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Literary Criticism - Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dracula was written by Bram Stoker in 1897. The story starts out with a man going to Castle Dracula. The man was an English solicitor’s clerk and his name was Jonathan Harker. Throughout his stay at the castle, he notices some very odd things around the castle. Things like: there were no servants, no one else but the Count lived there, Dracula would be out during the day and keep Jonathan up all night. One night when Dracula leaves Harker alone, he walks around and finds a room. In this room, there appears three girls or women. These women attempt to seduce Harker, but just as one of them gets close enough, Dracula flies in through the window and claims Harker as his own. Soon after that incident, Harker finds out that Dracula thrives on human blood. A while later, Harker had figured out that Dracula wanted to keep him prisoner and maybe kill him, so Harker attempts to kill Dracula before he himself is killed; however, just as he tries, Dracula boards a ship heading to England with fifty coffins containing his home soil in each. Later, Harker succeeds in getting out, but he ends up getting sick with a fever. Several people find him and get him to feel better. At the same time, two women are attracted to a bizarre shipwreck off the coast of Whitby, England. As the ship gets to shore, a large dog jumps from the ship. Passersby noticed that there were no other passengers on the ship except for the Captain; meanwhile, the Captain was tied to the wheel with a cross, or crucifix. The log had told of odd disappearances on the ship. There was one man on the ship that had found the stowaway and he had tried to stab him, but the knife missed him. Over several weeks, Lucy Westenra’s health started to down-spiral; she was Dracula’s first victim. After a while, during her weakness , a large bat was seen outside her window. Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, had been invited by Dr. John Seward, the doctor who was taking care of Lucy. Four men, who deeply cared about Lucy, gave their blood to her so that her body would get better, but she had failed to get better. It was obvious to Van Helsing that their enemy was dangerous, so what he did to keep Dracula away was to put garlic all around Lucy’s room. Her mother had removed it, just as she was getting better, and once she did, Dracula returned, bit her and she died. Lucy’s loved ones find out that she became one of the Undead and with Mina and, her newlywed husband, Jonathan’s information, the four men : Quincey, Seward, Arthur Holmwood, and Van Helsing, go to Lucy’s grave, open her coffin and perform the ritual. The ritual entails cutting off her head, stuffing it with garlic, and driving a sharp stake through her heart. After they finish off Lucy, they start to look for Dracula, but before they find him, he finds Mina. He had gotten Renfield to let him into the asylum that Mina was staying in. The group of family and friends caught Dracula and he fled from their holy objects; Mina had begun to do the same, Van Helsing had touched a blessed wafer to her forehead and she had been burned by it. She was forced to drink from the Count and had become part of him and he part of her. They located all but one of Dracula’s coffins and destroyed them; he needs his native soil in order to sleep. One of them was stuck onto a ship going to Transylvannia and they tracked him down with the help of Mina’s psychological connection with him; they accomplished it by hypnotizing her. They found him in his coffin among the Gypsies. Mina and company use knives to stab through his whole body and his heart. When he crumbled, the mark from the blessed wafer disappeared from Mina’s forehead. Sometime after the battle, Mina and Jonathan have a child and they name him after the band of men they adopted into their family, but they decided to call him Quincey after Quincey Morris who died in the good fight the same day their child was born. They believe that part of Morris was moved into their son due to this bizarre phenomenon. By the end of the text, Goldaming (also known as Holmwood) and Seward had gotten married to two fine women. This story was written by Mr. Stoker.
Bram Stoker was born on November 8, 1847 in Dublin, Ireland. His parents were Abraham and Charlotte Stoker. He was nursed by his uncle William while he was bedridden. In order to improve his health, his blood was drawn several times. When Bram was two years old, he had a newborn brother join the family, and his name was Tom. His second brother, George, was born five years later. The same year, Bram walked on his own for the first time and he was over is childhood illness and it never returned. When Bram was twelve years old, he entered preparatory school and graduated , then he transferred to Trinity College where he studied Science and Mathematics while playing competitive sports. Stoker had attended a Henry Irving play by Richard Sheridan called The Rivals at the Theatre Royal. After he graduated from Trinity College, he entered civil service at Dublin Castle. his first anonymous theatre review was published in the Dublin Evening Mail during 1871. The following year, his first signed work was an address he delivered and published called, “The Necessity for Political Honesty.” In 1874, he visited Paris. A year after his visit to Paris, three of Stoker’s stories appeared in The Shamrock. Bram met Henry Irving in person and was moved by his reading of, “The Dream of Eugene Aram,” and his father had died in Naples in the year of 1876. The year after, he resigned from his critic job to write a book for clerks of petty sessions. In 1878, he became the business manager for Irving’s Lyceum Theatre and he also married Florence Balcombe. Two years of working on it, the book, The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions was his first published book. In 1882, Bram had received a Bronze Medal from the Royal Humane Society for trying to prevent a suicide. He wrote an essay about the United States and got it published; it was called, “A Glimpse of America.” Stoker began to write Dracula in 1890. Seven years later, it was published; in the same year, it was acted out in the Lyceum stage. The second to be published and acted out was Miss Betty a year previous. Four years after Dracula was published, Bram’s mother died.The year after his mother’s death, two more stories were published called, The Mystery of the Sea and The Jewel of Seven Stars and the Lyceum Theatre was closed down. In 1905, The Man was published and Irving collapsed and died. A year after Irving’s death, Bram had his first stroke. His second stroke was four years after his first. His last book, The Lair of the White Worm, was published a year before he died. He died on April 20,1912. Sometime during his life, he put together a group of stories, and then his wife edited it and it appeared as Dracula’s Guest, two years after his death.
Bram’s writing style is straight forward and to the point. Three of the themes were: the Victorian view of women, good vs. evil, and the promise of Christian salvation. Some of my research ideas were: the history of Vlad, the Impaler, which is part of the history, Katherine Ramland’s The Science of Vampires, psychic vampires, and a few vampire films.
To begin with, Vlad the Impaler’s life or legacy was part of the history that helped shape
the character of Dracula. Vlad, the Impaler’s real name was Vlad Tepes. He was the prince of
Wallachia and his father was Vlad Dracul. Later on in his life, Vlad Tepes took up the name
‘Dracula’ which means, “son of the Dragon” in Romanian. Vlad Dracula’s father had created an
Order of the Dragons, a group of knights, during his reign, which made Vlad Tepes’ Dracula
name make sense because it meant he was the son of a dragon. He and his younger
brother, Radu, had been sent to Turkey, in 1444, as hostages to ensure that their father would
support the Turkish sultan. The Turks had placed Vlad III, another name for Vlad Tepes, on the
throne after his oldest brother and father’s murders, in 1448. Vlad III’s brutality was shown to his enemies and others around him. Vlad, the Impaler would boil, impale, disfigure, roast and flay people who threatened his throne, and there is a myth that he would soak his bread in the blood of his enemies after a battle; he would also do those things to people who refused to pay taxes, and women who were thought unworthy. He had fought for his state’s freedom, or independence, against the Turks, and because of that he was also thought of as a hero. Vlad had fled to Hungary because his brother had been enlisted by the Turkish sultan to capture Wallachia, as Vlad fled, he had been captured by King Matthias Corvinus. It is believed that Vlad, the Impaler had been killed in battle during the Turkish counterattack and that it may have been his own men who had killed him, but another source says that it was an assassin who had killed him. Vlad the Impaler was an influence on the book because he did some very gruesome things. For instance, Vlad had drunk his enemies’ blood after a battle and that is how Dracula survives. His name was used in this text because Bram thought that Dracula meant ‘son of the devil’ and he used that as his fictional vampire’s name. Elizabeth Miller has a different opinion, she believes that he wasn’t the one who Bram based the text off of and that it was actually Jack the Ripper who he based it off of. Her reasons for believing so were that: 1) Dracula put one of his coffins of native soil right in the middle of the Ripper’s killing realm, 2) the Ripper was very stealthy and well hidden from the police. 3) The Ripper killed random people, whether they were innocent or not (The Science of Vampires) . The culture that is involved in this story is bizarre but also interesting. The culture behind this text is based off a thing called a strigoi. Strigoi are seen as ghosts, undead, and immaterial things. They could be recently buried members of a family who returns and haunts their relatives and drains the life right out of them. Romanians believe that there is a need to do certain rituals to bring peace to those involved. There was an example of this same ritual done in January of 2004. A man named Petre Toma who lived in the Marotinu de Sus village and died in December 2003. His relatives blamed Toma for making a child sick because some of their neighbors had seen Toma walking in his yard even though he was already dead. Six local men volunteered to go through with the ritual for destroying strigoi. They had gathered around Toma’s grave just before Midnight and dug Toma’s body up out of the ground. Then, they had split his ribcage to get to his heart. They took the heart and put stakes through the rest of the body and sprinkled it with garlic. Once that was finished, the burned the heart, placed the smoldering remains in water, and gave the concoction to the sick child. Many in the village believed that the ritual worked, but the police didn’t quite understand the police arrested the men because Tomas daughter complained, but the ironic part about the arrest was that she was upset that she wasn’t invited, not because it was enacted. According to anthropologist Fifor Mihai, “These are very ancient practices indeed. And they are about communicating with the dead, laying the dead to rest. The media and newspapers have made much of the gory aspects, but these people have been doing this sort of thing for many many centuries, and in the past the authorities have turned a blind eye.” (In Search of Dracula). The way that Bram wrote this text has been debated for different reasons, mostly because of difference of opinion.
In Katherine Ramsland’s The Science of Vampires, there are a few very well explained critiques of Bram’s writing. Katherine writes, “An analysis of the novel’s text indicates that Stoker seems to aim toward contradictory goals: to find scientific explanations for a creature like the vampire and how to show that there are things that science just cannot explain-at least not yet” (7). Then there is David Skal’s remark, “Stoker certainly gave a lot of thought to making vampires at least seem plausible. In Dracula, vampirism manifests itself in quasi-medical terms--a disease echoing familiar nineteenth-century maladies like consumption or a languorous, La Bohème-like wasting away, and syphilis or blood contamination and telltale skin lesions. The novel takes great pains to describe Dracula himself along then-popular conceptions about Darwinism, especially the notion of evolutionary ‘degeneration’ [a throwback to primitive intelligence]. Stoker fills the book with all kinds of up-to-date technology, medical and otherwise, to make the vampire at least half-believable to readers in an age of scientific skepticism. Given the book’s longevity, it’s clear he succeeded in his strategy” (8). Basically, Bram Stoker wanted his character to be as believable as possible. He used an amazing amount of technology in his writing and based on the amount of time people have been reading his book it is obvious that he accomplished what he had hoped to. Elizabeth Miller’s statement was, “As a writer of a Gothic novel, he may have been trying for realism, to aid the general reader in the suspension of disbelief. We do know that he had two brothers who were medical doctors, one of whom offered him specific assistance. On a deeper level, either consciously or unconsciously, he may have been tapping into the late-Victorian anxieties about the conflict between science-- especially evolutionary theory--and religious faith. That both operate side by side in the novel and that both science and faith must be used to overcome Dracula suggests that the two are not incompatible” (9). These Dracula enthusiasts are all saying about the same thing; Bram Stoker was using medical information and showing that science and faith don’t always have to be enemies.
Three of the many themes in Dracula are: the promise of Christian salvation, good versus evil, and gender roles. First, gender roles changed constantly during the text. “I am alone in the castle with those awful women. Faugh! Mina is a woman, and there is nought in common. They are devils in the Pit!”(59); Harker is disgusted by the three weird sisters and it shows that Mina is the complete opposite of these three Brides of Dracula. “In such cases men do not need much expression. A grip of the hand, the tightening of an arm over the shoulder, a sob in unison, are expressions of sympathy dear to a man’s heart” (182); the men who loved Lucy were being strong because they were not seen as people who would break down and cry. “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, so little egoist--and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so sceptical and selfish”(203). This quote shows Van Helsing praises Mina for being intelligent, but also caring and obedient. In their time, men were thought to be brave, strong, and decisive while women were thought or supposed to be sweet, pure, and innocent. Things have changed a lot since then. In the United States, women have jobs and are independent, but we still are paid less and treated lower than men are.
Second, there is the theme of good and evil. This is shown through Mina and Dracula. Mina is the representation of all things good. She had been linked to Dracula, but she had kept her intelligence and sincerity. She had told the men that if she had gotten even remotely close to hurting someone that they needed to kill her. Mina states in Seward’s Diary, “Because if I find myself- and I shall watch keenly for it- a sign of harm to any that I love, I shall die!” (308). Mina was the representation of good, she didn’t believe so, but she was willing to help the Knights of the Round Table even though she was becoming a vampire. She did a lot to help them and all she wanted was to keep everyone safe. Mina states in her diary, “I suppose one ought to pity any thing so hunted as the Count. That is just it: this Thing is not human- not even beast. To read Dr Seward’s account of poor Lucy’s death, and what followed is enough to dry up the springs of pity in one’s heart” (245). This quote shows me that she pities Dracula for being hunted, but that knowing what had happened to Lucy would make someone feel less pity for him because of what he did to her. Dr Seward says in his diary, “…and we, knowing that so far symbols went, she with all her goodness and purity and faith, was outcast from God” (327). Now, this quote shows me that Dr Seward cared deeply about Mina and that she was the representation of good to him. Now moving on to show how Dracula represents evil. Jonathan had been tricked by the Count when the Count had said in Jonathan’s journal, “Enter freely and of you own free will” (20). By saying this, he gave himself away to use Jonathan as he pleased. This shows that Dracula is a sly person. As Dracula was aboard the Demeter, he took the blood of the crew and threw their bodies overboard. He had been using them only for food. In Seward’s diary, Dracula had tricked Renfield into thinking that he was a Savior, when really all Dracula was offering was a morbid half life as a slave for Dracula. (263). Later on also in Seward’s diary, Dracula forced Mina to let him bite her and he forced her to bite him back. As he did so, they had created a connection through the blood. He is purely evil because a sane, kind man would not rape an innocent woman. (300-306). When Dracula was cornered in Seward’s diary, he had taunted the men saying that they are just food and that their women (Mina and Lucy) belonged to him (325). These quotes show the evil he had done. He made a man crazy, and made him believe that he was a man of God, while he was the complete opposite. They also show that Dracula only used humans as food, except Mina and Lucy, who he believed belonged to him because he forced himself on them.
The last of the three themes is, the promise of Christian salvation. This theme is presented by Van Helsing. He tells the group that the only way to defeat Dracula is to be unearthly good. Bram uses crosses, crucifixes, and other holy objects to lure Dracula away. Dracula appears to be like the devil with his pointy ears, fangs, and blood-lusting eyes, including his drinking of blood. The drinking of blood cuts him off from anything with spiritual worth. Those who were taken by Dracula lived without their souls. Bram goes into great detail to show the ‘three weird sisters’ and Lucy’s destruction. They tried to make a bigger vampire family but ended up dead in a way that goes along with the promise of Christian salvation. The vampires were saved and died with their souls returned to them. The Undead were barred from the peace of salvation while the others who died were not.
The Science of Vampires by Katherine Ramsland, PH.D. is a nonfiction paperback that has gobs of information. There are so many aspects to vampires that I don’t think people think about it very deeply. Vampires have been thought to have a blood disease, rabies, consumption, and or tuberculosis. Katherine states, “The symptoms were quite similar to the notion of a vampires attack:
Increased suffering at night
A sunken chest, emaciation, and wasting away
A feeling of heaviness on the chest, as if a demon were sitting on it
Increasingly pale skin
Blood in the sputum and crimson checks
Offensive breath” (17).
She also goes through the process of decomposition after death and then reasons why people may think that the corpse is a vampire (13-17). Katherine explains that Emily de Laszowska-Gerard the author of Dracula: Sense and NonSense, researched or knew about Scholomance which was “School of the Dragon”. This book was found by Bacil F. Kirtley, who believed the whole Dracula family went to the Scholomance or “School of the Dragon”. This place differs by source; according to Katherine, “the Scholomance was an occult school situated on a labyrinth of underground caves where men could make a pact with the devil to gain occult knowledge” (19). According to Gerard, the Scholomance “was a school where people learned the secrets of nature, the language of animals, and all magic spells,’ as taught by the devil” (20). Katherine also talks about psychic vampires. Psychic vamps are vampire who drain the life out of people, by taking their “chi or prana” not by draining their blood (182). Katherine included an encounter of an anonymous person who had met someone who presented himself as a vampire, “It was when he bit me and licked away the blood that I first decided to become a vampire. Sexy, powerful, and mysteriously evil--he had everything I thought I ever wanted. So I asked him to show me and he did. I watched him seduce people, all kinds of people, with his charming ways and sultry movements. I studied how he lured them in, how he trapped their vulnerable minds and coerced blood gifts from their weak bodies. It was so easy then...you know...to adapt the black art of seduction into my own personality. I became a vampire myself; and I created my secret self with great attention to details. From the very start I could see it was going to be easy, enticing people to give me blood--particularly males. The young men seemed especially drawn to my appearance, sensing an intelligent product with a strong sense of purpose. For me, being a vampire means fulfilling my needs through the willing sacrifice of others. I am offered blood, sex, and power over otherwise inert lives. Seeking respite from their own pathetic, aimless lives...victims prefer the distraction of pain, suffering, and bleeding. You may wonder how one is so easily convinced to open a vein? Well, its quite simple really, considering how often they do so to force something in. How much easier then to let a little of themselves drip out? They willingly submit themselves, twisting their own desires so that there is a mutual exchange. It’s win-win. As a vampire, my greatest power is intuition. I know, without words or actions, what a person wants...hat a person needs. This power of intuition, combined with my adaptability, allows me to transform myself into whatever is necessary for the kill. I lock with the person’s psyche, diagnose their deepest hunger, and become their provider and they my supplier. Blood drinking is, for me, not the ultimate goal of being a vampire. It is necessary, and even desirable, but not essential for my survival. My life force is boosted when I drink and digest blood, but it is my ability to control the passion and desires of a person that nurtures my soul. Victims never see themselves as exploited in the relationship, but instead subvert their own identities in favor of becoming the possessed. The ingestion of blood pleases me, it strengthens me, but it does not literally give me power. I am the master when I take their blood, the very life fluid of their existence, but my real power lies in owning control of their will. A person’s will is more precious than their blood, the will being capable of summoning the heart, the emotions, and then...to any deed I desire. You ask if I meet with others ‘like myself,’ and I answer you with: ‘There are no others like myself; I being the only one of my distinctive ability and power.’ Among vampires, I am unique, formidable, and solitary. I work alone. No one walks beside me. Deeds are best alone. Of course, being a vampire is a solitary experience. Life for all living things is solitary, being alone in one’s mind always, but much more for vampires. Solitude, if properly understood, is the vampire’s asset: vampires--good ones anyway--use natural states of being to accomplish their goals. Human beings fear being alone, sensing it is the natural state of the human condition: we are born alone, we construct private worlds of thought alone, and we die alone--walking the final steps with no one at our side. Vampires are masters at using the solitary condition to their advantage, having probed the alchemy of oneness and discovered synergy. I am strongest when I am alone, gathering energy from my own thoughts and internal forces. I am even stronger when I am in the presence of a sensitive seeker, one who searches for my kind. It is the seeker who finds me that brings spiritual awakening. I soar in the presence of one who desires to be taken as strongly as I desire to master”(184-186). That is one of the many modern day vampires’ stories.
There are several themes to Dracula, the three including in this essay were: the promise of Christian salvation, gender roles, and good versus evil. The writing style of this text was straight to the point and full of technology; Bram’s hope for the style was to make the story as believable as possible. Katherine Ramsland’s The Science of Vampires was a really good reference for anything to do with vampires and science. I chose Dracula was because out of all of the stories, I liked Dracula the most. I have always wondered where the vampire myths and movies all started from. The part of the story that I enjoyed the most was Mina’s character because she was a very brave woman when women were not supposed to be brave.
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Polidoro, Massimo. “In search of Dracula.” Skeptical Inquirer 30.2 (2006): 25+. Gale Biography
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Ramsland, Katherine M. The Science of Vampires. New York: Berkley Boulevard, 2002. Print.
Stoker, Bram, and Brooke Allen. Dracula. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 2004. Print.
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