“We were struck with the fact that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of typewriting, except the later notebooks of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum. We could hardly ask anyone, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story.” (Dracula: 444–5)
“Dracula is more than a Gothic villain, however, more than the mercenary and mundane bandit that they too often turn out to be. As the sublime synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors of Gothic writing, he is both villain and ghostly diabolical agent whose magic and power cannot be reduced to mere tricks or effects of overindulgent, superstitious imagination: more than rational, he serves to elicit rather than dispel superstitious beliefs, demanding, not a return to reason and morality, but a reawakening of spiritual energies and sacred awe.” (Fred Botting: Gothic (The New Critical Idiom) Routledge, 1999 95)
LITERARY analysis has given varying interpretations of the vampire Count over the time since the novel’s appearance in 1897: symbol of evil, incarnation of nightmares, and most especially representation of sexual degeneracy among others. However, as Hughes has pointed out:
Modern criticism’s preoccupation with sexuality dominates – and indeed inhibits the development of – the debate on vampirism…This recourse to sexuality, however, arguably represents – for both fictional character and commentating critic – the edge of an epistemological problem. Quite simply, the vampire may not be as sexual as the preoccupations of the perceiving discourses suggest it ought to be. (Fictional Vampires in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in in A New Companion to the Gothic,199)
How, then can we avoid such a preoccupation when it seems to be in almost every literary essay or book dealing with vampires and most especially Dracula?
Twitchell (1996) gives us, as readers, a different aspect to examine:
“Ironically, Dracula, the greatest vampire novel, is the work of literature that takes the vampire out of fiction and returns him to folklore” (132)
The tale is recounted in a variety of extracts – letters, transcriptions of phonographic records, diary entries, newspaper article references. They are produced at the hands of Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, John Seward and Abraham Van Helsing – they contain remembered conversations, descriptions of areas, buildings and events, all recalled later, as Harker points out in the first quote. We are guided by their words and the story which is built around them as the main raconteurs of the events – yet the one character whose written point of view that is missing is that of Dracula himself. His words and actions are only passed to us through these recollections of all that happened – his written contributions consists of a few notes and letters addressed to Harker as the latter travels to Castle Dracula at the outset of the novel. Why, of all the characters in the book, is the cultured, well read eponymous anti-hero the only one of the major protagonists whose thoughts and outlook are NOT presented to the reader? Simply to state that it is because he is the ‘baddy’ and the rest are ‘goodies’ or that, as Churchill pointed out, history (even invented literary history) is written by the victors, is a much too simplistic an answer. How far is the tale one of folkloric legends and superstitions, and how far does it run deeper than this? Can we, by examining a literary “what if”, look at the possible deeper meaning of the novel? The “what if” – “what if Dracula had put forward his point of view and interpretation of the events?”
Two caveats – first – I am not looking to become a Dracula apologist, turning him into a hero in the mould of the “Daywalker” of the Blade films, the warrior of Underworld or most particularly, the brooding, spoilt teenage used for a vampire in Twilight. Dracula is and must remain Dracula and the deeds he carries out unquestioned – the motives may be the telling part. Second,
Any reading raises suspicions “that we pretended was the author’s meaning was in fact only our own” (106-7). This is the delusional possibility that lurks within every act of criticism: analysts/interpreters may “see things” in texts that are the product of their own desires, fantasies and delusions. (Scott Brewster, “Seeing Things: Gothic and the Madness of Interpretation” in A New Companion to the Gothic 485)
Simply to over interpret any literary text leads very possibly to the imposition of our own ideas rather than understanding the work in the way the author intended (though it could equally be argued that such an understanding via our own experiences is that which must be, as we can understand it in no other way!)
Perhaps the first question to ask would be why Dracula, wielder of power, a feudal lord who had complete dominion over those in his lands, would choose to leave this and head to London where he will be unknown? As the centre of the Empire and the largest conurbation in the world at the time, London was a cosmopolitan centre, a centre of economic, scientific and military power. It was, however, a city divided. The huge wealth of the West End was in striking contrast when juxtaposed with the abject poverty and horror of life in the East End. Dracula, published in 1897, was only nine years after the terror of the Whitechapel killings by the apparently self-named Jack the Ripper. This would surely be the obvious place for Dracula’s new regime. Here, he might be anonymous among the teeming, multi-national throngs of the London populace, but also where he could use that anonymity to his own perfidious ends. In a city where violence is nothing unusual, where a multiple killer has escaped the noose for his crimes a mere decade prior to the Count’s arrival, this would surely be the evident locus to begin whatever plan he wishes to carry through. In transferring his physical situation to the West (London) from the East (Transylvania), is he a latter day symbol of the barbarism and superstition which had been made incarnate in the Huns and their leader Attila in the latter days of the Western Roman Empire? Is he the one who will succeed where Attila failed? Dracula links himself in his ancestry to the nomadic, warrior tribes who swept in from the North and the East, linking his familial origins to such by ties of honour and blood, and above all, violence. Indeed, Wasson (“The Politics of Dracula”, 1966, 24-7) went so far as to posit that Stoker, recognising the rise of the ideals of fascism in Central and Eastern Europe, made these incarnate in Dracula’s person, battling the Western values which are represented in the community of allies who face up to him (eg Law in Harker, Science in Seward, Christianity in Van Helsing et al), though this, I feel, is perhaps taking the interpretation one step too far, for the reasons cited in Brewster above.
In this move to London, however, there is no rejection of the standard Gothic setting. Though he has migrated to the metropolis of modernity and scientific advancement, Dracula’s home is still to be the old, decaying house, Carfax, where he can still be wrapped in the trappings of all that he would find familiar. In this, Dracula is painted to be:
…the sublime synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors of Gothic writing, he is both villain and ghostly diabolical agent whose magic and power cannot be reduced to mere tricks or effects of overindulgent, superstitious imagination: more than rational, he serves to elicit rather than dispel superstitious beliefs, demanding, not a return to reason and morality, but a reawakening of spiritual energies and sacred awe. (Fred Botting, “Gothic (The New Critical Idiom)” 103
In such a representation, can we begin to view anything from Dracula’s point of view? Indeed, is he merely a symbol of evil, superstition and primitivism, something which has no real character to analyse? Is this the reason that, after his continual presence in the first half of the novel, he more or less disappears as a physical character in the most part of the latter half, only becoming a physical presence again in the denouement where he his presence is requisite only to be extinguished at the hands of the modernists represented in the other protagonists? Early in the novel, Dracula explains why he wishes to remove himself to London – he wishes to be:
…a stranger in a strange land…men know him not – and to know not is to care not for. I am content if I am like the rest, so that no man stops if he sees me, or pause in his speaking if he hears my words, to say ‘Ha, ha! a stranger!’ I have been so long a master that I would be master still – or at least that none other should be master of me.’ (20)
In this, is Dracula, as the personification of the ‘synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors’, stating that he is the power which will, while remaining hidden from view, fight and vanquish the modern which is represented in the Western protagonists? He will not be a stranger, but as the atavistic vampire, he will use the powers at his disposal to remain as much master in London as he is in Transylvania? He is the epitome of Freud’s Unheimliche – Uncanny – he is the terror, the power of the unknown, but equally as part of the familiar by fitting into the social structure of Victorian London without being the stranger, no longer the ‘other’.
Why did we not get part at least of Dracula’s testimony? Partially, the social mores of the later Victorian England. Dracula is not just a representation of pure evil. He is also licentiousness, unfettered sexual depravity and perhaps most shockingly for the time, the corrupter of the innocent represented in Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray (ie prior to her marriage when her sexual innocence would be at an end through the consummation of the marriage). As Hughes states:
Sexuality functions as the key to the uncanny, the “real” meaning behind the unease associated with the supernatural. (Hughes in A New Companion to the Gothic, 212)
His successful despoiling of Lucy and turning her to a vampire is one of the most shocking episodes, and something which per se would deny the possibility of there being any testimony from the direct words of the Count. What there is of his attitude is only that which can be reported by the others in the novel, that which must be not an apology for the vampire (how can one be an apologist for pure evil?), but the parts which show him simply for what he is – this also demonstrated in the (even more shocking for the contemporary audience) overt sexual predatoriness demonstrated first by the vampiresses in Dracula’s castle and then in the reanimated, undead Lucy. Unlike Anne Rices’ LeStat, who does put forward a vampire’s point of view, Dracula cannot. The evolution of the mores from Late Victorian to modern times allow for a sympathetic view, somewhat ignoring the truth of the vampire (as in the Twilight series of books where the brooding teen vampire is rendered the hero) or in allowing the succumbing to the need for something as “beautiful and as devastating as my kill” (Vampire Chronicles, 1977, 36), both of which being attitudes which would be unconscionable to a Victorian audience. The lust and misuse of innocence, the abandoning of the food, the “banquet” which means no more to him than a plate of soup would to a human, the idea that a pure maiden might be simply a meal which remains as much in the vampire’s memory as a side of beef would to a human, despite the use of the most primitive of sexual instincts to win access to that food, is the horror. In this, we are, as Freud’s Uncanny demand, made to face something of ourselves in the vampire, though it is carried to the absolute extreme, the hyperbole of overt carnality and degeneracy and the consumption of the life force in the drinking of the blood, and therefore enough beyond what we are to allow us to distance ourselves from its being a true representation of ourselves. A vampire could only become acceptable, and therefore have the right to be represented in his own testimony, if he were to recant these practices, and he would ergo no longer be a valid participant as he would no longer be a vampire. As Dracula is THE archetypal vampire, the greatest of them all, the controller of the supernatural powers and nature as demonstrated in his control over the “children of the night”, that is something he could by definition NOT leave as it is his very being, his purest essence. To allow Dracula to speak in his own words would be to deny his reality, deny that which he is and must ever be. For Dracula to be Dracula, he must remain silent other than in the words of others in later documents written by his destroyers.