Dracula And Gothic Literature

A discussion about the imagery that is used in the novel Dracula that exemplifies gothic literature.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker uses the diary technique Mary Shelley used in Frankenstein, to create a realistic gothic horror story. By writing in diary and journal form, Stoker create a sense of intimacy with his reader. We feel as if we are reading the story as it happens and share in the horror of the various characters. Since diaries and journals are private writings, usually meant to be read only by the writer, we feel as if we are being told a dark secret. The works of Edgar Alan Poe has obviously, also influenced Stoker's work. Stoker uses gothic imagery and bizarre characters in these various journals to add to the feeling of horror naturally inherent in a story about blood sucking vampires.

The novel starts with Johnathan Harker's Journal. Harker is an English solicitor engaged to marry Mina Murray. He reluctantly leaves behind his young fiancée, and heads for Transylvania to help Count Dracula purchase a house in the suburbs of London. From the beginning, we see that Johnathan Harker is naive. When he asks the driver if he knows Count Dracula, the driver and his wife say yes, cross themselves and so nothing more. The reader is aware of the dangers that lay before Harker, but he is unmoved. He says on May 5 when he awaits the driver: I could hear a lot of words often repeated, queer words, for there were many nationalities in the crowd; so I quietly got my polglot dictionary from my bag and looked them out. I must say they were not cheering to me, for amongst them were "Ordog"--Satan, "pokol"--hell, "stregoica"--witch, "Vrlok" and and "vlkoslak"--both of which mean the same thing that is either were-wolf or vampire. (p. 6)

Harker says he is disturbed, but does not realize they are talking about Count Dracula. He dismisses their words as superstitions, "(mem., I must ask the Count about these superstitions.)" (p. 6). After they start off, everyone in the crowd makes the sign of the cross and points two fingers at him. He asks one of the passengers what is meant, and: he would not answer at first, but on learning that I was English he explained that it was a charm or guard against the evil eye. This was not very pleasant for me, just starting for unknown place to meet an unknown man; but everyone seemed so kind hearted, and so sorrowful, and so sympathetic that I could not be touched. (pp. 6-7)

Harker soon discovers he has made a mistake. He uses a gothic imagery to describe his fear when he discovers, "doors, doors, doors everywhere, and all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls is there an available exit" (P. 29).

Harker quickly learns that Dracula is more than he says especially after he is bitten, and his naïve attitude changes. One morning, as Harker looks frantically around the castle for an escape hatch, he stumbles upon a crypt where a number of coffin-like boxes of earth are stored. In an eerily gothic scene, Harker looks underneath the cover of one of the coffins, and finds Dracula, apparently dead. That night, however, Dracula appears alive as usual, and Harker suspects something supernatural about his host/captor. Harker remains trapped in the castle as he observes Count Dracula loading his coffins. Eventually, Harker escapes the castle. He returns to England to discover the ship carrying Dracula was mysteriously sunk at sea. He realizes what he must do when he observes Dracula on the streets of London. He sets out with the help of Van Helsing, and Dr. Seward to find and destroy Count Dracula. Dr. Seward is the Dr. trying to save Lucy and other victims of vampire bites. Thus, the setting for one of the most horrific gothic tales ever is set.

In Sister Agatha's Letter, we get more gothic imagery. Agatha writes: I have a vague memory of something long and dark with red eyes, just as we saw in the sunset, and something very sweet and very biter all around me at once; and then I seemed sinking into the deep green water, and there was a singing in my ears, as I have heard there is to drowning men; and then everything seemed passing away from me; my soul seemed to go out from my body and float about the air. (P. 106)

This passage is full of gothic imagery. "Something long and dark with red eyes" conjures images of the devil, and combined with the earlier scene where the crowd whispered Satan about Dracula it adds to the feeling. The song "drowning men" hear also is gothic, and when she adds her soul leaving her body and floating "about the air" the gothic iamge is complete.

The character Renfield is extremely complicated, and mysterious, especially considering he is some what of a simpleton. In Dr. Seward's diary, he writes:

I October, --I am puzzled afresh about Renfield. His moods change so rapidly that I find it difficult to keep touch with them, and as they always mean something more than his well-being, they form a more than interesting study. This morning, when I went to see him after his repulse of Van Helsing, his manner was that of a man commanding destiny. He was in fact commanding destiny--subjectively. He did really care for any of the things of mere earth; he was in the clouds and looked down on all the weaknesses and wants of us poor mortals. (p. 288)

The gothic image of Renfield looking down from the cloud "on all the weakness and wants of us poor mortals" continues to add to the horror in the novel.

Perhaps the most gothic scene in the novel is in Dr. Seward's diary when they discover the beautiful Lucy in the field with a child. Dr. Seward and Arthur are tempted to run towards her when they hear a child like cry, but Van Helsing warns them off. They soon find out, "by the concentrated light that fell on Lucy's face we could see that the lips were crimson with fresh blood, and that the stream had trickled over her chin and satined the purity of her lawn death robe" (226). Lucy snarls like "an angry cat" and her eyes look like "hellfire." "With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that to now she had clenched strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone" (227. Lucy puts Arthur in a trance and tells him "her arms are hungry for him." Arthur, helpless, begins to move towards Lucy, but is prevented by Van Helsing. Van Helsing uses the gothic image of a "golden crucifix" to force Lucy to "recoil". Dr Seward says "with a suddenly distorted face, full of rage, dashed past him as if to enter the tomb" (227). Here Stoker uses several Gothic images that are reminiscent of Edgar Alan Poe. The distorted face full of rage, and the tomb, both are favorite gothic images of Poe.

There is also something deeper going on here. Stoker like many of his contemporary writers is criticizing the puritanical ways of Victorian England and it oppressive views of both sex and woman. Lucy tells Arthur, "she hungers for him in her arms." She tells she wants to go to bed with him. That suggests both the gothic image of death, and a sexual hunger, a sexual taboo. The web page Bram Stoker's Dracula, agrees: As a gothic novel, Dracula reveals a preoccupation not just with horror but also with folk legend. It is also noted for its eroticism (think of all that sexy biting), and in fact, reveals much about sexual repression and attitudes towards sex in nineteenth-century Britain. (http://www.nhmccd.cc.tx.us/contracts/lrc/kc/dracula.html, accessed March 31, 1999)

The 1890's were a time of great social change in England. The dawning of the new century was nearing. Great authors, like playwright Oscar Wilde were openly questioning the etiquette of Victorian society, and facing criminal charges for their beliefs. Stoker may have been trying to criticize society in a way that would not draw attention of the morality police.

Like Poe and Shelley before him, Stoker uses gothic imagery to enhance the horror of his novel. Dracula is the most widely read novel in the history of mankind, second only to the Bible in sales (http://www.nhmccd.cc.tx.us/contracts/lrc/kc/dracula.html, accessed March 31, 1999).

The use of dark imagery, and macabre language adds to the gothic scenery. It is easy to see why stoker's novel is the most widely read of all time. Stoker's language is not as gothic as Poe's, but he it is easier to read, and more straightforward.

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