Analysis of Technology and Attitudes in Bram Stoker's "Dracula"
Dracula...wrong place, wrong time.
In Bram Stoker's Dracula a representation of turn of the century Victorian England is given. Changing social, political, and technological ideas are illustrated throughout the novel showing the transformation from the archaic Gothic setting of the 19th century, to the unknown world of the future. Obsessions with new technologies, awareness's of sexual identity, and xenophobic attitudes in 1897 England fill the story, leaving Dracula in the background as an almost minor character. While Dracula, himself, represents the familiar dark foreboding imagery of the classic Gothic tale, it is the new attitudes and technologies the novel presents that represent the new modern Gothic, more complex, and, in the wrong hands, capable of being more dangerous then any old world transgressive device.
On first reading Dracula presents itself as a classic tale of horror. The undead villain steps out of his grave with intent on subjugating all he comes in contact with. A closer reading, however, gives a history of the people and the times in late 19th century England. New technologies, social attitudes, and fear of reverse colonization curiously resemble much of the attitude in the United States today. Eric Kwan-Wai Yu notes that Stoker published Dracula in 1897, "...the very year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the height of jingoism; it was also the time when imperial decadence became known" (Kwan-Wai Yu, 146). Using the Gothic background for the story, Stoker was able to illustrate the fears of Western culture when new sexual freedoms and modern woman encroached on the male dominated time. He sets loose a team of male experts to head out and eradicate the problem, only to find that they are incapable of doing so without help. This is the perfect setting for a modern Gothic story. The mixture of old Gothic castles, insanity, and transgression, coupled with the use of new technologies, attitudes, and psychological advances, offer a smooth transition from the dark and dusty hallways of the old Gothic lore to the new aged weaponry to fend off whatever it is that contravenes their norm. The use of these new devices exhibits how "knowledge" is replacing the superstitions and fear of the unknown in earlier Gothic texts.
In explanation of his essay, Kwan-Wai states, "...here and there the novel stresses the count's unmistakable modernity and Englishness, which are almost consistently disavowed by the Crew of Light. The pseudoscientific descriptions of the count's primitivism toward the end of the novel, as well as the constant attempt to eroticize and demonize vampirism, involve defensive strategies we have yet to study" (Kwan-Wai 159). However, it is the use of technology that chased Dracula to that primitive state towards the novel's end.
Carol Senf examines Stoker's history in science while looking at the reasoning in his writings, " Stoker's life provides a number of reasons for his fascination with science and technology. Stoker was formally trained in science (he graduated from Trinity College, Dublin, in 1871 with a degree in science and stayed on for a Master's in pure mathematics) and in law (he was admitted to the Inner Temple and called to the Bar in 1890)" (Senf 219). This training shows in his writing through his familiarity with law, and the methodical way he has Van Helsing kill the vampires. He kills the vampire Lucy through procedure, and then follows with the sisters in the same way, as if going by way of scientific method. In the novel though, as Senf points out, "The contrast between proof and belief might shed some light on our discussion of Stoker's use of science. Unfortunately, as in Dracula, the surviving characters do not follow normal scientific protocol. They neither publish the results of their experiments nor feel compelled to explain their decisions to anyone" (Senf 223). Stoker made this fact obvious with Harker's note at the end of the novel. Senf notes that the novel, which celebrates science, is not very scientific in the end. Referring to the celebration of new technologies, Senf also states, " Included in that cost is the annihilation of everyone that the self-described scientists and technocrats see as primitive: In fact, these characters do not see any horror in the trail of death and destruction that they leave behind them -- the deaths of Lucy Westenra, Dracula, the three vampire-brides in Dracula's castle, and even Quincy Morris" (Senf 227). In her conclusion, she goes so far as to state, "A century later, we can no longer share Stoker's confidence in the positive power of science and technology (Senf 227).
Glennis Byron seems to agree with Senf on the misuse of technology, as she states, "In Dracula , for example, science is variously interpreted as the source of the vampire hunters' ability to defeat the Count, and the source of their helplessness and confusion in the face of supernatural forces" (Byron 49). Byron is suggesting that Stoker was unsure of how the new technologies would serve society, "Such contradictory interpretations of his works are possible, I would suggest, because of a certain ambivalence within the text that stems from Stoker's anxieties about science's unstable relationship with transgression" (Byron 49).
Both writers suggest that Stoker used science in Dracula as a way of showing that there could be a dark side to it, if not handled the proper way. Byron explains, "On the other hand, Stoker was a man of his time not only in his enthusiasm for science, but also in his misgivings about its potential, and in the struggle between good and evil, science is not always unequivocally associated with the forces of good" (Byron 50). With the turn of the century nearing, as we witnessed prior to the year 2000, there were anxieties about what to expect. Stoker himself refers to this through Van Helsing's relation to Seward, "Let me tell you, my friend, there are things done today in electrical science which would have been deemed unholy by the very men who discovered electricity - who would themselves not so long before have been burned as wizards. There are always mysteries in life" (Stoker 171). Byron emphasizes the point with an explanation:
The monstrous potential of science and technology has been a persistent motif of the Gothic from Mary Shelley's Frankenstein(1818) up to the present day, and, as a number of critics have argued, the fin-de-siècle revival of the Gothic was intricately connected with the anxieties produced by the various new scientific discourses - including evolutionism, mental physiology and sexology - that were beginning to question and dismantle conventional ideas of the human. (Byron 50).
Just as we take for granted the technologies we use today on an everyday basis, Stoker realized the potential for the technology back then.
The novel goes further then the technological aspect of the text. The fear of waning Victorian values, and foreign encroachment prevail as well. Dracula, the person, posed a threat to English society. However, Seward, Van Helsing, and the rest took it upon themselves to eradicate this threat. Byron notices, "And while Van Helsing may encourage the belief that the vampire can be identified and controlled through the insights of modern criminal anthropology, as a number of critics have wryly observed, the conclusion that Dracula is a 'criminal' certainly does not prompt Van Helsing to call in the police" (Byron 56). This account should raise questions in the readers mind as to the validity motives of Van Helsing's crew. The epistolary form Stoker presents the story in allows the reader to meet the characters through the journals and letters of other characters while exposing the letter writer's character at the same time. This device helps to bring the reader into the story on a more personal level, as a voyeur, aiding to the Gothic feel of one who is outside looking in. Katrien Bollen and Raphael Ingelbien make note of this, " The narrative structure of Dracula, which presents itself as a barely edited collection of testimonies, makes it impossible to firmly identify any of the narrators as an authorial mouthpiece" (Bollen 404 ).
On the other hand, it also acts as a vehicle to question the credibility of each author. A group of people that perpetuated the happenings in the story, which is the killing of Dracula, gives the only evidence of the events that occurred through these relations. The end of the novel states that the only evidence to the events that happened is in these writings. Were there to be an investigation, even in late 19th century England, the facts are suspect. Case in point: A Romanian dirt farmer solicits the services of Harker's office. The Romanian buys land from Harker's firm, however, when he attempts to move in, the man who lives in the mental institution next door finds his presence an intrusion. The Romanian has money, so the intruded upon calls on friends of influential means to help. A common denominator in three of these men's lives is Lucy Westenra, a woman, who for Victorian times is a bit too promiscuous. Lucy winds up dead, and blame is laid on the Romanian. They chase the Romanian back to his homeland, and kill him. This is a case of cold-blooded murder, perpetuated maybe from the state of jealous rage on the part of the man in the mental institution, unless, of coarse, the Romanian is a direct threat to society as a whole. Being of Eastern European heritage is not enough, but their lore is, make him a vampire.
If Dracula represents the foreign element invading Victorian values, surely then, other characters have representation of their own. Lucy Westenra, who Christopher Craft refers to in his definition of the "Crew of Light," could be the representation of those fallen values as well. If the name Lucy is to represent light, then the name Westenra could represent the West as well. Taking it a step further, she is the light of the west, a representation of the sun setting on the Victorian day.
The character of Renfield has a small, though be it, important part in the novel. Renfield's presence allows Dracula to enter the house and get to Mina. Renfield whose zoophagous abnormality causes him to need the blood of small animals could be representative of the British empire of the past. He starts out with flies, moves up to spiders, and then wants a cat, much like British colonialism where smaller parcels were first procured, then whole countries. Renfield's knowledge raises another issue. He "seconded" Arthur's father at the Windham. He knew of Van Helsing's reputation, and made interesting historical points to Quincy with regard to the Monroe Doctrine, and the Pole and the Tropics, but more importantly he tries to warn the crew about Dracula's intent for Mina and they fail to listen. Finally, he tries to overcome Dracula himself and is killed.
Van Helsing and Morris represent another kind of foreigner, British allies. The Dutch and the Americans are both symbolic of the capitalism that runs side by side with colonialism. Whereas Jonathan in Transylvania and Dracula in London act as strangers in a strange land, the allies act as invaders of strange lands, conquering and subjecting, adding a strange duality to the story. Bollen and Ingelbien explain Dracula's presence in England as a threat, " In some readings, the Count's vampirism recycles and updates Gothic cliché's about foreign aristocrats, while his proposed invasion of England represents a fear of 'reverse colonization' that was emerging as a central concern about the future of Imperial Britain in the closing years of Victoria's reign" (Bollen 403). Taking it a step further, they point out the extremes taken by the Westerners out of desperation to protect their Victorian values:
The vampire's final defeat at the hands of an assorted crew of Westerners seemingly exorcizes the fears raised by the possibility of Imperial and/ or genetic decline. Yet in the process of exterminating Dracula, the Crew of Light resorts to violent or superstitious tactics that seem out of keeping with the values they should stand for, even to the extent of mirroring the vampire's actions or attitudes. What this portends is all but clear: either the evil, degenerate foreigner has managed to contaminate the Crew of Light more than they realize, or Stoker may be subtly questioning the very distinction between the enlightened Westerners and the monstrous Eastern Other that the novel's epic struggle sets up. Recent readings in particular have stressed the latter possibility, calling into question 'the overly anxious construction of the [late] nineteenth century' and suggesting that earlier analyses of Dracula as a racist text failed to account for certain complexities.(Bollen 404)
More and more, through these interpretations, the Crew of light seems to be coming off as the monster, rather then the vampire they need to kill. Bollen and Ingelbien look at different influences and interpretations, and goes so far as to suggest that one could argue, "...that Dracula is largely the product of the Crew of Light's own racist imagination" (Bollen 417). They suggest that Mina's battle changes to battling the vampire within, embodies the "Utopian possibilities of ethnic hybridization" (Bollen 417).
In the beginning of the story when Harker is called to Dracula's castle, it is for a business transaction. Dracula sends him a letter signed, "Your friend, Dracula." This seems hardly threatening. When he arrives at the castle, Dracula greets him and says, "Welcome to my house! Enter freely. Go safely, and leave something of the happiness you bring! " (Stoker 22). Again, this does not seem like a threatening host. Kwan-Wai takes note of this;
With regard to Dracula's imperial ambitions and mimic power, it must be clarified that the reason why he summons Harker to his castle is not to suck blood. Rather, he uses Harker mainly as an English 'informant' to help improve his own accented English. As a serious, learned Occidentalist, he also needs Harker's native knowledge to update his huge archives. Distracted by the scenes of "sexual anarchy," it is all too easy for readers to forget what Dracula wants from Harker at the beginning of the story is information, not blood or semen, and that Dracula can be as austere and diligent a scholar as Van Helsing (Kwan-Wai 160).
He goes on to describe Dracula as, "A self-made man who does all his daily chores in the castle without keeping servants, remarkable for his physical strength and even more so for his hoarding of gold and money, the count is rightly identified by Nina Auerbach and David Skal as a 'Puritanical presence,' who neither sups nor smokes, and finds mirrors 'vain baubles'" (Kwan -Wai 159).
Locals of the area feared Dracula, he had wealth and power, the poor always resent wealth and power. It was only after Harker had spent time in the castle that he started getting suspicious of something being wrong. There is no valid reference to events that he chronicled, when he was found, he was already mad. Therefore, who is to say that the events he wrote of at the castle actually happened at all?
Mina's association with Lucy involves her with Dr. Seward and Van Helsing who learn of Jonathon's condition. Quincy and Arthur, who with Seward, have amorous feelings towards Lucy are drawn in, and are willing to do anything the two scientists tell them to do, it is not beyond the Gothic sphere to have scientists who are mad. Is it not possible that for some reason Van Helsing and Seward wanted Dracula disposed of, his money, Eastern heritage, or his Otherness?
Kwan-wai offers Van Helsing's description of Dracula that hints of paranoia;
Dracula is certainly foreign, aristocratic and, indeed, too old, but as a prodigious Occidental scholar he is surely capable of modernizing and Anglicizing himself. In order to deny Dracula's surprising similarity to himself. Van Helsing is obliged to turn to a self deceptive criminology. He rationalizes that Dracula, however powerful, still remains primitive, that he possesses a 'child brain' as predictable as the typical criminal mind and will not escape the gaze of modern Western science (Kwan-Wai 161 Qte Stoker296).
Van Helsing criminalizes Dracula from the start in order to justify the morbid fetish he has for mutilating dead bodies. Who is to say Van Helsing is not a practice of necromancy, and saw this as an opportunity. Kwan-wai concludes his essay by stating, " And one of the insights Dracula affords us is that this ideal form of imperial subjectivity, dramatized and defamiliarized in the vampire fighters by their anxiety-ridden, ceaseless, and ascetic hard work, might well be irredeemably 'vampiric' in the last analysis" (Kwan-Wai 165).
Dracula is a fascinating tale; it is open to many interpretations. My intention was not to prove that Van Helsing and the Crew of Light were criminals, only to open the idea up as a theoretical option. As I stated previously, the only evidence of the events are in the journals and letters. They state they have no proof, and want no proof, yet offer the writings as proof. Dracula and his outdated ways are the repressed. The Crew of Lights response to them is the transgression. Technology, while making life easier, can create a more horrific picture in the end. Modernity can be the violent reality of the future when faced against archaic ways that want to die peacefully.
Bollen, Katrien, and Raphael Ingelbien. "An Intertext that Counts? Dracula, The Woman in White, and Victorian Imaginations of the Foreign Other." English Studies 90.4 (2009): 403-420. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.
Byron, Glennis. "Bram Stoker's Gothic and the Resources of Science." Critical Survey 19.2 (2007): 48-62. Web. 7 Dec. 2010.
Kwan-Wai Yu, Eric. "Productive Fear: Labor, Sexuality, and Mimicry in Bram Stoker's Dracula." 145-170. University of Texas Press, 2006. Web. 6 Dec. 2010.
Senf, Carol A. "Dracula and The Lair of the White Worm." Gothic Studies 2.2 (2000): 218-232 Web. 6 Dec. 2010.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Norton, 1997. Print.