bram stoker – dracula (notes)


Bram Stoker (1847-1912)
Abraham Stoker, after a period of weak health as a boy, graduated with honours in Mathematics and became president of the Philosophical Society and the Historical Society. Deeply interested in the Romantic poets, Stoker also became an enthusiastic theatergoer and an ardent admirer and friend of the actor Henry Irving, writing remarkable reviews of his works for the local papers. Probably Henry Irving became an important model for the character of Count Dracula. The writer became a regular guest of the literary and artistic circle of Lady Wilde, Oscar Wilde’s mother and competed with Oscar Wilde for the hand of Florence Balcombe, a beautiful young actress who chose Bram. The two got married in 1878, the same year he left for London with a new job as the business manager of Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre. Stoker continued to work faithfully and tirelessly for Henry Irving until the actor’s death in 1906.This loss caused Stoker a stroke, but he continued to write fiction and do newspaper-work until his death in 1912.
Among his works are
The Primrose Path (1875) about a honest Dublin theatrical carpenter who moves to London, and after several misfortunes is strongly tempted by alcohol; The Snake’s Pass (1890), a troubled romance between an English landlord and an inexpert Celtic peasant that shows the contemporary political climate in Ireland; The Jewel of the Seven Stars (1903), a horror novel about an archaeologist’s plot to revive Queen Tera, an ancient Egyptian mummy; The Lady of the Shroud (1909), a utopian tale about technological and political progress in Eastern Europe; Lair of the White Worm (or The Garden of Evil,1911), a horror novel partly based on the legend of the Lambton Worm (adapted into a film by Ken Russell in 1988)

Dracula (1897)

Plot – Late nineteenth century. Jonathan Harker, a young English lawyer, is travelling to the Castle Dracula, in Transylvania, in order to transfer a real estate in England to Count Dracula. The local peasants are afraid when he asks news about the castle. Nevertheless, he continues on to the castle until he meets an emissary of the Count who drives him to destination. Count Dracula to be a pale, thin man, rather strange, and soon he finds himself imprisoned within the castle and assailed by three seductive female vampires. Harker also discovers the Count’s secret : he survives by drinking the blood of human beings and wants to kill Harker. The Count escapes Jonathan’s attempt to kill him, and he swiftly leaves the castle with fifty boxes of earth, bound for England. Jonathan Harker is weak and sick, left alone with no possibility escape from the castle.
Meanwhile in England- Harker’s fiancée, Mina Murray, is visiting her friend Lucy Westenra, who has accepted the marriage proposal of Arthur Holmwood, while rejecting the proposals of Dr. John Seward, head of a lunatic asylum, and Quincey Morris, an American from Texas. Lucy has the habit of sleepwalking, and Mina is worried about her fiancé, Jonathan. One night while the two women are out walking, they see a strange ship which wrecks on the beach; the only creature which survives is an enormous dog, which quickly disappears. The ship is carrying fifty boxes of earth from the Castle Dracula. One night Mina is shocked to see Lucy with a tall, thin, black shape on her but when she arrives at Lucy’s side the shape has disappeared. The day after Lucy remembers nothing but she feels very cold and Mina sees two tiny red marks on Lucy’s neck. On successive nights, Lucy is often seen with a large bird, a bat. Lucy’s health declines and Dr. Seward, can’t understand the cause. Meanwhile Jonathan comes back and Mina leaves Lucy and goes to look after him. Dr. Seward finds asks his old friend and mentor, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, to help Mina. Van Helsing thinks that it is necessary to give Lucy numerous blood transfusions, and she improves significantly, only to deteriorate quickly in the next couple of days. Van Helsing decides to cover Lucy’s room and her neck, with garlic, a technique used to keep vampires away. However the vampire attacks Lucy again: a wolf enters Lucy’s room, first attacks Lucy’s mother that dies of shock, and then Lucy. Van Helsing knows that Lucy is near death and calls her fiancé, Arthur Holmwood, but Lucy, whose canine teeth have become strangely lengthened, attempts to attack Arthur with her canine teeth. After Lucy’s death, the papers report a strange Lady who attacks young children in the area. Van Helsing, and Dr. Seward open Lucy’s coffin. In the meantime, Mina and Jonathan have been married, and they return to England. Mina shows Jonathan’s diary of his journey in Transylvania, to Van Helsing. Van Helsing then calls all of Lucy’s ex-suitors together, and he explains to them that Lucy has been bitten by a vampire and has become one herself. The only way to save her soul, he says, is to put a wooden stake through her heart, cut off her head and stuff it with garlic. Now Jonathan, Mina, Dr. Seward, Van Helsing, Holmwood, and Quincey Morris begin a search for the Count and also for the fifty boxes of earth which he brought with him to England. Soon after the search begins, Van Helsing realizes that a terrible change in Mina. They finally discover and destroy all of the fifty boxes except one, which they learn has been sent by ship back to Dracula’s castle. They follow Dracula to Castle Dracula by a group of gypsies. They overcome the gypsies, open the box to the ground, and discover the body of the Count. Jonathan cuts off the vampire’s head, while Morris drives his knife into the Count’s heart. The Count himself disintegrate and Quincey Morris, having been wounded by the gypsies in an attempt to retrieve the box, dies of a mortal wound, and so the novel ends.

Sources– Vampire legends have been a part of popular folklore in many parts of the world since ancient times. The Dracula family, described by Stoker is based on a real fifteenth-century family. Vlad Dracula—or Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia, was a notoriously savage and violent general who impaled his enemies on long spikes. Stoker’s Count Dracula is a descendant of Vlad, and not the prince himself, but he is very similar to his terrifying ancestor. Stoker uses also the conventions of Gothic fiction, including elements such as gloomy castles, transcendent landscapes, and innocent maidens threatened by villains. Stoker portrays the collision of two disparate worlds—Transylvania and London—showing the contradictions of his times: scientific advancement, abandoning traditional beliefs, dangers of female sexuality. Dracula remains a fascinating study of popular attitudes toward sex, religion, and science at the end of the nineteenth century.

Count Dracula – Late in the novel, when Dracula escapes from Van Helsing and company at his Piccadilly house, the count declares, “My revenge is just begun!” : he is determined to regain his family’s lost power and subject the world to his own dark, brutal vision.

Van Helsing – the old doctor is an experienced, competent man, a well-matched adversary to the count. He is a philosopher, and metaphysician, which represent modern methods of Western medicine, and knowledge of superstitions and folk remedies. Unlike his former pupil, Dr. Seward who only belives in modern techniques, he is between two distinct worlds, the old and the new: the tradition, and the modern progress. After defeating Dracula, he departs as he arrived: morally righteous and religiously committed.

Mina Murray – Mina Murray is the ultimate Victorian woman, the embodiment of the virtues of the age. She is not particularly beautiful , she never shows sexual desire or impulse, and retains her purity.

Lucy Westenra – Like Lucy Mina is a paragon of virtue and innocence, but she differs from her friend as she is sexualized. Lucy’s physical beauty attracts her suitors, and she plays with them. She is as a dangerous threat to men and their weak self-control, for this reason she must be destroyed. Once dead, Lucy has again a look of purity on her face that assures men that the world and its women are exactly as they should be.

Jonathan Harker – A solicitor, or lawyer, sent to Transylvania to conclude a real estate transaction with Dracula. Young and naïve, Harker shows a furious curiosity to discover the true nature of his captor and a strong will to escape and emerges as a brave and fearless fighter.

Commentary
The end of the nineteenth century brought radical developments and English society stated questioning its belief. Examples are Darwin’s theory of evolution, and the Industrial Revolution which brought profound economic and social change to the previously agrarian England. the contrast between old and modrn is shown in the setting: the novels starts in a Gothic, ruined castle, but the action takes place in modern Victorian London,; the new modern scientific theories do not understand Lucy’s problems, while Van Helsing who still believes in tradition can understand Lucy’s affliction. Without an understanding of history the world is left terribly vulnerable when history inevitably repeats itself.

Stoker indulges on female sexuality. Victorian women had to follow its society’s extremely rigid expectations and they had only two choices being virgins or wives and mothers. Otherwise she was seen as a whore. In Dracula the battle between good and evil hinges on female sexuality. Both Lucy and Mina are chaste, pure, innocent and devoted to their men. But Dracula attempts their virtue to turn them into their opposites, into women noted for their voluptuousness . and he succeeds with Lucy and the only solution for men is t destroy her in order to return her to a purer, more socially respectable state. After Lucy’s transformation, the men keep a careful eye on Mina; as a matter of facts the men fear for nothing less than their own safety. The count embodies what men have been afraid of since Adam and Eve were turned out of Eden: women’s desires can tempts them and make them fall from grace. The three beautiful vampires Harker encounters in Dracula’s castle, the weird sisters, embody both the dream and the nightmare of the Victorian male imagination in general; they represent Victorian women should not be—voluptuous and sexually aggressive—as their beauty is both a promise of sexual fulfillment and a curse.
The stake pulled into Lucy’s heart kills the demon she has become and make her go back to the state of purity and innocence, but the description of the act is sexual : Lucy is punished because she is a vampire but mainly because she has accepted the vampire’s seduction, as Dracula attacks only willing victims.

Also the name of the ship that carries Dracula back to his homeland is meaningful as The Czarina Catherine was a Russian empress notorious for her -promiscuity.

The novel is also very invested in the strength and power of Christian symbols. Dracula stands as a satanic figure, as to his appearance—pointed ears, fangs, and flaming eyes—and as to his consumption of blood. Those who fall under the count’s spell are cursed with physical life that is eternal but soulless. Each cursed woman meets a death that conforms to the Christian promise of salvation.

Connected to these vision blood assumes various functions in the novel: count Dracula speaks about bloody wars; later, it suggests the exchange of bodily fluids associated with sexual intercourse; the vampires’ drinking of blood echoes the Christian rite of Communion, but instead of drinking wine symbolizing human blood, Dracula drinks blood to extend his physical evil life. The battle between Van Helsing’s warriors and the count echoes a holy war or crusade.

The use of handwritten accounts, of the principal characters, letters along with fictional newspaper and telegrams, gives an air of authenticity to an otherwise fantastic story. besides this puzzlelike structure creates considerable suspense.

Adaptations

  • Dracula, 1931, directed by Tod Browning starring the famnous horror films actor Bela Lugosi
  • Dracula: Prince of Darkness, 1966, by teence Fisher, starring another icon of horror movies, Christopher Lee.
  • Dracula, 1992, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder , Anthony Hopkins and Keanu Reeves
  • Van Helsing , 2004, by Stephen Sommers starring Hugh Jackman

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