Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Dracula and Victorian Fear of Decline

Dracula and Victorian Fear
Option # 2

In his criticism The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization, Stephen D. Arata conveys the idea that the vampire represents the “decline of the empire” and Victorian society. I think much of the subtext of the novel clearly has to do with Victorian society’s fear of loss.

In his criticism, Arata writes that Stoker “transforms the materials of the vampire myth, making them bear the weight of the culture’s fears over its declining status. The appearance of vampires becomes the sign of profound trouble” (465). This statement relates Victorian society’s fear of decline and the arrival or integration of the unknown. Harker facilitates Dracula’s moving to London, in essence, letting the vampire “in” to Victorian society. British fears concerning outsiders and outside cultures are manifested in the character of Dracula and what he represents -- this not only shows an Orientalist attitude towards cultures that are not British and do not reflect the ideal Victorian viewpoint, but also the coming change (and fear of decline) of British culture. Once Dracula is “let in” to Victorian culture, he corrupts and alters society to the point that the men are motivated to action -- they must drive the interloper from their (supposedly) pure society. As Arata states, “[t]he Count endangers Britain’s integrity as a nation at the same time that he impales the personal integrity of individual citizens” (465). The fears expressed by the men are the fears of Victorian society -- fear of the unknown, loss of power, loss of culture, and loss of subservience when concerning women. In essence, the vampire, or the outsider, opposes everything that Victorian culture stands for.

Mina’s saviors’ fears are rooted in Orientalism and Orientalist oppositions -- Dracula represents the unknown, the mysterious, and the non-British. The characters that come in contact with Dracula experience a regression of sorts from the typical Victorian lifestyle: Renfield goes mad and reverts to primitive ways. Mina and Lucy experience a sexual awakening of sorts, and many characters that represent the “old blood” (Lucy’s mother, Mr. Hawkins) meet their demise after Dracula‘s arrival.

The fear of the unknown relates to Said’s theory of Orientalism in which the notion that colonized nations are inferior is imposed on both the colonized and the colonizer. With this in mind, the coming of Dracula represents Victorian society’s fears of losing racial identity. Lucy succumbs to the power of Dracula, representing the fear that Victorian women might be corrupted by the non-British culture spreading across western Europe. Not only is Dracula from the anomalous Transylvania, his servants are described as “gypsies” (323), further exemplifying Orientalist oppositions. In essence, the men in the story wish to do what Colonial Britain poised to do: dominate and assimilate other cultures. Dracula stands in opposition to this philosophy, and therefore must be removed. It is interesting to note that Quincey, an American, is the only man who suffers death during the final encounter. I think this could be Stoker’s way of contrasting Quincey with the pure-blooded British men who live to tell the tale and to re-validate Victorian ideals. Quincey is described as “all man” (285), perhaps insinuating that although he holds physical power, he lacks the superior rationale of pure British society.

The loss of Victorian power coincides with the loss of female obedience and virtue. Mina is seen as pure and strong (or at least as strong as a woman is allowed to be), and thus she is able to survive Dracula’s attempts at corruption. Lucy, on the other hand, shows weakness and succumbs to his actions. Dracula distorts the Victorian ideas of what is right and wrong. The men’s attempt to save Mina doubles as Victorian society’s efforts to confine the female sexual awakening in Britain. With Orientalism in mind, it is interesting to examine the power that religion holds over the men and the vampires. Most Victorian ideas come from Christianity, and the power that religious iconography holds over the vampires is certainly of note, as it is the ultimate “squelcher” of the unknown.

I’m not quite sure if the reinvigorated popularity of the vampire in American culture is due to “a sign of profound trouble in our current society”, however it is an interesting idea to explore.   I really don’t think that the popularity of True Blood or Twilight is due to immigration issues or the Iraq war, however many of the themes found in Dracula are valid, especially if the vampire and other characters were transported to 2010 America. I think that over the years, the “mystique” of the vampire has become less frightening and more interesting -- rather than driving Dracula from the land, we choose to look closer. Orientalist attitudes still exist in America and other countries, however the modern vampire tale seems to work in reverse. As society is obviously much more “open” than it was in Victorian times, it is intriguing that we now choose to embrace the vampire and the vampire tale.


  1. To me, it does make sense that vampires are now a major part of society if you see them as "a sign of profound trouble in our current society". There are changes in our current society that not everyone is comfortable with and the fear caused by these leads people to seek a distraction. What better distraction than a world very similar, but wholly different than ours? People look to escape the world around them for a world with more concrete problems that have solutions. It's not people fighting wars over oil, but vampires fighting wars over blood. And we "know" that them taking blood is wrong so the solution is easy. Vampire novels are a way to look at the current issues, but with enough metaphors that we can distance ourselves and not see too much of our own problems in them.

  2. I think both of you relate the impact of vampires quite well. They can personify almost any negative element of negative culture or politics. The more cultural or historical inclusions, for me at least, the better. That makes vampires especially interesting.