Dracula: A Gothic Novel
Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written in epistolary form is a gothic novel, detailing Dracula’s endeavour to relocate from Transylvania to London in his pursuit of new blood, whilst also seeking to disperse the undead curse. This ageless classic has refused to ‘die’, standing the test of time since its publication in the 1890s. This is mainly owing to the fact, that Dracula is not just a novel but a time capsule encompassing the common values, ideas, and beliefs of the Victorian era to illustrate this extravagant picture of what society was like back then. Following the 1890s, society has taken to interpreting the novel in their own ways, enabling for an array of adaptations to be produced. And even though, more than a century has passed, this novel is still able to raise numerous distressing questions about us and our society.
Dracula emphasises principally on the idea of sexuality and how it was regarded throughout the late 19th and 20th century in a conservative society. Stoker took to addressing human sexuality through the lens of Victorian stances and standards, behind the guise of vampirism. The idea of sexuality becomes first prevalent in the scene where the main character, Jonathan comes across three-female vampire in Dracula’s castle. This concept of multiple women kept within the East Tower can allude to a harem, highlighting Dracula’s foreign and alien nature. Although, he was fully aware of his devotion to Mira, and of his aspiration to spend his life with her, he struggled to repress his innate sexual urges because of the effect the female vampires had on him. Stoker emphasises this, by utilising highly sexualised language – sensationalist literature. He pronounces that he feels this “agony of delightful anticipation,” and depicts one of the ladies as having “a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive” (38-39). In this passage, the narrator utilises contrasting oxymoron language to also indicate that Harker was having an internal conflict.
He is, however nonetheless, a representation of the typical human being who struggles to deal with sexual desires, especially in the Victorian society where attitudes towards sex were kept particularly repressed and privatised. Therefore, it is natural to be fascinated and curious with the female vampires who were a stark contrast of those Victorian values of repressed sexuality. He would have been attracted to the prospect of getting rid of the social constraints that have governed their lives prior and fulfilling his sexual appetites. However, as the end of the novel drew nearer, Harker as well as the other men concluded that these sexualised unwomanly women were a threat to the established patriarchal society, prompting aggressive responses. The men were also unable to tolerate the possibility of not having control over their female counterparts, and desired to rid society of their existence.
The novel has paved the way for other vampire novels and allowed for vampires to evolve with its nature. However, the vampire although evolving with time, is still used in certain texts as a critique of sexuality. This can be perceived in the novels Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker and True Blood (2008). But even though vampires have been deemed a representation of sexuality and symbol of sexual liberation in history, the connotations of sexuality and different kind of sexuality have differed as the concept of vampires evolved. True Blood, the 21st century text has taken a stance in representing sexual liberation in a positive light, both homosexual and heterosexual in a positive women sexual freedom. This contrasts greatly with Dracula where vampires represented that fear of female sexual liberation and dominance, and that internal conflict between sexual desires and fear. This shows that although the idea of sexuality is prevalent in both novels, there have been changes in the connotation of the vampire which can signify that society has gone through a cultural development, with time, in the view of sexual liberation from something that is ‘repulsive’ to something accepted in society.
The 1872 gothic novel Carmila by Le Faun though draws parallels with Dracula due to the context, values and ideas addressed in it as it was published in the same era. Sexuality is addressed in both but less visibly as in True Blood due to the conservative Victorian society. Even though concepts of the Queer Theory were yet to be formed in the era where the novels were published, it does offer to be interesting possibilities of queer reading material in the 21st century. An evaluation of both works can help note that there are moments of suspension in the novel where society of a traditional patriarchal heteronormativity and gender stereotypes are fleetingly repudiated, and the power dynamics were shifted. Nevertheless, at the end, the former status quo is reinstated and the threat of female having control and power is resolved. Those moments of suspension should not be de-emphasised as they enable for the audience to gain anticipating insights of what be historical queer moments.
Literature critics and majors have been driven to dissect this key text and create many critical responses to the text. One of the critical responses, the article Attention, predation, counterintuition – Why Dracula doesn’t die by M Clasen has had an impact on my research. The article prompts for her audience to grasp a deeper comprehension on why the novel lives on and transcends beyond time and through the anxieties specific to the late nineteenth century. The author does an in-depth analysis to signify that the novel doesn’t die due mainly to Stokers formal narrative techniques that help engage and sustain the readers attentions. She specifies that by having a biocultural perspective on the novel allows for there to be a strong emotional shape to conflicts and fears that are deeply ingrained in human nature like good vs evil, egalitarianism and dominance which also produces this total imaginative effect of the novel. She also explains that novels that engage with themes of adaptive significance like stories about the supernatural, sex, murder and neglected children are most likely to acquire human attention. That’s why Stoker used a dangerous contagious monster in his story to engage the audience. She even puts emphasis that the book was in epistolary formal to assist with historical veracity and allows for stoker to use and manipulate the flow. Thus, this journal article has assisted greatly in allowing for a more in depth understanding on why this book has been perceived as a canonistic key text which stands the test of time.
I propose to write a critical response for my independent research project in term 3. I’ve chosen to take on board this format of a critical response as Dracula “has had a more enduring influence on the vampire mythology in America than any other single work of fiction” and this format will allow me to make a more in depth analysis on how the influence has permitted for vampirism to evolve from Dracula by Bram Stoker to the now Twilight Saga. I want to explore the ideas of good vs evil, sexuality and vampirism further. I want my work to highlight the changes that have come with time.