Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is a literature classic, and is the mold from which the many varying interpretations of the vampire folklore have been cast. I always say though, that no writer can truly write without pouring some of themselves into their work, no matter how small the measure is. Bram Stoker was born right in the middle of the Victorian Era which came with it two major issues in London – rising population due to immigration and the rising popularity of prostitution. Stoker, as manager of the Lyceum theater (Which is where I saw the Lion King. Huzzah!) was exposed to all these things and it is impossible to imagine they did not influence his mind. Therefore, while most people see Dracula as a simple horror fantasy, I see it as a social commentary about sexuality, immigration and politics. Something which carries on in vampire folklore till today (I could explain how Zombies, Werewolves and Vampires have been used as political statements and propaganda in pop culture for years, and how Edward Cullen from Twilight helped Barack Obama win the 2008 elections, but I doubt you’d be interested in that fancy bit of nonsense). Anyway, today, I present one of my takes on the way Stoker used Dracula to frame his sociological views as a horror fantasy.
Dracula seems to be, in many ways, a sexual novel. The biting (penetration), sucking of blood (exchange of fluids) and its effect of extending life (procreation) bear many semblances to the act of sexual intercourse. Also, the manner of killing the vampires involves driving a stake through their hearts, which in itself invokes imagery associated with penetration, and with a phallic symbol, no less. However, it appears to me that Stoker focused on conflict between the “chaste woman” and the “sexualized woman” and how a man should respond.
In the novel, Stoker projects his idea of what ideal sexual behaviors are, presenting Dracula’s brides as evil, sexualized temptresses while extolling the virtues of the reserved women. He also presents Jonathan Harker’s reaction to these sexualized (and thus symbolically promiscuous) women as one of both desire and loathing1. This motif of a man both recoiling from and being attracted to sexually open women is present in most of the novel.
Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra are the women upon whom Stoker initially projects his own ideals of womanhood, with comments like “…there are good women still left to make life happy”2, “So pure, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist – and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so skeptical and selfish”2. Stoker later shows the difference between the two types of women by allowing Lucy to become corrupted, a temptress, and only then he begins to describe her in sexual terms – as “voluptuous.”3 She is then killed (through penetration) by the men who initially wished to wed her in a scene filled with sexual symbolism3. This establishes what I think is his motif of “Good men rejecting sexualized women despite being physically attracted to them”.
Stoker’s novel Dracula may be seen from this point of view as a rejection of both sexual liberation in the form of Count Dracula4 (who himself is the wolf-figure, the instigator of sexual desire and can be seen from a certain vantage point, as a diseased, bisexual figure – he ‘penetrates’ both male and female, spreading his ‘ailment’) – and sexual overtness (especially in women) in the form of Dracula’s brides.
- Dracula – Bram Stoker Chapter 3
- (As above) Chapter 14
- (As above) Chapter 16
- The Fear of Sexuality in Bram Stoker’s Dracula – Irene Rose De Lilly. http://www.msmc.la.edu/PDFFiles/humanitas/de-lilly-paper.pdf