Victorian versus Vampire
The Victorian Era was the period in which Queen Victoria ruled the United Kingdom, starting around the mid-19th Century and spanning to 1901. This period is considered to be a time of reform for England, as British values such as sexual restraint, low crime tolerance and a strict social code of conduct were developed. In 1897, near the end of the Victorian era, the Irish author Bram Stroker’s novel “Dracula” was published. The novel would go on to become one of the defining texts of the modern vampire mythology, but the work can also be read as a commentary on Victorian society. “Dracula” sets up two binary worlds, or systems of order, between England—the Victorian—and Transylvania—the “Vamiric.” Throughout Stroker’s novel, the Vampiric order is constantly resisting and opposing the order of the English and their strongly held Victorian values.
The first section of the novel is made up of the journal entries of Englishman Jonathan Harker, who is a recently promoted solicitor traveling through Transylvania to meet with the Count Dracula. Jonathan is assisting Dracula in the purchase of property in England. During this section, Stroker sets up these two differing systems of order—Jonathan obviously represents the fine, cultured Englishman; and the common Transylvanian folk and Dracula represent the Vampiric. Though the common Transylvanians are not vampires themselves, their culture still directly differs from that of the English, as Jonathan notes their clothing (which is strange to him) as well as their superstitious nature. While Jonathan is assumingly of the protestant faith, the Transylvanians seem to be more in line with the devout Catholic faith as they are constantly crossing themselves in concern for Jonathan’s safety and well-being. One woman even gives Jonathan a crucifix to wear around his neck, which at first he feels to be slightly ridiculous but eventually becomes comforted by. “I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind” (p.18). Here Jonathan almost seems to even look down on such traditions, which seem superstitious to such a reasonable English nobleman. This perhaps shows a feeling of superiority in the Victorian order, even an underestimation of the Vampiric order, as Jonathan accepts the crucifix to simply humor the Transylvanian woman. As Jonathan travels deeper into the Transylvanian country toward Dracula’s castle, he begins to realize more and more that he is no longer in familiar English territory, and the strangeness of Transylvania begins to overwhelm him, such as the creepy driver of the caleche taking him to the castle, as well as the supernatural blue flames appearing throughout the forest. Up until this point, I think we can see these two systems of order, the Victorian and the Vampiric, just rubbing against one another, so to speak. However, during Jonathan’s stay at the castle, we begin witnessing these two systems beginning to directly collide and interact with each other. During this section, Stroker begins to use the Vampiric order in a way that upsets the gender and sexual roles of the Victorian order. Through his interactions with Dracula, Jonathan begins to become emasculated by the vampire. Jonathan is locked in the castle and unable to leave. This shows Dracula’s dominance over Jonathan, even telling him has free reign of the castle except for areas behind locked doors, which seem to be most of them. This seems parallel with the order of the Victorian housewife, whose role was to pretty much stay at home, raise the children and perform other good womanly deeds. Dracula’s order directly upsets this by placing a male, Jonathan, into this stay-at-home role. However, it is even further complicated in that we soon realize there are no servants...
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