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Dracula: Dark Dad of Emo

In Books on August 12, 2010 at 11:55 am

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

We said we’d begin with Twilight, and we will. However, we won’t just jump right into the story, because (1) Brooke spent a lot of time reading source materials at UCSD, and she wants to show off , and (2) I’m way too much of a nerd myself to pass up the chance to delve into literary history.  Deal with it.  You won’t complain when you’re the only person in Intro to Gothic Literature who actually recognizes the titles your professor starts popping off, now will you?  Read this and you’ll be able to spend class Facebooking.

Despite what the fans would have us believe, Twilight is by no means an avant-garde series in the genre of vampire literature.  When I say ‘vampire literature’, I’m not referring to every single story that has a vampire as a principal character, like Charlaine Harris’ The Southern Vampire Mysteries (which are the basis for the True Blood series on HBO), or even Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles (Interview with the Vampire, et al).  I’m referring to the classic gothic horror stories; the fantastic tales of evil demons and their human prey.

Qoheleth[1] said that there’s nothing new under the sun, and he was right.  Vampire literature didn’t appear in a vacuum; there have been superstitions about ‘undead’ creatures as long as there have been drunk people to talk about them.  They usually involved a creature with the ability to prolong his or her life indefinitely by feeding off the blood of the living, mysteriously appearing in the victim’s bedroom at night in order to do so, often as an animal, and sleeping or remaining inactive during the daylight hours.

Many of the superstitions surrounding vampires were compiled and solidified in the popular imagination by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, widely considered to be the definitive work in vampire lit.  Stoker did extensive research into the folklore, mythology, and legends before writing his novel in 1897.  At the time it was published, it was just one among many popular sensationalist novels; an “invasion lit” tale where a mysterious foreign entity appears out of an Eastern country and threatens the British Empire.  According to the learned scholars at Wikipedia[1], Stoker was heavily influenced by Sheridan le Fanu’s Carmilla, which is about a lesbian vampire who preys on lonely young girls, as well as The Vampyre by John Polidori, [2] and Emily Gerard’s Transylvania Superstitions.

Stoker’s vampire, the enigmatic Count Vlad Dracula, is meant to be a terrifying creature, not an attractive one.  This is a story about something disastrous and horrific; about a being that is not readily understood and how the protagonists must confront not only the creature himself, but that which he represents – an intrusion of the malevolent supernatural into the elegantly quantified and systematized roles and rules that govern Victorian society. Stoker’s novel was published at the time when modernism was at its peak; in the wake of the Enlightenment and during the first flush of Darwin’s Origin of Species – Jonathan Harker, Drs. Seward and Van Helsing, and Mr. Quill are incarnations of this developing intellectual, physical, economic and social power.  Dracula represents that which was there pre-modernity; before scientific inquiry and autonomous reason were the ultimate arbiter of fact; before technology gave man his unprecedented power.  The human protagonists understand the movements of the stars, the minds of men, and the order of creation, but little beyond that – it is this failure to acknowledge, study, and comprehend this super-natural (literally, above the natural) element that constitutes their weakness. When it shows up in a world dominated by science, what does society do?  What will happen to the roles and rules; is man’s power sufficient to conquer and subdue it?

Dracula wasn’t metro, he didn’t wear LaCoste, and he sure as hell didn’t glitter. His attraction is enigmatical and mysterious; his victims are intuitively aware of the power and intelligence accumulated from centuries of immortal life and it’s the allure of this knowledge that draws his victims to him.  Unlike the literary vampires of subsequent years, he isn’t a rebel without a cause, but a consummate renegade – a thing utterly inhuman, yet able to blend into human society and observe the rites and rituals of society impeccably.  Dracula’s goal is to quietly dominate society; not simply fit into it and certainly not protect it.  He draws no undue attention to himself; he cares neither for society nor companionship, viewing them with a rather mocking, slightly bored detachment.

The female protagonists, Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray, are not overwhelmed by Dracula’s beauty or charm – his power and ability to subdue humans is neither attractive nor desirable.  In fact, he takes particular care not to make himself known to them in human form until nearly the very end, choosing instead to haunt Lucy’s dreams and lure her to him through voices in her head or ghostly appearances as a mist or wolf.  There is no desire to be “chosen” as his victim, and no lust for the same kind of eternal life he enjoys and could offer them.  Indeed, when Mina realizes she has been defiled by being physically forced to drink his blood, she cries out in agony: “Unclean, unclean!”  The idea that she might herself turn into a similar creature is abhorrent to her, and she actively fights against it.

Dracula’s reputation as a seducer is rather undeserved – he’s not looking for a soul-mate so much as he is a good supper, and it kinda stands to reason he’d prefer a hot chick rather than some fat bald guy.  I put it to you – you’re a vampire (male).  Which one ya goin’ for, Megan Fox or Michael Moore?  OK then.  While I’m sure both Lucy and Mina were smokin’ hot, Dracula’s choice of them as his prey isn’t precipitated by some physiological obsession, but rather his knowledge of his enemy’s (i.e., Harker, Seward, et. al.) weakest points – their women. “My revenge is just begun!” he says, incredibly pissed off when the heroes have attempted to corner him, “I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side.  The women you love are mine already, and through them you and others shall yet be mine—my creatures to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed.”

Dracula to Twilight – kind of a big jump, no?  How’d we get there?  Why should we read Dracula instead of Twilight?  Dracula was pop-lit when it came out too, right?  How do I know that a hundred years from now there won’t be some bored blonde program specialist blogging about how Twilight is a milestone of American literature and why it’s worth our time and television-abstinence to read about it?  Well, why don’t we take the lock off Brooke’s cage and let her answer that one…..




[1] POP QUIZ!  Who was Qoheleth?  Chick-fil-A gift card for the first person who answers correctly.  UPDATE: Congrats to Matt DeLong, who won the Chick-fil-A gift card.  Why exactly he wanted it when he just spent the entire summer in the South, I’m sure I don’t know, but whatevs.

 

[2] Polidori was a contemporary of Mary Shelley, who as you know (if you were Brooke’s student, anyway) was the authoress of Frankenstein.

[3] Now, I realize Wikipedia is not exactly a paragon of accuracy, but since this is for fun and I am not actually writing a scholarly paper where I have to cite my resources, I’m going to go ahead and assume they have the gist of things correct.  Take that, MLA format!  I can hear my high school English teacher weeping even now….

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