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Trollheart 03-17-2022 11:42 AM

There’s a pretty strong sense of abiding love between the men too, even if this is only barely skimmed over and they’re treated more as all lads together on a grand adventure, and Harker’s love for Mina and hers for him is certainly undeniable, one of the main things that keeps him alive, induces him to get out of the castle and escape from the women (I mean, having your blood sucked aside, the idea of three beautiful girls making love to you every night does have its advantages) and to save her in the end. I think though that those who talk of a sexual bond between the vampire and Harker are reaching; nowhere in the novel do I see him profess love for Dracula. On the contrary, he is repelled by him, disgusted by him, terrified of him. The count, of course, tells the women Harker is his, but this is more a case of his being the vampire’s property, the source of his life-renewing (or un-life-renewing?) energy, and it’s really more a nineteenth century version of Dracula warning the women not to touch his stuff. Harker might almost bear a label: PROPERTY OF DRACULA. HANDS OFF.

In terms of vampire literature though, this is where it all comes together. The previous authors have laid down the framework, but it’s Stoker who puts it all into one manageable whole, he who takes the skeleton and clothes it in flesh and looses it on the world, he who takes what others have begun and creates the first, and most lasting, of the literary vampires. Some aspects from previous vampire stories and novels are retained, some are not. The idea of moonlight healing a vampire, so prevalent in Polidori’s story, is nowhere mentioned here, nor I believe is it again. Polidori’s vampire, as Le Fanu’s and Rymer’s, and even Byron’s possible one, all seem to begin as more or less vital humanoid figures and undergo little change, whereas we meet Stoker’s Dracula as a frail old man, who gets younger and stronger by sucking the blood out of his unwilling visitor. This is, I think, the first time that the vampire figure uses the drinking of human blood not only to sustain himself and satisfy his devilish thirst, but to renew himself, to remake himself and almost rise from the dead, or from very old age. Using the power of the blood (“The blood is the life!”) he can actually combat time, force it back and reverse the ageing process.

To my knowledge, none of the previous vampires, other than Carmilla, refused or did not consume food. Dracula pretends he is simply not hungry, but it soon becomes clear that he is unable or unwilling to eat, or uninterested in human food. Blood is what sustains him, and terror, and possession of the will. Like Carmilla - and only her, up to that point - Dracula can change his form into that of an animal. He first appears as a dog, then as a bat, but not only that, he can perform extraordinary feats of strength and agility, this last displayed when Harker sees - as he thinks, in a horrible dream - the count crawling, insect-like, up the side of the castle. Though the moonlight can’t revive him, Dracula’s power seems to be at its height during the night, and he avoids the sun, something touched on in Carmilla, who sleeps through the days, though she does seem to be able to walk in the daylight.

If Dracula resembles the format of any of the previous treatments of the vampire legends, we have to go back to Byron, whose A Fragment is literally that; a tiny snippet of what should or could have been a longer story (and became one, in John Polidori’s perhaps plagiaristic hands) which takes the form of a letter. Stoker’s novel is made up exclusively of letters, journals, newspaper reports and is what is called an “epistolary novel”, which is to say, there is no single narrator and it is made up of extracts like the above. Where Dracula differs from A Fragment is that the narrative is all in the present tense; Byron wrote about an event which had taken place, which he was now relating later, whereas Stoker tells it as it happens, giving very much a sense of immediacy to the story, and making us feel as if we live it through the eyes (and pen) of the various internal authors.

It’s perhaps interesting, though not that surprising, as you’d hardly expect Dracula to keep a journal, that there’s little actual dialogue from the title character. Other than his speeches in his castle to Harker, Dracula is, to some extent, almost a passive character once he leaves his home, spoken of, referred to, but seldom speaking for himself. You might see him as a moving narrative device, being utilised by each character as he enters or impacts on their life, the effects of his interaction with them then being related by that person. In later versions of the tale, of course, he will assume complete control, but it’s telling that here he depends on the words of others mostly to direct his actions. In that respect, you could almost make an argument for his being the weakest character in the novel, being buffeted by circumstances from place to place, and finally driven back to his starting point, where he, no longer needed or wanted, is eliminated as the story comes to an end.

And again, though later versions would address this, there is no attempt by Stoker to either justify the Count’s behaviour or explore the reasons behind it. There is literally no backstory. Nobody knows - or, I guess, cares - where Dracula came from, what made him into who and what he is, whether he had any choice in the matter and whether or not he is just trying to survive. In typical Victorian attitude, he is Evil, and there is nothing more to be said. Evil with a capital E. The Bad Guy. No redemption, no understanding, no analysis. And oddly enough, nobody asks who he is or where he comes from (other than the literal origin, as in, Transylvania) or even why he’s targeting Lucy and Mina. It’s not seen as being important. He’s evil, and that’s enough. Evil is evil because it’s evil. He’s a servant of the Devil, and abhorrent to God. There is no sympathy for him, and the novel is fiercely and determinedly, and almost in a blinkered way, very much black and white.

Future authors would not only expand on the vampire myth, but delve - some quite deeply - into the life, or unlife, the past at any rate of the vampire, some of them referencing events way back in history, to show how old the vampire was and perhaps to give him a sense of realism too. If you can think of a vampire who exists today being, say, the shield-bearer for Alexander the Great, or helping Columbus discover the New World, he feels more real, more… there. And this I think also then almost humanises him, in a way writers like Anne Rice and Charlene Harris would later attempt, mostly successfully. You wouldn’t think it, from the way Dracula is portrayed here as a slavering, amoral, pagan and evil monster, but through the writing of these and other authors we would actually come over the years to sympathise with, understand and even grow to love vampire characters. Not so for Stoker’s fiend though. There are no ambiguities in his novel.

The good guys are good. There’s not even the hint that one of the three men who vied for Lucy’s hand might have darker pasts or deeper feelings on losing her. It’s quite unrealistic in that way. Two men who have fought for one woman are unlikely to remain friends with the third, who won her. It just would not happen. There’s never even any sign of tension, jealousy or even schadenfreude when Quincey loses Lucy, and then his own life. Harker is never anything but a good guy, no stain attaches to him, and his enslavement by the vampire brides is never brought up. Everyone (other than Quincey, Lucy and of course Dracula) lives happily ever after in this dark and at the time modern fairy tale.

I feel compelled though to point out that in giving Harker the profession of a solicitor, a lawyer, Stoker may very well be saying something about the business. At a time when his contemporaries like Dickens were loudly and savagely lambasting the trade in novels like Bleak House, and in an age where lawyers were thought of, and often described as bloodsuckers and leeches, draining clients of their financial life blood for the maintenance of their own living, was Stoker taking revenge on the law profession, giving it a taste of its own medicine? Having been a bloodsucker for so long (though possibly not him personally) was Harker being drained as a figurative backlash against the system, a triumph for the people who had lost all their money in endless court cases, a case of, um, the vampire strikes back? Maybe not; I guess Harker would have to have been a lawyer in order to necessitate his being in the Count’s castle, but I do wonder.

There is, of course, a strong sense of religion running through the novel. Well, when you have basically the devil as your main antagonist, it only stands to reason that God is going to be in there too doesn’t it? The religious imagery used to fight Satan I mean Dracula does not, I think, necessarily come from folk belief, as much of that was pagan anyway, but I’d have to check. I feel the idea of using the crucifix to stop the vampire was a crude way of showing how God - and religion - triumphs and prevails over darkness, the same as with the sprinkling of holy water and the placing of Communion wafers in Dracula’s coffins to preclude his lying in them. But garlic was a long-held remedy against the Undead, and Stoker uses it here, first by Van Helsing as he tries to protect the sick and dying Lucy - his efforts would have succeeded had it not been for the naivete of Lucy’s mother, who removes the garlic and dies as a result, as if Stoker is punishing her for not obeying the strict orders of the male authority figure, and later, when she is undead, as a protection against her coming back, though how she would do so minus a head is puzzling.

One of the ideas Stoker had in Dracula, but which sadly was never carried forward and adopted into later vampire literature, was the idea of being unable to capture his likeness. In his time, the only real way to do this was by being painted, as photography was very much in its infancy, but the same would have held true for photographs or movies with the vampire on them. The premise went like this: if Dracula were to sit for a portrait, or someone sketched him unawares, the resultant picture would look nothing like him, would look entirely like someone else, as his image could never be properly captured. The logic behind this being, I think, that Dracula was not of this world, and in today’s scientific terms might be described as a being from another dimension impinging on our reality, thus not really here, thus unable to be captured. I guess the idea survives somewhat in the mostly accepted belief that vampires can’t be seen in mirrors, for presumably the same reasons.

I also find it all but unbelievable that an agency of defeating the vampire which went forward from his wellspring of vampire lore and literature was not actually in the book. When Harker and the others come upon Dracula it is almost sunset, and, while it could be said the Count is despatched in the rays of the dying sun, almost but not quite able to rise, not until the sun goes down, the trope would quickly develop that the rising sun would destroy the vampire, burning him up like a torch. This is not addressed here at all: the sun is an enemy, not a friend, for when it sinks below the horizon Dracula will rise and be powerful and deadly, and quite probably invulnerable. The rising of the sun, half a day away surely now, will not help the adventurers kill t their adversary, and again in a departure from what would become canon, Dracula is not despatched by a stake through the heart, or beheaded or set on fire. A simple dagger thrust (well, two) are enough to rid the world of this monster.

One can only assume that Stoker had not quite worked out what was necessary to kill the vampire king (although that’s not true, as he was quite clear on how Lucy and later the vampire women were to be dealt with) and just went with his best guess, but it’s hardly iconic is it? Dracula slashed across the throat and stabbed in the heart (if he has one): not quite the stuff of legends, which may be why it was changed. It will be interesting to see who, where and for what reason it was changed; who was the first to introduce the whole death-by-sunlight and staked-in-the-heart idea (Stoker claims the latter but has not embraced or even thought of the former, so who put them together?), establishing a clear idea in the literature of the best way - perhaps the only way - to kill the Undead?

Trollheart 03-17-2022 12:55 PM

Renfield is a character I just don’t get. He doesn’t seem to do much at all in the novel and I feel that in some ways he was merely put into it to allow Stoker to indulge all the worst excesses of horror that he wished to depict, but could not do so with the other characters. A “shock value” player I believe, and certainly one of the most repulsive creatures ever, more closely tied to Igor in later Frankenstein adaptations than anything to do with vampires. Later works would have those who fell under the vampire’s spell and swore to serve them, often allowing themselves voluntarily to be drained - though never to the point of death - maybe in the hope of one day being turned, that is, made a vampire themselves, or assisting by sourcing and delivering to their master fresh victims, but there has never, to my knowledge, been again a character like Renfield. I guess he certainly made an impression, but a bad one, and later writers were not interested in extending his short legacy.

The idea of the dreary, ruined, cold and dark castle is of course a familiar trope in Victorian Gothic literature, featured in such disparate works as Poe’s The Fall of the House of Usher and Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, as well as, of course, the original, Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto, though here, possibly for the first time, Stoker gives the dread mansion an occupant just as dark and evil as his abode. Gothic literature tended to rely on a sense of suspense, the idea that something awful was lurking in the shadows, but more often than not it either was never shown or turned out to be something quite human and mortal. An old relative, locked away and gone mad. A murderer taking refuge. A child who had some strange defect and had been imprisoned in the house. Here, for (maybe) the first time is a real, honest-to-Satan, in the flesh demon, stalking the halls of his home with arrogant superiority and contempt, and evil intent. The half-glimpsed nightmare come frighteningly to life, the old stories some true, the shadows taking on an actual form. Evil, to use modern parlance, is in da house.

You have to wonder about Quincey too. Of the five men he’s the only one who dies, and of the three men he’s the one Lucy chose. Has she, in submitting to Dracula, not only sold her own soul but that of her lover too? He’s also the one who has the dubious honour of killing her, and later puts an end to her master too; has she cursed, or passed on the curse that has fallen upon her, to her intended? Was Stoker trying to say that by associating with, and being identified with Lucy, the American was dooming himself, was taking upon his own soul the darkness Lucy had embraced? Till death do us part? Was he aligning them in evil, the sins of one becoming those of the other?

Another telling point is that, of the six female characters in the novel, only one survives, and that through the intervention (rescue) of the males. Admittedly, one male dies (two, if you count Dracula and indeed three if you count Renfield) - and this is of course discounting the crew and passengers on the Demeter - but in terms of percentages and ratio, the female side fares the worst in this battle, if you will, of the sexes. Even the sole survivor, Mina, is marked by her experience and is never likely to be the same again. She’ll certainly sleep with the gaslight on for a while, that’s for sure.

I can’t speak for Varney the Vampire or indeed The Vampyre: A Tale, as I’ve yet to read them, but I’m pretty sure Carmilla played out differently, and it seems to me that Stoker was the first to create what I possibly might call the “secret adventure” style of book, where no matter how great the danger, and the fact that it affects everyone, a small band of one or two people, or slightly more, must operate in the shadows, alone, without recourse to any sort of assistance from the authorities. Mostly, I feel, this is because firstly, to enlist the help of, say, the police would be time-consuming, as, in this case, Harker and his friends would have to try to convince them that they were not mad, which would be no easy task. Of course, if they did manage somehow to convince them, panic would surely ensue, making the job the harder.

But there’s also perhaps what you could refer to as the superhero complex here, the idea that these people, and only these people, must save the world/England/Europe/all life from the evil they fight, that only they can do this and they must do it alone. I guess it makes their job harder, taking away any resources they might normally have access to in such an investigation, and thereby the triumph the sweeter. Also, if, as often happens, someone must die in the course of the adventure, it needs to be hushed up, as the law tends to take a very black-and-white view on murder, with few extenuating circumstances considered. And, of course, as in all such enterprises, the more people who know about it the bigger the chance it will fail, as someone either falls victim to the evil or decides their path might be easier if they throw in their lot with it.

Overall, the work must be done in secret, the victory - if there is one - must be celebrated in secret and never spoken of outside the circle, and if necessary, a cover story must be invented and stuck to by all participants. This tends to hold true for most vampire novels from here on in; you rarely if ever see the police, the government, the military or any other authority involved. I don’t say never, but the trope Stoker seems to have developed here runs mostly along the lines of keep the circle small and secret the better to succeed, and this is followed in most of the stories that come after, build on or are given birth to by his novel.

The battle in Dracula is, of course, at its heart and at a very basic level, the age-old struggle of good versus evil, with, as I noted above, no doubt as to who is on which side. It’s also, almost by association, the battle of religion versus superstition, lore against reality, ignorance versus science and the ancient world versus the enlightened one, both meeting in a truly terrifying way, as Stoker’s characters realise that the monsters they were always told never existed were there all along, not under the bed but lurking in a castle hundreds of miles away. On another level, too, as already indicated, it’s a battle between cultures: the strange and foreign versus the comfortable and the familiar, the “godly” against the “heathen”, England against darkest Europe.

It’s also possible that, given Stoker’s fierce Protestant upbringing and his mother’s hatred of Catholics, that Dracula and his dark lore are standing in for the older, more superstitious (as Protestants saw them) practices of Roman Catholics, the Count himself a dark Pope, ready to come over and rend and rip the country’s “true” religion with his bloodstained hands. Ever suspicious of each other, Dracula could be read as the Protestant Ascendancy fear that Catholics were growing too powerful as the Penal Laws were relaxed and then repealed, and that their way of life, their very faith was under threat from this “foreign power”, ie Transylvania taking the place of Rome, where another “dark prince” watched England with (as they would believe anyway) hate-filled and envious eyes, and plotted how to bring it again under his yoke.

And as there is a battle going on between faiths, and as this is 1890s Victorian England, God has to win, but unlike the braver Mary Shelley, whose Frankenstein does not end well for either protagonist and says a lot about hating others just because they’re different, Stoker I feel takes the easier way out, the happy ending (even though people die, the vampire is defeated in the end and the good guys win the day) and in this, for me, though I love the novel, misses an important opportunity to explore further, as Shelley did, the very nature of humanity, evil and faith. To some extent, Stoker’s characters are a little cardboard-ish, caricatures of Victorian adventurers who take on all comers and, despite losing one of their number (and after all, he’s only an American, not a God-fearing Englishman!) win through. Hurrah!

Although there had been a few vampire stories, novels and plays before this, most of them had taken what they wanted from the vampiric legends and discounted what they did not. Stoker, to be fair, did this too, but his is the most complete and comprehensive early image of the vampire we have in writing, and in terms of research, nobody except maybe Byron had done more. However, Byron contemptuously told us that he did not have any interest in vampires (making it, to me, more and more likely that Darvell was no vampire, nor intended to be) so Stoker is the first to put it all together and with the enthusiasm of a real adherent of the lore. He may have seen, with the massive popularity of Varney the Vampire and later Carmilla, the appetite (sorry) for vampire stories, and tailored his novel to that need, but he surely saw too that nobody before him had done it properly, and determined to set that right.

The truth is that Stoker should have earned the title held today by Stephen King as the master of horror, but he did not. Though Dracula was well received it made him little money and brought him little fame, and a screw-up over copyright meant that an American version was able to be printed and sold without his getting any royalties at all. In a similar manner to Dickens, cheap copies, knock-offs, imitations and unauthorised adaptations of his work were to flood the market, and with copyright law in the fluid state it was in at the time, it was hard, even impossible to protect his work. Later, his widow would successfully sue to prevent a film - the first ever - being made based on his novel, but once the floodgates were open, rather like the emergence of the Count himself on the shores of England, there would be no stopping it and it would flow like a river, crushing all before it.

In a very real and tangible way, the true age of vampire literature had begun.

Trollheart 03-17-2022 02:28 PM

The next dark step for vampires...

It's fitting that Dracula becomes the last (and paradoxically, also first, at least first proper) vampire novel of the nineteenth century, as it marks a turning point in vampire, horror, gothic and even adventure literature, setting down standards and tropes, and introducing us to concepts which would characterise novels of its type right up to today. Dracula can easily be seen as a demarcation line, showing where the idea of just writing a novel about a vampire, or a novel with a vampire, changed to become the process of writing a vampire novel. In other words, the point at which vampire novels rose out of the grip, as it were, of gothic fiction and became their own genre.

Nowhere would this be more evident than in vampire movies.

And so, after a deep exploration of the origins, and rise within early literature of vampires, we come to the next stage. Although vampires are as popular today in books as they ever were, and have gone on to star or feature in comics too, the beginning of the twentieth century would herald a new age, and provide for the humble literary vampire a bridge to a new world, as they took their first faltering, and indeed silent and monochrome, steps onto the silver screen. Once vampires were seen on film, their popularity soared and they would become inextricable from the public consciousness. Those who did not care for books, had no time for them or, perhaps in some cases, certainly at the turn of the century, could not read, were able to experience the full drama, mythos and horror of the creature who had frozen the blood and quickened the heartbeat of all who had read about him.

For a long time, as you might expect, vampires remained exclusively male. Despite the power of Le Fanu's quasi-lesbian anti-heroine Carmilla, it was either decided having female vampires on the screen was too much of a leap for the audience, or was considered immoral to portray women in such an evil and lustful way. It would take time - mostly due, I think (though I will research and we'll explore it in depth once the time arrives) to Hammer Pictures, who would break many cinematic taboos in their time - before women would take their place alongside their male counterparts in evil. But for now, the only roles available for them would be that of the victim, screaming (soundlessly, for some time) and imploring someone, anyone to rescue them.

Of course, in time vampires would transition to the small screen, where they would become even more popular and famous, and, some might argue, quite watered down as the writers of various televisions series strove to de-monstrify, if you will, the creature of the night and explore what made him tick, and how he - or she - might survive, even thrive in the new century they found themselves in.

But most people would come to know vampires under the name all but copyrighted by Bram Stoker, and for many decades Dracula would reign supreme as the only vampire in town. But he wasn't the first, and in time he would be supplanted by, ironically, younger (at least looking), hipper vampires more in tune with the modern world, and would find himself, in a sort of closing of the circle, again out of touch, pushed to the background, all but forgotten, occasionally dragged screaming out into the daylight to suffer yet another reinvention, reinterpretation or even rebirth, as writer after writer put their own spin on Stoker's unique creation.

So in part two I will of course be continuing to track this remorseless killer through the pages of the novels he, and she, stalked, but I will be concentrating more on the movies, as this is when the vampire really came of age. You could call the onset of movies – from the black-and-white silent ones to the first ever talkies - almost the true birthplace of the vampire we know today, the silver screen the conduit through which the creation of Stoker and the writers before him came snarling into our collective human consciousness, and has never really left. A golden age, perhaps, or more accurately a dark age for the vampire, as he – and she – strode purposefully forward in this brave new world, determined to bend it to their will.

I'll again have to check, but I think it may be the case that the first true horror movie was also a vampire one, as other supernatural creatures, from ghosts to werewolves and mummies – and later zombies of course – only turn up much later in the history of cinema, so in many ways, if that's true, then the vampire was, as it were, in on the ground floor, or, to completely screw up the metaphor, at the very top of the horror food chain from the beginning. As he was destined to be the monarch of the macabre in literature, so too would he assume his throne as the apex predator of movie-goers' minds and stride with a sneer of contempt into their dreams and their nightmares, kicking off many an epiphany in the brains of writers of later vampire fiction.

If the literary vampire of the eighteenth and nineteenth century had, by and large, survived by cloaking himself in shadow and hiding from the world of light, the twentieth century equivalent would walk boldly out into that (metaphorical) light and declare his presence for all to see. You could almost hear in his hissing, sibilant, seductive voice the words of the pharaoh Ramesses II, as imagined by Shelley: “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings. Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair!”

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