Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Count Dracula

A pinnacle of Gothic characterization, Count Dracula, Bram STOKER’s parasitic Boyar vampire, and his loathsome appetites have generated extreme terror among readers and movie fans. A prototypical loner, he is an exotic patrician in the medieval lineage of Attila the Hun and is endowed with magical powers of SHAPE-SHIFTING. Suitably, the count resides among subservient plebeian Transylvanians in Castle Dracula in the Carpathian Mountains. With its hairy palms, pointed ears, gleaming red eyes, bushy brows, pale skin, and knife-blade nose, his physique is a perversion of manhood. Because his appearance, like that of all vampires, is not reflected, he hangs no mirrors in Castle Dracula. When he opens his cruel mouth, beneath a long white mustache are sharp protruding teeth and breath fetid with a charnel stench. In explanation of his repellent mouth, Stoker has him utter scripture from the Christian communion ritual, which identifies the vampire’s sustenance as a demonic reverse of bread and wine that the faithful partake of as symbols of Christ’s body and blood.

In an extended parody of Christ, the count displays his anathema through a mastery of easily cowed peasants and by a veiled warning of OTHERNESS to Jonathan HARKER, the OUTSIDER: “Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things,” a warning that he enlarges with a prediction of bad dreams for any who wander his castle (Stoker, 22). He explains away his strangeness as an aspect of an old and prestigious family: “We transylvanian nobles love not to think that our bones may lie amongst the common dead” (ibid., 24). He piles on additional peculiarities: a lack of mirth, an avoidance of sunshine and sparkling water, and a love of shadow and solitude, qualities that he shares with the dour BYRONIC HERO. Boasting ends on a biblical note. Like the apostle Peter denying Christ for the third time, Dracula hears the cock crow and recedes from advancing sunrise to rest up for the next night’s prowl for blood.

Dracula gives evidence of sexual predations and DIABOLISM, particularly an aversion to communion wafers and crucifixes, both embodiments of Christian sanctity that derail the vampire’s satisfaction of primitive hungers. As proof of shape-shifting, Stoker pictures the count arriving at Whitby in the form of a dog that plunders the graves of drowned sailors and suicides. In London, he visits Lucy Westenra’s quarters in the form of a large black bat or bird, which the madman R. M. Renfield views through the window of his cell in an asylum. After Dracula’s nightly bloodsucking from Lucy’s throat, an unspeakable sex act producing a morbid version of orgasm, the attending physician Dr. Seward looks out and catches sight of the dark creature. Escaping dawn, Dracula resembles a silent ghost flapping determinedly toward the west, the source of night and everlasting death.

A sexual triad forms with the vampire at one apex opposite the normal male characters and their women at the other two points. Like a boastful seducer, the demon brags to his pursuers that he offers a satanic form of eros, a bestial lust for blood that paradoxically invigorates and dooms the women he has lured away from their impotent male protectors. Concerning the gender split in Stoker’s novel, Bela Lugosi, the actor who turned the sensational vampire into a cinema idol, re marked on his fan mail, 91 percent of which came from females who admire terror for its own sake. He concluded: “For generations [women] have been the subject sex. This seems to have bred a masochistic interest—an enjoyment of, or at least a keen interest in, suffering experienced vicariously on the screen” (Wolf, vii). A subsequent matinee Dracula, Christopher Lee, concurred with Lugosi that men admire the hero-villain for his power; women swoon at the female victim’s complete surrender to a male tormentor.

Imbued with the sin of hubris, the downfall of doomed protagonists from ancient Greek literature, in chapter 3, the count boasts of ancestry dating far earlier than the Prussian Hapsburgs and the Russian Romanovs, whom he dismisses as newly sprung like mushrooms. As an antichrist seeking to overthrow both decent womanhood and religiosity, he plots to create a race of vampires in England by purchasing Carfax, an estate at Purfleet named after the French Quatre Face, a suggestion of his range to the four points of the compass. Unlike his stay-at-home vampire predecessors, who preyed on their families, Stoker’s fiend is an itinerant who replenishes his supply of home soil by carrying earth from his grave like luggage. As the invader’s menace grows, in chapter 8, his insane apostle Renfield, like a Christ-crazed religious fanatic longing for the apocalypse, looks forward to the approach of the “Master” (Stoker, 106).

Symbolically, Stoker kills off his lurid count with a reduction of evil to dust, a reference to the Book of Common Prayer, which commits the dead to earth—the Hebrew adamah—to return to the common element—Adam—from which they sprang. As the cavalier stalkers—Harker, the appropriately named Arthur Holmwood, and Lucy’s former suitor Quincey P. Morris—corner Dracula’s 50th box of Transylvanian soil in the hands of gypsy sentries, they ward off female vampires and guards. With touches of the American West, two of the posse brandish Winchester rifles. At the coup de grâce, the Texan Morris wields a bowie knife to the throat, applying the savage invention of frontier warrior Jim Bowie, who died at the Alamo. The act is not without sacrifice. Stoker, employing the Arthurian death of the chivalric hero, salutes the English in the war against VAMPIRISM as Morris dies with a smile on his face. The onlookers, like knights of the Round Table, kneel to offer a benediction to the martyred gallant, a self-sacrificing gentleman who saves the orphan Mina Murray from the vampire’s curse.

Bibliography Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995. Barber, Paul. Vampires, Burial, and Death: Folklore and Reality. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1988. Hustis, Harriet. “Black and White and Read All Over: Performative Textuality in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula,’” Studies in the Novel 33, no. 1 (spring 2001): 18. Ronay, Gabriel. The Dracula Myth. London: W. H. Allen, 1972. Senf, Carol A. “Bram Stoker: History, Psychoanalysis and the Gothic,” Victorian Studies 42, no. 4 (summer 2000): 675. ———. “Dracula: The Unseen Face in the Mirror,” Journal of Narrative Technique 9 (1979): 170. Stoker, Bram. The Annotated Dracula. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975. ———. Dracula. New York: Bantam Books, 1981. Twitchell, James B. The Living Dead: A Study of the Vampire in Romantic Literature. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1981. Wolf, Leonard. Introduction to The Annotated Dracula. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, 1975.

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