Reenacting Dracula (and why I’m never going to be an actor)

Yesterday in Victorian Lit, my classmates and I became actors.  In order to stress the important elements in a certain scene in Dracula, my professor (Brad) assembled a hand-picked cast and, after giving a few directions, let us work our magic.

I was given the role of Arthur Holmwood, the super-manly fiance of the now-vampire Lucy Westenra.  One of my classmates, Drewe, was cast as Lucy.  My roommate played Van Helsing and a couple of classmates took the roles of Quincy Morris and John Seward.

Here is the material we had to work with:

“Go on,” said Arthur hoarsely. “Tell me what I am to do.”

“Take this stake in your left hand, ready to place to the point over the heart, and the hammer in your right. Then when we begin our prayer for the dead, I shall read him, I have here the book, and the others shall follow, strike in God’s name, that so all may be well with the dead that we love and that the UnDead pass away.”

Arthur took the stake and the hammer, and when once his mind was set on action his hands never trembled nor even quivered. Van Helsing opened his missal and began to read, and Quincey and I followed as well as we could.

Arthur placed the point over the heart, and as I looked I could see its dint in the white flesh. Then he struck with all his might.

The thing in the coffin writhed, and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions. The sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were cut, and the mouth was smeared with a crimson foam. But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, whilst the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it. His face was set, and high duty seemed to shine through it. The sight of it gave us courage so that our voices seemed to ring through the little vault.

And then the writhing and quivering of the body became less, and the teeth seemed to champ, and the face to quiver. Finally it lay still. The terrible task was over.

(Bram Stoker.  Dracula.  Chapter 16)

First of all, isn’t the passage absolutely fantastic?

Brad read the text in a dramatic voice as we played the scene.

Drewe, as my undead fiance, was sprawled out on the table at the front of the classroom.  I towered over her, holding up my imaginary stake and hammer.  Van Helsing and company (my roommate and peers) stood next to me reading out of an imaginary prayer-book.  As Brad’s voice spelled out the portion about not trembling or quivering, I did my best to contort my face into an expression of boldness.  I don’t think I was very successful.  It was incredibly hard not to laugh.

Then, I drove the imaginary stake into Drewe’s heart.  She thrashed.  She flailed.  She wriggled all over the table.  I struggled to keep a straight face, trying to be as impressive and powerful as the Norse god Stoker compared Arthur to.  (Again, I don’t think I was very successful.)  I pounded and pounded on the stake.  The deeper it was pounded, the more Drewe’s writhing increased.

Then, she stopped.

And I got to go back to my seat.

It was a fun and entertaining experience, that’s for sure.  But if I learned one thing, it would be this: it’s a good thing I didn’t major in Theater, because I’m a terrible actor.

Dracula

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!