Writing and record keeping are used for a variety of reasons in early vampire novels, especially Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sheridan LeFanu’s Carmilla. While each character has his or her own specific reason for beginning to write or to keep records, it is through the written (or recorded) word that many of the characters are able to justify their actions towards the vampire, which in turn helps to validate their sanity. Quite often, it is the character’s own written word that allows them to feel safe, sane, and secure throughout the many horrific situations they find themselves in. Throughout Dracula and Carmilla, it is evident that the band of “heroes” represent a Victorian society based on technology and record-keeping, appearing progressive yet traditional, while Count Dracula and Carmilla both represent the primitive, the irrational, and the unknown. However, a further extension of this idea is exemplified in the technology used by each character to create their respective journal entries, be they recorded by ink, typewriter or phonograph. While each character may begin to write or keep records for their own personal reasons, it is their journals which become an extension of their sanity and personality.
The narrative style of both Le Fanu’s Carmilla and Stoker’s Dracula are strikingly similar, both told from journal entries and letters. It is clear that Le Fanu’s Carmilla influenced Stoker and his archetypical vampire tale, as the importance of the journal is primary to the story’s development. The reader is informed that “Doctor Hesselius has written a rather elaborate note, which he accompanies with a reference to his Essay on the strange subject which the MS illuminates” (Le Fanu 243). While the reader knows that the tale is fiction, both vampire tales are told from the perspective of journal entries and letters, giving the events a sense of realism. Because the tales are told from the perspectives of the characters within, the reader must decide for themselves what to believe and what to question. In fact, Laura asks the reader for their “faith in [her] veracity to believe [her] story”(Le Fanu 248), as the vampire and what he or she represents was a new adversary to Victorian society.
The journal takes on a whole new importance in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Out of all the characters, Jonathan Harker seems most concerned with journal keeping and writing in general. Upon entering the Count’s castle, Harker “found, to [his] great delight, a vast number of English books” (25). While Harker does not know the real reason as to why Dracula is studying England, it is important to note that he initially believes Dracula to be a good man because of his knowledge and collection of old literature. Additionally, Harker goes on to validate his own abilities through the letter written to the Count from Harker’s employer, Mr. Hawkins. The letter states that Hawkins “can send a suitable substitute, one in whom [he] has every possible confidence. [Harker] is a young man, full of energy and talent in his own way, and of a very faithful disposition. He is discreet and silent, and has grown into manhood in [his] service” (Stoker 23). It is this letter that also sets the tone for how the reader is supposed to view Jonathan, as while the novel may end with Harker being a courageous protagonist, it certainly is a gradual progression.
At first, Harker writes in his journal for pleasure. “I am not sleepy, and, as I am not to be called till I awake, naturally I write till sleep comes” (Stoker 13), he notes, prior to traveling to Transylvania. But once he has stayed in the castle for some time, Harker begins to worry and uses his journal to both relieve tension and to attempt to rationalize his situation. Harker writes, “I began to fear as I write in this book that I was getting too diffuse; but now I am glad that I went into detail from the first, for there is something so strange about this place and all in it that I cannot but feel uneasy” (Stoker 30). The fear that Harker feels is alleviated somewhat by his journal entry, as it provides him with an outlet for his emotions and a record of what horrible sights he has witnessed. He is unsure what to believe is real, yet because there is a written record of such events, he is more at ease and more likely to believe what he has seen.
The fact that Jonathan vows to never read his Transylvania journal conveys the feeling that he wishes to forget whatever events occurred on his journey. His Victorian beliefs make him uncertain of what really occurred on his journey, and it is this uncertainty that leads to the loss of rationality and the beginning of his deterioration into insanity. While Mina had vowed not to read such journal entries herself, she is compelled to after the couple come across an ageless Count Dracula, and thus she must transcribe his manuscripts by typewriter. Harker’s memoirs are first blamed upon “brain fever” (Stoker 95), but soon his sanity is validated due to the existence of his journal entries. Van Helsing, a man who seems to bridge the gap between Harker and the scientific Dr. Seward. He is allowed to read transcripts of Harker’s journal, and because of Van Helsing’s status in the British Victorian community, he is able to validate Harker’s account.
In contrast, after Mina has recalled her encounters with Dracula, Jonathan notes, “As I must do something or go mad, I write this diary” (Stoker 252). In a way, Harker relies on the fact that Van Helsing validated his sanity earlier after reading his journal entries. But in this instance, Jonathan resorts to writing in his diary, as the written word is the only thing that makes him still feel rational and of sound mind. Furthermore, he “must keep writing at every chance, for [he] dare not stop to think” (Stoker 253), which conveys the feeling that Harker uses writing to soothe the emotional horror that he has just experienced. Additionally, it seems as long as Jonathan has a record of these occurrences, he is recognized as being of sound mind. In ways, it seems that if he stops writing, he will lose his ability to do so, and thus lose his sanity.
When compared with Jonathan Harker, Van Helsing seems to represent a balance between technology and traditional (or primitive) methods. While Van Helsing may not have relied on his own records to validate his sanity, he uses academic and religious texts that he has previously read in order to corroborate his viewpoint. His reliance upon old texts is symbolic of the traditional Victorian values that he, too, represents, which is also a main reason as to why the men unquestionably accept his knowledge of vampires. It is Van Helsing’s knowledge which causes the men to believe his ideas, and accordingly authorizes the men to hunt down Lucy, and eventually Count Dracula himself.
Lucy Westerna begins writing for a simple purpose: to imitate Mina Harker, and to communicate with her. Lucy’s first journal entries are out of disbelief, as she has just been proposed to by three different gentlemen callers (Stoker 56 - 61). Yet despite her hysteria, Lucy finds herself calmed by writing her letters to Mina. She, too, is enthralled with writing and keeping records, as she writes “I do not know how I am writing this even to you. I do not want to stop, for I do so want to tell you all.” (Stoker 57) Although Lucy is new to writing, she seems to be just as enthusiastic, or obsessed about writing as Mina, Jonathan, and Seward are. Mina describes Lucy as being “[own the East Cliff, reading and writing all day. Lucy seems to have become as much in love with the spot as I am, and it is hard to get her away from it when it is time to come for lunch or tea or dinner” (Stoker 90).
Ironically, it is the men’s exclusion of the women that allow Dracula to have his way with Lucy and Mina initially. With the “new woman” of Victorian society in mind, it is quite interesting to note that the only female characters who write and keep records (Laura, Lucy, and Mina) are the only women attacked by the vampire. Yet with all the knowledge and technology that the “heroes” of Dracula possess, they are unable to save Lucy. When contrasted with Mina Harker, Dracula’s other potential victim, Lucy’s fate is clear. It seems as if part of the reason that Mina is able to be saved is due to the fact that she was already technologically adept and able to type. Furthermore, it was Mina who got Lucy started writing journals, as Lucy writes “I must imitate Mina, and keep writing things down” (103). With the deterioration of Lucy’s health comes the decline of entries in her journal. This symbolizes that as Dracula overtakes Lucy, her sanity and rationality are lost as well.
Mina, similar to her husband Jonathan, writes for pleasure in the initial chapters of the novel. She writes “I am anxious, and it soothes me to express myself here; it is like whispering to one’s self and listening at the same time. And there is also something about the shorthand symbols that makes it different from writing” (Stoker 72). Because of the traditional roles of women in London, writing on a regular basis was somewhat of a new activity for Mina. In addition, Mina is able to both write in shorthand and type, as she “sometimes write letters in shorthand” and was “practicing very hard” (Stoker 55) to type and write in order to communicate with Jonathan. Although Mina is quite traditional in many respects, this seems to enforce the idea that Mina’s character is representative of the “new-world woman” in London.
Mina finds much importance in keeping records, and almost writes compulsively as she states “Oh, but I am tired! If it were not that I had made my diary a duty, I should not open it to-night” (Stoker 86). Like Jonathan and Lucy, she also uses her writing to cope with the many frightful events, such as Jonathan’s lack of correspondence, as she writes “Another three days, and no news. This suspense is getting dreadful. If I only knew where to write to or where to go, I should feel easier;” (Stoker 73). Furthermore, it is often difficult for Mina to stop writing in her journal. She writes to Lucy, “I must stop [writing], for Jonathan is waking -- I must attend to my husband!” (Stoker 101), which conveys the feeling that even though Mina loves the written word, she abides by traditional Victorian values as loves her husband more and knows that her role in society is to tend to him.
Similar to Lucy, once Mina has been bitten, the frequency of her journal entries declines. In fact, just prior to Dracula’s death, Van Helsing must take over her job as record-keeper, noting that “for as Madam Mina write not in her stenography, I must, in my cumbrous old fashion, that so each day of us may not go unrecorded” (Stoker 314). Mina’s lack of writing symbolizes the fact that even though the vampire has been vanquished, Dracula’s hold on her is still quite strong and her sanity has slipped away for the time being. The fact that at the end, Mina has typed and transcribed each men’s journal is somewhat comparable to the multiple blood transfusions that Lucy received before her death. While Lucy had four different men’s blood pump through her, Mina had to read and re-write four men’s accounts of the events. In this instance, however it saves the heroes’ sanity, as it was Mina’s transcriptions that allow them to continue to have records after the Count attempted to destroy them all.
The importance and need that the “heroes” place on keeping records is exemplified on Harker’s note following the end of Dracula. He writes that “We could hardly ask any one, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story” (Stoker 326 - 327). Van Helsing, Seward, Godalming, and the Harkers know that the general public would find such tales difficult to believe, which is quite similar to the situation that Laura and her family find themselves in Carmilla. However, they keep the records for themselves, as a reminder of the horror that they each experienced, and to remind themselves of their sanity. If these journal entries are to be read by others, they are to be read as a “warning” against the unknown element of the vampire.
When examining the methods in which each character records their experiences, it is evident that each character incorporates elements of their personality in the manner in which they chronicle the incidents involving the vampire. For example, Dr. Seward records most all of his experiences into a phonograph, as his emphasis on technology symbolizes not only the idea that he is both modern and intelligent, but that Britain is beginning to rely upon technology and medicine. His journal entries, which are “KEPT IN PHONOGRAPH” (Stoker 62), focus more on facts than emotion. Whereas many of the characters obsess about love and sentimentality in their writings, Seward takes a logical and factual approach to his journals. Harker, on the other hand, records all of his experiences in his hand-written journal. As he chronicles the events by hand, the traditional method of writing, it is symbolic, as Harker himself seems to represent traditional values in London. In the middle of the binary of these two characters is Van Helsing, who uses the phonograph, the typewriter, and his hand-written journal to keep records. He symbolizes a mixture of old and new methods, both technology and the primitive. Mina learns shorthand for Jonathan, but in this case her learning shorthand symbolizes how she is the “new woman” of sorts. The method in which each character records their experiences adds depth and symbolism to each narrator and their experience.
Dracula is told from several perspectives, expressed through journal entries, telegrams, and phonograph recordings. But it is interesting to note that two central characters, Dracula and Renfield, do not narrate in the novel, nor do they ever write in a journal, and in similar manner, we learn nothing of the vampire Carmilla from her own perspective. While Dracula is written as a collection of the records of the surviving “heroes,“ Dracula and Renfield’s exclusions are due to the fact that both are considered to be irrational beings who represent the unknown. Quite early in the novel, the Count states to Harker that he knows “the grammar and the words” of London, but he knows “not how to speak them” (Stoker 26). This seems to signify that Dracula is a primitive, Eastern being who represents irrationality and insanity, especially when compared to the other characters and their ability to write.
Technology and the record keeping were quite important in Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, as phonographs and typewriters were cutting-edge technology in the mid-1800’s. While the journals kept in this novel offered a suitable form of narration and character development, they also reflected the characters’ needs to validate their values, actions, sanity, and rationality. By having records of the strange occurrences, the “heroes” of Dracula and Carmilla seem to believe that it will confirm their sanity to whomever may read their records. When many of the characters’ ability to write declined, so did their ability to function in society. By keeping written and recorded records of their plights against the vampire, the “heroes” of Dracula and Carmilla validate their actions, their sanity, and their society’s values.
Le Fanu, Sheridan, In a Glass Darkly. Oxford University Press, London. 2008.
Stoker, Bram, Dracula. W. W. Norton & Company, Inc. New York, 1997.
“Validation of Sanity and Society in the
Early Vampire Novel”