In Praise of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

What’s going on, friends?

*exhales*

I’m finally doing it! I’ve been wanting to write about Dracula ever since I finished reading it at the end of last year. The story captivated me, and I have been dying to share it with you all. It caught me by surprise and was so much more than I could ever have expected. And I mean that in the best way possible!

It’s bloody brilliant! (No pun intended)

I started Dracula around Christmastime last year in an attempt to read it in time for the highly-anticipated Netflix series Dracula coming from two of my favorite writers: Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss.

While I didn’t end up liking the miniseries (as was evident from my turning it off after the first fifteen savagely inaccurate minutes of the first episode *sighs*), I have no regrets whatsoever at having read this infamous piece of epistolary Gothic Horror.

Dracula is one of those books that most of my fellows consider taboo. Think about it: Dracula is, by genre, one of the first “horror” novels to set the genre in motion. It’s about vampires, blood, and ritualistic sacraments, and a lot of people (including the respectable Victorians of the distant past) consider that to be a no-no, and I will not blame them for thinking so. I do not ever plan on reading Twilight just as some never plan on reading Dracula.

*hides under a rock*

But Dracula, if I may be so bold in saying so, is rich with symbolism, Biblical allegory, and that classic good-versus-evil showdown.

Can you say that about Twilight? Okay, I won’t go there. Sorry.

Is it terrifying? Deliciously. I confess: I didn’t mind staying up until 1am with my book open and my eyes wide in fright. Honestly, it was fun to get my blood racing (no pun intended).

The heart of Dracula, however, is not all blood, guts, and gore. Blood as a substance is actually one of the powerful symbols in Dracula, and is not meant to simply make readers grimace (though there is lots of grimacing). Count Dracula himself is a symbol of the/an Anti-Christ, and his obsession with blood is an excellent way to portray him as such (I will explain myself in a minute).

Allow me to share my adoration for this horrific novel and why I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a thrilling read…and a thought-jogging analysis.

I will keep this discussion spoiler free in an attempt to suck you in (no pun intended) to this fascinating novel! 😉

 

Dracula as an Anti-Christ

 

There lay the Count, but looking as if his youth had been half renewed, for the white hair and moustache were changed to dark iron-grey; the cheeks were fuller, and the white skin seemed ruby-red underneath; the mouth was redder than ever, for on the lips were gouts of fresh blood, which trickled from the corners of the mouth and ran over the chin and neck.

—From Dracula, “Chapter IV”

 

Count Dracula, as I said before, is a symbol of the Anti-Christ, and if not the literal end-times anti-Christ, then a polar opposite of Jesus (aka the Devil). To understand this concept, we have to understand how Dracula is able to live as a vampire.

In Stoker’s novel, a vampire is a human who undergoes a morphological phenomenon from a living human to an undead vampire. When someone is bitten by a vampire, they gradually begin to die, and once they actual do die, their body continues to live. This is basically the definition of an “undead” person. In order for someone to be a vampire (an undead human), they have to have been bitten first by another vampire.

Furthermore, undeads are immortal. They cannot die. Unless, of course…well, you probably already know this part: you drive a literal wooden stake with a literal hammer through their literal hearts. Yeah.

*coughs*

Make sense? Okay, good.

Therefore, in order for the undead Count Dracula to maintain his youthful appearance and eternal life, he must feed on the blood of humans, thus making more undead. The women he turns to vampires (sucks blood from) are known as “the brides of Dracula” and his drinking of their blood is what “unites” them in very unholy undead matrimony.

This is where the symbolism comes in.

Let’s look at Christ for a second.

Christ has a very strong tie to blood just as Dracula does, but in an opposite way. Christ’s blood was spilled and given for us so that we may live. Remember the sacrament of the Eucharist (which is quoted in Dracula):

 

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

—John 6:53-54, NIV

 

Christ’s blood was drained to cover us, and unless we “eat his flesh and drink his blood,” we will not be capable of having eternal life. Christ was using a metaphor here, but it is this metaphor (taken literally) that turns Dracula’s blood sucking routines into a Biblical symbol.

Because the count, on the other hand, consumes the blood of others so that he may live and thus continue to corrupt others. His actions are a deliberate contrast to Christ’s, which makes him fully anti-Christ.

ALSO.

Renfield, one of Dracula’s minions (whose unfortunate backstory is freakishly never completely explained) describes himself as a bride-maiden (i.e. friend of the bride) and Dracula as a bride. It seems to be an exact parallel opposite to Christ’s parable of the bridegroom. Again, Stoker makes Dracula an antithesis of Christ:

 

“The bride-maidens rejoice the eyes that wait the coming of the bride; but when the bride draweth nigh, then the maidens shine not to the eyes that are filled.”

—Renfield, “Chapter VIII”

 

If we want to look even further into Dracula being an anti-Christ, let’s look at his name: Dracula.

Dracul is the name for “the devil” in the Romanian language.

‘Nuff said.

Furthermore, let’s take a look at Dracula’s victims: his brides.

Who are Christ’s “beneficiaries,” if you will?

The church.

…also known as His bride.

You see what’s going on here? Yeah, I think you do.

This is what makes Count Dracula such a fascinating, other-worldly, demonic villain for the heroes to fight, in the literal sense that he is symbolized either as the Anti-Christ who will come in the end times, or as a personification of the devil, who is also 100% anti-Christ (i.e. Dracul).

 

The Male/Female Dynamic

 

A brave man’s blood is the best thing on this earth when a woman is in trouble. You’re a man, and no mistake. Well, the devil may work against us for all he’s worth, but God sends us men when we want them.

—Abraham Van Helsing

 

Okay, now that we’ve got Dracula’s gross-ness and anti-Christ-ness out of the way, let’s talk about the heroism of this novel. Because boy…that was my favorite part.

To say that I didn’t love the brave men taking charge would be a very large fib.

Dracula is fascinating, because not only do the men exercise an equal mixture of masculinity and grace, but the central female character—Mina—exercises an equal mixture of strength and femininity. She is not ordered around and used as a pawn, but is the central and key component of the plot (I’ll say no more for fear of spoiling it). Her character is full, and she isn’t a one-dimensional woman who is used as a plot device.

We won’t talk about Lucy Westerna here, just because she is viewed more as a damsel-in-distress figure, but for good reason. I won’t spoil it, but I really want to. *sighs*

Moving on!

Similarly, the male characters are not the overbearing drivers of the story, and their compassion and tenderness towards Mina (whom they all protect as either a sister, daughter, or husband) is one of the most heartwarming displays of male protection in English literature. Despite Mina’s large involvement, the men also aren’t diminished and are constant movers of action.

By the time it was over, I wanted to force myself into the pages of the book and marry Dr. Seward who is the bravest, gentlest, and (in my mind) most handsome character in the novel.

The balance between the sexes in Dracula made it so refreshing, and none of the characters—be they male or female—were tossed to the side or exalted because of their gender. They were both equal on the playing field.

But apart from the gender roles in Dracula, I want to take a moment to exalt the heroes and lovely heroine of the story. The men and the woman who have to combat a hungry vampire in the streets of London is absolutely frightening, but the way in which they all come together, protect one another, strategize, and cooperate—each one giving ear to the other—is beautiful.

One of my favorite characters in the novel is Abraham Van Helsing, a “professor” whose area of specialty is vampires. He serves as the mentor/father figure to the group of men and Mina, and so often I highlighted sections and dog-eared pages where he gave such profound wisdom, because he does it so well and so softly.

The way I see it, Dracula is a novel full of innocent people fighting a horrific, deadly evil. The most innocent among them—womankind—is targeted, and both male and female have to come together to combat this unearthly wickedness.

Is it scary?

Undoubtedly scary.

Is it bloody?

Yes. I’m not lying when I say that the word “splurt” is used once or twice. If you’ve read Dracula, you know exactly what/when I’m talking about and please, do comment below.

But the ending is one of the most satisfying out there. The characters are some of the most admirable out there, and that’s saying something, because most characters in the horror genre are ridiculously one-dimensional and uninteresting.

The setting is eerie and frightening. The villain is a ridiculously devilish monster, and don’t believe anyone who tells you that Dracula is a suave, handsome deceiver. I mean, he has long finger nails, hairy hands, red eyes, and some facial hair, so I’ll just let you make of that what you will.

I know that Dracula might not be for everyone, and I’m not critical of anyone who doesn’t want to read it. I don’t want to read Twilight, and no amount of coaxing will ever get me to. Sorry, Edward Cullen fangirls. *cringes*

Oh, and one last thing: if you have seen a film adaptation of Dracula (or the Netflix adaptation from Moftiss, for that matter) it probably isn’t accurate. Really. I mean this in all sincerity. Hollywood has really enjoyed sexualizing our frightening Count (who was never supposed to be a sex icon), and while there is a lot of sexual symbolism in Dracula—which, alas, I cannot get into right now—the Count himself is not what our lovely film directors make him out to be.

Sorry. I just had to say that. 🙂

Anyway, have you read Dracula? What did you think? Are you planning to read it after my very interesting review/fangirl rant/literary analysis?

I look forward to hearing all of your thoughts in the comments!

Bis bald,

Emily 😎

2 thoughts on “In Praise of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

  1. I’ve been thinking over reading one of the Classic Horror novels. But I’m waffling over starting with Dracula or Frankenstein. This is a very interesting review, though– and now I’m leaning towards Dracula.

    1. Dracula and Frankenstein are equally unique novels. I’ve read both, and I can say I thoroughly enjoyed Dracula much more. Frankenstein is more of a philosophical horror, I would argue, as it isn’t as “scary” as Dracula is and tends to deal more with the meaning of human life and God complexes. But it’s still a great read nontheless! But if you’re going for something scary *and* contemplative, definitely read Dracula.

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