How Does a Marxist Reading of Dracula Open Up Meaning?

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Unremarkable though it may seem, to affirm the obvious truism that Bram Stoker’s Dracula originates from a century that historians often describe as the most significant in terms of revolutionary ideology, whilst wishing to avoid the clichéd view held, it is undeniable that the more one delves into the depths of this novel the greater wealth of meaning demonstrates significant correlation with Marxist ideology. The 19th Century saw the emergence of revolutionary socialist Karl Marx, who himself used the vampire metaphor to describe the capitalist system as ‘dead labour which, vampire like, lives only by sucking living labour’. Through Stoker’s opulent use of narrative structure, use of setting and imagery, this novel presents a multiple of different readings, which supports Marxist ideologies, opening up the ideas of a class struggle - with the Western bourgeoisie defending themselves against a threat on their capital from the feudal East, the idea of exploitation of the working class, aspiration to move further up on the capitalist system, the concept of false consciousness and the idea of freewill.

The fragmented epistolary structure of the narrative adds to the feel of two systems dominating the narrative, the feudal East and the capitalist West being pitted against each other in a brutal fight for survival. The Western capitalists, which are represented through Van Helsig and the crew of light, and is further reiterated through their titles ‘Doctor’ Van Helsig, ‘Doctor’ Seward, Jonathan Harker, the ‘solicitor’, and Quincy Morris, who is described as ‘well educated’ tell Dracula primarily through a collection of diary entries, letters and telegrams. However, feudal lord Dracula is never given a voice himself. Dracula is, as Karl Marx describes, a form of capital which sucks the life from the proletariat working class.

Stoker’s use of setting, establishes two differing societies, each representing part of the capitalist system. Stoker establishes a nineteenth century feudal system in Eastern Europe – Transylvania, which is considered to be technologically backwards, represented through their ‘late trains’ and how their country does not have its own map in the British museum. The country’s feudal state is further endorsed by their population, with ‘gypsies’ and ‘peasants’ making up the class structure, Stoker’s characterisation of ‘Count’ Dracula, sees him represented as aristocracy. The other society Stoker establishes is the technologically advanced Western Europe and is further reiterated through the use of advanced equipment, a type writer and a phonogram, set in London which is the centre of the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century. More significantly Victorian Britain represents a capitalist society, the inevitable stage following feudalism, with Transylvania representing the fear of regressing back to that earlier stage of capital. Stoker’s use of setting assists in setting up a main theme of the novel – a class struggle. However, not between the middle class and working class society where the proletariat would attempt to rise up and overthrow the bourgeoisie, but rather between the capitalist bourgeoisie and Dracula’s character as a monopolist. Dracula does not represent capital itself, but a certain form of capital, emerging in the 1890’s – monopoly capital. Marxist critic Franco Moretti describes Dracula as ‘a true monopolist; solitary and despotic, he will not brook competition.’ Dracula worked in relation to bourgeoisie fears of domination from above - from a monopolistic Dracula.

Throughout the novel, Stoker explores central features of a Feudal system. During the scene with the vampire women, the Count pulls away the women, telling them: ‘beware how you meddle with him, or you’ll have to deal with me’. This could simply be the Count saving Harker from the fate the vampire women have for him, however, with Stoker’s characterisation of Dracula already in mind, one would suggest otherwise....
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