Pssst… we can write an original essay just for you.
Any subject. Any type of essay.
We’ll even meet a 3-hour deadline.
121 writers online
In periods of cultural insecurity, when there are fears of regression and degeneration, the longing for strict border controls around the definition of gender, as well as race, class, and nationality, becomes especially intense. If the different races can be kept in their places, if the various classes can be held in their proper districts of the city, and if men and women can be fixed in their separate spheres, many hope, apocalypse can be prevented and we can preserve a comforting sense of identity and permanence in the face of that relentless specter of millennial change. (Showalter 4)
In the first chapter of her book Sexual Anarachy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle, Elaine Showalter outlines the social circumstances in the western world as the year 1900 approached. She asserts that the fin-de-siècle mentality, a so-called “endism,” aggravated battles of race and class, leading to ferocious backlash by proponents of the status quo. Fearing that the coming end of the century signified the last step in a gradual process of de-civilization which blurred demarcations between social castes, these people clamored for a “return” to a more ordered society. Gender roles were to be firmly established, classes and races hierarchically separated.
Although often assumed to be but a simple horror novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written during this period, can be read as a representation of this struggle between the “heroic” forces of order and the evil entities that hope to subvert it. To use Noel Carroll’s term, Dracula is a “fusion monster,” a creature that “transgresses categorical distinctions” (Carroll 43). Literally, he inspires fear to all because he is a combination of life and death, but, more profoundly for the novel’s Victorian audience, because he clouds boundaries between the genders and between the East and West. To oppose him, Stoker offers five men – Jonathan Harker, Quincey Morris, Arthur Holmwood, John Seward, and Abraham Van Helsing – all of whom subscribe to the chivalrous ideal of masculinity, and one woman – Mina Harker – who embodies the purity of the Victorian woman. These six protagonists’ quest to destroy Dracula obviously works on a literal level; they fear for their and others’ lives. More importantly, though, their pursuit and eradication of the vampire represents a move away from the “social fusion” embodied by Dracula, towards a well-ordered society.
As the twentieth century approached, Patrick Brantlinger asserts in his Rule of Darkness, the British became more and more concerned with the state of their society, no longer viewing the triumphs of imperialism as unmitigated successes. He writes, “after the mid-Victorian years the British found it increasingly difficult to think of themselves as inevitably progressive; they began worrying instead about the degeneration of their institutions, their culture, their racial ‘stock'” (Brantlinger 230). The most powerful nation of the nineteenth century, England saw in herself reflections of the collapses of great empires of the past, such as the Romans and Greeks. Previously, the country’s imperialist attitude and activity had “functioned as a partial substitute for. . .declining faith in Britain’s future” (Brantlinger 228), but when society seemed to continue its disintegration, imperialist pride rapidly became fear of the domestic effect of foreign, lesser influences. Brantlinger suggests that this trepidation manifested itself in the literature of the age:
The three principal themes of imperial Gothic are individual regression or going native; an invasion of civilization by the forces of barbarism or demonism; and the diminution of opportunities for adventure and heroism in the modern world. (Brantlinger 230)
Indeed, Dracula can be read as a tale of the second type, where the commercial imperialism of Jonathan Harker’s firm provides an opening for the Count’s entrance into and eventual destruction of British society.
In his description of Harker’s journey into Transylvania, Stoker foreshadows the racial conflict to come between the Eastern Dracula and the Western protagonists. First, through the writings of Harker – Stoker’s representative of the Westerner encountering the East – he contrasts the rampant superstition of the East with the scientific disposition of the West: “Every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians” (Stoker 2). Similarly, when a townswoman offers Harker a crucifix upon learning of his intent to visit Dracula’s castle, he reacts with skepticism: “As an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous” (Stoker 5). Coming from the scientifically-advanced British society, he looks upon the Eastern superstitions with condescension.
Even Stoker’s descriptions of the Eastern countryside evoke the supernatural. He points out, through Harker, “great masses of greyness, which. . .produced a peculiarly weird and solemn effect” and “ghost-like clouds which amongst the Carpathians seem to wind ceaselessly through the valleys” (Stoker 8). As the coach crosses a pass through the mountain range, Harker notes, “It seemed as though the mountain range had separated two atmospheres, and that now we had got into the thunderous one” (Stoker 9). Clearly, his current environment is a far cry from his civilized, ordered fatherland. Indeed, when his train departs late from the station, Harker ethnocentrically remarks, “It seems to me that the further east you go the more unpunctual are the trains” (Stoker 2). Quite explicitly, Stoker demonstrates through Harker an extreme sense of Western superiority; Harker plays the role of a kind of commercial missionary, traveling eastward in order to bring the advanced business practice of the British to less-civilized areas.
Reflecting the British fear of “invasion of civilization by the forces of barbarism,” as proposed by Brantlinger, the protagonists see Dracula as attempting to reverse the arrow of influence. A prisoner in Dracula’s castle, Harker finds his way into the Count’s sleeping chamber, where he discovers a bloated, ruddy Dracula fresh from a feeding. Harker reacts with horror:
This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where, perhaps, for centuries to come he might, amongst its teeming millions, satiate his lust for blood, and create a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless. The very thought drove me mad. A terrible desire came upon me to rid the world of such a monster. (Stoker 50)
This idea of Dracula spreading the vampire “disease” throughout bustling London reflects the fin de siècle “fears. . .of racial mingling, crossbreeding, and intermarriage” (Showalter 5). The Count’s supernatural essence reflects the “uncivilized,” inferior superstition of his homeland; that he could propagate this unnatural state of being throughout the civilized Western world provides Harker with the impulse to fight back against him.
Interestingly, protection of the purity – the order – of the British homeland, as well as British blood, seems to be the sole motivating factor in the protagonists’ quest to destroy Dracula. By placing a holy communion wafer in forty-nine of the fifty coffins Dracula has brought from Transylvania, thus rendering them uninhabitable for him, the heroes drive him from England. It is worth noting, in fact, that the coffins had been filled with Eastern earth; by infusing them with communion wafers, the heroes effectively remove their Eastern, demoniac quality, in essence “anglifying” them, leaving Dracula without Eastern refuge in the midst of the West. Lacking his “army” of viable coffins, Dracula must withdraw from England, attempted invasion thwarted. One would think, though, that the proper course of action for a group of heroes would be to pursue Dracula, that his evil may be removed from the world entirely. After the infected Mina declares under hypnosis that Dracula is returning to the East, however, she asks, “Why need we seek him further, when he is gone away from us?” (Stoker 302). Professor Van Helsing answers that only through Dracula’s destruction can Mina’s soul and body be cleansed of the vampire “virus.” Thus, while the protagonists do chase after the vampire in order to destroy him, they utterly disregard his crimes in the East, caring only of his attempt to perpetrate them in the West, on Western, civilized women. The threat of Dracula, then, is not that he is fundamentally evil (although he and what he represents are both considered evil to the order-seeking protagonists), but only that his evil has begun to encroach on the tranquillity of the West. The heroes seek only a well-ordered society in their own country, and, having driven him back to the East, succeed in that respect; their next task is to pursue him in order to restore a similar order to the Western gender roles as exemplified by Mina.
We have seen that Dracula’s presence in London represents the invasion and subsequent degeneration of the West by less-civilized countries; similarly, the blurred demarcations between the genders in Dracula’s sphere of influence demonstrate another fin de siècle British fear, that of the deterioration of traditional gender roles. In her article, Showalter quotes Stoker as writing, “The ideal man is entirely or almost entirely masculine and the ideal woman is entirely or almost entirely feminine” (Showalter 8). Clearly, he held conservative views of the roles of the sexes, in contrast with the “New Woman” of the era, who “was determined to oppose restrictions and injustices in the political, educational, economic, and sexual realms in order to achieve equality with men” (Beckson 129). This paranoia manifests itself in the text of Dracula.
In Dracula’s castle, each gender is suffused with characteristics traditional of the other. Harker, through whose eyes we view this part of the tale, becomes the typical damsel-in-distress figure of popular fairy tales, writing, “This castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!” (Stoker 25). Later, when he chances upon a room containing three beautiful female vampires, they become the sexual predators, and Harker the prey, inverting the usual schema of the aggressive male and the resistant female. Even when he escapes the castle, the psychological wounds incurred by his experiences there leave him sickly and bedridden, having fallen into the traditional, stereotypical role of the weak-bodied woman. Mina writes, “All the resolution has gone out of his dear eyes, and that quiet dignity which I told you was in his face has vanished” (100). As he spends months outside of the castle, however, his illness subsides and his masculinity returns, reaffirming Dracula’s influence as the cause of this subversion of traditional gender roles.
The Count himself, with his quasi-homosexual longing for Harker’s blood, represents one of the most feared degenerating agents of the fin de siècle. Showalter writes, “The burgeoning homosexual subculture that had begun to develop in England in the 1870s and early 1880s was both identified and outlawed” (Showalter 14). In an age where the definitions of the respective sexes was in flux, the addition of a new category – men who desired men – could only exacerbate the already existing paranoia that traditional gender roles were not long for the world. Dracula’s homoerotic urges are demonstrated by Stoker in his nearly-orgasmic desire for his prisoner’s blood. When Harker cuts himself shaving, the Count’s “eyes blaze[d] with a sort of demoniac fury” (Stoker 24). This word – “demoniac” – reflects the Victorian designation of homosexuality as sinful and unclean. Later, Dracula reacts with jealousy to the sexual advances on Harker of the three women. He says, “How dare you touch him, any of you?. . .This man belongs to me!. . .I promise you that when I am done with him, you shall kiss him at your will” (Stoker 37). The amalgamation of the sexual impulse and the vampires’ appetite for blood in these two scenes exhibits yet another manner in which Dracula perverts the natural, virtuous order of human society; not only are there homoerotic undertones to these highly sexual scenes, but also an aspect of sadism that cannot be reconciled with the Victorian sensibility.
On the other hand, the protagonists, when not under Dracula’s influence, fall under the traditional gender roles perfectly. The conventional male role is made evident by the sense of chivalry and honor, as well as the definition of manhood, supported by the five men. After Lucy, Arthur Holmwood’s betrothed, is infected with the vampire disease, she loses her natural life only to be come an undead creature, preying on the children of London. Professor Van Helsing knows that, in order to save her, the men must drive a stake through her corpse’s heart, and he chooses Holmwood to do so on the basis of his tremendous virility, which he had noted earlier in the novel: “As [Van Helsing] took in his stalwart proportions and recognised the strong young manhood which seemed to emanate from him, his eyes gleamed.” In order to convince Holmwood to follow through with the grisly act upon he beloved, Van Helsing declares, “You are a man, and it is a man we want. . .you are more good than us, old or young, who toil much in the world of thought” (Stoker 117-8). To be sure, a physically hardy man is needed for this act, which demands strength of body, but the way in which Van Helsing designates the physically hardy man the “most good,” most like a true man, speaks volumes about Stoker’s ideal of masculinity at the fin de siècle. Later, Quincey Morris echoes this definition of manhood, contrasted with the Victorian feminine ideal:
Madam Mina. . .You are too precious to us to have such risk. . .We are men and able to bear; but you must be our star and our hope, and we shall act all the more free that you are not in the danger, such as we are. (Stoker 232-3)
This corresponds to the typical male-female dynamic, where the men face the dangers of the external world, encouraged in doing so by the knowledge of their pristine, virtuous womenfolk safe at home.
At least before her infection by Dracula, Mina willfully fits this role of the meek, innocent woman to a tee. Early in the novel, in a letter to her friend Lucy Westenra, she writes, “When we are married I shall be able to be useful to Jonathan, and if I can stenograph well enough I can take down what he wants to say” (Stoker 52). Here she proposes a similar male-female relationship as Quincey Morris does later in the novel; all quests of the external world are to be undertaken by the man, and the woman is to support him in those endeavors as best she can, without being too meddlesome. In her journal, later in the novel, Mina refers specifically to the “New Woman” ideal just beginning to blossom at the fin de siècle, but separates herself from it so as to show her affection for the demarcated gender roles of the past.
I believe we should have shocked the ‘New Woman’ with our appetites. Men are more tolerant, bless them!. . .Some of the ‘New Women’ writers will some day start an idea that men and women should be allowed to see each other asleep before proposing or accepting. But I suppose the New Woman won’t condescend in future to accept; she will do the proposing herself. And a nice job she will make of it, too! (Stoker 86-7)
Mina describes the newly-burgeoning concept of womanhood with a playful tone, and while she does not condemn it, she seems to consider it fictional, as though it were a game of make-believe to be played by truly feminine women rather than a new social order in the making.
Lucy’s story demonstrates Dracula’s blurring influence on these traditional Western gender roles, as well as the eventual repulsion of that influence by the forces of order. At the beginning of the novel, Lucy fits into the societal mold of the female: attractive to multiple men through her sweetness and physical beauty, but devoted only to one, Holmwood, considered by Van Helsing to be the most masculine. Showalter quotes Stoker, “The most masculine man draws the most feminine woman, and vice versa” (Showalter 8). Applying this scheme to his own novel, then, we see Stoker’s suggestion that, at the onset, Lucy is the most (traditionally) feminine woman. Upon her infection at the hands of Dracula, however, Lucy’s femininity rapidly wanes as she gains the voracious appetite of the vampire, corresponding to the sexual appetite of the male. She attempts to seduce Holmwood: “Oh my love, I am so glad you have come! Kiss me!” (Stoker 154), but Van Helsing stops him from fulfilling her desire; at this point, the virtuous Lucy returns for the last time, thanking the professor, “My true friend, and his! Oh, guard him, and give me peace!” (Stoker 155). Here the traditionally feminine part of Lucy recognizes the burgeoning sexuality and vampirism within her, as well as the danger she poses to her fiancé and the social order he represents. Just then, she dies, and the undead vampire within her assumes command over her body and her virtuous disposition.
In order to restore traditional gender roles in this individual case, the protagonists are forced to drive a stake through Lucy’s corpse’s heart, thereby vanquishing her sexual, vampiric component and leaving only the original innocent one. To do so, Holmwood must once again resist her attempted seductions. She implores, “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!” (Stoker 204-5). Again, the fiancé is entranced, and only avoids succumbing to temptation through the interference of Van Helsing. When they finally succeed in expelling the vampire virus from Lucy’s dead body, she becomes again the figure of pure womanhood:
There, in the coffin lay no longer the foul Thing that we had so dreaded and grown to hate that the work of her destruction was yielded as a privilege to the one best entitled to it, but Lucy as we had seen her in her life, with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity. (Stoker 208)
Quite literally, by destroying the vampire’s influence on Lucy, our heroes have restored her to compliance with the traditional ideals of gender and sexuality. In this way, the particular case of Lucy Westenra serves as a microcosm for a larger theme in the novel; the protagonists will now seek to destroy Dracula in order to remove his sole remaining success in England – Mina’s infection – thereby banishing the evil blurring force from British society.
Though this basic “order-seeking, good protagonists / blurring, evil Dracula” scheme demonstrates that Stoker supports a general continuation of traditional social roles, he does not go so far as to reject entirely the new order; the character of Professor Abraham Van Helsing embodies his compromising solution to the dilemmas facing Victorian society at the fin de siècle. From Amsterdam, Van Helsing is a foreigner to England like Dracula, yet the geography of this West-East spectrum speaks volumes of the meaning of the novel. The farthest west is England, with its fiercely scientific beliefs; in the far east side of Europe lies Transylvania, where superstition reigns. The Netherlands, then, represent a middle ground; Van Helsing practices medicine, but he also believes in the existence of supernatural beings like the nosferatu. Thus, it is only he who can mastermind the British defense against Dracula, for only he understands both extremes. He declares, “I admit that at first I was sceptic. Were it not that through long years I have trained myself to keep an open mind, I could not have believed until such time as that fact thunder on my ear” (Stoker 227). He leads the protagonists to believe in the veracity of vampires, allowing them then to attempt to end Dracula’s supernatural existence. Similarly, Van Helsing accepts the power of the Victorian woman’s autonomous mind, but does not attribute to her equality with men. Regarding Mina, he says,
She has a man’s brain. . .We men are determined – nay, are we not pledged? – to destroy this monster, but it is no part for a woman. Even if she be not harmed, her heart may fail her in so much and so many horrors; and hereafter she may suffer – both in waking, from her nerves, and in sleep, from her dreams. (Stoker 226)
Whereas the other men talk only of Mina’s virtue and innocence, Van Helsing acknowledges her intelligence, again exhibiting a moderation between the extreme order of England and disorder of Transylvania. Yet even while doing so, Van Helsing still advocates the traditional view that external dangers should be, and can be, braved only by men. By designating such a man as the leader of the protagonists, Stoker seems to support an intermediate stance – although obviously closer to traditional than to revolutionary – in the fin de siècle crisis of social structure. Conservative though he may have been, then, Stoker did recognize the changing face of Victorian society at the end of the 19th century, and did his best to develop a view that could be accepted by all factions.
Beckson, Karl. London in the 1890s: A Cultural History. New York: W.W. Norton and Co., 1992.
Brantlinger, Patrick. Rule of Darkness. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988.
Carroll, Noel. The Philosophy of Horror. New York: Routledge, 1990.
Showalter, Elaine. Sexual Anarachy: Gender and Culture at the Fin de Siècle. New York: Viking, 1990.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Aerie Books, 1988.
We provide you with original essay samples, perfect formatting and styling
To export a reference to this article please select a referencing style below:
Sorry, copying is not allowed on our website. If you’d like this or any other sample, we’ll happily email it to you.
Attention! this essay is not unique. You can get 100% plagiarism FREE essay in 30sec
Sorry, we cannot unicalize this essay. You can order Unique paper and our professionals Rewrite it for you
Your essay sample has been sent.
Want us to write one just for you? We can custom edit this essay into an original, 100% plagiarism free essay.Order now
Are you interested in getting a customized paper?Check it out!