Welcome back for another post from the Monday Inspirations series. Today’s post is by Diana Gordon. Diana has contributed two other posts to this series – one on re-reading old favorites and the other on To Kill a Mockingbird. You can check out other posts here.
Listen to them–the children of the night. What music they make!–Bram Stoker, Dracula
I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula for the first time about 10 years ago, and it’s still one of my favorite classic horror books. I studied Victorian and Edwardian fiction for years, and I have a real soft spot for Gothic literature and monster literature. I’m always amazed at how some of our most prolific and enduring monsters were created during the Victorian period.
Dracula is, of course, a story about a vampire, of Count Dracula’s meeting with Jonathan Harker and its fall-out. It is the story of a monster who is overcome. But it is also a story of science and magic, superstition and knowledge. And the story is told in such a way that it reflects modern notions of perspective, as well. Rather than a strictly linear narrative with a single first- or third-person narrator, Dracula is told through a series of perspectives and different documents including journal entries, letters, and telegrams.
Stoker’s era was full of new developments. Telegrams themselves were fairly new. Daguerreotypes were introduced in 1839, and by 1889, we had handheld cameras. Postage stamps were introduced, and the postage industry was standardized in a way that it had not been. Steam power made international trade and travel more possible than ever before. Anesthetics began to be used in medicine. New understandings of how diseases spread led to developments in surgical techniques, disease treatment, and sanitation. These developments created a world in which belief, suspicion, and science co-existed.
Penny dreadfuls (19th century publications that were serialized over a period of weeks/months, generally gory and sensational and inexpensively produced) reflected the growing literacy of the populace and new technologies that made book production and dissemination cheaper and easier. And penny dreadfuls inspired some of the most recognizable fictional characters; they were especially influential to the Gothic genre, inspiring characters such as Stoker’s Dracula and Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Those monsters endure in part because we still need them. We still worry about technology and science, and we’re still finding the line between superstition and reality. Technology and science are rapidly shifting the way we think about society and about the world itself; the internet has changed the way we conceptualize place and communication; and we’re becoming increasingly aware of the pressures that we’re putting on our planet. We’re in a time of upheaval, a time when social structures are changing–as they were when Dracula and Frankenstein were written.
We’re also in a time when women are facing many dangers, despite the progress we have made. Female sexuality is a big topic in Dracula–it is the driving force of much of the novel. There’s very much a Madonna/whore complex in the novel, with Lucy Westenra exemplifying what happens when a woman is no longer pure–after Dracula succeeds in turning her into a vampire vixen, the men in the novel decide that destroying her is the only way to save her purity and goodness–and Mina as the object of their continued fight against Dracula–a fight for her purity and chastity. The three vampire women in Dracula’s castle represent a corruption of female sexuality as they throw themselves at him before being chastised by Dracula.
In so many ways, Dracula speaks to modern issues and modern concerns. And the book is also downright scary, which makes it a perfect October read!
Diana is a native Mississippian, a nerd, a bookworm, a feminist, a mother, a teacher, a worrier, and a social media junkie. She is the administrator of the blog Part Time Monster, and you can follow her on Twitter @parttimemonster or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/parttimemonster. She lives in New Orleans with her son, her husband, and one very energetic terrier.
If you’d like to learn more on the origins of vampires that inspired Bram Stroker, go check out my post on Slavic vampires on Part-Time Monster.