Bram Stoker’s Dracula has been on my radar for a LONG time. At first, I found a copy at a thrift store and placed it on my shelf with all my other works of classic lit to delve into someday and didn’t pay it much mind. This summer, a few of my lit-loving coworkers cornered me multiple times. “Amelia,” they said, “you HAVE to read this book. It is incredible.”
Since then, it’s been on my long list of books to read after I graduate. Lucky for me, it happens to be the closing book of my Victorian Lit class.
I will admit, I didn’t know much about the story going in. I’m not really a vampire person. They’ve always put me on edge and the monstrosity of Twilight did nothing to help with this. I knew the basics: Count Dracula was a vampire from Transylvania who went around sucking people’s blood, he lived in a really old castle, and Van Helsing was trying to hunt him down. The rest was foreign
I started reading it a few weeks ago during my Thanksgiving break, determined to get to my page quota so I could enjoy the rest of break unperturbed by homework. However, once I sunk my teeth in, I couldn’t put it down. (Forgive me of my terrible pun. I couldn’t resist.)
My friends were right. This book is incredible. It’s very different from our modern conception of Dracula. Instead of the attractive, Byronic, complicated hero, the original character is old, animalistic, and dangerous. This is because vampires, in essence, represent sexuality. They represent sexual desire, urges, etc. When they suck blood, they’re taking much more on a symbolic level. For the Victorians, this was absolutely terrifying. Victorian views of sexuality were very different from our notions today. Sexual desire was an urge to be repressed–this view was so strong that women were not even seen as possessing such desire. Vampires, then, as “sex monsters” (as my professor calls them) are a threat to an entire set of cultural ideas. They have the ability to turn prim, proper Angel in the House figures into seductive femme fatales.
Just reading the novel gives you chills. Some sections are absolutely terrifying! Check out this passage, where Jonathan Harker is powerless against the allure of the Brides of Dracula:
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, till I could see in the moonlight the moisture shining on the scarlet lips and on the red tongue as it lapped the white sharp teeth. Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat. Then she paused, and I could hear the churning sound of her tongue as it licked her teeth and lips, and I could feel the hot breath on my neck. Then the skin of my throat began to tingle as one’s flesh does when the hand that is to tickle it approaches nearer, nearer. I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the super sensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in languorous ecstasy and waited, waited with beating heart.
This is just one horrifying passage in the book.
Other themes in Dracula include the degeneration of society, the rise and authority of professionalism, and the state of British manliness. (Look to the weird hierarchy of blood transfusions in the novel for that last one.)
I’d say more, but we are only halfway through our class discussions. I finished the novel yesterday and am excited to hear what my professor has to tell us. If all goes according to plan, I hope to write my final essay on this book. We’ll see how this next week plays out.
Let’s talk vampires! How do you feel about the blood-sucking creatures? Have you read any books or seen any movies that you absolutely loved? Hated? Have any recommendations? Let me know in the comments!