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The issue of social class and its effects upon society in Victorian-era Europe is a theme central to Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. On the surface, the novel seems to be a story of a battle between good and evil; upon further analysis, it could be seen as a battle between high and low social classes. The vampire Dracula is a quintessential aristocratic figure, one who prides himself on his superior bloodlines in more ways than one. The people who slay him are of assorted nationality, gender, ethnicity, and economic privilege. Through the interactions between characters of various socioeconomic status, Stoker illustrates the class-based prejudices operative in a society.
The earliest explicit example of this is Dracula’s almost boastful description of his family and heritage in chapter I. The Count asserts, on behalf of his ancestors and himself, that “in our veins flows the blood of many brave races” (p. 33). This is a curious comment because of its obvious double meaning. While Dracula is using the word “blood” as it is commonly used, that is, as metaphor for ancestry and heritage, he is also using it in a literal sense: as a vampire, the blood of many people does flow through his veins. However, neither the reader nor Jonathan Harker yet know of Dracula’s blood-drinking habit, so this comment could easily be passed over as a description of Dracula’s social status. It is only later, after the nature of the Count’s character is revealed, that both the ambiguity and the twisted humor of this phrase become apparent.
In the same passage, Dracula uses the word “race” interchangeably with the word “family” or “ancestry.” This is another example of a possible double meaning that foreshadows what the reader will learn about Dracula. Like the idea of blood being both literal and figurative, the idea of race can be thus interpreted. As a vampire, Dracula truly is a member of a distinct race, perhaps even a distinct species. His gruesome lineage (or taxonomy) ensures him not only respect among the lower-ranking Transylvanians, but physical power greater than that of other men, even immortality. In telling Jonathan Harker the story of his ancestry, Dracula speaks about events in the plural first-person, implying that he might have been present: as an immortal vampire, this is very likely. However, both of these statements can be interpreted figuratively: the skeptic Harker does not readily accept the gory nature of Dracula’s tale.
Indeed, all that is immediately evident is the Count’s emphasis on both the nobility and the achievements of his heritage. For example, Dracula claims to be descended from Attila the Hun, a powerful, violent and fearsome warrior. According to Dracula, this power is directly proportional to purity of lineage: when his distant ancestors “mated with the devils in the desert,” power and glory of the vampire race was sacrificed. The mention of other supernatural beings, such as “devils and witches” should be noted: although easy to bypass as metaphoric hyperbole, Dracula might be speaking literally of the superiority of vampires over not only humans beings, but other monsters (p. 34).
Whether or not Dracula is implying supernatural heritage, his pride in being what he considers a member of an elevated social class is apparent. The Count explicitly considers himself to be a “boyar,” or a member of the privileged class, which has ensured him not only monetary fortune but an elevated status among the peasants in his land (p.26). This nobility sets him apart from the common Transylvanian, whom he considers to be “a coward and a fool,” (p. 27). These qualities are starkly contrasted with those of his own race of fearsome warriors.
Unfortunately, Jonathan Harker does not pick up on the double meaning of the Count’s life story. Although he enjoys Dracula’s storytelling and even seems vaguely impressed by his social status, he is not intimidated by what is a discreet warning of Dracula’s potential power. Initially, Harker even sides with Dracula concerning the ignorance of the local peasants. Here we see that although he is a man largely driven by pragmatism, Jonathan Harker is not without class-based biases of his own. As a civil worker he does not rank highly on the socioeconomic scale, but he is not a peasant, and so scorns the beliefs and practices of the Transylvanian commoners accordingly. He dismisses their practices as superstition, but in this assertion there is an element of disdain wholly separate from his conflicting spiritual beliefs. Jonathan Harker is not rich, but he is both educated and Anglican. The Romanian peasants are uneducated and heavily reliant upon Catholic relics as protection against evil, and are therefore considered by Jonathan to be “ridiculous” and “idolatrous”(p. 13). However, Jonathan has a change of heart when he realizes that the crucifix he accepts from a peasant woman is his only protection from Dracula once he is imprisoned in the castle. Harker’s acceptance of practices he previously shunned represents a vindication of the common person, which is a theme echoed by Bram Stoker at several points in the text.
The social disparity between men and women is another example of the theme of class in the novel. The most pronounced and, curiously, the least developed of these instances is demonstrated through the characters of the three “weird sisters.” These female vampires whom Dracula keeps imprisoned in his castle represent the “kept woman” common during the Victorian era. Indeed, the sisters are “kept” by the Count in the most literal way: they are not permitted to hunt, leave the castle, or even prey upon Jonathan Harker without Dracula’s consent. This can be interpreted as a parallel to the role of many women at the time, who were not permitted to do anything outside of the home without the permission of their male superior. Of course, the example of the weird sisters is clearly hyperbolic, even humorous, as the average Victorian woman wasn’t concerned with hunting human prey in the first place, and could most likely eat when she chose.
However, the subjugation of the three vampire sisters is even more interesting when Dracula’s opinion of the vampire race is taken into account. As mentioned earlier, Dracula speaks at length about the superiority of the vampire race to the human race. The weird sisters, being vampires, are undeniably part of the same race as Dracula. It is curious, then, that Dracula shows more hospitality towards Jonathan Harker than he does to his own kind, even though he ultimately intends for Jonathan to be a victim. It would have been easy enough for Dracula to drain Jonathan’s blood the moment he entered the castle, yet he does not. Although he is a monster, Dracula seems genuinely interested, at least for a short time, in the knowledge of the outside world that Harker brings with him, and attempts to disguise his bloodthirsty nature from the clerk for as long as possible. Dracula does not seem to ever extend the same courtesy to his female captives, even though they should be, by his own standards, elevated above Jonathan in their social status. Thus the issue of sexism within the larger realm of class bias is present in this novel.
Perhaps the most explicit example of the effects of social class is illustrated by the events leading up to Lucy Westenra’s death. When Dracula begins to prey upon the young woman, the somewhat unorthodox doctor Van Helsing demands a series of blood transfusions to save her life. Although her life is ultimately lost, the blood transfusions occur in a noteworthy manner: blood is taken from donors in descending order of social status. The first man to donate blood to Lucy is Arthur Holmwood, Lucy’s fiance and a wealthy member of the Victorian gentry. The second donor is John Seward, a working-class doctor and well-respected member of society. Van Helsing transfuses his blood next: he is third in rank because although he is a distinguished doctor, scholar and lawyer, he is also a foreigner. The final blood that Lucy receives comes from Quincey Morris, a Texan transplanted in Victorian England. Despite being strong, charismatic and courageous, Americans are lower on the ladder than even Dutchmen; so Morris donates last.
Although Van Helsing claims that “A brave man’s blood is the best thing on this earth when a woman is in trouble,” the quality of the blood seems to depend less on bravery than on social status: clearly, some brave men are better for the job than others (p.136). The way that Stoker has arranged this hierarchy is not likely coincidental, but neither is it without irony. By the conclusion of the novel, Quincey Morris, the lowly American, is depicted as the most celebrated hero among these men.
Despite the many instances of class-based prejudice in this novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula has, overall, a resounding theme of hope. Though it is not apparent throughout the novel, by its conclusion Stoker is clearly rooting for the underdog. The end of Stoker’s Dracula portrays a world in which feeling has triumphed over reason, bravery has conquered fortune, and human resilience is proved superior to social status. Members of the higher class ultimately suffer: Dracula is slain by the human beings he once terrorized, and Mrs. Westenra, an aristocratic woman, sabotages her own fate and the fate of her daughter when she innocently ignores the protective talismans offered by Van Helsing. This does not mean that lower-class characters escape unscathed: the Transylvanian peasants, though eventually freed from the plague of Dracula and the weird sisters, have lost loved ones to the vampires’ hunger. Quincey Morris, the resilient American, dies as a casualty of Dracula’s execution, and Van Helsing’s controversial remedies do not save Lucy from the vampire’s fate. However, Morris is immortalized in name and memory with the birth of the Harkers’ first child. The peasants, though not present in the final action of the novel, have the retrospective distinction of being right about Dracula all along. Van Helsing indirectly saves all of London; even Jonathan Harker, for all his flawed suppositions, emerges as the hero when he is instrumental in the slaying of Dracula. He and his bride, Mina, are ultimately freed from the grasp of the vampire, and even manage to come into an unlikely fortune along the way, ensuring middle-class comfort for the rest of their lives. Thus, these lower-ranking citizens are vindicated, even celebrated, by the end of the novel.
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