Abraham Bram Stoker Was Born English Literature Essay

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Abraham Bram Stoker was born in Ireland in 1847. Working as a freelance journalist and drama critic, he wrote unsuccessful short stories for many years before publishing Dracula - a gothic tale of a vampire Count, reflecting the society in which Stoker lived through symbolism and Christian imagery. Gothic fiction was exceptionally popular in the nineteenth century, utilizing the conventional gloomy castle, sublime landscape, and innocent damsel in distress threatened by an ineffable evil [3] . Stoker modernized the genre of Gothic literature by portraying the collision of two discordant worlds - the modern London in which Stoker himself lived, and the home of his villain, ancient Transylvania. This clash of time was used to shed light on the anxieties and concerns of his time period, warning readers against the dangers of female sexuality, the consequences of abandoning religion and traditional beliefs, the repercussions of scientific advancement, and the hope of Christian salvation. Dracula embodies the opinions held by late nineteenth century England, embracing the popular attitude towards sex, religion and science during the time period.

Dracula is composed of diary entries from each characters perspective. The first part of the novel is composed of entries written by Jonathan Harker, describing his imprisonment at Castle Dracula. Throughout the rest of the novel, there are diary entries from each character: Mina Murray, Dr. Seward, Van Helsing, Lucy Westenra and Arthur Holmwood. Newspaper clippings and memos are also present within the pages of Dracula. This epistolary style is used to create a sense of factual evidence for the reader to interpret. Reading from each characters diary allows the audience to feel the true emotions of each character, without hiding or withholding information as they may in conversation. When Mina describes her stay at Seward's asylum, she hides her true worry for her husband from her friends, but confides her feelings to her diary "I own that my heart began to fail me when the time for action came so close, but I did not say anything." [4] This literary technique allows the reader to plunge into the narrative and densely detailed scenes and experience their raw fear.

Written prior to the Women's Suffrage Movement, Dracula explores the sexual behaviour and socially acceptable behaviour of a woman, held tightly by society's rigid expectations. Lucy Westenra and Mina Harper, the two main female characters, are used to explore the dangers of female sexuality. Both women are essentially the embodiment of the ideal Victorian woman, with one main difference - Lucy falls prey to Dracula and embraces her sexuality, whereas Mina represses her sexuality and embraces the social ideas of a 'good' woman. Mina Murray is portrayed as the ultimate Victorian woman, praised throughout the novel by the male characters. Doctor Van Helsing, a philosopher, doctor, metaphysician and leader of the fight against Dracula remarks, "She is one of God's women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble…" [5] Mina is portrayed as the perfect wife to her husband, Jonathan Harker, and though they marry early on in the novel, she never mentions or acts on anything resembling a sexual desire or impulse.

The second female character, Lucy Westenra, is Mina's best friend. Lucy's physical beauty is noted many times throughout the novel, "Lucy was looking sweetly pretty," [6] . Her beauty is what is first remarked upon meeting her "Lucy met me at the station, looking sweeter and lovlier than ever." [7] For the most part, Lucy embraces the traditional conventions of the socially accepted Victorian woman. However, she displays an aspect of sexual desire that Mina does not. Lucy's physical beauty is what captivates each of her four suitors. She flirts and displays a level of comfort and playfulness with men that Mina never shows. Lucy laments to Mina, "Why can't they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?" [8] Voicing her inner desires, Lucy claims that her needs cannot be met by just one man. This insatiable hunger is amplified by Stoker when Lucy is turned into a vampire. Upon first seeing her in her vampire form, Jack Seward noted that "we recognized the features of Lucy Westenra. Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed. The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness." [9] Lucy had transformed from a respectable, pure and faithful woman into a 'voluptuous wanton'. Lucy's newfound sexuality stands as a dangerous threat to man. She must be destroyed before she seduces the men in her life, taking advantage of their tenuous self-control, corrupting and destroying men who are incapable of restraining themselves.

The fear instilled by Dracula is not just a fear of darkness and vampiric nature, but a fear of the loss of female innocence, a trait that was and is extremely valuable to men. If a woman is transformed into a vampire, her sexuality is released, granting her control and power over the men in her life. This power is demonstrated in the 'rape' of Harker. Dracula has three brides, the Weird Sisters, who participate in transforming and feeding on humans and in unleashing female sexuality. Young Jonathan Harker, sent to Transylvania to complete a real-estate transaction with Count Dracula, is quickly held captive by his once-thought-hospitable host. Exploring the nature of his captivity, Harker stumbles upon three of Dracula's brides. Dracula's brides overpower Harker and take on the dominating role that was reserved for the Victorian man. Harker is forced into the submissive role; succumbing to the seductive qualities of these undead temptresses and he becomes unable to resist his overpowering lust. Harker is both aroused and disgusted, with a primitive longing to satisfy his "burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips" [10] . This challenges his stature as a respectable Victorian man and husband; one who should be considerate of his fiancée and repulsed by the thought of adultery.

The vampire then leaned over Harker, as if to kiss him. Harker notes that "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." [11] Women who embrace their sexuality become animalistic - primitive, vile, vicious temptresses - and will convince even the most faithful men to indulge in the sublime lust they create. Populations had been taught this theory of female sexuality for decades; it was Eve's sinful ways that convinced Adam to fall into sin, and thus it is the fault of woman that man was expelled from Eden. If Victorian women embrace their sexuality, who is to say it would not lead to the end of mankind?

The idea of female sexuality was gaining momentum as was the idea of the 'new woman' - a woman who was 'intelligent, educated, emancipated, independent and self-supporting.' [12] The idea of free women, liberated from the legal, economic, social and political restrictions that had been previously inhibited them, brought concerns to many Victorian men. Mina Murray was the embodiment of the 'new woman' and the Victorian Woman, embracing the best qualities of both. After being bitten by Dracula, Mina was not a helpless damsel in distress; in fact Mina worked just as hard as her male counterparts in order to destroy him. Dracula often attempted to control Mina's mind, the way he had with Lucy Westenra, but Mina's will-power was strong enough to hold true to her moral values and fight him off. Mina sympathized with the progressive 'new woman' of England, but remained the goddess of the conservative male fantasy. Mina was without a doubt resourceful and intelligent, conducting extensive research that lead Van Helsing and his team to the Count. She acted as a dutiful wife and mother, "We women have something of the mother in us that makes us rise above smaller matters when the mother spirit is invoked." [13] , and although she is successful she always allows the men in her life to come first and take credit for her work.

The story of Dracula revolves around Mina's purity after she is bitten, the central conflict being if she will turn into a seductress vampire, like her friend Lucy Westenra, or remain a respectful and pure wife. Mina remained strong, and thus did not fall victim to the evil ways of Dracula. Mina Murray portrays what Stoker viewed as the perfect balance between tradition and modernity, while maintaining her role as a Victorian woman.

During a time when modernity, feminism and science began to intrude into the consciousness and concerns of Victorian society, a parallel movement towards old faith and superstitions was sparked. Count Dracula appears to embody the world of archaic customs and beliefs, which is triumphed by Van Helsing's band of modern-day scientists and civilized men. Van Helsing was a Dutch professor, described as a 'philosopher and metaphysician and one of the most advanced scientists of his day.' [14] Van Helsing was called upon to cure Lucy Westenra when she fell ill. However, Lucy was not sick from the flu or a known disease - she had fallen victim to Dracula. Unlike his comrades, Van Helsing was not blinded by the limitations and practices of Western medicine: he realized he could not treat the victims of Dracula with new science and reason. Van Helsing became the chief antagonist in hunting and destroying Dracula. Through Van Helsing, the reader sees that the modern world triumphs over the ancient. The relationship between science and superstition, or faith however, is not one of binary opposites. Bram Stoker portrays the extremes of both ideas in a similar light, and he offers science as the evolutionary successor to faith. Van Helsing serves as the paradigm for the equilibrium maintained between the fragile two worlds, as the sole professor, consultant and expert, as he attempts to perpetuate, reproduce, and teach his model of belief to others.

The end of the nineteenth century marked a time of drastic change in English and European society. The systems of belief that had previously governed its citizens were now being challenged by advances in science such as Darwin's theory of evolution, which called into question the validity of long-held sacred religious doctrines. European society experienced great changes - social, political and economic - in a short period of time, changing from a mainly agrarian society due to the Industrial Revolution. Stoker begins Dracula in a ruined castle, traditional to Gothic literary style, and a setting that demonstrates the book's traditional and ancient roots. He then moves the setting to Victorian London, where the advancements of technology are in full swing. These advancements allow Dracula to pray upon England with much more ease, like his use of trains. With this change of setting, the stamp of modernity becomes evident immediately: Dr. Seward, a member of Van Helsing's crew and one of Lucy Westenra's suitors, records his diary via phonograph. Mina Murray practices typewriting and the other characters frequently communicate through telegram and use the train. All of the characters have willingly embraced modern technology, greeting progress, technological advancement and change with open arms. Stoker contrasts their embracement of technology with the continuous practices of traditional beliefs by the peasants of Transylvania, whom Harker sees at the roadsides blessing one another against "Ordog" (Satan) and the "Vlkoslak" (Vampire) [15] at their roadside shrines. These advancements are what Stoker finds responsible for the ease that the count preys upon English society. Advances in science have caused England to dismiss the reality and possibility of superstitions, such as vampires, that seek to undo their society.

Harker quickly grew uncomfortable at Castle Dracula, noting that "unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere 'modernity' cannot kill." [16] This quote describes Stoker's views of modernity and tradition in a nutshell. He believes that the power of the 'old centuries', or traditions of ancient times, cannot be overrun or bettered by modernity. Through the use of trains, phonographs and telegrams in Dracula, Stoker demonstrates his deep belief in the advancement of technology - but he also warns us that the abandonment of tradition can have consequences. When Lucy Westenra is bitten by Dracula, neither Mina nor Dr. Seward - who are both devotees of modern advancement - are able to guess the cause of Lucy's state. John Seward is a talented young doctor, formerly Van Helsing's pupil; however it is Dr. Van Helsing himself who is able to discover the true cause of Lucy's ailment. Van Helsing, who is knowledgeable in the field of modern medicine and still holds an open and respectful mind to ancient legends and non-Western remedies, is capable of understanding Lucy's affliction. Stoker is insinuating that if everyone greets modernity - technology, medicine and ideologies - with open arms and completely forgets the traditional methods, society will be at a loss. Dracula and his castle represent the past, riddled with tradition and superstition. Great Britain represents Stoker's time period, where technology and science was beginning to flourish. Stoker, although embracing the positive aspects of modern technology, demonstrates their failures: the blood transfusion fail to save Lucy's life, and a glitch in the telegraph system stops Seward from getting Van Helsing's message in time to rush to Lucy's aid. Van Helsing and his crew must question their previously immovable faith in science, logic and technology in order to defeat Dracula. The men first must accept the possibility of the legendary vampire, and learn ancient traditions and superstitions. Stoker illustrates that the eventual reliance on science and electronics will eliminate the need for human thought, a latent fear of mechanization and dehumanization prevalent in many works of the period.

To this day, the relationship between modern science, religion and superstition exists in an uneasy tension [17] . Bram Stoker's Dracula depicts the extremes of each - the blind faith of the religious and non-religious superstitions and the dogmatic acceptance of science - as either negative or simply unproductive. Stoker strives to demonstrate the importance of maintaining a balance between the two. Both science and superstition have the ability of creating devoted followers, fueling the perpetuation of extremist views and becoming a danger to society. This fear is a prevalent today as it was in 19th century England. The ability to adapt to the modern world, while maintain historical and superstitious roots will aid in solving all problems.

Van Helsing utilizes legends and traditional weapons in his fight against Dracula, suggesting that the most effective weapons in combatting such unworldly evil are things that symbolize goodness, purity and wholeness. In the fight against Dracula, these symbols take on the form of the icons of Christian faith. The crucifix, Eucharist, communion wafer, and holy water are explicit throughout the story. Dracula himself stands satanic in his appearance - pointed ears, fangs, flaming red eyes, and his consumption of blood. The Victorian age was the time of both the rise and fall of religion. When religious activity was at its peak, it infused all aspects of life. Towards the end of the century, while Stoker wrote Dracula, society had experienced a shift in morale and many were experiencing a crisis in faith and religion, attributed to the publication of many scientific works such as Darwin's Origin of Species. [18] 

'Darwinian' science shattered the alliance between science and religion. The people of Victorian England began to question what would be their salvation: religion or science? Dracula explores the idea of Christian salvation and faith. Stoker proudly describes Christian beliefs and iconography as what saves his characters from the satanic Dracula, demonstrating the importance of Christian faith. Christian beliefs and practices are portrayed as what saved the characters' lives. Jonathan Harker transitions throughout Dracula from an ordinary Englishman to recommitted devout Christian, with a newfound respect for God. Many of the characters pray to God or exclaim in moments of terror - "Great God! Merciful God, let me be calm, for out of that way lies madness indeed!", "God grant that we may be guided aright, and that He will deign to watch over my husband and those dear to us both, and who are in such deadly peril." In the end of the novel, Mina, Jonathan and Van Helsing survive. Christian icons sheltered and preserved them in the face of moral and spiritual peril.

The devices used to keep Dracula at bay and protect the members of Van Helsing's party are symbols of Christianity. In the beginning of the novel, while Jonathon Harker is travelling to Dracula's castle, he encounters many Transylvanian 'gypsies' who warn him of Dracula and try to protect him with iconic gifts - one woman gives him a crucifix to "" (11). The crucifix, or cross, is a common icon of Christian faith symbolizing the belief that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. The crucifix is believed to protect its wearer from evil. Later in the novel, communion wafers are used to ward off Dracula and his brides. Communion wafers, the eucharist, or the host represent the body of Christ - wafers that have been blessed by a priest. Van Helsing, as a Roman Catholic, believes that these wafers are the body of Christ. The body of Christ protects Van Helsing and his party from evil and repels Dracula and his brides. Through this symbolism, Stoker describes how God will protect his faithful adherents from danger and evil.

Lucy Westenra is not so lucky. She falls prey to Dracula early in the novel and is condemned to be a damned soulless creature. She preys on helpless children and seeks to convert others into Dracula's coven. Those who have fallen victim to Dracula are cursed with an eternal but soulless physical life. When Van Helsing and his men kill Lucy, they are attempting to restore her to a pure state - a death conforming to the Christian promise of salvation. Lucy is transformed by her second death back into a vision of "unequalled sweetness and purity". This idea of Christian salvation through a holy death is so strong that even Dracula himself assumes "a look of peace, such as [Mina] never could have imaged might have rested there." This demonstrates Stoker's idea that no one is beyond redemption, only the evil are barred from the gates of Heaven. Yet through death, all are granted the peace of salvation.

Dracula is more than a simple tale of good versus evil. Stoker has constructed a story that deals with the complex themes and anxieties of eighteenth century England. Though at first glance, Dracula is a simple horror novel about a vampire wreaking havoc upon England and a group of friends fighting for their survival, in actuality Dracula is expressing Stoker's personal opinions on the major concerns of society at the time. Stoker brings his villain into eighteenth century London to explore these concerns.

Dracula describes the power of Christian Salvation through the use of iconic symbols, the dangers of female sexuality through voluptuous undead women, and modernity through a clash of traditional and modern medical practices. After scientific works such as The Origin of Species were published, and the rising of the Women's Suffrage Movement began to gain power, and the most precious social ideologies were examined under harsh light. Bram Stoker lived in a period of transition - making Dracula a reflective piece of literature that delves into the fears and paranoia of this society.