Back To CourseEnglish 101: English Literature
11 chapters | 110 video lessons
'Dracula' is a classic tale of Gothic horror by written by the Irish author Bram Stoker and published in 1897. The Count himself is one of the most iconic characters in literary history, but there are many other fascinating characters in the novel. Let's sink our teeth into some of them...
Dracula is the primary antagonist of the novel. The antagonist, who is sometimes referred to as the villain, is the character whose goals and actions oppose those of the protagonist, who is sometimes referred to as the hero.
Dracula is a Transylvanian nobleman born hundreds of years before the beginning of the novel. At the time of the story, Dracula is an undead vampire who lives as a recluse in his ancient castle.
As a vampire, he possesses both supernatural powers and weaknesses. He is nearly immortal and immune to many forms of attack. He has extraordinary physical strength and can shift his shape into forms such as a wolf, bat, and ghostly mist. He also has hypnotic and telepathic abilities and can command nocturnal animals like bats and rats. In addition to his supernatural powers, Dracula is a creature of great wealth and experience, owing to his noble status and his extraordinarily long lifespan.
However, he also has certain weakness as a result of his supernatural condition. He is greatly weakened by daylight, he cannot cross running water except under special conditions, and he cannot enter a location unless he is invited in. He is driven away by garlic, crucifixes, and other holy objects. Dracula is vulnerable to certain types of physical attacks, particularly during daylight when he is 'sleeping.'
Dracula's main goal is to leave his Transylvanian estate and become more involved in the modern world of the living by moving to London. In his words he longs to 'be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is.'
Complicating this goal for Dracula is that, as a vampire, his energy, youth, and vitality depends on his feeding on the blood of living humans. He also needs to rest regularly near the soil of his Transylvanian home in order to regain his strength.
Dracula's plan to overcome these challenges involves buying a large plot of land in London and transporting himself and large quantities of his native soil to his new home. It is this plan that sets the events of the novel in motion when Dracula contracts with the young English lawyer Jonathan Harker to facilitate a real estate purchase in London.
Legends of vampires existed before Bram Stoker wrote Dracula, but Count Dracula is the archetype, or first and most influential model, of the modern vampire in popular fiction.
Professor Van Helsing is one of the primary protagonists who opposes Dracula and his plans. An older and wise man, Van Helsing provides the other characters in the story with key understandings about Dracula, his powers, and how to defeat him.
Van Helsing is well versed in a variety of areas. He is knowledgeable about folklore and traditional vampire lore. But, he also has a keen understanding of modern (at the time of the novel) scientific knowledge and techniques.
Because his characters straddles both the 'old world' of folklore and superstition and the 'new world' of scientific theories, he is a powerful adversary of Dracula in the Count's attempt to move from the old ways to the new world. When Lucy falls ill as a result of Dracula's influence over her, Van Helsing is the one who deduces the true nature of her illness after Dr. Seward cannot.
Van Helsing is in some ways a fairly 1-dimensional and unchanging character. He is plainly characterized as a 'good guy.' His path seems uncomplicated by much moral ambiguity or internal conflict, and he doesn't change much over the course of the novel.
Many critics describe Mina Murray as the embodiment of mainstream Victorian society's mythic ideal of a woman. Mina is an assistant schoolmistress, a role in which she cares for children. She is also noted for her domestic abilities, which she employs in the service of her husband, Jonathan Harker. It is Mina's research which ultimately leads Van Helsing and his companions to Dracula's castle.
In contrast to Mina's friend, Lucy, Mina's physical beauty or sexuality is not emphasized in the narrative. Victorian society frowned on female sexuality, and the lack of any description of this element of Mina's character fits with the analysis of her as the epitome of mainstream Victorian society's mythic ideal of a woman.
Dracula feeds on Mina repeatedly as retaliation for the efforts by Van Helsing and his companions to hunt down Dracula. Dracula even attempts to turn Mina into a vampire, although she is ultimately spared this fate when Van Helsing and his company destroy Dracula.
Lucy has much in common with her friend Mina. In many ways she also fulfills mainstream Victorian society's mythic ideal of a woman. One key difference between Lucy and Mina, though, is that Lucy's physical attractiveness and Lucy's comfort with her attractiveness are emphasized in the novel.
By implication, Lucy's character is sexualized in a way that Mina's character is not. Mainstream Victorian society frowned on female sexuality, and, in the end, the novel 'punishes' Lucy for her perceived transgressions.
For the first half of the novel, though, Lucy fits in well enough in mainstream Victorian society that she receives marriage proposals from three men on the same day from Dr. John Seward, Quincey Morris, and Arthur Holmwood. She accepts Holmwood's proposal, although before they can marry, Lucy begins to suffer from a mysterious illness.
Van Helsing eventually determines Lucy is going through the process of becoming a vampire. She eventually succumbs to her condition and begins walking the streets of London by night feeding on the blood of the living.
At this stage in the novel, the narrative revisits and amplifies the suggestions of Lucy's sexuality hinted at earlier. As a vampire, she is described as having a great sexual appetite in addition to her appetite for blood.
In the end, Van Helsing and his companions track Lucy down, stake her, behead her, and fill her mouth with garlic, ending her vampiric life.
Jonathan Harker is a newly qualified lawyer who is sent to Transylvania by his firm to facilitate Count Dracula's purchase of real estate in London. Harker becomes a prisoner in Dracula's castle. He eventually escapes and marries his fiance, Mina. After Dracula's true nature and his attacks on Mina are revealed, Harker joins the fight against the Count.
A talented young doctor, formerly Van Helsing's pupil, Seward is the administrator of an insane asylum not far from Dracula's English home. Throughout the novel, Seward conducts interviews with one of his patients, Renfield, in order to learn more about mental illness. Although Lucy turns down Seward's marriage proposal, he remains fond of her, and he helps care for her when she mysteriously becomes sick. After Lucy's death, Seward dedicates himself to fighting Dracula.
Arthur becomes Lucy's fiancé and is a friend of her other suitors. After the truth of Lucy's condition is revealed, Arthur does his best to save her. Ultimately, he is the one to drive a stake through Lucy's vampire heart and destroy her.
Quincey is a Texan who is also one of Lucy's suitors. Even after Lucy chooses Arthur over him, Quincey tries to help free Lucy from Dracula's influence. After Lucy's death, Quincey joins the party that continues the fight against Dracula. Quincey ultimately dies in the struggle against Dracula.
Renfield is a patient in a mental asylum who has fallen under the influence of Dracula and been driven mad as a result.
There is more to Dracula than meets the eye. Here are a few of the things critics have had to say about the novel over the years.
Dracula is a very good example of a Gothic novel. Many Gothic novels are a product of The Enlightenment, and they are often preoccupied with the shortcomings and dark side of the Enlightenment world view.
Enlightenment thinking is very much concerned with the reason, rationality, and predictability of the natural world and the people in it. Gothic novels examine the shortcomings of this worldview because they deal with situations where unpredictable things happen, the social order buckles, the shortcomings of scientific knowledge are showcased, and people are revealed as not fully in control of their own minds and bodies. Dracula is a prime example of this type of novel.
Mainstream Victorian society of late 19th century England was largely patriarchal and had very limited ideas of the 'proper' roles of women in society. Women were encouraged to be capable and strong to a point, but only in the service of their husband, father, or children. Women were discouraged from being independent or exercising direct political or social power, with the very significant exception of Queen Victoria herself.
Female sexuality was seen as particularly troubling in Victorian society, and Dracula reflects this popular anxiety. Female sexuality in the Victorian era was seen as troublesome for at least two reasons:
When non-socially sanctioned sexuality was discussed in Victorian culture, the dominant cultural narrative often cast women into the stereotypical role of the 'temptress' who supposedly seduced men into sin. Lucy's character is a good example of a female character who is 'punished' by the novel for her sexuality. See her character description above for more analysis of this.
Consider, also, that Dracula's plan in London seems to be to corrupt the city using Lucy and Mina, both young women, as his accomplices. This speaks to contemporary unease regarding the supposed ability of women to undermine the established social order of the time.
It is worth noting that Lucy ends up being destroyed by the vampire hunters, while Mina eventually becomes helpless until she is rescued by the male vampire hunters. In this way, the novel reinforces by its end the popular Victorian notions of male power and authority.
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Back To CourseEnglish 101: English Literature
11 chapters | 110 video lessons