Make up Blog

1 Jun

With his 1887 novel, Dracula, Bram Stoker takes the ancient and largely extinct figure of the “monster,” such as found in Beowulf, classical mythology, etc., and set it in an explicitly modern environment. The monster is characterized by its perversely humanoid features, isolation from a community, and parasitic lifestyle. Certainly, Dracula has all of these attributes; yet he is also possessed of atypical religious connotations that lend the novel a more traditionally Victorian moralizing tone even as it rides the coattails of Romanticism. It differs in this, too, from its notable predecessor, Frankenstein, which mainly glosses over applicable science or pseudo-science it might employ in favour of purely ontological monsterly self-examination combined with tortured artist-as-scientist mentality. Here, we have a regal, crafty old monster, pursued by sophisticates in the epicenter of modernity, London, armed at once with witch-doctor remedies, aimed at physical destruction of Monsieur Monster, and cunning innovations of the communication front, i.e., typewriters, phonographs, telegrams, and so forth. Dracula, with his 17th century sensibilities, seems something of a Luddite in comparison: old-fashioned and backwards. He is a more primal character, in this sense, engaging with the humours and the elements rather than the “science [and] human knowledge” that Seward and Van Helsing so prize, noting that to be “without such it is monstrous.”

 The religion at play here is similarly backwards and out of date; it is Catholicism that Dr. Van Helsing gets the others to reluctantly adopt, in lieu of their Church of England style commonsense that dispenses with such bizarre concepts as transubstantiation, which Dracula so clearly deals in. The near cannibalistic connotations of drinking wine that actually becomes the blood of Christ upon the blessing of the priest have long been noted, and here, Dracula’s consumption of human blood is seen as nothing less than a barbarity to be quashed. Of course, he is, undeniably, something of a superior being. He is largely immortal, capable of preserving his youth, and possessed of superhuman strength, and, like a deity, impenetrable and unknowable: he is the only major character whose psyche we are absolutely cut-off from, he never contributes the narrative by any means.

Most obviously, Dracula is repelled by the crucifix and holy water, the religious undertones become increasingly uncomfortable as we learn more about him. While we can recognize that the associations are meant to draw attention to his character as a sort of antichrist, as a monster, he elicits a certain degree of sympathy from the reader, as an ever-pursued underdog of sorts. In this, he is more Miltonic Satan than unthinking beast; he is well-mannered, aristocratic, and highly intelligent, as Jonathan Harker notes almost immediately in chapters one and two.

His perversity is derived, then, not from a pure disgust reaction that the soulless creature, all teeth and claws, might evoke. He is perverse because he takes the familiar and sacred and uses them for ends that are unfamiliar and destabilizing to the community. Furthermore, he shuns that which is increasingly of most importance, that is, the value civilization and progress that ultimately comes, more than stuffy prudishness, to define the Victorian era.

 

Sarah Higginbotham

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