This is my first time reading Bram Stoker’s Dracula. That I am no longer a Dracula virgin is oh so appropriate to a novel rife with sex and fear of “the other.” But I get ahead of myself.
The story of Dracula is one that has captured the cultural imagination and his story has been told in countless movies (none of which accurately recreate the novel). Dracula was not the first popular vampire story, however. Stoker was greatly influenced by Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla, even going so far as to locate Dracula’s castle in Styria before moving it later in a rewrite to Transylvania which had more resonance and fear for Stoker’s time due to the issue of the “Eastern Question,” a racial fear that is an undercurrent throughout the novel.
Dracula was first published in 1897 and has never been out of print. So as to provide a little context, H.G. Wells’s The Island of Dr. Moreau was published the year before. 1897 also saw Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, Kipling’s poem “The Vampire,” H.G. Well’s The Invisible Man, and Freud coining the term “psychoanalysis.” A year later, in 1898, Marie Curie discovered radium. And in 1899, Dracula was finally published in America.
Whereas Wells’s Island of Dr. Moreau caused a big uproar and controversy, not a single reviewer at the time made a comment about the sexuality, race, or blood contamination in Dracula somehow managing to not even make any connections with the syphilis epidemic that was raging in London at the time (Stoker died of syphilis in 1912).
Instead, reviews stuck to the safety of Dracula being a tale of fantastic horror. A Daily Mail review in 1897 suggests
Persons of small courage and weak nerves should confine their reading of these gruesome pages strictly to the hours between dawn and sunset.
A review in the Bookman focuses on the good v. evil aspect of the book, the triumph of “human skill and courage pitted against inhuman wrong and superhuman strength.” It’s curious that they didn’t at least remark about the sexual nature of the book. But then perhaps that is wrapped up in the good v. evil point of view, sex is evil and chastity is good or something like that.
For me the horror of the book was the sexuality and how so very misogynistic it all is. On a gender side note, I found it interesting how often the men in the book broke down and cried and how frequently they told each other what manly men they were while the women hardly cried at all, remaining steady pillars of emotional strength for the most part.
I want to talk about the way Lucy and Mina are portrayed and their relationship with Dracula and the men but that is too long for one post and I will save it for tomorrow.