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.
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.