Student Response to Dracula

Growing up, vampires weren’t something my family was really into. That being said, I am familiar with all of the vampires can’t eat garlic, can’t see their reflections, get turned to dust once the sun rises and all of that. It really wasn’t until Twilight became so ingrained in popular culture that I began to get more and more into vampiric folklore from The Vampire Diaries to the upirs in Netflix’s Hemlock Grove and, of course, the Transylvanian Dracula. Beginning to read this book, I went in with an open mind (albeit with some apprehensions considering epistolary novels are not my favourites) and right off the bat, I was intrigued with the vampiric bodies that we are confronted with in this novel, particularly the brides of Dracula, how these vampiric bodies move, how they are presented in filmic adaptations, and how Harker’s body becomes a representation of hysteria throughout the duration of the narrative.

In the third chapter, Harker comes across three women, the brides of Dracula, that end up attacking him. In the novel, these brides are descripted as “[deliberately voluptuous] which was both thrilling and repulsive” with Stoker going on to describe the movements that these brides make (“as she arched her neck, she actually licked her lips like an animal . . . lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed about to fasten on my throat”) (Stoker 43). The women here are juxtaposed with Mina and Lucy, who become figures of purity for Harker, but they also become representations an aggressive and overt sexuality, their bodies fluid, deadly, and uncanny. The uncanny for Harker occurs in the way in which he describes the women’s laughter. Harker writes that “all three laughed – such a silvery, musical laugh, but as hard as though the sound never could have come through the softness of human lips” (Stoker 43). Because Harker witnesses the uncanny firsthand, it ends up driving him into hysterics and altering him from the person he was prior to his visit to Castle Dracula.

Traditionally, hysteria is often cited as a female disease (which is evidenced through hysteria being named hysterica passio, or suffocation of the mother/womb) but ends up becoming depicted as a bigendered disease for the Victorians, particularly with J.M. Charcot’s studies on hysteria. Mark Micale, in the chapter titled “Male Hysteria at the Fin-de-Siècle” in his book, Hysterical Men, believes that “the 1880s and 1890s were a time of ‘sexual anarchy’ [ . . . ] when all the laws that governed sexual identity and behavior seemed to be breaking down. Male public personalities as different as Theodore Roosevelt, Emile Zola, and Rudyard Kipling warned repeatedly of the dangers of effeminization” (Micale 167). Sexual anarchy in this text occurs with the reversal of pursuit. Rather than Harker doing the sexual pursuit of the vampiric women, the women end up seducing him and initiating the sexual contact with him. By doing so, the brides of Dracula take up the role of active partner and Harker the role of passive partner.

Additionally, looking at the 1992 filmic adaptation of Dracula by Francis Ford Coppola starring Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanus Reeves, and Cary Elwes, Coppola takes this feeling of uncanny-ness to a whole new level in the scene surrounding Dracula’s wives with the way he shoots the scenes and how all of the vampiric bodies affect their surroundings.

Watching this movie was thoroughly weird for me, particularly since I’m not huge into horror (in film, anyways) but what this film does with the vampires is absolutely breathtaking. Throughout the film, whenever we as the audience are shown Dracula or the wives, there are two different ways in which their bodies react to the natural world differently from human bodies: 1. their shadows act independently of themselves, and 2. gravity seems to be reversed. Combined with the 16 fps film rate that Coppola uses in order to film Dracula and his wives, the audience is subjected to these scenes that are both fascinating and quite ghoulish and just weird, which I believe was the intent because of how similar and dissimilar vampiric bodies are to our own.

Works Cited

Dracula. Dir. Francis Ford Coppola. Perf. Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Keanu Reeves. Columbia Pictures. 1992. Film.

Micale, Mark. Hysterical Men: The Hidden History of Male Nervous Illness. 1st ed. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 2008. Print.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Andrew Elfenbein. Illinois: Pearson Education, 2011. Print.

 

2 thoughts on “Student Response to Dracula

  1. The connections you draw between Harker and hysteria are very interesting, and I would certainly enjoy seeing how you would expand them further. I immediately think of two other key scenes that could be used in a dialogue on this topic of sexual anarchy and hysteria. The first would be the scene where Lucy, after she has been turned, becomes this potent sexual symbol and once again, the female becomes the initiator and the male the passive object as she calls out to Holmwood to kiss her, and he needs to be restrained to be prevented from doing so. More than this passivity, the altered (to put it lightly) body of Lucy engenders immense rage within her former admirers, Dr. Seward especially speaks of how his love for her turned to hate as soon as he realized what she truly was. A second scene is in the castle when Harker looks in the mirror and isn’t able to perceive Dracula behind him. Dracula’s physical closeness in this scene is also indicative of sexual advancement, emphasised later when he says of Harker “He’s mine,” but it also suggests a conflation of the two characters, particularly through the mirror as Harker is put in the place of Dracula’s absent reflection. There are certainly many more things that could be discussed in relation to this, but these are the scenes that most came to mind while reading this piece.

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    • It is my belief that the vampiric bodies in Dracula become a representation of the Lacanian Other in how they move and how the affect Harker when he experiences them. Like I said, the vampire brides challenge the traditional Victorian “angel in the house” ideal. Much like Marsh’s Beetle figure, the vampire brides take on this aggressive sexual role that challenge this traditional idea of masculinity that develops throughout history. Harker, by becoming this passive role in these sexual acts forced upon him, loses all of this strength and virility that he is supposed to embody. Like Holt and Lessingham in Marsh’s text, Harker’s experience with both the vampire brides and Dracula leave him vulnerable in a sexual and mental manner. In one of the articles I found for my essay on The Beetle last semester, “Leaky Bodies: Masculinity, Narrative and Imperial Decay in Richard Marsh’s The Beetle” by Leslie Allin, one of the arguments presented is that bodies in The Beetle become “leaky, unstable, and subject to various forms of penetration: undermining the grounds on which representations of Eastern ‘Others’ and assertions of imperial legitimacy stand” (Allin 117). This argument can also be extended to that of Harker in the way that his body ends up becoming subjugated by the women and, once he finally escapes Castle Dracula, he suffers from a black out upon arriving home with Mina once he realises that this man they meet on the London streets uncannily represents Counbt Dracula. Through Dracula’s subjugation of Harker’s body, Harker is rendered porous, leaky, unstable and he is unable to fully trust his senses and his body (particularly with the attraction he feels for the vampire brides). Just as Holt’s experience with the Beetle renders him passive and helpless, Dracula renders Harker this unstable and alltogether leaky mess once Harker is abandoned, which is why Harker has such a hysterical reaction to seeing Dracula in the streets of London.

      In regards to your remarks on the other scenes that do represent this theme of sexual anarchy, I agree.

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