From The Sleeve
A masterpiece of the horror genre, Dracula also probes identity, sanity and the dark corners of Victorian sexuality and desire. It begins when Jonathan Harker visits Transylvania to help Count
Dracula purchase a London house, and makes horrifying discoveries in his client’s castle. Soon afterwards, disturbing incidents unfold in England – an unmanned ship is wrecked; strange puncture marks appear on a young woman’s neck; a lunatic asylum inmate raves about the imminent arrival of his ‘Master’ – and a determined group of adversaries prepare to battle the Count.
About the Author & Context
Bram Stoker was born in Ireland in 1847 and studied mathematics at Dublin’s Trinity College, graduating with honors in 1870. Aside from his longtime role as an assistant to the famed actor Sir Henry Irving, he began carving out a second career as a writer, publishing his first novel, The Primrose Path, in 1875. Stoker published Dracula, his most famous work, in 1897 — though he died before the fictional vampire would achieve widespread popularity though numerous film and literary adaptations in the 20th century. Including Dracula, Stoker wrote a total of 12 novels in his lifetime.
In the original preface of his iconic novel, Stoker wrote this passage:
I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight. And I am further convinced that they must always remain to some extent incomprehensible.
Bram Stoker did not intend for Dracula to serve as fiction, but as a warning of a very real evil. However, London at the time was still recovering from a spate of horrible murders in Whitechapel, and — with the killer still on the loose — releasing such a story would cause mass panic, which is why Stoker’s editor returned the manuscript with a single word of his own: No.
In the 1980s, the original Dracula manuscript was discovered in a barn in rural northwestern Pennsylvania, and it is now owned by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. The manuscript begins on page 102. Jonathan Harker’s journey on a train, once thought to be the beginning of the story, was actually in the thick of it. This raises a question: what was on the first 101 pages? What was considered too real, too frightening, for publication? We may never know…
The following are the main takeaways we’ve extracted from the Book of the Month. Click on the theme to read more.
Theme 1: Role of Women
- Throughout the novel, there are instances where female characters are given more passive roles compared to male characters. One prominent example is Mina Harker. Mina’s role in the hunting party is to be the secretary, preserving records of the party’s experiences. However, after a traumatic event happens to her, Mina takes on a more important role in helping track down Dracula’s whereabouts. Van Helsing is among the men who praise her often: “’She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven where we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble’” (203).
- Lucy Westenra is the opposite of Mina’s dynamic personality. Lucy is passive and vulnerable to the desires of adoring men. In a sense, she becomes the object that the men must protect as much as possible, specifically protecting her purity. This is best demonstrated through the almost constant blood transfusions Lucy endures in her illness, as her husband Arthur interpreted his blood transfusion as a significant event: “Arthur was saying that he felt since then as if they two had been really married, and that she was his wife in the sight of God” (188).
Theme 2: Religious Themes
- The weapons that the human group use to hunt Dracula are religious artifacts. Van Helsing carries a crucifix everywhere he goes and has the other men in the group do the same. Holding a crucifix prevents vampire attacks. Other religious artifacts, such as a Host and holy water, are used by Van Helsing during different points in the story.
- The concept of religious purity is represented first by Lucy and subsequently by Mina. Prior to her traumatic event, Lucy has been adored by several men not only because of her physical traits, but also because she is seen as a pure, innocent woman. Also, Mina described Lucy the same way: “Lucy was looking sweetly pretty in her white lawn frock; she has got a beautiful color since she has been here” (72).
- On the other hand, Mina demonstrates through words and actions that she is pure of heart, which is worthy of defending by the group of men. Mina values her religious purity to the point where she becomes distraught when something corrupts it: “unclean! Unclean! Even the Almighty shuns my polluted flesh! I must bear this mark of shame upon my forehead until Judgment Day” (314).
Theme 3: Love
- The theme of love in the novel can be extended further into other themes. While the humans who hunt down Dracula have shown through their actions and words that they have love in their hearts, the same cannot be said for the Count. This is because after the Count made a pact with the Evil One, he had to give away his soul and he could thus never truly love another person the same as an uncorrupted person. In the early part of the novel, the three women whom are associated to Dracula claim he never loved. Dracula disagrees, saying that he once loved in the past, when he was still alive: “yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past” (45). The conversation implies that Dracula once loved three women when they were alive, but the relationship between them and himself is unknown. Dracula is also incapable of love because evil and love cannot exist at the same time. Dracula’s companions were animals and likely the victims who became his servants. However, they would not truly care for him the same way as the human characters.
- There is not just romantic love among the human cast. In fact, there are also instances of friendship that is genuine and everlasting. For example, Van Helsing assures Jonathan Harker in a letter that everyone in the party is valued despite the great power that Dracula holds: “we are strong, each in our purpose, and we are all more strong together” (334). It creates a stark contrast between the loneliness of Dracula versus the camaraderie among the humans. Overall, the novel depicts Dracula not just a figure of pure evil and insidious intentions, but also a figure of pity. Dracula is unable to experience the simple pleasures he once had as a mortal. Even Mina extends her empathy for him: “I suppose one ought to pity any thing so hunted as is the Count. That is just it: this Thing is not human—not even beast” (244-45). To the hunting party, love means sacrifice. For instance, the men in the story donated their blood in an attempt to save Lucy’s life because they truly cared about her wellbeing. In particular, Lucy’s fiance Arthur Holmwood gives blood out of love, which in a way confirms his marriage to her, as Dr. Seward observed: “[he said] that the transfusion of his blood to her veins had made her truly his bride” (190). Sacrificial love is another concept that Dracula will never understand due to becoming a vampire.