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The Representation of Victorian Era in Dracula's Novel

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All literature is a reflection of the culture it was composed as well as representative of the values important to that society. ‘The Other’ is a common theme throughout literature varying from time periods and cultures depending on their definition of it. The Victorian Era was conservative and a time of great social upheaval, where rapid urbanisation alongside the emergence of scientific breakthroughs made way for new ideas on art, culture and society. 

Victorian England’s ideas of ‘the other’ is reflected in Bram Stoker’s depiction of the deeply mysterious Eastern European world, filled with folklore and superstitions. The settings in the novel echo historical fears about societal changes in regards to geographical and political invasion due to the perceived decline in British power, making the nation vulnerable to attack from ‘primitive’ people. Transylvania is utilised by Bram Stoker to explore this idea as well as Western superiority as. As Jonathan Harker travels through Romania, almost everyone he comes into contact with is a foreigner and to him they represent ‘the other’, existing outside of industrialised Western Europe. “It seems to me that the further East you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What might they ought to be in China?” A rhetorical device is employed to emphasis the scepticism of technological advancement in Eastern Europe, highlighting how the West was being industrialised whilst the East was falling behind. It’s underlying condescending tone also demonstrates the Victorian England’s social view of the ‘simpler’ people of the East. The villagers in Romania are portrayed as primitive in construction and ideology, as well as being highly superstitious. “All made the sign of the cross and pointed two fingers toward me,” Stoker uses these symbols to demonstrate the villager’s belief in traditional folklore, further contrasting them against British society. While England was moving forward through rapid industrialisation and scientific breakthroughs, the foreign East was fixed in the past. However, there was an underlying fear that the forces of the primitive East, represented by Dracula, threaten to overturn the progressive, scientific world of contemporary Britain.

“His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere.” Stoker uses detailed description and imagery to depict Dracula’s appearance as unhuman and casting him as ‘the other.’ However, there are two distinct features of Dracula’s strangeness that are characteristic of outcasts in Bram Stoker’s era. He is a foreigner and is not part of the Christian church. Stoker emphasises Dracula’s status as a foreign invader from the east by describing his English as imperfect and needing help to understand British laws and culture customs. Dracula also has no part in the church, this is strange for at this time as almost all aspects of life, social and political ideas were governed by Christian values. Dracula contrasts Christianity as he is an evil and lustful creature with satanic connections. The insane and ‘beast-like’ Renfield who feeds on animals symbolises the corrupting, satanic influence of Dracula. “I am here to do Your bidding, Master. I am Your slave.” Dracula’s hatred and almost allergy of the crucifix is used to further symbolise Dracula’s otherness from Christian society. Christian values and belief were a key part of Victorian society, without you were cast as ‘the other’ as demonstrated by the representation of the character Dracula.

The Victorian ideal embodied very strict standards on sexuality and sexual behaviours, especially for women. It valued the repression of sexual feelings and forbade homosexuality. Stoker reflects these values through multiple characters and their fates reflect the ‘morals’ of Victorian society. Homosexuality is represented through Dracula’s homoerotic behaviours of sucking Jonathan Harker’s blood, adding to Dracula’s already otherness. This may also reflect Bram Stoker’s own sexuality as many questions have since surrounded it due to the sexually repressive nature of the Victorian era. The women in Dracula both represent and contrast the Victorian ideal. Lucy’s flirtations with three separate suitors is a transgression of sexually-repressed Victorian morality and would place her as ‘the other’ among women. “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her.” This rhetorical device is used to demonstrate her immoral nature and opposes the Victorian ideal. Whereas Mina, is depicted as the ideal woman who looks after her husband and their dissimilar fates represent what values Victorian society rewarded. The other female characters are Dracula’s three brides who represent the very opposite of the Victorian ideal of a woman. “There was a deliberate voluptuousness which was both thrilling and repulsive, and as she arched her neck, she actually licked her lips like an animal.” This simile highly sexualises the vampire brides and depicts their sexuality as monstrous, starkly contrasting Victorian values of repressed sexuality. These various minor characters sexual actions reflect Victorian ideas on sexuality and its association with ‘the other’ in society. 

Dracula by Bram Stoker is a classic gothic novel composed in 1987 which skilfully encompasses the thoughts, beliefs and values of the Victorian era through setting choice and character representation.

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