Company. Inc.,1990. Print.

If You Don’t Know, Now You Know

It is not everyday that you realize a cherished author was a flaming racist. Today was one of those days when I read an excerpt from Charles Dickens’ essay “The Noble Savage.” Charles. Wow. His racism goes to eleven. A representative example of said racism, Dickens, speaking of the Ojibbeway Indians, calls them “mere animals” and “wretched creatures” (988). Dickens is of course refuting Rousseau’s notion of the Noble Savage, which should be roundly rejected. And he does seem to soften his stance in the last paragraph. Yet as I read on, I kept wondering about Dickens’ epistemology. Why does he seem so certain in his knowledge of these groups of uncivilized “others.” Dickens’ knowledge of the these “others” seems based on quasi-science, anecdotes, and observations of small sample sizes, which is distressing. It is reassuring that not all Victorian author’s sided with Dickens. Patrick Brantlinger indicates that authors like Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, whom Brantlinger states was “a vigorous critic of British imperial policy” in his writing, provided a contrasting voice to that of Dickens (79).

Wondering about Dickens’ epistemology compels me to think about how knowledge is sought or obtained in Dracula. The reader seeks the narrative, not from a narrator, but from many narrators. The epistolary nature of the narration adds a complication to the pursuit of knowledge. The reader is reading a text that was first written down in diaries and correspondence, then collected and pieced together by the author. Therefore, what the reader knows is twice removed from the actual events. This shows that, in spite of Stoker’s epigraph regarding the veracity of the narrative accounts, he is attempting to make manifest the precarious nature of knowing (29).

Knowledge is furthermore destabilized by an impotent science. John Seward, as a doctor man of science, observes and reads the human mind, as we see in his diary entries about his patient Renfield. Yet, he seems powerless to do anything to help the one patient the reader hears about, Renfield, outside of basic observations (152-153). He even must be reminded by Dr. Van Helsing that, as a scientist, he must continue to make hypotheses, even, or especially when he is bewildered (156). Is Stoker trying to undermine Seward’s reliability to the reader? It seems that he is, as Seward provides Stoker a critique of the British imperialist vision, where the validity of British progress is called into question.

Abraham Van Helsing is also a man of science, and a doctor of everything (148). Do other characters trust his knowledge? In many ways they do, chiefly in his care for Lucy (156-198). But he is not fully trusted. This is why he curiously hides knowledge from Seward about Lucy’s becoming a vampire (165). He could have told them earlier. Yet, he knows they would not believe him without considerable proof. It seems that he is not believed because he is a quasi-”other,” being from Amsterdam. Moreover, the truth he has to tell is that the beloved Lucy is becoming or has fully become a vampire, which Stoker seems to be employing as a metaphor for a fully “other,” someone who is not from England or Western Europe. Stoker, an Irish man living in England later in his life, would have known the feeling of otherness.

We see in Dracula, the epistemic endeavor is complicated. Stoker uses an epistolary narrative technique to create a world where there is a suspicion surrounding knowledge. Seward’s ineffectualness as a psychiatrist furthers the instability surrounding knowledge in Dracula, which I believe Stoker is using to critique the British imperialist vision. Moreover, Van Helsing must hide the truth of his discovery in part because he is quasi-foreign, though also because he is revealing that the beloved and beautiful Lucy has become a vampire, which seems to indicate a taking on the identity of a fully foreign or exotic “other” who is converted by that fully “other” character, Dracula. Stoker is thus calling into question British assumptions of the “other,” while creating a brilliantly entertaining story.

“What would an angel say, the devil wants to know”

At the risk of exposing myself to categorization and thereby being easily dismissed as one of those girls I am going to post a second consecutive blog entry protesting the villianization of our novel’s females. (Cross my heart it just caught my attention twice; this isn’t my agenda…at least not all of the time).

In Dracula, the lovely Lucy and the steadfast Mina are both consistently praised for their sweetness, their goodness, their angelic qualities, but as soon as either of these women evidence sexuality, or too much cleverness, or worst of all—a  ghastly combination of both, they are immediately bitten by the beast and demonized.  I believe that this dichotomy can be directly related to the one Gilbert and Gubar establish in their article–in patriarchal literature women are either angel or monster.

Unfortunately, length restrictions will only allow us to examine one example of this in any depth (and also saves me from a spoiler alert) so we will focus this observation on our first lady with a biting problem, Lucy.  Lucy, with her great beauty and playful, loving nature is quickly marked as a female in a dangerous position.  A woman can be beautiful as long as she is ignorant of her beauty, and meekly accepts what fortune and fate bring her way; but as we saw with Gwendolen in previous weeks an ownership/possession/manipulation of that beauty is a capital crime that will get a girl damned quicker than you can say ‘malignant male gaze’.  I believe that Lucy is punished by Dracula’s bite BECAUSE she is beautiful, playful and loving, or what some modern readers would call a flirt.  We read in Lucy’s correspondence to her friend Mina that she is not at all vain about her trio of proposals that take place during the course of a SINGLE DAY, and yet in the same breath she settles down to a detailed account of each (70).  Furthermore, her exercise of her not inconsiderable powers over the crusty Mr. Swales and later the good (if foreign) Dr. Van Helsing shows that she recognizes her influence over men (80, 137-38).  This female power must not be born, G&G forecast what is in store for Lucy if she begins to fail in her performance of ‘the angel’, “If they [women] do not behave like angels they must be monsters” (53). Lucy’s awareness of her beauty and her affect on men needs to be punished by making that sexuality perverse and evil.  Therefore she is transformed from the angel of men’s imaginings to a seductive devil attempting to bestow life-threatening kisses on unsuspecting admirers. We witness the physical transformation as she is described in heavenly language in one sentence:  “and she looked her best, with all the soft lines matching the angelic beauty of her eyes” and just one short sentence later a “strange change” comes over her as she crosses from a pure women to a sexualized monster with eyes “dull and hard,” breathing “stertorous,” and a “soft, voluptuous” voice (192).  (The word ‘voluptuous’, seems to become her main characteristic post-change as it is used no less than a million* times to describe her in the next half-dozen pages.) The final showdown in the graveyard between the white knights of morality and the hissing Lamian beast can easily be seen as a crusade against sexuality when Lucy’s most sinister attack on the men is the attempt to lure her fiancée into an embrace.  Thankfully, Lucy takes a line from Fiona Apple’s book, admits her criminality and her monstrous appetites and then dies a terrible death in retribution.

As the novel goes on we see this pattern played out again with Mina, though she is not demonized as much for her sexuality as she is her cleverness, because as Gilbert and Gubar point out, “for women in particular patriarchal culture has always assumed mental exercises would have dire consequences,” such as, I don’t know, literally becoming a monster. This condemnation of a female with mental acuity presents a whole other nest of problems, but it is Lucy’s demonization and subsequent vanquishing that is most troubling in the first part of the novel. It proves that there is no space for a woman to be something other than angel or monster.

Post Script: I may be on board with my aforementioned categorization if this guy is the spokesperson

*Admittedly an exaggeration, however I did count at least four uses of the word which seems a bit excessive to my mind.

acCounting for Dracula

Pardon the pun, but it had to be made.

It’s hard to talk about Dracula, because it seems that everything worth saying has already been said. Scholars have exhaustively dealt with its themes of sexuality and power, and Dr. Seward and Van Helsing’s Enlightened encounter with the unknowable has been more popularly portrayed through other heroes. Still, although there is nothing new to be said, perhaps some things can be said in new ways. One of the cornerstone quotations of the text comes from the good Count himself: “We are in Transylvania; and Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things” (12). This quotation is particularly striking, because, while it is uttered with grave force by the Count, it is completely undermined by the actions of the native Transylvanians. They flock to Jonathon Harker, offering gifts “of the crucifix, of the garlic, of the wild rose, of the mountain ash” (16). Though Harker does not understand them, they relate to him and act with a universal humany towards him. This universal humanity is set in opposition to Dracula; the divide is between human and vampire, not English and Transylvanian.

Dracula does not see the divide in this light, however, because he seems to believe that he is the incarnation of Transylvania, speaking as “we” when referring to any deeds of that country or its ancestors (16). In that sense, Dracula can potentially be seen as a freedom fighter seeking to combat the universalizing British Empire which knocked down national borders and treated all men as Englishmen. It is significant, for this view, that Van Helsing refers to Dracula as a “disease” (65).

This reading is potentially troubling, because it brings us to one of the key divisions between the Enlightenment and Post-Modernity. An Enlightenment reader can regard Dracula as evil because his culture does not draw from natural law. A Post-Modern reader, who does not believe in natural law, can do no such thing.  It is possible to accept a weak sort of natural law, that frowns upon one will seeking to impose it’s will upon another. This would effectively allow a reader to categorize Dracula as evil, but it also opens up a potential legitimacy for Dracula’s evil. Dracula is forced to learn English, to speak it as a native, in order to pass about the modern world (12). His castle, perfectly suited to his needs, is an antique as is the new house he seeks to buy. He does this as, “A house cannot be made habitable in a day, and after all, how few days go to make up a century” (14).

Similarly, while it may seem right to fault Dracula’s brides for their attempted rape–or murder–of Jonathan Harker, it is hard to do so while simultaneously lauding Jonathan’s own mastery of Mina. Consider how she openly mocks and disdains New Women, precisely for their agenda to grant women agency and a voice (51). New women explicitly “espoused greater freedom for women,” and often, rightly, linked their gendered critiques to critiques of Imperialism (Brantlinger 65-66).

Now I certainly don’t want to equate rape with marriage proposals, nor murder with feminism (there’s a sentence I never thought I’d have to write). I do, however, think that it’s worth reanalyzing the novel and trying to lend a sympathetic ear to our villains. Why does Dracula move? Because he has no choice, the world has moved on from boyars to London solicitors. Is it wrong for him to strike back at this world that has so rudely forced its progress onto his land? Yes, certainly. But what should he have done? It is not surprising that one who has such disdain for his own death should have a similar reaction to that of his cultures. Kipling wrote, “Take up the White Man’s burden – / Ye dare not stoop to less – / Nor call too loud on Freedom / To cloak your weariness.” Freedom is indeed something to be sought, but it seems fair to say that England has as much right to be free of the Count as he has to be free of them.