Friday, September 3, 2010

Suddenly Sexual Women

1. Dracula relies on journal fragments, letters, and newspaper clippings to tell its story. Why might Stoker have chosen to narrate the story in this way? Do letters and journal entries make the story seem more authentic or believable to you? Likewise, discuss the significance that many of the male protagonists are doctors (Dr. Seward) or men of science (Dr. Van Helsing). Why is this important to the story?

Letter used as literary device is called epistolary consists of a series of fictional letters that stage themselves as ‘real’ familiar letters; when read in series, these letters construct the novel’s overarching narrative.

Through the use letters in literature, readers are accessible to know the true feelings of a certain character. Some novels let readers "read between the lines" before sending a signal of emotion to be conveyed in a certain passage. Compared to epistolary novels, the characters are bound to write their own feelings thus readers are allowed to see the unambiguous emotions expressed.

"Letters and lives are bound together. The notion that the letter represents the most intimate form of writing has been recognized since the 18th-century itself, when letter writing became a key means of conveying the personality and temperament of characters in epistolary novels."

Attaching newspapers is a tool to make the readers see what’s truly happening. Plus, for the passages to make it sound interesting and realistic, Bram Stoker used this method instead of using the normal way of telling stories.

Epistolary novels show how a specific character thinks, how he reacts to his environment, to society.
“This sense of the reader gaining a privileged peek into the psychology of the protagonists was a key device of the epistolary form and essential to the development of the novel. Its emphasis on moral instruction also propelled the genre into literary respectability. These novels were a publishing sensation. Philosophers like Rousseau and Montesquieu took up the style, using it to convey their ideas on morality and society.”

And because of Dracula's epistolary, and also because of newspaper clips of how epistolary conveys the real emotion and thinking, one can truly relate. Showing diaries are like showing facts to readers. It’s like making the story realistic and believable.

Using diaries adds twist to an event happened to a certain character or characters. The interpretation of character to one occurrence vary, all in first person view. For example, one event maybe scary to someone, others may think of it as fun experience.

“The story of Count Dracula is told through the eyes of its participants via diaries, letters and newspaper articles. The only major character from whom we do not hear in person is the Count himself. Told in the first person in this manner, the full horror of events comes across more strongly than a re-telling by a third person, be it author or fictional narrator. However, in choosing this method, Stoker sets himself the task of injecting multiple characters into the prose. The effect is excellent: the slightly gossipy letters between Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra clearly differ from the scientific journal of Dr Seward or the personal diary of Jonathan Harker. Through these differing styles we sense the changing moods of confusion, curiosity and fear.”

As one may observe, Bram Stoker made Dracula mysterious. His thoughts were never read, Bram Stoker didn't show any of Dracula's inner world. He doesn't have any diaries. This allowed characters to construct who the Count really is thus developing character slowly for the reader. 

Men of science are important in the story because they were the ones who solved the Dracula case. They are trained, skilled and knowledgeable. People from towns were still ignorant and followers of superstitions.

Dr. John Steward, at first didn't believe in Van Helsing's discovery since his beliefs were so much attach to science itself and technologies. Yet he was the one who helped Van Helsing and help fought off the gypsies.

Professor Van Helsing is the vampire hunter and the one who knows best when it comes to supernatural. He was called  by Dr. Steward to check Lucy and then discovered that Lucy was bitten by vampire. Through his gathered evidences, they then discovered that Lucy's a vampire. And since he is an expert of vampires, he who knows what are their strengths and weaknesses, he played a major role in the story.

2. How does the novel invert Christian mythology in its description of Count Dracula's reign of terror? For instance, what specific elements of Stoker's story parallel scenes or images from the New Testament? Why might this subversion of Christian myth be significant?

Christian mythology is the body of traditional narratives associated with Christianity from a mythographical perspective. Many Christians believe that these narratives are historical and sacred and contain profound truths. These traditional narratives include, but are not limited to, the stories contained in the Christian Bible. In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the antagonist Count Dracula represents perversions of the Christian belief. Some parts of the novel also show parallel scenes or images from the Bible and Christian beliefs. The subversion listed below intensified the mystery and the horror of the whole novel. With all of the inversions in the Christian myth it created fear in the minds of people and it is also a form of revolution to the ancient customs and beliefs of the Victorian era.

•    Blood played an important role in the story. The Count sustains his life and attains his immortality by feeding on the blood of the innocents. The phrase “blood is life” connotes a different meaning in the novel than when it is used in the Holy Bible. In the novel, Count drinks the blood of people for him to live eternally while Christ sheds his blood in other to spare others from suffering and attain eternal life under God.
 Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take and eat; this is my body.” Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:26-28) This verse from the Bible describes the drinking of blood as a form of salvation in contrast to the blood drinking habit of the Count in the novel which only brings damnation to the soul and burying oneself in sins.

In Christian mythology, the church played an important role in the worship service and many holy deeds of Christianity. It is said to be the house of God and the body of Christ (Ephesians 5:23). The church is believed to be a holy structure where one can seek protection from any forms of evil but in the novel Count used an old church as one of his lair. This shows another perversion of the Roman Catholic belief that only the pure and holy can enter this sacred structure of God.

Dracula can also be the embodiment of all the evil in this world. While the team of Dr. Van Helsing can be compared to the good who fought to retain the goodness in the world. The different holy figures in Christianity like crucifixes and Communion wafers were used to fight the Count. Anything that is of holy nature wards of evil entities in this world like the Count. The novel depicts the unending battle between good and evil.
In the Old Testament the Lord put a mark on Cain after he killed his brother Abel. We can compare this to the mark that Mina had when she was still under the power of the Count. It symbolizes being unholy.

3. Discuss the roles of Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker in the novel. How are the two women similar? Different? What accounts for their differences? To what extent does the novel depend on both of these women to propel the narrative forward?

Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker are the two main female characters of the novel. A sensuous beauty is Lucy’s main quality. This beauty led on three men to propose to her in the same day (Stoker 64). In addition, Mina even notes that old, retired sailors at Whitby were affected by Lucy’s charm:

They did not lose any time in coming up and sitting near her when we sat down.
She is so sweet with old people; I think they all fell in love with her on the spot (p.64

However, Lucy’s beauty is a double-edged sword. Men want to destroy her because they see that beauty as a threat to the society.  In Dracula, Stoker acts out the threat posed by women to the patriarchal society of the late nineteenth century – either by sexually aggressive women whom he refuses to identify as a female, or by beautiful women whose sexuality is aggressive only in that men find it impossible to ignore.

“In her article ‘Suddenly Sexual Women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, Phyllis Roth suggests that the face Harker recognizes is that of ‘this golden girl reappears in the early description of Lucy’. Harker’s almost-recognition of the vampire as Lucy introduces the notion that there is some essential similarity between the two. That similarity is sexual assertiveness.”
                                                                                                  -Bloom, 1998

On the other hand, Mina harker is shown as the “Victorian Woman”.

“John Ruskin, in Appendix G: Gender of the Penguin Classics edition, describes the common beliefs of the Victorians on the situation of the sexes when he says that "man's power is active, progressive, defensive...the woman's power is for sweet ordering, arrangement, and decision... [she is] incapable of error" (Appendix 473-474).”
                                      -Sandra Causey, 2008

Mina is also referred to as the “Angel of the House”. In the novel, we can see Mina as an upright and organized woman. She even cried after being tainted by Count Dracula because she sees herself as unclean (Stoker 316).
We can see the difference of Mina from Lucy in the fifth chapter of the novel. Through Lucy’s two letters to Mina, she expressed her openness to sex and sexuality, whereas Mina rarely comments on the subject at all. In only the second letter written by Lucy, she grieves over ‘Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble?’.  Interestingly, there is no point in the novel where Mina makes such a comment; rather, Mina is everything that a Victorian woman could be expected to be. This difference is essential to the plot, as it is only Mina’s purity and innocence that allows the group to defeat Dracula at the end of the novel, and saves Mina from Lucy’s fate.

Unlike Lucy, Mina is not in the habit of attracting men. While Lucy is focused on her own desires and appetites, Mina is more selfless and has less sexual desires. She thinks only of how she can be useful to her husband. She learns shorthand and typing in order to help him. In spite of her greater purity, however, Mina is still susceptible to the Count's seductions.  It is also worth noting that they are both seduced by Dracula, but they have very different reactions. Mina calls herself unclean, and she wants to be free and faithful to Harker. Mina fights it, whereas Lucy accepted her transformation. We can say that maybe because Mina is already married to Harker that is why her faith didn’t waver a bit, whereas Lucy was not as faithful, and indeed was not yet married, and therefore, succumbed to Dracula’s seduction.

"The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous wantonness."
- Bram Stoker, Chapter 16, Dracula

"Now God be thanked that all has not been in vain! See! The snow is not more stainless than her forehead! The curse has passed away!"
-Bram Stoker, Chapter 27, Dracula

4. Discuss the role of sexuality in Dracula. Would you say that Dracula attempts to reproduce himself sexually or by some other means? In what ways does the figure of Dracula subvert conventional notions of heterosexuality? Consider, for instance, his predilection for drinking blood and his habit of making his victims feed from his chest.

A number of the critical articles about Dracula are devoted to discovering and listing the kinds of sexual practices described or implied in the text. Writing of the ‘baptism of blood’ incident, which occurs late in the test and has Dracula forcing Mina to drink some of his own blood flowing from a self-imposed chest wound, Christopher Bentley wrote,
The episode contains a strange reversal of the usual relationship between vampire and victim, as Dracula is forcing Mina to drink his blood. Stoker is describing a symbolic act of enforced fellatio, where blood is again a substitute for semen, and where a chaste female suffers a violation that is essentially sexual.
In fact, it soon becomes apparent that, throughout the narrative, sexual intercourse is represented in displaced form as blood-sucking – so that, whereas late-nineteenth-century British society ‘normal’ sexual behavior was defined as male-initiated and male-dominant genital intercourse, in Dracula the practice which is the ‘norm’ and which gives all other (sexual) behavior its meaning is male-initiated and male-dominant blood-sucking.

    Harker’s desperation to escape from the castle, where the vampire women dwell, is a transparent fear of castration. What he fears is not death, but the loss of sexual initiative and dominance which for him (and those who accept patriarchal values) means the loss of his male sexuality:

At least God’s mercy is better than that of these monsters, and the precipice is steep and high. At its foot, man may sleep – as a man (p. 53)

It has also been noted that no heterosexual sex is depicted, even suggested, in the book, and that it comes to seem almost unthinkable to the reader that Jonathan and Mina should engage in any sexual congress. Given the chain of significances established in the narrative, the displacement of genital heterosexuality as blood-sucking, this is not surprising. Within this narrative, genital heterosexuality is considerably displaced from the ‘norm’ and would therefore seem extremely perverse. Nevertheless, Harker’s sexuality is given expression in the narrative, in his rejection of the sexually aggressive female vampires and his efforts to protect his (properly maternal) wife from Dracula. Mina’s sexuality on the other hand, has no expression; it is completely neutered.

    The attack on sexual roles was also interpreted more widely as an attack on the capitalist economic system itself; sexual anxiety was compounded with political fears by the bourgeoisie. Dracula could also be seen as expressing some of the political fears of the middle classes. Dowling’s article, “The Decadent and the New Woman in the 1890’s” is a fascinating exploration of the perceived relationship between decadent dandy or homosexual and the socially aware, politicized woman in the late 19th century. The decadent and the New Woman was seen as sharing several attributes. For example, both were in favor of non-reproductive sex; the dandy often as a result of sexual preference, and the New Woman because she insisted on women’s right to contraceptive information as a means of controlling their own bodies. This was commonly seen as a rejection of the family and a potential cause of the breakdown – if not, extinction – of society. Dowling records the response of Punch to these new phenomena:
            Punch devoted a good deal of space to the eugenic dangers raised by contemporary male effeminacy and female mannishness; the New Woman ‘made further development in generations to come quite impossible while ‘New Man’ was, in a word, ‘Woman’

In Dracula, Stoker presents the quintessence of non-reproductive sex, the blood-sucking of the vampire. Yet, in a perverse way, the vampire does reproduce, transforming her/his victim into a vampire; in the place of non-reproductive sex, Stoker substitutes non-sexual reproduction. The threatened result is a society of non-productive, parasitic, culturally anarchic beings whose will is subordinated to the willof the primogenitor, Dracula.

Added thought:

    The kind of sexuality depicted in Dracula could be associated to Victorian sexuality. It was always shown in the novel that Dracula dominated the women present in the story and had power to devour their virginity. Victorian sexuality thinks men as the superior active agents of sexual intercourse. And women thought of as the weaker sex. It can be also thought that the novel also challenges the traditions of the Victorian era. During those times, women really strive to attain equality between them and men. Dracula showed this by biting the females in the novel turning them into sexual more voluptuous creatures turning them as the active agents of sexuality and thus defying the norm of the Victorian era.
    A reason for the importance of roles in sexuality during this era is that sex defines ones identity, potentiality, social/political standing and freedom. Thus, the novel portrays the superiority of men on the society as Dracula being the more sexually active creature in the story but still incorporates and dictates that women can also be the more sexual creature gaining equality over men.

5. What are the elements of vampire folklore? For example, what, according to the novel, attracts or repels a vampire? How do you kill a vampire for good? Although Stoker did not invent the mythology of the vampire, his novel firmly established the conventions of vampire fiction. Choose another novel that deals with vampires and compare it with Dracula. (Consider, for example, one of Anne Rice's vampirebooks.) In what ways are the novels similar? Different?

The first vampiric ceremony sets the broad pattern for those which follow. It is exorcised by the all-powerful male, in this instance, Dracula himself, whose power is magnified by reference to the strength of the woman he overthrows:
I saw his strong hand grasp the slender neck of the fair woman and with giant’s power, draw it back, the blue eyes transformed with fury, the white teeth champing with rage, and the fair cheeks blazing red with passion. But the Count! Never did I imagine such wrath and fury, even in the demons in the pit… With a fierce sweep of his arm, he hurled the woman from him, and then motioned to the others, as though he were beating them back… (p.53)
 This passage aptly describes the vampiric, especially in the case of Dracula, nature of control; vampires exhibit a certain degree of control over their would-be victims in the form of either hypnotic control, or immense physical strength.

The restitution of the man’s power over the woman (here combining with Dracula’s aristocratic dominance) is continually reiterated in the text, which gives far more space to the vampiric transformations of the woman than those of the man. Male strength is thus set against the usurping female power, and yet the important distinction has to be made between Dracula’s power over his vampire women, which, for all its occasional violence, is largely mesmeric, and the power of the male alliance between Harker and his friends, which is the power of phallic violence and religious fervor. This may be clearly realized in the scene where Arthur drives the stake through Lucy’s heart, to restore her as ‘a holy, and not an unholy memory’

But Arthur never faltered. He looked like a figure of Thor as his untrembling arm rose and fell, driving deeper and deeper the mercy-bearing stake, while the blood from the pierced heart welled and spurted up around it. His face was set and high duty seemed to shine through it… (p.258)
 Thor, the male deity (who married the woman as peasant), opposes his phallic power against the ‘voluptuous wantonness’ of Lucy as vampire. Her newly found sexuality, to which the text gives considerable emphasis, is set against the holiness of the male mission accomplished by Van Helsing, Seward, and Arthur, a mission of ‘infinite kindness’ which is achieved through a startling violation of the woman’s body.

Arthur placed the point over the heart, and as I looked I could see its dint in the white flesh. Then he struck with all his might. The thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the opened red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions; the sharp white teeth champed together till the lips were out and the mouth was smeared with crimson foam. (p. 258-259)
 Though not emphasized in this passage, it is generally known that a vampire had to be killed, not merely by a stake through the heart, but by cutting off the head. This was actually done for all kinds of revenants, and for witches (whose ashes were scattered at crossroads sometimes, or they would be buried there.) Sometimes the mouth was sewn up with garlic or other strong-smelling things before it was buried.

    Van Helsing ‘wins the women’s souls’ for God in his butchering, and warms to his earlier tasks on Lucy’s body in a peculiar litany with Arthur on their shared duty. When this is accomplished, he moves into a particularly disturbing religious ecstasy – a common feature of the psychopathic rapist’s behavior:

And now, my child, you may kiss her. Kiss her dead lips if you will, as she would have you to, if for her to choose. For she is not a grinning devil now – not anymore a foul Thing for all eternity. No longer she is the devils’ Un-Dead. She is God’s true dead, whose soul is with Him! (p. 260)

This passage describes vampires as the Un-Dead, an apparent perversion of the naturalistic view of dead. It describes that vampires are basically the Devil’s spawn for all of eternity unless they are spared from suffering through the method stated above.

    In the novel Dracula, Bram Stoker has presented and ‘old’ view to vampirism, closely linking it to the conservative morality of society at the time, in terms of sexuality and religious beliefs. In contrast to this The Vampire Lestat, written by Anne Rice, portrays a much more updated presentation by questioning many these conservative values and reflecting numerous of the more modern ideals in relation to themes of sexuality, religion and the gothic. Thus, presentations of vampirism in terms of sexuality, religious beliefs and point of view are remarkably contrasted in both these texts. However, despite this, in terms of viewing both The Vampire Lestat and Dracula as Gothic texts, there arise many similarities in their presentations of vampirism.


Towards an Epistolary Discourse: Receiving the
Eighteenth-Century Letter


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