With the popularity of vampire novels, films, and television shows in today’s society, people have developed a common set of beliefs regarding vampires and their evolution. Most of us have heard that vampire folklore has existed for a very long time. Those people interested in the cultural history of the vampire have also heard of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, but they may not have read it yet. Reading this novel is essential for lovers of vampires, horror, and psychological thrillers. But, there is much more to Stoker’s text than its reputation indicates.
Due to the current reputation of the novel, I began my reading expecting a horror story, but one that was not exactly well written. However, Stoker meets his readers at the start with literary techniques to match the best of authors. Utilizing descriptions so well they cannot be matched in film, Stoker terrifies his reader to the point of immobility by recording his narrator, Jonathan Harker’s thoughts and experiences, as a prisoner in Dracula’s castle. The ability of the reader to gain access to the psyche of each character as they experience psychological turmoil, as opposed to mere death by violence, is what makes the novel truly gruesome and horrid in its ability to torment.
The major themes of folklore, Satanism, paganism largely attributed to the character Dracula and his origins in the East are no surprise to a reader of the 21st Century. In contrast; however, the novel is heavily layered with Victorian principles of Christianity. Lucy becomes the target of Dracula’s appetite, and it is she who Dr. Seward, Dr. Van Helsing, Harker, and others must attempt to save from the ‘evil’ that is the vampire. Different from modern notions, Lucy does not immediately die from Dracula’s bite. Instead, she must suffer his attacks again and again. The more she loses blood, the doctor gives her transfusions and she clings to life, only to be attacked once more.
Lucy is the picture of Victorian womanly perfection before her attack. Yet, as soon as she is compromised by the vampire, the question is raised as to whether or not she is a demon. Along with this unholy quality she is believed to possess, Stoker eroticizes her description. ‘She seemed like a nightmare of Lucy as she lie there; the pointed teeth, the bloodstained voluptuous mouth-which it made one shudder to see-the whole carnal and spiritual appearance, seeming like a devilish mockery of Lucy’s sweet purity.’ In becoming more a part of Dracula, Lucy had turned into what society hated, a sexual being.
Dracula can be viewed as representative of the Devil himself, a symbol of the breakdown of the church and Christianity at the time the novel was written. In order for Lucy to make the transformation from life to ‘Undead,’ Dracula must speak the words: ‘Flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood.’ Just as Adam and Eve, Dracula makes a bodily, spiritual, intimate connection with Lucy. In this time period, as Nina Auerbach has written, the vampire was more of a seducer, friend, and romantic. The novel and folklore of vampire of the times was less about violence than vampire stories of today.
In many ways the Victorian novel is different from the modern view of the vampire. Reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula most likely alters preconceived notions readers may have had before reading it. Still, there is much to learn about folklore and religious beliefs of the past. An author willing to combine two such contrasting themes and add in ample amounts of sexual content allowed his readers a multitude of possible interpretations of his work. In the present day, when science has dispelled many of the myths associated with pagan beliefs and folklore; one could argue that it is in large part thanks to Stoker the culture of vampirism is strong and thriving in its many forms so many years
Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago UP, 1997.
Final Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
For more information: Read
Monster Show: A Cultural History of Horror by David Skal
Dracula:The Novel & the Legend by Clive Leatherdale