Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Although inspired by previous stories, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is an acclaimed piece of work in vampire fiction, in which the author details Jonathan Harker’s encounter with the notorious Count Dracula, and the attempts Harker and his acquaintances take in an effort to kill him. Throughout the novel, Stoker relies heavily on the implementation of multiple Gothic Elements in order to create a sense of fear, anguish, excitement, and suspense within his audience. For example, Stoker focuses on providing a specific atmosphere throughout his novel, so he utilizes the aspect of mystery, suspense, visions, portents, overwrought emotions, and supernatural events. Ultimately, the elements utilized within this tale are key points that contribute heavily in classifying Dracula as a piece of Gothic Literature.
In regard to Stoker’s efforts in building and sustaining a specific atmosphere, the setting choices by Stoker play a huge part in effectively creating a sense of mystery, suspense, gloom and terror throughout the novel. Although the novel has multiple setting changes, nearly all of them contain traditional Gothic Elements. For example, when describing the surroundings of Dracula’s castle in Transylvania, the text states, “The castle is on the very edge of a terrible precipice. A stone falling from the window would fall a thousand feet without touching anything! As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests” (Stoker 22). This demonstrates that the castle is completely isolated from and surrounding towns, and with it being located in far off Eastern Europe, the castle is therefore an incredibly mysterious place for Harker, where normal conventions and logic do not apply.
Furthermore, through the implementation of multiple warnings from superstitious locals, mysterious nocturnal noises, and the howling of wolves, the audience is thoroughly on edge by the time Harker first reaches Dracula’s castle. This leads to Harker having to adapt to Dracula’s nocturnal habits as the routines of day and night are reversed, thus making the nighttime the primary setting for the story. Subsequently, this reversal adds to the atmosphere because nighttime is traditionally the hour at which most supernatural events occur. This is particularly true in Stoker’s novel due to the fact that Dracula is nowhere near as deadly during the day as he is at night. Additionally, although they are not depicted in such vivid detail as the castle, the Carfax estate, Dr. Seward’s lunatic asylum, and Whitby Abbey are also a part of Dracula and all resemble the stereotypical Gothic setting. For example, the Carfax estate is described as permeating an evil odor, lunatic asylums are conventionally places of imprisonment, and Whitby Abbey “is highly reminiscent of the corrupt monasteries and convents which were an essential part of the novels of Anne Radcliffe, Matthew Lewis, and Charles Robert Maturin” (Gow). Ultimately, as Stoker ties the elements of his setting into the atmosphere of the novel, the atmosphere develops into a terrifying place where the reader is entirely on edge.
Another factor that affects Stoker’s desired atmosphere is portrayed through the technique of writing the novel as an epistolary piece. Through journal entries, letters, and newspaper articles, Stoker is able to create a more believable and authentic story. However, despite the fact that the novel revolves around Dracula and his actions, his point of view is omitted from the story. Hence, making his character all the more frightening and mysterious due to the fact that the reader does not know what to expect from him. Furthermore, the reason this specific style of writing adds to the novel’s believability, and contributes heavily to the gloom, horror, anxiety, and realism of the piece lies within the fact that the idea of a discovered journal filled with multiple harrowing entries is pervasive throughout a number of Gothic stories.
Concerning the Gothic Element of visions and portents, the most obvious piece of evidence Stoker has included in his novel is seen within Mina Harker’s connection to Dracula towards the end of the novel. After being bitten by Dracula, Mina develops a telepathic link to him in which she is seemingly able to connect to the vampire’s spirit and witness exactly what Dracula does. Henceforth, with Mina’s consent, Van Helsing is able to hypnotize her and therefore obtain information on Dracula’s whereabouts. For example, the text states, “‘I can see nothing; we are still; there are no waves lapping, but only a steady swirl of water softly running against the hawser. I can hear men’s voices calling, near and far, and the roll and creak of oars in the rowlocks… All is dark. I hear lapping water, level with me, and come creaking as of wood’” (Stoker 296). This piece of text demonstrates that although Mina and her companions are all disturbed about her connection with Dracula, they have ultimately discovered an element of this connection that proves useful in their endeavor to murder Dracula. Another example of the utilization of these elements is seen when an old lady tries to get Harker to postpone his journey by stating, “‘It is the eve of St. George’s Day. Do you not know that tonight, when the clock strikes midnight, all the evil things in the world will have full sway? Do you know where you are going, and what you are going to?’” (Stoker 4). This statement represents the first warning to both Harker and the audience that horrible events are to be endured in the foreseeable future. Later, when mentioning the people at Bistritz, Harker also states, “… the crowd round the inn door, which had by this time swelled to a considerable size, all made the sign of the cross and pointed two fingers towards me. With some difficulty I got a fellow-passenger to tell me what they meant; he would not answer at first, but on learning that I was English, he explained that it was a charm or guard against the evil eye” (Stoker 5). Essentially, these examples of Stoker utilizing the Gothic Element surrounding visions and portents are not only found throughout the entire novel, but they also play an important role in effectively keeping the audience properly engaged and scared for what is to come.
Stoker also relies heavily on the Gothic tradition when developing the characters he has included in Dracula, as many of them represent the element of “women in distress” and “overwrought emotions.” The women that are featured prominently in Dracula are Mina Harker, and Lucy Westenra. When analyzing these female characters, the audience can begin to understand the way in which Stoker represents his female characters; some as overly sexual beings, and others as pure and chaste beings. Mina Harker for example, embodies Stoker’s “ideal woman.” This is because throughout the novel, the audience envisions her as a very loyal and intelligent woman. However, although Mina is depicted this way, she also contributes to the Gothic element of women in distress because of her inability to resolve the situation she is put in without her male counterparts assisting her. For example, the text states,
“Stoker’s heroines are also much like the traditional Gothic heroines from which they are derived. Mina, as one of the heroine’s in this novel… is a persecuted maiden who, as a vulnerable female, needs to be protected. Mina is to be menaced and threatened by the Count, and she nearly dies, but ultimately is saved by the hero, who she happens to be a perfect match for” (Gow).
This statement effectively supports the fact that although Mina is considered an “ideal woman,” she still remains vulnerable and in no way a threat to the male superiority present in the Victorian Era. Portraying Mina as a “woman in distress” does not only intensify the entire novel, but it also helps develop a sense of suspense and mystery in regard to what Mina’s male acquaintances will do in order to protect her. Conversely, while Lucy possesses similar qualities to Mina, she is presented as somewhat sexual. For example, as the novel progresses, Lucy is seen less as an ideal Victorian woman after Dracula turns her into an extremely sexual vampire. She is then described by the quote, “The sweetness was turned to… heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness” (Stoker 187). Therefore, because she has become a vampire, the only way for Lucy to return to her previous self is by stabbing a stake through her heart, thus classifying her as a woman in distress. Furthermore, by essentially providing Lucy with two personalities in Dracula, Stoker is demonstrating the ease in which a character can be so quickly converted into something seen as evil, unchaste, and unable to be relieved of such distress without tragedy. Ultimately, the impressive representation of both Mina and Lucy as women in distress adds to the overall character development, storytelling, and concept of the novel.
Concerning the concept of “overwrought emotions” within the novel, Stoker has decided to completely disregard that element, and instead focuses on displaying the behaviors expected of Victorian era gentlemen. This means that instead of the emotional outbursts of tears or anger that is commonly found in earlier pieces of Gothic Literature, Stoker’s male characters remain stoic empiricists. Furthermore, this differentiation to those found in other Gothic works leads to the reader becoming engrossed with the predicament in which these one-dimensional characters find themselves in, rather than the character and their virtues. Ultimately, although there is no male character development, the lack of overwrought emotions effectively contributes to the believability and realism of the novel. If Stoker were to have written characters that did not act accordingly in regard to the century in which the novel was written, Dracula would not be known as a 21st century classic.
The last element Stoker has included in Dracula is supernatural or otherwise inexplicable events. These prominently manifest in the form of Count Dracula himself, as some characteristics he has include feeding on the blood of the living, eternal life, and weakness to ordinary items. In addition to these characteristics, Dracula also has many notable supernatural powers, in which he has the ability to control animals, transform into a bat as well as mist, and crawl along vertical walls, “just as a lizard moves along the wall” (Stoker 49). However, although Dracula may seem to be enigmatic and a definite threat because of his abilities, they are fortunately limited. For example, Dracula cannot bear to be exposed to garlic, wooden stakes, and, as mentioned previously, is nowhere near as deadly during the day as he is at night. Furthermore, with Dracula being the focal point of the novel, the inclusion of these supernatural abilities and characteristics becomes an asset in strengthening the novel’s horrific yet intriguing atmosphere. Ultimately, as many supernatural events occur throughout the novel, it is clear that Dracula is the embodiment of the supernatural characteristics that are so prevalent in many popular examples of Gothic Literature.
As Stoker draws on literary traditions to define critical aspects, such as the atmosphere, and characters of his novel, the Gothic tradition is on full display. Through the effective utilization of multiple Gothic Elements, Stoker’s Dracula has become a definitive vampire novel, inspiring many writers to draw upon it in their own pieces of work. Furthermore, with these elements being utilized effectively throughout Dracula, they therefore help create a sense of fear, anguish, excitement, and suspense within the audience during the entire novel.