In the second of our “Dualism in literature” series, Annette Ong turns to Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’. Published in 1897, the novel is today renowned as one of the seminal works of the Gothic horror genre – perfect for dipping into in this autumnal, dark-night period between Halloween and Bonfire Night.
The Count turned and said in a soft whisper, “Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past.”
Irish author Bram Stoker spent several years researching European folklore for his novel Dracula. Inspired by trips to Whitby, Stoker began piecing together the story of his protagonist Count. It is an epistolary novel – a collection of fictional accounts, news reports, letters, journal entries and ship logs. Perhaps it was Stoker’s experience of working for a newspaper that influenced the method he adopted for telling his gruesome tale.
Dracula is a classic Victorian gothic novel. Scholars spend years researching and dissecting the work as it is a treasure trove of themes – not to mention the evocative writing. No glittering skin, brooding good looks or perfectly coiffed hair here. It’s all blood, horror and evil, or is it? The Victorian preoccupation with the belief that a life of vice (or virtue) will leave an indelible print on a person’s physiognomy strikes at the heart of dualism. Man’s inner world is at the mercy of two dueling natures: good and evil. The outer world exists in contrasts, as in fact most things do, which leads to eternal conflict.
The novel begins as young lawyer Jonathan Harker embarks on a journey to Dracula’s castle to discuss an acquisition of property. The Count wants a home in London, so he can travel freely, acquiring “followers” as he goes. He holds Harker captive for longer than necessary. Harker is engaged to the beautiful, virtuous Mina, and when he finally escapes the castle, he is a changed man.
There are a few nods to popular myths: that vampires don’t care for garlic, crucifixes or sunlight. They do not eat, sleep all day in coffins of cold earth and only a stake through the heart will finish them off for good. Dracula is also a shape-shifter; morphing from man to wolf to bat, whenever he feels the need.
Mina’s best friend Lucy Westenra becomes one of Dracula’s victims, leaving her fiancé Arthur Holmwood to call on the knowledge and expertise of his closest friends (who also happen to be Lucy’s ex-lovers): psychologist Dr. John Seward, American Quincey Morris and none other than Dutch doctor Van Helsing. And so, the hunt for the immortal one begins. A series of experiments and discoveries, including the Count’s seduction of Mina Harker, leads the men into a perplexing “cat and mouse” chase fearing for their lives and their loved ones.
Van Helsing points out that Dracula was once a noble, well-respected Statesman, who did much for his country and colleagues. He was not always damned. Dual natures exist even in those now known as evil and beyond redemption.
In all, Dracula is the king of gothic novels. A real standout, it comprises superb writing and an endlessly fascinating story. The novel invites us to acknowledge that there are things that exist well beyond the perimeters of reality.