Saturday, July 7, 2012

Bram Stoker's Dracula Defined

Bram Stoker

The History of Dracula
 1902 Edition
 
When Bram Stoker plotted Dracula, he planned a mythic power struggle between two men, which eventually symbolized the struggle for dominance among all men. This was not an original concept. The first fictional vampire, Lord Ruthven, appeared in print seventy-eight years before Count Dracula, the name lifted from Glenarvon, satirizing Byron. The author was John Polidori,Rossetti’s uncle and briefly Byron’s personal physician and lover; he died mysteriously at twenty-five, another self-destructive and almost forgotten personality of the Romantic Period. Polidori’s reputation like Stoker’s rests on one work and one character:  a vampire.
Lord Ruthven’s story grew out of the winter house party in 1816 at the Villa Diodati, near Geneva,when Byron suggested that his guests write ghost stories. Mary Shelley created Frankenstein; Percy Bysshe Shelley toyed with something based on his childhood; Byron considered a vampire story but ,exhausted from laudanum, produced only ‘a fragment’ about two school friends traveling through Greece; while Polidori conjured up a skull-headed woman who is punished for peeking through a keyhole. Polidori’s The Vampyre, based on Byron’s discarded idea, appeared in The New Monthly Magazine of April 1819 and was initially attributed to Byron whom Goethe called the poet’s finest work. 


 Polidori  illustrates in this novella how the vampire who feeds off others fits right into a corrupt society. Lord Ruthven and Count Dracula step out of folklore into the real world and must cope with modern problems. Stoker’s most successful innovation was to set the core of his story in Victorian England, a world immediately recognizable. Even though, both authors reject the trappings of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto and Ann Radcliffe’s The Mysteries of Udolpho, early novels whose exotic settings allow the reader’s dreams and fantasies to wander guilt-free.  Ruthven’s successor was Sir Francis Varney, a Restoration nobleman, and the first vampire to wear a black cape. Labeled a ‘penny dreadful,’ Varney the Vampyre: or ‘The Feast of Blood’ turned out to be a 750,000 word saga written by James Malcolm Rymer and published in 1847, the year of Stoker’s birth. 

Bram Stoker Dracula Defined
 Romantic Poets: Shelley, Keats and Byron
 
Bram Stoker, a Trinity scholar, was conversant with the vampire imagery in the eighteenth-century poetry of Goethe’s ‘The Bride of Corinth,’ Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner,’ and Robert Southey’s ‘Thalaba the Destroyer,’ as well as the next generation of Romantic poets: Shelley, Byron, Scott, and Keats who used the vampire not to frighten but enlighten. For instance, in Keat’s ‘La Belle Dame sans Merci’ there are images of the femme fatale, a version of Lucy. Stoker’s Irish heritage also imbued him with stories of the succubus, who seduces young men in their sleep, and her male counterpart, the incubus.

Stoker’s chapter outlines read like a theatre program; a dramatic version of the novel was on his mind from the beginning. Stage vampires had been popular since the Parisian success in 1820 of Charles Nodier and Achille Jouffroy’s Le Vampire, which was adapted into English by J.R. Planche.  Stoker saw parts of his novel performed night after night on the Lyceum stage. Countless times he heard Henry Irving intone that most Draculian of speeches from Hamlet:

 Dracula Lyceum Theatre Program

 Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn, and all hell itself breathes out contagion to this world.
Now could I drink hot blood, And do such bitter business as the day would quake to look on

Lucy identifies with both Ophelia and Desdemona. “I sympathize with poor Desdemona when she had such a dangerous stream poured into her ear,” she writes to Mina after Quincy Morris’s proposal.
Both Othello and Dracula articulate the male anxiety over female sexuality.

Was this fair paper, this most goodly book
Made to write ‘whore’ upon?

  Dracula's Vampiresses

 Most readers are puzzled by the ambiguous relationship the count has to the three Vampiresses dressed as ladies, two dark and one fair. Are they his sisters, daughters, or wives? There is one hint. ‘You yourself never loved; you never love,’ one accuses him (in the manuscript this was originally written ‘You never loved yourself’). Dracula replies, ‘Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past.’ Once Dracula vamps his women he is no longer interested in them, only in the women of other men. There is also a vampire incest taboo. “And you, their best beloved one,’ Dracula explains to Mina, ‘are now to me, flesh of my flesh; blood of my blood, kin of my kin; my bountiful wine-press for a while; and shall be later on my companion and helper.’ Sexual excitement ceases after the immortal kiss. Harker vaguely recognizes the fair haired one because she is Countess Dolingen, whom he first met in the deleted second chapter. This inconsistency was never caught in the editing process. An original line explains everything: ‘As she spoke I was looking at the fair woman and it suddenly dawned on me that she was the woman or her image that I had seen in the tomb on Walpurgis Night.’

It is often assumed that Dracula was staked in the novel rather than dying from multiple knife wounds, as Mina describes. “But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat; whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart.’ Dracula was spared the ritual vampire death because his staking would be a counterpart of Lucy’s orgasmic death except male to male something too overtly suggestive for a novel in any genre.

Still, what taunts the reader is the lingering fear or desire that Dracula, If not properly executed, will return and make good his contemptuous boast: ‘Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you and others shall yet be mine my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed. Bah!’

Source
BRAM STOKER AND THE MAN WHO WAS DRACULA, BY BARBARA BELFORD , 1996

Please feel free to leave any comments,

4 comments:

David said...

Great article. Really enjoyed it.
You have a wonderful blog!

Kimberly Eve said...

Thank you David. How very kind of you.

Maggie Peters said...

Just wonderful Kimberly.
I read Dracula but never knew the history or background. How interesting. Once again, I've learned something new about a writer I like and the 19th century. Thank You.

Kimberly Eve said...

Thank you very much Maggie.
I so appreciate everyone who
takes the time to visit, read,
and comment on my writing!
Also, it works both ways,
believe me, I learn loads about
the author and the era, myself!

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