1. How does Count Dracula pervert elements of Christian tradition? What is the significance of this perversion?
As a vampire, Dracula inverts one of the principal Catholic sacraments: holy Communion. Whereas Catholics believe that they are granted spiritual life by drinking the symbolic blood of Christ, Dracula prolongs and revitalizes his physical life by drinking the real blood of humans. While Christians consider flesh transient and secondary in importance to the eternal spirit, the soulless Dracula lives only for the flesh. The count’s devotee, Renfield, dismisses the notion of a soul with a fervency that, we can only assume, he learned from his master. “To hell with you and your souls!” he shouts at Dr. Seward, “Haven’t I got enough to worry, and pain, and distract me already, without thinking of souls?”
Renfield’s inability to deal with “the consequence—the burden of a soul” is important because it helps frame Stoker’s novel as a cautionary tale. Stoker lived in an age in which, due largely to advancements in science, people were equipped to question, if not dismiss outright, the religious doctrines that had formed the basis of moral and social order for centuries. In this sense, Dracula explores the anxieties of a society on the brink of moral collapse, suggesting that safety lies in the very religious traditions that modernity tempts society to abandon.
Discuss the role of sexuality inDracula. What does the novel suggest about sexual behavior in Victorian England?
Stoker explicitly links vampirism and sexuality from the early chapters of the novel, when the three vampire beauties visit Harker in Dracula’s castle. Because the prejudices of his time barred him from writing frankly about intercourse, Stoker suggests graphic sexual acts through the predatory habits of his vampires. The means by which Dracula feeds, for instance, echo the mechanics of sex: he waits to be beckoned into his victim’s bedroom, then he pierces her body in a way that makes her bleed. In the mind of the typical Victorian male, this act has the same effect as a real sexual encounter—it transforms the woman from a repository of purity and innocence into an uncontrollably lascivious creature who inspires “wicked, burning desire” in men. We witness such a transformation in Lucy Westenra, who becomes a dangerous figure of sexual predation bent on destroying men with her wanton lust. Because of her immoral mission, the men realize that Lucy must be destroyed.
In this sense, Stoker’s novel betrays a deep-seated fear of women who go beyond the sexual boundaries Victorian society has proscribed for them. If women are not hopelessly innocent virgins, like Lucy before Dracula gets hold of her, or married, like Mina, they are whores who threaten to demolish men’s reason and, by extension, their power. The fact that such temptresses are destroyed without exception in Dracula testifies to the level of anxiety Victorian men felt regarding women’s sexuality.
Discuss Stoker’s decision to recount the story of Dracula through journal entries, letters, and newspaper clippings. What are the strengths and drawbacks of this approach?
The use of handwritten accounts of the principal characters, along with fictional newspaper clippings and telegrams, lends an air of authenticity to an otherwise fantastic story. Although this epistolary form makes the events of Dracula seem more real—or, in the very least, more intimate than they might have seemed if related by a single narrator—it does have several drawbacks. Though the different characters come from different social strata, and in some cases different countries, they nonetheless sound practically the same. The exceptions to this trend, such as Van Helsing and Morris, tend to speak with absurdly heavy and unbelievable accents. Although he proves less than talented in developing a symphony of strong, individual voices to relate his tale, Stoker manages to use the puzzlelike structure of the novel to create considerable suspense. We constantly wonder if the characters will piece together the mystery that we ourselves already understand.