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Reflection on Bram Stokers Novel Dracula

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    Bram Stokers Dracula has held a fascination for both the public and literary professionals alike for over a century, in fact, since it was first published in 1897; it has never been out of print. No other Gothic character has been able to hold universal appeal in quite the same way, but why society should find this morose, rigid and monstrous creature so alluring is a mystery that has compelled many to attempt to solve.

    In the 1970s there were only a few articles on Dracula and a long, tedious biography of the author Bram Stoker.Consequently most peoples’ perceptions of Dracula were wholly influenced by the Hammer Horror films in which Dracula was portrayed as a two dimensional, out and out evildoer. Not many people had seriously read the actual book or questioned its message. However, by the late Eighties and, more importantly, the Nineties, (which celebrated the centenary in 1997 of Stokers classic); there came a surge of interest in the actual sub-text of Dracula.

    Many respected writers and academics have uncovered fascinating themes within the book that appear to reflect the fin-de-siecle anxieties of the times especially the issues surrounding sex and sexuality. Dracula’s conception in 1897 coincided with the peak of British expansion and Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee. Britain also experienced a high influx of Jewish immigrants, fuelling concerns about “racial pollution” and stirring xenophobic feelings in society.It must be noted that anti-Semitic feeling is as old as the Jews themselves and not a Nazi invention.

    The rise of the proto- Feminist added to Victorian tensions. Such women were regarded, on the whole, as yet another new (invading) species and represented a threat, a cultural shift away from the patriarchal order. Another threat to patriarchal order was the fear of homosexuality (“the love that dare not speak its name”) following the highly publicized trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895 on charges of sodomy. Dracula feeds on all these fears and more.

    The novel is literally seething with sexual metaphor, “seduction, rape, necrophilia, paedophilia, incest, adultery, oral sex, group sex, menstruation, venereal disease, voyeurism – enough to titillate any sexual appetite” 2 The erotic appeal of the novel is therefore obvious. It allows the reader to explore, without prejudice, any number of inner desires and fantasies. Dracula becomes a form of delicious escapism. The erotic undercurrents of Dracula begin with Jonathan Harkers encounter with the three “mistresses”.

    These women seemed to be in possession of an unbridled libido as they urge each other on, “He is young and strong; there are kisses for us all. “3 Although this potential orgy would, at first, seem to be the ultimate fulfilment of male fantasy, Jonathan has misgivings. “There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear”. 4He is transformed by their sexual ascendancy into the role of the coquettish maiden, “I lay quiet, looking out under my eyelashes in an agony of delightful anticipation”.

    The whole language of this passage describes Harkers seduction and, more significantly, the image of women initiating sexual advances. The Victorian moral code could not comprehend the thought of female sexuality, “there is only one libido and that is male”6, but throughout the entire text of Dracula it is the female vampires who have the sexual drive thus overturning “the idea that men possessed insatiable sexual appetites, while the female function is to passively appease it”. 7 The Victorians would have balked at the radical concept that women could be sexual and Stoker himself gives Dracula’s women no middle ground.They are not portrayed as being empowered.

    Dracula’s women are defined as Saints (or Mother) and Whores. The mistresses (and later, Lucy) are Whores (concubines) in contrast to the Saint (mother) Mina and, while it is made clear that Jonathan has desire for the Whores, morally he knows it is wrong for him to do so. “I am alone in the castle with those awful women. Faugh! Mina is a woman, and there is naught in common.

    They are devils of the pit! “8 Later in the novel we discover that the women have more in common than Jonathan thought, and that Mina does have the ability to be like them.It appears that Dracula’s women are forbidden to be sexual without also being abhorrent. The nature of the vampires attack teems with sexual allegory. A number of critics have “likened the female vampires mouth, with its bright red, often bloody lips and sharp white protruding teeth to the image of vagina dentata” 9 and10.

    To the vampire it is the neck that becomes a “highly charged erogenous zone”11 and is claimed to represent the penis. With this in mind, it is not a great leap of imagination to associate the sucking of the neck with the act of fellatio and this phallic symbol is also penetrated /bitten.Freud dealt with the notion of castration anxiety in his writings on the Oedipus complex. He asserted that at the “genital stage of sexual development, boys seeing female genitalia will falsely assume that the she must have had her penis removed, probably as punishment for some misbehavior, and the boy will be anxious lest the same happen to him”.

    12 There is a direct link between female sexuality in Dracula and the rise of the proto-feminist or “New Woman. ” Through his female characters, Stoker alludes to the historical impact that women were beginning to have during the late-nineteenth century.The New Woman helped to change the idea of the feminine role not only in the workplace and in the home, but also in male-female (sexual) relationship. As a result of women’s sexual freedom the general notion of the New Woman had become that she would destroy the race and breed monsters.

    Victorian belief was that the moral decay of society was being led by the New Woman and this woman no longer focused solely on motherhood. This assertion is brought to the fore in Dracula by the women feeding on children in a complete reversal of the nurturing mother image. A case in point is the character of Lucy.She already appears to be sexually overt even before her transformation into a vampire.

    By declaring that, upon receiving three proposals of marriage in one day, “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her … “13 Lucy becomes more like the New Woman through her dangerous sexuality.

    The character later transpires as a perfidious mother figure thus aligning herself with the immoral New Woman. In the novel reports from children suggest that a woman they refer to as “The ‘Bloofer Lady'” has begun to attack children, leaving her child victims “weak […

    and] emaciated” 14.The men reveal Lucy as the child stalker when they find her holding a child “strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone”15. Lucy has committed a role reversal here because she “draw[s] nourishment” from the child rather than the natural mother-child relationship16. By attacking children, Lucy becomes the embodiment of the worst possible characteristic of the New Woman, the vicious rejection of the nurturing role.

    A disturbing thought is the reaction of one of the bitten children who asks to leave hospital because “he wanted to play with the “Bloofer lady”17.This suggests tentatively that the child enjoyed the experience and wishes to repeat it. If we associate the nature of a vampire attack with a sexual act not only do we have the implication of paedophilia but also of latent sexuality in children. The act of dying in Dracula also takes on sexual overtones by the use of a stake (phallic symbol) in the destruction of Lucy.

    Her contorting and writhing bears more than a passing resemblance to an orgasm (the orgasm has been described as “a little death” in many cultures) and it is Arthur, her husband, who is charged to “drive deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake as the blood… purted up around it”18The effect on Lucy’s unwilling body was that “the Thing in the coffin writhed.

    .. the body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions “. 19 “.

    .. the sexual initiative is restored to the men..

    . by negation of Lucy’s aggressive female sexuality. She can henceforth live on as a beautiful, spiritual memory for all of them – her troublesome physical presence removed”. 20 This act of explicit gang rape sums up the Victorian attitude that “a woman is better dead.

    .. than sexual”21 Dracula’s victimization of Mina forces her to become more like Lucy (New Woman) because it increases her sexuality and craving.The vampire hunters witness Mina drinking blood from Dracula’s chest, “Her white nightdress (smeared with) blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare breast”.

    22. Symbolically, as Mina’s white gown has become stained so her purity has also become tarnished. This induces Mina to declare that she is unclean and she compels herself to “touch [Jonathan] or kiss him no more”. 23 The difference to note is that Mina does not have the usual puncture wounds that follow a vampire attack/seduction.

    Instead, she has a “thin open wound in her neck”. In the language of the fetishist”24 this is a description of the female genitalia, so therefore; the blood it exudes could be seen as the menstrual taboo. The act of drinking from the “gash” in Dracula’s chest could not only be construed as a lesbian act, but it also brings to mind the image of breastfeeding in which the nurturing mothers’ milk is replaced by the father abominations blood/semen.John Donne’s poem “The Flea” he describes how, “It sucked me first, but now sucks thee, And in this flea our two bloods mingled be”.

    Donne equates this act of mingling blood to symbolic marriage, O stay three lives in one flea spare, Where we almost, yea, more than married are. This flea is you and I and this, Our marriage bed and marriage temple is. However, the poem can also be read as an attempt to convince a love interest to yield to his sexual desire (via the exchange of bodily fluids). Through transfusions (which again could be construed as penetration), the Crew of Light replaced Lucy’s diminished supply of blood.

    Based on Donne’s theory, we can conclude that, not only has Lucy entered a polygamous marriage (sexual union) with the Crew of Light, so too has Dracula.When Dracula feeds on Lucy, he feeds on everyone; therefore he is having sex with everyone. This knowledge introduces homoerotic elements into the text. Returning to the beginning of the novel and Jonathan Harkers seduction, it is evident that there exists an underlying sexual threat to the male characters as well as the females.

    This comes, not only from the three vampirettes but also from Dracula himself. His interruption of the “orgy” with the words “This man belongs to me”25 implies, on one level, homosexual desire.However, Dracula himself later acknowledges that “only through women may men touch”26 when he taunts the Crew of Light saying “Your girls that you all love are mine already and through them you and others shall yet be mine”. 27 During the previous scene in which Mina is compelled to drink blood, Jonathan lies in a stupor, unable to protect his wife from the assault.

    Is the evident theme of power and control in this scene aimed at Harker rather than Mina? This is not the first time that Dracula has had domination over Jonathan.During his stay at the castle he was rendered wholly dependent on his host even down to the content of his letters. Jonathan was essentially feminized, indeed, at many points in the novel, the distinctions between sex and sexuality are distorted. What appears to be stable heterosexuality on the surface is challenged by the (feminine) emotional outpourings of the male characters and the reproductive abilities of Dracula as he is the only one with the ability to make other vampires (reproduce).

    Stoker must have pondered for a long time on how to kill Dracula and in the end gave him an unsatisfactory death.Lucy and the vampirettes were ritually staked and beheaded (raped) but how could Dracula meet the same fate without the implication of male rape and orgasm? Stoker chose to have Harker slash Dracula’s throat while the heroic (but fatally wounded) Quincey stabbed him in the heart with a bowie knife. Dracula then “crumbled into dust and passed from our sight”. 28 He may have passed from sight in the novel but, in contemporary society, Dracula is very much alive and kicking.

    Many writers continue to explore the eroticism of Stokers text and this is reflected in recent film adaptations.Bram Stoker’s Dracula, released in 2000, leaned heavily towards eroticism and desire especially in the scene where Lucy (Sadie Frost) sleepwalks to her first encounter with the animalistic vampire. Her plea to Mina to tell no one of her encounter “confirms the forbidden nature of vampire sexuality”. 29 Vampires are frequently portrayed with a dark attractiveness, as in Interview with a Vampire where the lead roles are taken by Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise and Antonio Banderas, thus catering for the majority of female and male viewers tastes (no pun intended).

    Dracula is a very erotic novel.Whether this was Stokers intention is unclear and the debate still rages. The exploration of the issues of sex and sexuality may hold insights into the authors psyche but most certainly gives us an insight into the national psyche of Victorian society. Dracula is essentially a novel about fear; fear of insatiability and primal urges.

    Anxiety is stirred by the distortion of the distinctions between the sexes and the discovery of hidden sexual predilections. Jonathan recalled that “I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited- waited with beating heart. ” 30I’m sure the secret vampire in us all can relate to that moment.

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    Reflection on Bram Stokers Novel Dracula. (2018, Jan 06). Retrieved from

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