Last Updated 24 Mar 2020

Dracula and Victorian Culture

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In Dracula by Bram Stoker, the author explores Eastern European’s religion and culture in a number of ways, as well as traditional English notions of cultural superiority. It is important to note that the text primarily explores religion through antithesis. Stoker begins with the idea that Dracula and his ilk are damned creatures as far from God as possible, and piles upon them the sins that religion, presumably, is never guilty of: vampires are sexualized, decadent, and violent.

Worst of all to the religious readers is the fact that vampires pervert Christian notions of the resurrection of Jesus by portraying creatures who return from the grave not to provide guidance, but to prey on all of humanity. English superiority is asserted by the ending of the text, in which the English forces rout Dracula away from his pool of victims and ultimately destroy him. This represents the cycle of supernatural perversion being broken, allowing for the “normal” Christian lives to go on, free of evil’s taint.

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Stoker’s tale became famous for its unique take on the vampire myth. As opposed to being a horrific monster wandering the wilds, Dracula is a cultured count who is able to blend into high society (before, of course, feasting on it). By making an agent of evil unrecognizable as such, Stoker portrayed the 19th-century fear of The Other in a religious context. Readers are encouraged to hold fast to Christian beliefs, as that might be all that saves them from insidious infiltrators such as the Count.

Fittingly enough, Dracula is not content with the power that he already has in the world, nor with his supernatural abilities: he wishes he could be in the world more, and affect the outcome of major events. This helps serve the didactic nature of the text. Even as Dracula is ostensibly a creature of unfathomable evil, he is portrayed as a collection of human faults, such as the lust for power. In that sense, he is a manifestation of collective sin, offering punishment for the decadent world. The world, in turn, has to settle for being saved by the English.

Symbolically, Mina is the redemptive force for the sins of man in the text. She ostensibly represents the hetero-normative view which is necessary to be an exemplar of a Victorian Christian story, yet even after her marriage, she never seems sexualized by Stoker. Instead, she represents duty and obedience to her husband, as well as the more abstract qualities, such as intellect and more character. Her union with her husband is an obvious counterpoint to Dracula’s relationship with the three sisters: even in “proper” marriage, she is portrayed as chaste, bordering on sexless…the Victorian ideal.

Regarding Dracula and his relationship to his three “sisters,” the reader is free to speculate on its true nature. At best, it seems to be a parody of matrimony, with the women representing a kind of harem (hence, the representations in pop culture of the three sisters as “the brides of Dracula). With Stoker taking special care to note two of the women resembling Dracula himself, there is even the possibility of incest added to the already-disturbing nature of erotic violence permeating the text.

Erotic violence symbolically provides the ironic climax for Dracula himself. For all of the strange instruments that are wielded to ward off and harm vampires throughout the text, it is ultimately knives that are used to dispose of the Count. In this sense, English cultural superiority is asserted over its evil Other by appropriate the violence of the other: just as Dracula corrupts good people by piercing them, the countryside can only be cleansed (as in, returned to its Judeo-Christian, hetero-normative and ultraconservative state) by piercing Dracula himself.

The violated become the violators, and the Other is driven from the countryside, once and for all. The purity of the countryside is even evoked by Dracula’s specialized dirt, a not-so-subtle representation of another land corrupting good Christian citizens before it is properly sterilized. There are hints of symbolic Eugenics embedded here: sterilizing a corrupting outsider’s land before driving him out so he can no longer convert others to his cause, leaving good Christians (such as Mina) to continue the proper race of the English (even though she remains so seemingly chaste).

Ultimately, the reason for the enduring popularity of Stoker’s text is the surprisingly sympathetic nature of Count Dracula himself. He is at once a creature of two worlds: a horrible monster who literally preys on humanity, and a cultured old man who represents knowledge of the world. He is a bloodthirsty abomination who, nevertheless, seeks out companionship. He is an unknowable monster from the depths of hell, yet the shades that comprise him are made up of all-too-familiar human sins.

Stoker doubtlessly wrote the book to reassert the cultural values of the time: his creature of the night, with human follies, is driven out and killed. Yet the text endures because, as times become less overtly Christian and much less conservative, individuals sympathize with the persecuted monster more than they do the gallant Christian forces. And long after Victorian England slips further into the footnotes of history, the vampire myth will continue attracting souls who perceive themselves as outcasts from the sterilizing forces of society.

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