Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a work of fantasy fiction
Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a work of fantasy fiction. Its eerie success comes from the ability to prey on human fears, mostly about death and sexuality. Dracula reflects the problems during the Victorian period. Most of the reviewers agreed that Dracula should of be seen as an exquisite example of fulfilling the Victorian male imagination, regarding female sexuality. Victorian society commanded firm restraints on sexuality, especially female sexuality. As Sally J. Kline states in her study of Dracula and its connections to women issues during the Victorian time, a Victorian woman had only two choices; she was either a virgin or else she was a mother since the Victorians believed that sexual repression was the sign of good breeding and if she was neither of those she was seen as immoral. This era was marked by the “cult of true womanhood” and the Social Purity Movement. A woman was only considered as a “lady” if women repressed their “instincts”, meaning that they should relinquish from sex.
A.N. Wilson describes this issue in The Victorians and writes that led by the “cult of true womanhood,” which required purity and submissiveness in women, females were told to become almost asexual. Women who were sexually active and who did not deny their sexuality were therefore a threat, both to themselves and to society, which is clear in Dracula (451). Leah Wyman points out that the three beautiful vampires that Jonathan Harker encounters in Dracula’s castle show all the qualities of how a woman should not be, appealing and sexually aggressive.
As women’s sexuality became more repressed, Victorian men were also conducted to relinquish from sex but with few exceptions. The Victorian man was only allowed to have sex within marriage. A woman had to aid men to control their instincts to become more like the women. Even though men were aided to control their sexuality, the Victorians believed that heterosexual craving was in a man’s nature. Therefore, the society pleaded ignorance about a man’s inability to control his sexuality. However, Victorian Society believed that male sexuality was crucial for reproduction.
There were severe restraints regarding female and male sexuality, but male homosexuality was considered more of a taboo. After the publicized trial of Oscar Wilde in 1895, sodomy was criminalized, and the public was aided not to commit this vile act. If they did, the people ended up in prison. There is no doubt that homosexuality is one of the main themes in Dracula. Dracula invades both women and men where Nina Auerbach interprets the homosexual codes in the book, stressing the vile attractions of the Count. She claims that the Count is a sexual threat who threatens to destroy the moral order and turn it into a depraved society through his violation of people. The violation of the men by penetrating and sucking the blood can be viewed as a coding of homosexual acts, according to Auerbach.
In Dracula, sex and blood are associated with each other, reflecting the Victorians’ belief that blood is sperm. My research is based on William Hughes and his study on Dracula’s blood sucking and its meaning with the “spermatic economy” which claims that feeding on blood implies an exchange of bodily fluids which can be associated with sexual intercourse. The association between sexuality and blood is what will be talked about essay. In line with Auerbach and Hughes, the symbolic value of penetration caused by Dracula represents new issues of sexuality.
Dracula was published in 1897, an era which was marked by the increase of the British Empire. It is important to stress the new apprehension of sexuality and gender roles in Victorian society, primarily among the middle class. Sexuality, especially female sexuality, was not accepted and was repressed in terms of arrangements. In Victorian England, women’s sexual behavior was dictated by society’s strict expectations. As mentioned earlier, being a lady meant that a woman should not have sexual desires. Sex was something that was only necessary for reproduction, within the confines of marriage. Therefore, it is not strange that sexuality was threatening and needed to be regulated, Levy argues. She also mentions what Foucault called “a technique of power”, which means that this was a way of discipline for people who could not or would not regulate themselves. The Victorians thought that some people had more difficulties in resisting sex than others and therefore rules and discipline were required.
According to Phyllis A. Roth, Dracula’s appeal derives from its hostility toward female sexuality, for the female vampires are equivalent to the fallen women of eighteenth and nineteenth-century fiction (31-32). Roth expresses other examples of this in the novel with two female characters, Mina and Lucy. In the beginning of the novel when Lucy is not completely vampirized, Dr. Seward describes her hair in its natural sunny ripples, later when the men watch her return to her tomb Lucy is transformed into a “a dark haired woman”. The fair/dark split which suggest moral casts in an unconscious way reflects the ambivalence aroused by the sexualized woman (ibid.36). Hughes´ opinions are similar to Roth’s, writing that Stoker constructs his heroines as virgins, and virginity was a basis in patriarchal society and where virginity and virtuosity could be seen as a “codification of accepted behavioral standards for the female” (104). Victorian gender relations were dominated by a complete sexual complementation, which according to the Victorian feminist writer E.M. Palmegiano, meant that being female was the counterpart of being male.
In Stoker’s novel women are seen as defenseless creatures who are either seduced and invaded or deluded by Dracula to become his helper, since they are the negotiation of the male, weak and easy to impose upon. Therefore, it is not strange, according to Gregory A. Waller, that the novel establishes a masculine ideal which is strong and self-controlled, independent man of action.
A Feminized helplessness is a consequence of the breakdown of manhood, and the clear instances of this gender role takes place when Jonathan is alone with the three sexually aggressive vampire women. Building on Waller’s thesis, Miller points out that this scene illustrates male vulnerability, in a way which puts Jonathan in a feminine role and ironically the man who saves him from the three vampire women is none other than the only man in the fortress, Dracula (229-30). The connection between the ideas about sexuality, gender roles and class identity are strong. These middle-class ideas about sexuality were a plain contrast to the aristocracy, for the middle-class codified virtue. Levy emphasizes that the middle class tried to compensate for what they lacked in blood through self-regulation of behavior, especially sexual behavior. Levy points out that this is very clear in Dracula, where Lucy’s seduction is similar to a sexual seduction; the virgin is stained by the aristocratic monster, which is a common theme in gothic literature where the aristocratic man “hunts” women of no aristocratic origin. As the middle-class grew stronger, the Victorians argued that the straight, middle-class Victorian male was the only one that had the right to comment people in England which meant that they had the power to say what was right and what was not, meaning that they were particularly fit to care for other social and cultural groups who did not suit the Victorian standards.
Sexuality and especially homosexuality were regarded as something that did not suit their standards. During the nineteenth century medical science was making progress, maybe one of the most important developments during that time. The scientists invented a new science based on blood which was according to them connected to racial and sexual issues. The term “sanguine economy” came with ideas and rules about why English people, for example, should not “blend” with people of other races and giving answers regarding “health” and why people should not waste any time on sex. According to medical science sexual intercourse meant a depletion of sperm which signified blood and that was not something to squander. A depletion of blood brought both personal illness and a lack of moral sanity. Hughes claims that the term “Sanguine Economy” which came up during the Victorian period was a physiological logic that governed the secretion, depletion and transfer of blood.
Hughes emphasizes that the identities invested in blood started to be powerful, and people in the Victorian age were redirected to a myth of common racial identity. Such encoding is something that exists in Stoker’s writings. In his novel Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, Stoker applauds the seaman of an American warship who in defiance of the official neutrality of the US navy rescued the crew of a British gunboat from defeat at the hands of the Chinese. When an explanation was demanded for the crew’s action, the ship’s commander responded, “blood is thicker than water” (59). These sentiments of racial brotherhood, which unite the English from all parts of the world such as North America, Great Britain and Australia, had to do with bonds of common racial identity which derived from the belief of having the same origin. The “same” blood contributed to the saving of the seamen. The sentiments of racial brotherhood are central in Stoker’s fiction, both familial and racial. Hughes goes deeper into this and mentions that an important counterpart of the “Sanguine Economy” was the “Spermatic Economy,” a popular medical discourse in which semen is regarded as a product of the blood. The scientists believed that individual and racial health are dependent on pure and plentiful blood; personal vitality was highly connected to the bodily fluid, blood or semen, in other words there was an equation between a bodily fluid and the quantity of personal vitality. Depletion or contamination brings both personal illnesses, racial and physical depression (139-40).
The pale body is, in this case, always disturbing and threatening when the moral is opposed to literal implications of blood loss are emphasized. According to Hughes, this is much evidenced in Dracula where Seward is facing the vampiric Lucy in the Hampstead churchyard; She still advanced, however, and with a languorous, voluptuous grace said: – Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!. (143) Therefore what is essentially a medical problem is translated into a sexual one and with that a moral threat to Seward, according to Hughes. Lucy seemingly demands sperm, but wants blood. The heart of Dracula is blood. The vampire flourishes on the blood of others, and Van Helsing and his team’s whole effort is to fight this flow of blood, by transfusion and any other conceivable methods. Dracula is dangerous because he threatens to turn the Victorian society into a depraved one with his vampire attacks. A lot of critics have researched in detail the sexual implications of the story, and it is obvious in many ways that this novel yields clear indications of what Victorians considered as sexual perversions.4 The perversions in the novel are not directly expressed but it is expressed through blood where blood sucking indicates sexual intercourse and these “perversions” are brilliantly camouflaged by blood by Stoker. Therefore blood should be seen as a symbolic expression and that is the dynamic of Dracula. Lucy Lucy is one of the characters who has been more studied. Even Stoker’s choice of name is significant. Hughes emphasizes that Lucy correlates to Lucis, which means light and her character stands for positive feminine qualities such as sweetness and light (142). Lucy is a good-hearted woman although flirtatious and tempting, and because of that she is much more vulnerable to Dracula’s seduction which is being clear when she admits to Mina through her letter that she is confused about choosing a man and therefore unable to decide whose proposal she should accept; Why can’t they let a girl marry three men or as many as want her and save all this trouble? (96) Kline notes that Lucy is hesitating about committing herself to only one man, and therefore confused about the decision she is about to make. Hughes points out that the word “want” in this context has a sexual significance (155). Kline suggests that this indicates that she obviously does not feel any true love for any of her suitors, but she does fantasize about having them in a “harem-like arrangement,” if she was allowed to. Kline points out that the author shows us Lucy’s casual sexual inclinations and dissatisfaction with the institution of monogamy (117). Levy on the other hand, writes that this strongly shows the cultural need to control female appetite (164). The scene where Lucy gets a blood transfusion from the men can not only be interpreted as homosexual act between the men, it also emphasizes Lucy’s desire for polygamous marriage, and ironically her wish and desire for polygamy comes true. Lucy’s fiancé, Arthur is ignorant that he has been one among many other blood-donors to Lucy’s circulation regards, his donation as an act of matrimony. Van Helsing, though, sees the irony in the fiancé’-widower’s: But there was a difficulty, friend John. If so that, then what about the others? Ho, ho! Then this so sweet maid is a polyandrist, and me, with my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church’s law, though no wits, all gone – even I, who am faithful husband to this now-no-wife, am bigamist”. (176) What Van Helsing actually means here according to Roth, is that Lucy’s descent into vampirism allows her, through the transfusions, metaphorically to experience intercourse with a number of men before even getting married (36).
A common issue in Dracula is rape which is expressed indirectly through blood. The threat of rape is particularly present in Dracula because it strongly demonstrates the power of men over women’s bodies during the Victorian time and therefore important to illustrate that “fallen” women predominantly were considered who did not own the right of possession of their own bodies. Men of the Victorian society were free to treat them as they pleased too. On the other hand, men who could not control their sexuality were also considered as weak and passive, qualities that characterized a woman. Dracula contains several rape scenes, both of women and the attempted rape of men. These rape scenes strongly illustrates how penetration and blood function as a symbol or insinuation of sexuality and intercourse. “Interfusion of sexual desire and the moment of erotic fulfilment may occasion the erasure of the conventional and integral that self informs the central action in Dracula” (95), writes Christopher Craft in an essay, where Craft interprets one of the most famous scenes of the novel. It is the scene where Jonathan falls asleep and has a “dream” of three stunning women who enter the room and talk about who will “kiss” him first. Jonathan is full of fear, at the same time as he is full of desire and lust, and does not move but still continues to watch the women through half-closed eyes. All three had brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. (35) This is a scene which establishes Dracula’s power and can be considered as very sexual and sensual. One of the central themes in the novel is the combination of terror and desire. Even as the vampire women approach Jonathans throat, his terror is mixed with desire. He does not pretend to sleep, but he does not try to escape either. The scene is a reversed rape: this time, it is a passive and weak male who is being attacked by a female aggressor. Wyman writes, the parallel between sexual acts and the vampire’s bite when the three vampires are talking about “kissing” him actually means that it is an act of draining Jonathan’s blood (36). Wyman also points out that Harker’s lust makes him disgusted by his inability to control himself and challenges his self-definition as masculine; the violation of him by the three vampires turns Jonathan into a penetrated and therefore passive person, instead of a penetrating, active, and masculine man. Neither does Kline’s opinion differ from Wyman, claiming that desire and evil are mixed all in one in the vampires and this is a scene which conflates sin with sexuality and by that makes a moralizing statement regarding sexual desire, although implicitly (105-7). But the degraded status of the vampire women and the way it is depicted teases the Victorian male in an erotic way, according to Levy (131). This was not an unusual thing since the Victorian society censored everything that had to with sex, and having three beautiful women approaching a sex-thirsty Victorian male was indeed erotically stimulating. Mixing danger with sex is the most perfect way of catching the interest of the Victorian public. Since Dracula is not only an evil creature who seduces “fallen” women such as Lucy, he is also a threat to the pure Victorian women such as Mina and even she becomes a victim but only by force, which in this case can be interpreted as rape. On the bed beside the window lay Jonathan Harker, his face flushed, and breathing heavily as though in a stupor. Kneeling on the near edge of the bed facing outwards was the white-clad figure of his wife. By her stood a tall, thin man, clad in black. His face was turned from us, but the instant we saw it we all recognized the Count – in every way, even to the scar on his forehead. With his left hand he held both Mrs Harker’s hand, keeping them away with her arms at full tension; his right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white nightdress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare breast, which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child forcing a kitten’s nose into a saucer of milk compiled it to drink. (232) “A deliberate highly melodramatic portrait of rape”, as Kline expresses it (47). The diseased blood of the vampire now circulates in innocent and “pure” Mina’s veins, and it changes her physical, moral and mental constitution. As earlier mentioned, Victorians believed that moral insanity was in the blood, and Dracula forces innocent and pure Mina to drink of moral insanity (201-2). There are elements that separates Mina’s transformation into a vampire than Lucy’s transformation. Throughout the novel Mina is not completely “vampirized” and she is able to help the men by working as a link between the two worlds, the world of Dracula and this world. The explanation is that Mina is the true Victorian woman and therefore it is more difficult to affect her with the evil forces of Dracula than other woman such as Lucy who is much more vulnerable to Dracula’s attacks because of her flirtatious nature. Craft mentions another scene from the novel in his essay. One important scene is that in which sexuality is relatively clear and unrestrained and where Lucy’s fiancé Arthur is laying her out for her final rest. Arthur placed the point (of the stake) over the heart, and as I looked I could see its dint in the white flesh. Then he struck with all his might. The thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortations, the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the merelybearing stake whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it. (204) The death scene of the vampire Lucy indicates that this is a scene of penetration, sexuality and rape. Since Lucy has only been penetrated by Dracula so the staking is Arthur’s first chance as her husband to experience “intercourse.” Paul Gutjahr writes that the imagery of phallus, orgasm and penetration are the shapers of the scene. Arthur plunges his stake into Lucy’s body with a rage while the vampire Lucy screams and quivers. Seward notes that the body “…twisted in wild contortions” and after the plunging act Arthur is completely exhausted (37-8). The hammer fell from Arthur’s hand. He reeled and would have fallen if we had not caught him. Great drops of sweat sprang out on his forehead, and his breath came in broken gasps. It had indeed been an awful stain on him…( 205) Hughes completes this scene by adding that Arthur is drained of another vital fluid, the saline content of sweat encodes both blood and semen (166). There are still three beautiful vampire women left in the castle and Van Helsing sees as his obligation to destroy them which indicates that Van Helsing himself also performs a rape on the three tempting women. …I could not have gone further with my butchery. I could not have endured the horrid screeching as the stake drove home, the plunging of writhing form, and lips of bloody foam, …And the poor souls, I can pity them now and weep. (327)
Van Helsing not only rapes one but three women, which can be interpreted as a demonstration of complete power of the Victorian male over the women.
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