The Darker Side of Dracula

Whilst Dracula has become a much beloved part of culture, what is overlooked by popular culture is the darker themes within the novel.  Bram Stoker’s novel is a prime example of British imperialist and racist views. Dracula, is very much a text of its time, and is concerned with reverse colonisation. Reverse colonisation deals with the idea of the coloniser becoming the colonised. Indeed, Stoker’s novel is indicative of British anxieties at the close of the 19thcentury, which saw the steady decline of the British Empire. Dracula is a prime example of the idea of West vs East ideology that was brutally enforced and believed in the 19thcentury and even today. Edward Said states that “Oriental” is essentially a word to describe from the Western imagination that the East are backwards, ‘incapable of self-rule, cruel, bloodthirsty.’ (Tchaprazov) It seems as though Dracula encapsulates all the aspects of the Orient from the East.

romanian-peasant-19th-century
Romanian Peasants fromt the 19th Century, http://www.folkwearsociety.com/knowledge/history

Stoker use of Transylvania is purposeful and not merely a fleeting pick, for Stoker those who live in Transylvania were ‘open for literary exploitation.’ (Tchaprazov, p.532) During the nineteenth century there was a long-standing anxiety surrounding the East, these anxieties included anti-Slavism and anti-gyspy narratives that appear within Stoker’s novel. It is no mistake that Dracula is from Transylvania the home of multiple ethnic groups which were feared by the British, from the start the reader is aware that they are ‘bad’ and to be feared- the involvement of the Slovaks and Gypsies in providing help for Dracula feeds the xenophobic narrative within the novel- by helping the Count they are directly challenging the British and West itself, a foreign threat.

It should be stated, that whilst Stoker based aspects of his novel within Transylvania, he never once visited. Stoker obtained most of his ideas and information from the nineteenth century travel writing that was extremely popular in Victorian time. Indeed, what was known about Transylvania was based on the orient- the British saw Transylvania as being part of the vexed Eastern idea. The narrative of the nineteenth century travel writing that inspired Stoker represents ethnic groups that were in Transylvania in terms of racial otherness, as Stoker describes:

‘The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who are more barbarian than the rest, with their big cowboy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers…and had long black hair and heavy black moustaches. On stage they would be set down at once as some old Oriental band of brigands. They are; however, I am told, very harmless and rather wanting in natural self-assertion.’ (Stoker, p.2)

As this extract from Draculaindicates, Stoker uses Harker’s journal from his travels as a kind of travel narrative that were so popular in the nineteenth century, and in Harker’s description of the Slovaks ‘reads like a manual for nineteenth-century British imperialist biases about the native people from the colonies.’ (Tchaprazov, p.525) Being so culturally opposite to the West and already being a part of British fears of the East with anti-Slavism, they seem to fit perfectly as being Dracula’s servant both strong and able to protect and yet weak due to their ability to be easily controlled. Indeed, the same can be said for Stoker’s exploitation of Gypsies within the novel they are described as being outside the law whilst also being a parasite to the hard work of others.romanian-principalities-moldavia-transylvania-vallachia-1856-18591

The racial otherness of the Eastern Dracula, the Slovaks, and Gypsies from the Western Englishman, Danish man, and American is important. The East in Stoker’s novel are seen as others, working for evil, and it is for this reason that they have been lamented as the Crew of Darkness, whilst their western counter parts are seen as the Crew of Light. It is hard to dismiss the blatant racism that is at the centre of such lamentations. The Crew of Light represent the West and western ideals, they believe themselves to be carrying out their moral duty to protect not merely Britain but the West itself from the evils from the east. By Stoker bringing the Crew of Darkness and the Crew of Light together in head to head battle, it represents the tensions that have captivated the East and West. It should not be overlooked that the Crew of Light are able to defeat the Crew of Darkness despite the huge odds against them and this is indicative of Stoker’s and much more generally the British’s understanding of their own superiority over the East.

It is not merely racist undertones that are present throughout Stoker’s Dracula, but there is also a distinct imperialist narrative that can be seen through the character of Dracula and the two central women within the novel, Mina and Lucy. Throughout the novel, it is Dracula’s threat of invading Britain and thereby tainting the British ‘purity’ through his vampirism. Dracula seems to focus his attacks on women, from his three vampires ‘wives’ at Castle Dracula, to his insistent pursuit of both Lucy and Mina. Judith Halberstam states that Dracula is a ‘master parasite’ (Halberstam, p.341) that would give the opportunity feed upon English wealth and the health of the those around him. Halberstam goes further within the imperialist rhetoric of the threat that Britain faced from Dracula, ‘Vampires are precisely a race and a family that weakens the stock of Englishness by passing on degeneracy and the disease of blood lust.’ (Halberstam, p.340) Stoker coincides this threat of ‘Vampirism’ with the feeling of decline within the British empire; there was an eroding ‘Victorian confidence in the inevitability of British progress and hegemony.’ (Arata, p.622) By combing such anxieties it makes the threat from the colonised become real, Dracula represents that threat, thereby linking ‘racial strife, the collapse of empire and vampirism.’ (Arata, p.626)

 

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Bibliography

 

Arata, Stephen D., ‘The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonisation’, Victorian Studies, vol. 33 (1990), pp. 621-625

Bacon, Simon, ‘Exactly the Same but Completely Different: The Evolution of Bram Stoker’s Dracula from Page to Screen’, Journal of South Texas English Studies, Vol. 2 (2010), pp.1-14

Buzwell, Greg, ‘Dracula: Vampires, Perversity and Victorian Anxiety’, The British Library, at https://www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/dracula (accessed 10/03/2018)

Francis Ford Coppola, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Columbia Pictures, 1992

Halberstam, Judith, ‘Technologies of Monstrosity: Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, Victorian Studies, vol. 36 (1993)

Manea, Dragos, ‘A Wolf’s Eye View of London: Dracula, Penny Dreadful, and the Logic of Repetition’, Critical Survey, vol. 28 (2016), pp.40-51

McKee, Patricia, ‘Radicalisation, Capitalism, and Aesthetics in Stoker’s Dracula’, Novel: A Forum on Fiction, vol. 36 (2002), pp. 42-60

Richards, Leah, ‘Mass Production and the Spread of Information in Dracula: “Proofs of so wild a story”, English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, vol. 52 (2009), p.440

Stoker, Bram, Dracula, revised edn., London: Penguin Books, 2003

Swartz- Levine, Jennifer, ‘Staking Salvation: The Reclamation of the Monstrous Female in Dracula’, The Midwest Quarterly, vol. 26 (2016), pp.345- 361

Tchaprazov, Stoyan, ‘The Slovaks and Gypsies of Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Vampires in Human Flesh, English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, vol. 58 (2015), pp. 523-535

Todd, Macy, ‘What Bram Stoker’s Dracula Reveals about Violence’, vol. 58 (2015), pp. 361- 384

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gothicliteratureandme

I am a 20 year old third year student at the University of Greenwich, studying History and English Literature. This site is dedicated to my Literature of the Gothic course, for my final project.

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