Table of Contents
Dracula as an (un-) conscious sexual allegory
The Issue of the New Woman in Dracula
As Fred Botting states, “the play between mythological and modern significance, between mystical and scientific visions of horror and unity, sexuality and sacred violence, is focused in the figure of the vampire” (1996, 144).
Indeed, the image of the vampire is very often associated with these attributes, especially with repressed sexuality and romantic traits (cf. Kline 1992, 18; Leatherdale 1985, 21). Thus, critics of literary study point out the “sexual energy” which is usually an important part of tales of vampirism (Craft 1999, 93; cf. Brittnacher 1994, 141ff).
In her novels, Anne Rice describes the vampire’s bite as a liturgical act (cf. Brittnacher 1994:131), Sheridan Le Fanu’s female vampire Carmilla is actually a lesbian (cf. Leatherdale 1985, 54) and John Polidori’s early story The Vampyre is considered to have successfully combined the vampire-motif with a seducing romanticism (Hurst 2002, 139; Leatherdale 1985, 51). These are only few literary examples presenting “metaphorical utilization of vampirism to serve […] erotic purposes” (Leatherdale 1985, 50). However, many more could be made, as vampirism often has entailed sexual or at least romanticised aspects since the Middle Ages (Leatherdale 1985, 20f). Furthermore, today’s contemporary books and movies tend to carry forward this tradition.
“Stokers Dracula führt die verschiedenen Aspekte und Elemente des Vampirstoffs, die in den zuvor erschienen literarischen Werken thematisiert und ausgearbeitet wurden, zusammen“ (Hurst 2002, 141). Indeed, Bram Stoker combined different aspects of the literary vampire when he created Count Dracula (cf. Brittnacher 1994, 119ff; Hurst 141f). This mixture of well-tried elements may be one of the reasons why Bram Stoker’s novel is widely seen as the “by far best-known literary treatment of the vampire myth” (Bentley 1972, 27). Amazingly, Dracula has never been out of print since it was first published in 1897 (Leatherdale 1985, 11; McNally et.al. 1994, 133) and can thus be said to have become the figurehead for the vampirism-phenomena. Consequently, James Twitchell asserts that “vampire and Dracula have become synonymous” (1981, 132).
It was pointed out that erotic or sexual elements seem to be typical for vampire-stories. Phyllis Roth even claims that “vampirism is equivalent to sexuality” (Roth, 1999). Setting the focus on Dracula, this equation can definitely be presumed. “Powerful sexual charge” seems to run throughout the novel (Murray 1988, 200f) and so it is no wonder that Bram Stoker’s gothic masterpiece is widely interpreted for its sexual contents (cf. Jung 1997, 31f; Kline 1992, 5f). As Kathleen Spencer points out, critics do not really agree “as to what kind of sexuality is present in the novel,” but among them there are no doubts that “a given sexuality […] is repressed and displaced throughout the text (1992, 197).”
By talking of a repressed and displaced sexuality, Kathleen Spencer refers to an important point. Indeed, sexual issues are not described explicitly in the novel. Nevertheless, a strong sexual dynamic in Dracula is unquestionable (cf. Bentley 1972, 27). Among with many critics Sally Kline names Dracula a novel which is filled with allegories of sex (Kline 1992, 18ff). So the story certainly has sexual implications in it. However, since they are masked behind allegorical signals, their intensity and obviousness diversifies.
By investigating the sexual implications of the novel in detail, this paper will answer the question whether Bram Stoker actually was aware of the allegory he placed in Dracula. Are the sexual implications so immense that Stoker can be said to have consciously written “quasi-pornography” (Bentley 1972, 27). Or are those sexual images overrated and thus can be claimed to have crept in the novel accidentally and unwittingly by Stoker ?
If the former possibility will be the case, it will also be necessary to take a look at the intention of writing Dracula as a sexual allegory. In conjunction with conscious sexual writing, many critics interpret the novel as hidden criticism on the so called New Woman, a feminist ideal which emerged in the Victorian society in the late nineteenth century (cf. Spencer 1992, 206ff; Pope 1999, 84ff; Punter 1999, 27). Following Carol Senf this paper will ask if Dracula was indeed “Stoker’s Response to the New Woman” (1982) and if so, it will try to reveal Stoker’s attitude towards this movement. Analysing the character of Mina, Stoker’s possible intentions of bringing up the implications on the New Woman might become obvious.
In the end, this paper’s results will be shortly summed up. Additionally, there will be given an outline of alternative interpretations of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Even if most critics deal with the sexual issues of the novel, many other interesting aspects can be found.
Dracula as an (un-) conscious sexual allegory
“Vampirismus und Sexualität – ein Begriffspaar, das […] sich vor allem in Stokers Dracula zu einer neuen, unheiligen Allianz zusammengefunden hat […] (Hurst 2002, 143).” As Hurst points out, Dracula is widely seen as a very sexual novel. Even if sexual actions are not mentioned explicitly, sexual symbolism in Stokers novel is striking to the reader. However, sexuality was a very sensitive issue in Victorian society which was coined by an intensive prudishness and a high moral tone (cf. Mendes 2005, 46; Bentley 1972, 27f; Leatherdale 1985, 146). So Clive Leatherdale rightly wonders how a book like Dracula could not be censored, considering the strong taboo which rested on sexual topics (1985, 145).
Indeed, even if the sexual content in Dracula is “effectively camouflaged” (Leatherdale 1985, 146), there might still have been a risk for Stoker to be confronted with bawdily matters. A very dangerous venture, since all “the obscenity laws, the tyranny of the circulating libraries and the force of public opinion” (Bentley 1972, 27f) made it nearly impossible for any author to run the risk of mentioning sexual issues. Therefore, the question has to be asked whether Bram Stoker was actually aware of the sexual symbolism which lies in Dracula. Daniel Farson brings it right to the point when he writes: “Is it possible that Stoker did not realise he had written one of the most erotic books in English literature (1975, 210)?”
For Christopher Bentley, there is no doubt that exactly that was the case (cf. Bentley 1972, 27f). He refers to Stoker’s life and his other writings which do not suggest Stoker writing sexually charged fiction (Ibid). Furthermore, according to Bentley the constraints mentioned in the paragraph above were so strong that Victorian novelists would in any case avoid to become suspected of writing anything only close to pornography (Ibid). But Bentley is only one among many critics who regard Stoker to have been unaware to his novels sexual energy (cf. Kline 1992, 5f). Still, as Bentley continues his article, he closely examines sexually charged scenes in Dracula and describes the novel’s covert treatment of sexuality in such detailed clarity that is seems almost ironic if Stoker himself had not realised his own implications.
 Many dictionaries (e.g. the English Oxford Dictionary) relate the adjective “Victorian“ directly with prudishness and a strong public morality.
- Quote paper
- Christoph Haeberlein (Author), 2006, Issues of Sexuality in "Bram Stoker’s Dracula", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/113255