Long before Stephanie Meyer unleashed the first of the Twilight books on us, I liked Vampires. I’ve written about them on this blog before, and also for a column. No, I wouldn’t befriend one and neither would I sleep with one, but the idea of the Vampire was fascinating. Of course, for a long time Vampires have come to stand for repressed human sexuality; even Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, although physically so repulsive, is quite frankly sexual. You don’t even have to read the book too closely to understand that. Ever since then, most writers have treated Vampires in exactly the same way. They’ve gone from having hairy hands and yellow faces to having golden eyes and gleaming bodies, but throughout, they’ve stayed highly sexualized.
Honestly though, it’s not the sexuality of the Vampire that interests me. What I find fascinating is the idea of a being, existing for centuries with nothing to do. Most of us don’t look at it in this way, I suppose, but death is really a blessing and an escape – as long as it comes at the end of a long and fulfilling life. For Vampires, that particular door is closed, unless an especially brave slayer decides to put them out of their misery. To me, the beautiful Vampires brought to us by Anne Rice, Meyer and Charlaine Harris are not really objects of desire, but really objects of pity. Anne Rice, actually expressed the existential anguish of Vampires pretty well, even though she herself did play a major role in the current sexualization of Vampires.
Anyway, so when I took the course on Fantasy & Sci-Fi through Coursera, I decided I wouldn’t focus on this ‘sexuality’ in Dracula. It was the most obvious take-away from the story. But I also didn’t understand how I could explain any of the existentialist strands in the novel because, frankly, there aren’t any. The novel is quite purely pulp, and with very little rumination. So I decided to take a radical and rather risky approach – Gender Politics. I’m sure a lot of you already know Dracula is a very gendered novel, full of macho men and swooning women. But again, I didn’t want to repeat the obvious, so I argued for Dracula being a symbol of the feminine. I know, it sounds weird. But read on below, and hopefully, you’ll be convinced.
One of the major themes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is the triumph of the masculine over the feminine. This interpretation is not limited to the treatment of the characters. Even though the men – Van Helsing, Seward, Godalming, Morris and Harker – rescue the woman – Mina Harker – from the clutches of another male, Count Dracula, their real triumph is over the feminine forces that he represents.
Dracula was written during the Victorian era, when the feminine was represented as weak and irrational, and requiring the control of the stable and rational masculine. The women, Lucy and Mina, fall victim to Dracula’s magnetism. The more feminine Lucy dies, while Mina, with her “man’s brain”, is rescued by her husband and male friends. It is significant that although Jonathan Harker, a man, does almost fall victim to the three female vampires in Transylvania and is kept prisoner by Dracula, he manages to escape by himself.
However, the male vs. female question in Dracula goes beyond this reading. After the European Renaissance, the scientifically and militarily advanced Occident (Western Europe) was seen as representing the masculine, while the ‘mystical’ and backward Orient (Asia and Eastern Europe) was seen as feminine. Also note that, magical powers and understanding of the supernatural are usually associated with women.
In the light of these considerations, one sees that Dracula, more than Lucy and Mina, represents the feminine in the story. He is a supernatural being as well as a native of Eastern Europe. In contrast, his main antagonists are all Western European males (except Morris, a hyper-masculine American), who defeat Dracula by the ultimate act of male dominance over female: penetration. Of course, Dracula is ‘penetrated’ by a stake through his heart, but the symbolic significance of the manner of his defeat cannot be missed.
Since Dracula is set in an age when the ideal female was passive and home-bound, the defeat of a symbolic ‘female’ like Dracula – who dared to be aggressive and venture beyond his ‘home’ – underlines the Victorian belief in the unchallenged superiority of the masculine.
- A Short History of Vampire Movies – Part I the 1920’s (mrmovietimes.com)
- Final Submission – Fantasy And Science Fiction – Dracula By Bram Stoker (copywriterspro.wordpress.com)
- Bram Stoker’s Dracula (elizabetheditorializes.wordpress.com)
- Bloody awful (thehindu.com)
- Dracula by Bram Stoker (cer90cer.wordpress.com)
- Top 10 Vampire Films (totallytop10.com)
- 4 reviews of Bela Lugosi (rateitall.com)