The Mediums in Literature
“In the case of Jane Eyre, when one out of a series of possible routes is chosen, from that point onward, the rest are often automatically excluded. A trend for Victorian novels is featuring anxieties about society, an idea shared by Jane Eyre and Dracula. Fictional monsters in Late Victorian Gothic fiction appeared as placeholders for all of Britain’s fears and anxieties. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one such precipitate formed out of these times of uncertainty. At the heart of Late Victorian anxiety is the growing inability to classify the us-and-them-based world. In Dracula, Stoker is further drawing those barriers with medical and scientific mediums as the ability of Western science is questioned in dealing with the apparently irrational in the world. However, Dracula is anything but irrational; Van Helsing remarks that Dracula “”had a mighty brain, a learning beyond compare”” (300). Technological advances in communication and travel are two areas in which the good characters of Dracula are able to gain an advantage over Count Dracula. The technology in Dracula should be seen and interpreted in terms of its essence: that is, a way in which the world is framed both for and by the characters, through the use of technology.
The instruments used by both the good and the evil forces in the novel are ways in which characters’ decisions are enframed and determined. The fact that the enframing seems like a two-way street might appear contradictory since it would seem that either humans are the masters of technology, or technology is the master of humans. Similarly, although the Count tries to amalgamate modern British technology into his life, if for no other reason than the fact that he has “” ‘been so long master that I would be master still- or at least that none other should be master of me,'”” Dracula nonetheless does not seem to be able to get comfortable with the advantages of modernity (45). The modern technology in Dracula, its emphasis throughout the novel and apparent inability to dispatch with the vampire, represents the Victorian desire to be driven by static categories and the dangers associated with such a deterministic force as well as technology’s ability to transcend it and technology’s own determinist qualities through frames of mediums and technology.
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The good characters are strongly identified with modern technologies. Mina is closely tied to the composition of the text of the novel itself. Also, like Jonathan, Mina can read and write in shorthand, and she prides herself on her newfound abilities with a typewriter (76). Even when the good characters are pursuing Dracula back to Transylvania, Mina remarks in her journal how grateful she is to the inventor of the “”Traveller’s typewriter”” (344). Lord Godalming, Dr. Seward, Quincey Morris, and Dr. Van Helsing all use combinations of telegrams, cable wires, and written letters to communicate quickly and easily with one another. Instead of writing by hand or typewriting, Dr. Seward has a special affinity for his phonograph with which he records personal memoranda and notes on his patients. While on the train in pursuit of Dracula, Seward is not so privileged as Mina and regrets having to write a diary: “”How I miss my phonograph! To write diary with a pen is irksome to me; but Van Helsing says I must”” (330). Other prominent technologies are the tools Van Helsing uses to give Lucy a blood transfusion, the trains, quick communication devices and steam-powered boats used to track down the Count, and Quincey’s guns from America. The presence of these Victorian technologies show that although options are seemingly fixed within a person’s technological frame and there is never the option of escaping technology, human beings are always and already under technology’s enframing, there is at every crossroads the ability to influence the direction of future frames. The process of framing is, therefore, the process by which the characters in Dracula attempt to influence the structure of their own lives both purposely and implicitly. The degree to which any of the characters is free or not depends only on the effectiveness of the frames they choose in revealing the nature of the world about them.
The supreme desire for such characters as Mina, Jonathan, Lord Godalming, Quincey, and Dr. Seward to see the world only in terms of the ways their British modernity reveals itself limits the amount of understanding they can have. Jonathan’s notions of the people in Eastern Europe are enframed by what his travel guides and trips to the British Museum tell him how the people should be (11). Similarly, when Dr. Seward tries to diagnose Lucy, he does so through the frame that Late Victorian science provides for him- Seward never seems to consider any causes for Lucy’s condition not sanctioned by modern Victorian medicine (135). While providing the basis by which the characters in the novel conduct their own day-to-day lives, the frames of modern British technology provide one of the biggest dangers for the good characters. The frames that allow the good characters to function are those that also blind them when confronted with difference. When provided with a system of neat categories that adhere to Seward’s notions of science and technology, Seward functions just fine. However, the moment one of the rules of his technological frame is broken, Seward is rendered helpless. Van Helsing, on the other hand, is able to treat Lucy at least to a degree; one might wonder whether or not the Dutch doctor could have saved Lucy’s life had he arrived on the scene any sooner. Unlike Seward, Van Helsing is equally ready to reach for garlic and communion hosts, as he is to reach for his blood transfusion kit. Van Helsing’s technological frame is not limited by in the same ways that Seward’s frame limits. Instead, Van Helsing’s frame is more open to those things Gothic.
As a means for escaping and shaping the frames that technology places on the characters, Stoker subtly hints that artistic expression is a technology in itself that can help to positively enframe the world. The technology of artistic expression is the key to enframing the world in a way that leads one to the truth, versus the dangers of being led away from the truth. At the outset of Dracula, the reader is confronted with the confession that what follows is a contrivance of those who have experienced the story. The arranger of the various journal entries (supposedly Jonathan), correspondences and other documents state that “”All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as a simple fact”” (26). Then, at the end of the story, the arranger comments that “”there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of type-writing [ .. . ]We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these words as proofs of so wild a story”” (369). The account of the story given can be seen as much a work of fiction as the novel itself. The technology of writing is one aspect that helps the good characters figure out the presence of Dracula among them when Mina compiles and transcribes Jonathan’s journals from the castle. When in Dracula’s castle, Jonathan even attaches the preservation of his own sanity to the ability to keep a journal account of what transpires and “”keep to facts, bare facts”” (54). With Harker’s focus on purely factual entries, he limits the apparently irrational thoughts and ideas concerning his troubling situation. The apparent incoherence and fragmented nature of the story adds to Dracula’s power over the characters. However, the point when each of the fragmented accounts is brought together coincides with the start of Dracula’s downfall.
In Dracula, Stoker approaches with the notion that not only do the neat systems of classification appear to not always be enough when dealing with the world, but also perhaps they are a contributing factor to the very monsters that terrorize our world. The answer that Dracula seems to offer to this problem lies not in abandoning technology, but rather redefining technology and working through its frames in ways that can account for the apparently unaccountable.”