The Author’s Note with which Dracula begins reflects a popular conceit in eighteenth-century fiction. Rather than constructing a narrative from the perspective of an omniscient third-person narrator, Stoker presents the story through transcribed journals. In effect, the novel masquerades as a real diary. Were the story told as a first-person reflection, we would be sure of the fate of the protagonist: because he is telling his tale, he must have lived through it. However, because the author of the diary writes directly as events happen, he may be tragically unaware of the danger of his surroundings. Harker has no time to reflect on his experiences and no way of knowing if he is placing himself in danger.
This real-time technique is popular within the horror genre: since the narrator has no way of knowing how the story will end, neither does the audience. The 1999 film The Blair Witch Project provides an excellent example of this conceit in recent popular culture. The film purports to be the exact contents of several film reels found in a supposedly haunted Maryland forest, shortly after a documentary film team vanished there while attempting to record supernatural activity. Watching the film, we experience what the documentary filmmakers supposedly experienced, in real time, to terrifying effect.
Because contemporary readers are so familiar with the vampire legend—whether in the form of The Lost Boys, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Salem’s Lot, or countless other incarnations—it is difficult to appreciate the magnitude of shock and dread that Stoker’s contemporaries felt upon reading his novel. For us, the suspense more likely comes from watching the characters piece together the count’s puzzle.
Chapter III contains one of the most discussed scenes in the novel. Drifting in and out of consciousness, Harker is visited by the three female vampires, who dance seductively before the angry count drives them away. The women’s appearance in the room where Harker is sleeping is undeniably sexual, as the Englishman’s characteristically staid language becomes suddenly ornate. Harker notes “the ruby of their voluptuous lips” and feels “a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me.” As he stretches beneath the advancing women “in an agony of delightful anticipation,” his position suggests, not at all subtly, an act of oral sex:
The fair girl . . . bent over me till I could feel the movement of her breath upon me. . . . 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. . . .
Harker is simultaneously confronting a vampire and another creature equally terrifying to Victorian England: an unabashedly sexual woman. The women’s voluptuousness puts them at odds with the two English heroines, Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray, whom we see later in the novel. The fact that the vampire women prey on a defenseless child perverts any notion of maternity, further distinguishing them from their Victorian counterparts. These “weird sisters,” as Van Helsing later calls them, stand as a reminder of what is perhaps Dracula’s greatest threat to society: the transformation of prim, proper, and essentially sexless English ladies into uncontrollable, lustful animals.
Harker spends a lot of time wondering whether this vision of repulsion and delight is real. He is unsure whether the women actually bend closer and closer to him, or if he merely dreams of their approach. If the women are real, they threaten to drink Harker’s blood, fortifying themselves by depleting his strength. If they are merely part of a fantastic dream , as Harker suspects, they nonetheless threaten to drain him of another vital fluid—semen. Critic C.F. Bentley believes that the passage in which Harker lies “in -languorous ecstasy and wait[s]—wait[s] with beating heart” suggests a nocturnal emission. Either way, Harker stands to be drained of a vital fluid, which to the Victorian male imagination represents an overturning of the male-dominated social structure.