The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests.
But I am not in heart to describe beauty, for when I had seen the view I explored further; doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit.
The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!
Taken from the end of Chapter II, this passage exemplifies the dark and ominous tone Stoker creates in the novel. The tone of Harker’s journal changes with amazing rapidity as his stay in Castle Dracula progresses. In the course of a single chapter, Harker feels stripped of the robes of honored houseguest and considers himself bound like a prisoner. Here, Stoker demonstrates his mastery of the conventions of the Gothic novel: evoking the ruined castle, the beautiful but overpowering landscape, and the mounting sense of dread. Though Stoker did not invent Dracula or vampire lore, he did more to solidify it in the imaginations of English-speaking audiences than any author has since. Passages such as this description have spawned countless imitators, and scores of horror films owe a debt to the simple but powerful repetition of Stoker’s “doors, doors, doors everywhere.”
I was afraid to raise my eyelids, but looked out and saw perfectly under the lashes. The girl went on her knees, and bent over me, simply gloating. 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. . . . Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat. . . . I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited—waited with beating heart.
Things go from bad to worse rather quickly during Harker’s stay with the count. In this passage from Chapter III, three beautiful vampires visit the Englishman and come dangerously close to draining him of his blood before Dracula halts them, claiming that Harker belongs to him. This passage establishes the vital link between vampirism and sex that pervades the novel. These undead women are unlike any of the living women in the novel. Whereas Mina and Lucy are models of virtue and purity, these “weird sisters” are voluptuous, aggressive, and insatiable. The position that the vampire assumes over Harker’s body suggests a sexual act, and this display of female sexual aggression both attracts and repulses Harker. In a Victorian society that prizes and rewards female virginity and domesticity, the sexually adventurous vixen is bound to be the subject of fantasy. But because of these same rigid strictures of acceptable social behavior, she is also bound to be considered dangerous. Here, Stoker takes the fantasy of the dangerous whore to its most extreme manifestation, suggesting that Harker stands to lose not simply his reputation, but also his life.
You are a clever man, friend John; you reason well, and your wit is bold; but you are too prejudiced. . . . Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but the old, which pretend to be young. . . .
Here, in Chapter XIV, Van Helsing criticizes his protégé, Seward, for being too parochial in his attempts to diagnose Lucy. Van Helsing suggests that Seward is blinded by his own reason: if reason cannot explain a phenomenon, the young doctor tends to dismiss the phenomenon rather than question the limits of his own knowledge. Van Helsing encourages Seward to open his mind to experiences that may initially seem to counter Western methodologies. In doing so, he speaks to one of the novel’s primary concerns: the consequences of modernity. In Dracula, Stoker suggests that the English find themselves preyed upon precisely because their modern knowledge, instead of enlightening them, actually prevents them from identifying the true nature of their predator. Modernity—particularly the advancements of science—has blinded the English to the dangers from which their abandoned traditions and superstitions once guarded them. Van Helsing, the only character who prizes the knowledge of both the new and the old world, advocates a brand of knowledge that incorporates the teachings of both.
She still advanced, however, and with a languorous, voluptuous grace, said:—“Come to me, Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry or you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!”
There was something diabolically sweet in her tones—something of the tingling of glass when struck-which rang through the brains even of us who heard the words addressed to another. As for Arthur, he seemed under a spell; moving his hands from his face, he opened wide his arms.
In this passage from Chapter XVI, we see one of Dracula’s earlier threats made good. Earlier in the novel, the count warns his pursuers that he will defeat them by first seducing their wives and fiancées: “Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine.” This threat becomes reality here, as Lucy, now a blood- and sex-starved vampire, does her best to lure her fiancé, Holmwood, into eternal damnation. Like the “weird sisters” who attempt to seduce Harker, Lucy exudes sexual energy, and her words to Arthur ring out like a plea for and promise of sexual gratification. The promise proves more than Arthur can bear—“he seemed to move under a spell”—and threatens to have the same disastrous effect on the entire group, ringing through the minds “even of us who heard the words addressed to another.” Their collective weakness in fending off the sexual advances of such a temptress leaves the men vulnerable—ready to sacrifice their reason, their control, and even their lives. Given the possibility of such losses, which would overturn the world that these men dominate, it is little wonder that they choose to solve the problem by destroying its source—the monstrously oversexed woman.
Thus are we ministers of God’s own wish: that the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him. He has allowed us to redeem one soul already, and we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more. Like them we shall travel toward sunrise; and like them, if we fall, we fall in good cause.
Here, in Chapter XXIV, Van Helsing summarizes the nature of their quest to Mina as they chase Dracula across Europe. To modern readers, the professor’s words sound like an exercise in hyperbole, as he draws very bold lines between good and evil. However, Stoker does, in fact, intend Dracula to be as much a cautionary moral tale as a novel of horror and suspense. Deeply informed by the anxieties of the Victorian age—the threat that scientific advancement posed to centuries of religious tradition, and the threat that broadening liberties for women posed to patriarchal society—Dracula makes bold distinctions between the socially acceptable and the socially unacceptable; between right and wrong; between holy and unholy. Here, as Van Helsing likens his mission to one of “the old knights of the Cross,” we should understand him not as a bombastic windbag, but as a product of genuine Victorian fear and righteousness.
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