Gary Oldman

An essay based on Bram Stoker and Dracula by John Totten. 25th of May 2018

 

Gary Oldman
Bram Stoker’s Dracula

 

‘The Gothic is a mode of writing with ambivalence which often conveys both disgust and desire’,[1] therefore I feel it is essential to study Bram Stoker’s life in order to fully appreciate Dracula. A deeper understanding will also be achieved by considering the psychoanalytical approach to Dracula and Bram Stoker, the Marxist approach, the feminist approach, the post-colonial approach, and alternative theoretical modes.

‘The basis of a nightmare’[2] is thought to have contributed to the inspiration for Dracula which carried on the nineteenth century English literature tradition of the vampire, a supernatural villainous monster which survives on the blood of humans.

Count Dracula, intent on conquering England, employs Jonathon Harker, who travels to Transylvania to handle his legal affairs. Dracula claims Jonathon’s fiancée, Mina Murray as his own. He did this after previously attacking her friend Lucy Westenra. After the attack on Mina, many of the main male characters, including Jonathan Harker, Abraham Van Helsing, Arthur Holmwood (an aristocrat), Doctor Jack Seward (head of administration at an insane asylum), and Quincey P.

[1] Jarlath Killeen, Gothic Literature 1825-1914 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009), p.10.

[2] Sarah Shute (Gen. Ed.)., Anon, ‘Dracula, KnowledgeNotes™ Student Guides’ Cambridge, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2002: http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:ref:EALKN225:0&rft.accountid=14775

 

Bram Stoker

 

Morris (an American friend of Arthur Holmwood and Doctor Seward) set about travelling to travelling to Transylvania to destroy the count after he attacks in England.

         The Dead Un-Dead and Count Vampyre were considered titles for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Up ‘until a few weeks before publishing his manuscript was referred to as The Un-Dead,’[3] but while researching, Stoker took the name Dracula, which meant, ‘Son of the Order of the Dragon. This had belonged to Prince Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, who was real nobleman in the fifteenth century’.[4]

‘Vampires have always been travellers, moving between different social and geographical locations. The vampire story has transgressed through national, sexual and cultural boundaries’.[5] This remains true with Dracula. From a postcolonial perspective it is not entirely clear which cross-cultural demons Dracula represents. However, threats from eastern Europe at that time are quite clear in the story. The geographical locations indicate a clear threat and it could be, when taking into account that Dracula was published in 1897, that Dracula represented an ‘eastern terrorist imperialist who would deliver the fear and horror of colonization’[6] to an already established Britain. Dracula could also be a mixture of representations of British social anxieties towards the end of the nineteenth century.

Bram Stoker’s mother, Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley (1818-1901), from the west of Ireland would have ‘survived through the 1832 cholera epidemic in Sligo

[3] Bram Stoker, Dracula & Dracula’s Guest, (London:  Wordsworth Editions, 2009), p.363.

[4] Bram Stoker, Dracula & Dracula’s Guest, (London:  Wordsworth Editions, 2009), p.363.

[5] Tabish Khair and Johan Höglund (Eds.), Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires: Dark Blood, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.1.

[6] Tabish Khair and Johan Höglund (Eds.), Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires: Dark Blood, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), p.2.

 

and years later recorded her memories at the request of Bram’.[7] His mother recalled one victim of the epidemic, who had been buried alive and also an event when her own family, while travelling to Ballyshannon for shelter with friends, encountered a mob armed with sticks, scythes and pitchforks, taking luggage from her family, crying out, “Fire to burn the cholera people!”[8],only to be saved be a local regimental officer stationed in the quarter of the town. ‘Bram’s brother, George had seen similar social disruption, witnessing the horrific sight of dead bodies, while working as a doctor during the Russian-Turkish war of the late 1870s’.[9] Along with increasing famine and a typhoid epidemic around the time of his birth, visualising hearing stories from his mother and brother makes it easy to understand why Bram Stoker, from a young age, would have such fascination with life, death, the undead, eastern cultures, illnesses, and blood.

Abraham (Bram) Stoker was born was born in Clontarf, Dublin in 1847. He was the eldest of five sons and two daughters. He experienced early years of confinement and ‘was bedridden as a child with an unknown ailment until he was seven years old’.[10] Bram ‘followed his father to work as a clerk to work as a clerk at Dublin castle when he was sixteen years old’.[11] Already a relationship and comparisons from Bram Stoker’s personal life can be found to have replicated or manifested within Dracula. The notetaking and clerical, observational, diary style

 

[7] Valdine Clemens, The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1999), p.181.

[8] Valdine Clemens, The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1999), p.181

[9] Valdine Clemens, The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1999), p.181.

[10] Barbara Belford, ‘Stoker, Abraham [Bram] (1847-1912)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2018: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/38012

[11] Barbara Belford, Bram Stoker A Biography of The Author of Dracula (London: The Orion Publishing Group Ltd, 1996), pp. 20-21

 

format of the recording amongst characters such as Jonathon Harker’s journal, Dr Seward’s diary and Mina Harker’s journal are all methods of giving recorded accounts which Bram Stoker would have been with familiar with in his real life. We would not know this without researching some of the life of Bram Stoker. There is nothing definite to suggest why Bram Stoker wrote Dracula in this format but the liberal humanist tradition could be considered. Often ‘the moral confusions of writers in the liberal humanist tradition are reflected through structural weaknesses in their writing’.[12]

The epistolary narrative used in Dracula is quite clever as ‘letters are used as a supplement which love needs in order to continue’.[13]An example of this is the letter from Mina Harker to Lucy in which Mina is expressing concern for Jonathon and also claiming to feel ‘she has no one left to confide in’.[14]

The significance of Bram stoker’s sickness as a child holds psychoanalytical importance in understanding Dracula. The Stokers were Protestants and Victorian age gothic writing is often thought of as a place somewhere between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, rejecting the ways of modernism and ‘domesticating the Gothic allowed stock characters of the genre to rematerialise in a new place’.[15]

While Bram Stoker was a child, spending his early years confined to bed, observing scenes of life passing by the window, ‘his parents would read to him, and he learned to read, cultivating a fascination with storms, shipwrecks, sea rescues, and the supernatural’.[16] It could be suggested that rather than accepting the ways of being

 

[12] C. B. Cox, The Free Spirit (London: The Oxford University Press, 1963), p.11.

[13] Thomas O. Beebee, Epistolary Fiction in Europe 1500-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p.48.

[14] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 1997), p.143.

[15] Jarlath Killeen, Gothic Literature 1825-1914 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009), p.12.

[16] Barbara Belford, ‘Stoker, Abraham [Bram] (1847-1912)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2018: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/38012

 

confined to his bed Bram Stoker stayed true to the gothic revival way of thinking, rejecting the confined early domestic stages of his life, only to reprocess the experience later in his life, rematerialising the early childhood experiences through his characters and writing Dracula. For example, early in Jonathon Harker’s journal it is written, ‘I had sat in the carriage for more than hour before we began to move. It seems to me that the further East you go the more unpunctual are the trains’.[17] In this piece of writing not only is description of remaining static or confined, while observing being given, but also a lack of faith in eastern systems. This replicates experiences of Bram Stoker’s early life. There is also the later depiction of the castle in which Jonathon Harker describes it as a person, noting ‘The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a prisoner!’[18] This could also be a further reflection of Bram Stoker’s early experiences of confined early years.

Bram Stoker also worked as novelist and theatre manager who volunteered as a drama critic for the Daily Mail. He had previously ‘worked his way through Trinity College (Dublin), winning several cups and caps as well as honours in history in mathematics’.[19]There are very evidential ties in Dracula with Bram Stoker’s life as a drama critic for the newspaper. For example, the reference to the keeper in the zoological gardens regarding the escaped wolf is written for ‘The Pall Mall Gazette’[20]. This reflects some correlation with Stoker’s real life and we would not know this unless we researched the life of Bram Stoker.

The Marxist approach to literature concerns itself with social class, ideology often exploring the ‘bourgeois humanist fortress’[21] and takes into account social

 

[17] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 1997), p.11.

[18] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 1997), p.32.

[19] Laurence Irving, Henry Irving (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), p.278.

[20] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 1997), p.125.

[21] Terry Eagleton, Criticism and Ideology (London: NLB, 1976), p.16.

 

equality. From this approach it could be thought that ‘Dracula was a representation of Britain’s fears about economic status’.[22] Connotations of the degree of threat can also be found in Dracula’s Guest. For example, “It sounds like a wolf – but yet there are no wolves here now’.[23]

The social status of key characters within the primary text of Dracula can be considered. Lucy Westenra’s (and the death of her mother) demise is a result of the attack of the wolf. Parallel to Marxist theory it could be thought that a character such as Lucy is easy prey for the threats from the east. Abraham Van Helsing, who is most certainly a character and rescuer, whom Bram Stoker has named after himself is likely to have been a personified manifestation of the defence (or counter) against the threats from the east.

The often-overlooked character of Reinfield and his obsessive ingestion of flies, spiders, birds, and cats could have been a personified exploration of ‘unrelenting desire and the world of accelerating capitalism’.[24]

Arthur Holmwood’s relationship with the young and beautiful Lucy is key in thinking of the threat upon the British social classes. Holmwood’s ‘father, Lord Godalming, is not very well’,[25] early in Mina Harker’s journal. Holmwood is an only child to an aristocrat, who’s title he will later inherit. Lucy (a socialite property owner) and Holmwood are to be married in the autumn at this point meaning  she too would

 

[22] Peter Hutchings, Dracula: A British Film Guide (London: MGP Books, 2003), p.12.

[23] Bram Stoker, Dracula & Dracula’s Guest, (London:  Wordsworth Editions, 2009), p.370.

[24] Tanya Pikula, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and late Victorian advertising tactics: earnest men, virtuous ladies, and porn, York, ProQuest, 1996-2018: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=0000002713128551&Fmt=3&cl ientId=43168&RQT=309&VName=PQD

[25] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 1997), p.72.

 

officially have become part of the aristocracy, but for the attack from the wolf, or Dracula in another form.

Arthur Holmwood, resisting seduction, is also the male suitor responsible for the ultimate destruction of Lucy, by methods relayed by metaphysician, Van Helsing. It is interesting as to why Van Helsing is often portrayed as this keeper of knowledge. In Mina Harker’s journal it states how ‘she cannot help feeling terribly excited as time draws near to Van Helsing’s visit, for somehow it is felt it well throw some light upon Jonathon’s sad experience’,[26] which makes me curious in regards to ambiguity around Bram Stoker’s sexuality. It is clear that a lot of concern is shown towards Jonathon and it may have been that Bram Stoker has used Dracula to ‘write things about himself that he has never revealed to any other human being’.[27]

Some influential males in the real life of Bram Stoker were Walt Whitman (poet, humanist and journalist), Henry Irving, and Oscar Wilde. Irving’s experience in theatre contributed to the dramatization of Dracula.

Oscar Wilde had a relationship with the women who Stoker would later marry. It is suggested that Oscar Wilde’s absence from Dublin was one of the reasons why Bram Stoker’s future wife, Florence Balcombe chose to marry him. Other sources suggest that it was Bram Stoker’s position as ‘business manager of The Lyceum Theatre which influenced her decision’.[28]Oscar Wilde’s secret life of sexual encounters with young men would become later known and three years after hearing the new of her marriage to Stoker, after her stage debut, ‘he asked actress, Ellen Terry to give Florence a crown of flowers as if they were from himself’.[29] It is likely

 

[26] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 1997), p.162.

[27] Lesley A. Hall, Hidden Anxieties, Male Sexuality, 1900-1950 (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), p.12.

[28] Joseph Pearce, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde (London: Harper Collins, 2000), p.113.

[29] Neil McKenna, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (London: Arrow Books,2003), p.13.

 

that sexual uncertainties involving Oscar Wile are someway replicated through Dracula. Wilde’s arrests and unknown controversy around bloods and Victorian medicines were of public interest.

Bram Stoker, William Butler Yeats and others were rumoured to have been members of an occult group, The Golden Dawn. However, this is an argument which ‘is particularly vexed’.[30]  If it were true this would contribute to Bram Stoker and his interest with the supernatural and metaphysics.

The feminist approach to Dracula could concern readers in the way that women might be portrayed as blood sucking baby killers. However, Bram Stoker is celebrated by many females such as Carol A. Senf, who regards his female vampires as a ‘feminist response to women who were ornamental, undermining traditional assumptions between the sexes as well as accepted cultural beliefs about the role women should play within society’.[31]

Dracula can be enjoyed on a less investigative level although studying the life of Bram Stoker would be essential to truly appreciate it. The language of record keeping remains throughout along with unique circumstances and ideas that could not belong to any person other than Bram Stoker.

 

 

 

[30]Alisa Clapp-Itnyre and Julie Melnyk (Eds.), “Perplext in Faith”: Essays on Victorian Beliefs and Doubts, (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing,2015), p.213.

[31] Per Faxneld, Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Woman in Nineteenth-century Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), p.180.

 

 

Bibliography

Primary Text

Stoker, Bram, Dracula (London: W.W. Norton & Company Ltd, 1997)

Secondary Texts

Beebee, Thomas O., Epistolary Fiction in Europe 1500-1850 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p.48.

Belford, Barbara, Bram Stoker A Biography of The Author of Dracula (London: The Orion Publishing Group Ltd, 1996), pp. 20-21

Belford, Barbara, ‘Stoker, Abraham [Bram] (1847-1912)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2018: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/38012 (accessed 22 February 2018)

Belford, Barbara, ‘Stoker, Abraham [Bram] (1847-1912)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2018: https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/38012 (accessed 07 March 2018)

Clapp-Itnyre, Alisa and Julie Melnyk (Eds.), “Perplext in Faith”: Essays on Victorian Beliefs and Doubts, (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing,2015), p.213.

Clemens, Valdine, The Return of the Repressed: Gothic Horror from The Castle of Otranto to Alien, (New York: State University of New York Press, 1999), p.181.

Cox, C. B., The Free Spirit (London: The Oxford University Press, 1963), p.11.

Eagleton, Terry, Criticism and Ideology (London: NLB,1976), p.16.

Faxneld, Per, Satanic Feminism: Lucifer as the Liberator of Woman in Nineteenth-century Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), p.180.

Hall, Lesley A., Hidden Anxieties, Male Sexuality, 1900-1950 (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991), p.12.

Hutchings, Peter, Dracula: A British Film Guide (London: MGP Books, 2003), p.12.

Irving, Laurence, Henry Irving (London: Faber and Faber, 1951), p.278.

Khair, Tabish, and Johan Höglund (Eds.), Transnational and Postcolonial Vampires: Dark Blood, (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013), pp.1-2

Killeen, Jarlath, Gothic Literature 1825-1914 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2009), pp.10-12

McKenna, Neil, The Secret Life of Oscar Wilde (London: Arrow Books,2003), p.13.

Pearce, Joseph, The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde (London: Harper Collins, 2000), p.113.

Pikula, Tanya, Bram Stoker’s Dracula and late Victorian advertising tactics: earnest men, virtuous ladies, and porn, York, ProQuest, 1996-2018: http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=0000002713128551&Fmt=3&cl ientId=43168&RQT=309&VName=PQD (accessed 11 March 2018)

Shute, Sarah, (Gen. Ed.)., Anon, ‘Dracula, KnowledgeNotes™ Student Guides’, Cambridge, ProQuest Information and Learning Company, 2002: http://gateway.proquest.com/openurl?ctx_ver=Z39.88-2003&xri:pqil:res_ver=0.2&res_id=xri:lion&rft_id=xri:lion:ft:ref:EALKN225:0&rft.accountid=14775 (accessed 02 March 2018)

Stoker, Bram, Dracula & Dracula’s Guest, (London:  Wordsworth Editions, 2009), pp.363-370

 

 

 

 

 

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