The Devil Lies in Plain Sight – The Significance of Dracula on England in the Late 19th Century

By Jelson Mendoza

 

Vampirism, specifically found in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” in the 19th century among other contemporary horrors represented a complex fear among the British public of invasion, violence that could occur at any moment and racial and sexual impurity. It then becomes no surprise that the notion of Vampires and the Dracula mythos exist parallel to the gruesome story of Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia.

The Man behind the Myth –

To give a shortened description of how Vlad became the  origin of the Vampire legend, one would first have to look to his father, Vlad II and his background with the Order of the Dragon. The Order of the Dragon were a group of Christian rulers who vowed to fight against the Ottoman Empire and its incursions into the Christian world in areas such as Wallachia and Serbia in the 15th century. When the Ottoman Empire betrayed a peace maintained by Vlad II, his son Vlad III (whose last name was Dracul meaning “Son of the Dragon) rebelled against the Ottomans in vicious and bloody conflict. Eventually, Vlad III gained a reputation for the horrifying practice of impaling his opponents on stakes and leaving their corpses out to dry. Rumors were also spread that Vlad the Impaler drank blood and indulged himself in cannibalistic tendencies. Lastly, in discussing the context and history of Vlad the Impaler it is important to recognize Transylvania’s position as ethnically diverse and stepped in a history of conflict between those groups and foreign invasions,

“The ancestors of the Romanians first appeared in the high mountains of South-Transylvania towards the end of the eleventh century. They were shepherds who migrated in from Wallachia and lived in scattered settlements in the mountains. They were distinguished from the Roman Catholic Hungarians and Saxons by belonging to the Greek Orthodox religion. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Transylvania had a population of about 800,000, of whom 65% were Hungarians, the rest split evenly between Saxons and Romanians.” (Benda)

England and The Vampire – 

In the context of the late 19th century, England found itself like many other European nations on the precipice of war with the German Empire. In fact, Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” emerges in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War which occurred in 1870 and demonstrated the rise of a unified German state able to rival that of France. Therefore, the notion of the vampire is innately tied to the fear of an invasion similar to the Prussian (or German) takeover of areas such as the Alsace-Lorraine and the loss of their “blood heritage” as French. By the 1890s, although the European powers could not have envisioned the scope of the First World War, tensions had steadily risen to the point that many contemporaries saw war as inevitable,

“No one can look carefully into the present state of Europe without feeling firmly convinced that it cannot continue long in its present condition. Every country is maintaining an armed force out of all proportion to its resources and population….The nations of Europe are, in fact, all living in a state of constant preparation for instant war….This war of giants will have Russia and France on the one side; Germany, Austria, and Italy on the other.” (Alison 755-756)

Within this atmosphere of military preparation, no other monster could be as appropriate as one that strikes in the night as Dracula had towards the people of England. In particular, the victims of Dracula in the novel (for the most part) were women and by extension a source of life that could be corrupted and made impure by him.

“There was a deliberate voluptuousness that was both thrilling and repulsive.
And as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal till I could see in the moonlight the moisture
Then lapped the white, sharp teeth.
Lower and lower went her head. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited. ” (Stoker)

This notion of impurity as Stoker described to be, “both thrilling and repulsive” ties with the emerging concept of race and sexuality that took place in the 19th century as a whole and across the globe. Readers in England for example would be privy to stories from America and the Caribbean of slave revolts and moral degradation in places like the Five Points and in some way be prone to imagine a sense of escalating danger that cannot be actively seen or fought.

England also served as an interesting birthplace for the modern vampire as its history is intricately tied to Christianity and fears regarding witches. Explicitly, as Christianity rose in prominence, the notion of sin and the night (i.e witchcraft) became synonymous with the religiously motivated desire to hunt down supposed witches and heretics with the intent to kill them. At the crossroads of these two ideas, the immortal vampire provides the response to the fear of seduction that comes in the night to turn God fearing individuals into pawns and cannot be killed by simple torches and other tools used by mobs such as the one that formed in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693.

Dracula

Women are essential to the legend of Vampires as their murder demonstrates a loss of identity and purity that can be drawn in parallel to the Christian notion of sexual purity and race in the context of countries like America. (Source – http://www.playbuzz.com/jonb10/how-well-do-you-know-dracula) 

In conclusion, the image of the vampire as it emerged from England at the end of the 19th century demonstrated a culmination of the racialized and sexual fears and anxieties of society in the shape of a monster that comes at the night and leaves death in its wake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography –

Alison, Archibald . “The Online Books Page.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine archives. 1893. Accessed December 16, 2017. http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=blackwoods.

Benda, Dr. Kálmán. “A SHORT HISTORY OF TRANSYLVANIA.” A SHORT HISTORY OF TRANSYLVANIA. 1988. Accessed December 16, 2017. http://www.hungarianhistory.com/lib/faf/toc02.htm.

Stoker, Bram, and Tudor Humphries. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Place of publication not identified: Dorling Kindersley, 1997.

 

 

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