Bram Stoker lived during the Victorian period, and in a sense, ‘Dracula‘ reflected his anxiety over the issues that plagued society during his time. These issues found their way into ‘Dracula’ one way or the other.
Dracula was published during the Victorian period in British history- a period famed for its sexual repression. Stoker wrote ‘Dracula’ only two years after the trial of his erstwhile friend, Oscar Wilde, on charges of homosexuality. The prudish Victorian sensibility that inspired outrage at Wilde’s sexuality and open flamboyance is a major force in Stoker’s work. Although ‘Dracula’ featured romance, as seen in Harker’s relationship with Mina, and in the courtship of Lucy by three eligible bachelors, the romance was toned down and innocent.
There was no overt expression of passion or sexuality before Dracula’s arrival. However, all this changed with Dracula’s arrival into the lives of the protagonists. From here onwards, we would see overt sexuality displayed by female vampires who are as seductive as they are threatening, as well as by male characters who for the first time display their naked lust and struggle to master their emotions in the face of intense seduction.
While Jonathan Harker was assailed in Dracula’s castle by the three seductive vampires, despite being aware of the danger they pose to his life and their intent to kill him, he finds himself powerless against the force of lust welling up within him. While Lucy was a human, she was the embodiment of innocence, but it is only when she was transformed into a vampire that she began to display her sexuality in the form of seduction. Here Stoker seems to associate expressions of female sexuality with a corruption of the soul which is symptomatic of Victorian attitudes towards the sexual.
Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ is a book with a keen consciousness about the distinction between the Englishman (and his close relatives) and the “Other”, or people deemed to be of inferior stock in one way or the other. This reflects Victorian England’s racist prejudices. As Jonathan Harker travels through Scandinavia, the area assumes an exotic and distinctly different feel. Stoker draws from his research about the history, customs, prejudices, and superstitions of the Scandinavian people to supply these characters with all the characteristics needed to mark them out as different from Englishmen, or Western Europeans by extension.
Hence it seems only fitting that the scourge of vampirism would originate not in England, but from far-off exotic lands like Scandinavia. Scholars have associated the fear of vampires and vampirism within the work with the fears of Victorian Englishmen of racial contamination from people of far-off lands. Dracula’s presence in England threatens to disturb the natural order and spread the plague of vampirism. It is left to a team of noble Anglo-Saxons plus a Dutchman to rid England of this threat. This bears a clear and unmistakable expression of Victorian English fears over racial contamination that is capable of reducing the quality of Englishmen and women, whether physiologically, intellectually, or otherwise.
Russian Invasive Threat
Another strain of Victorian anxiety that ‘Dracula‘ as a novel carries is the threat of invasion from Russia and its Slavic client-states. ‘Dracula‘ was written not long after the Crimean conflict which pitted the Russian empire against the Western States. A lingering fear of the Russian invasion prevails after the conflict and finds its way into Stoker’s work.
Stoker’s Eastern European setting of Dracula’s homeland fits with this tension with Russia, as most people in Victorian England can relate to a Russian villain. Dracula’s scheming to acquire property in England first and master property laws, while also learning how to speak the language and pass off for a native reflects a careful invasive plan that speaks to the Victorian fears.
His arrival in England is akin to an invasion, and his initial successful attacks eschew these fears. The Crew of Light’s eventual triumph through grit, nobleness of heart, and resourcefulness reinforce the fighting spirit of people from that stock and highlights Western Europe’s manifest superiority once more.
Modern Science’s Assaults on Religion
‘Dracula’ was also published at a time when Darwin’s theory of evolution was in full sway and there was a tendency to disregard spiritual explanations for that of the spiritual. The Victorian anxiety over the decline of religion and spirituality typically inspires a pushback of sorts, and we can observe this at play in ‘Dracula‘.
While technologies like the phonograph, telegram, and diary-keeping help in defeating Dracula, the most important tools are religious, such as the stake and holy wafers. Dracula is an entity with supernatural powers that the most sophisticated of Human weapons cannot harm or destroy. But it takes seemingly little things like crosses and stakes to defeat him. This apparently serves as a warning to not completely disregard the religious and spiritual.
What are the predominant characteristics of the protagonists in ‘Dracula’?
The protagonists are noble, courageous, selfless, and prudish. They avoid all kinds of immorality and licentiousness.
What does Lucy’s transformation into a vampire represent?
Lucy’s transformation represents the threat of latent feelings of sexual licentiousness and immorality bursting onto the surface in Victorian England. This fear is a dominant theme in ‘Dracula’
What does Dracula’s arrival in England symbolize?
Dracula’s arrival from Eastern Europe symbolizes the threat of the invasion of Britain by Russia and its Slavic client-states.
Does Vampirism have racist undertones in ‘Dracula’?
Yes. The conscious decision to source vampirism away from ‘civilized’ western Europe, towards the ‘uncivilized’ Scandinavian heartland, advances the idea of it symbolizing the infestation of superior Europeans by the less intelligent “others” through racial mixing.