Dracula: A Perfect Monster
Perhaps, no monsters are so horrifying and attractive at the same time as vampires. Of all literary and cinematical vampires, Dracula is the most scary, mysterious, and fascinating. The classical horror story Dracula by Bram Stoker presents a terrifying figure of a grand scale with a complex character. This novel received several screen versions. However, in my opinion, none of them is comparable in impact to the book. There are many folk versions of vampires, and yet Stoker’s Dracula differs from all of them. Jeffrey Cohen formulated seven theses relating to monster cultures; all of them are applicable to Dracula. Stoker’s Dracula is a perfect monster, for he possesses all qualities monsters have, embodies pure evil, and has a horrifying effect on people.
To begin with, Dracula is a vampire; he lives off human blood; hence, he is a monster. Dracula is unambiguous evil. Even when Jonathan Harker does not yet know that Dracula is a vampire, he is a creepy personality. Besides the Count, there are other vampires in the book: the three beautiful bloodthirsty vampire brides and the poor Lucy. Stoker plays upon the contrast between Dracula’s suave politeness and his beastly nature. The human traits in the vampires become exaggerated to the extent where they cease to be human anymore. Thus, there is a creepy quality about the Count’s politeness and his imperial manner. Stoker constantly plays upon the relationship between the Self and the Other: as soon as the reader recognizes human features, they transform into something monstrous.
According to Cohen, monster’s body is a cultural body. Dracula the vampire corresponds to this thesis as his image incorporate the folk ideas of vampires. He possesses all qualities folklore vampires have: he is extremely strong, immortal, and very fast. Moreover, he does not reflect in mirrors, he cannot step over the threshold of a house without invitation; he can disappear in a cloud of mist, talk with wolves, and turn into a wolf, a dog, a bird, or a bat. Apparently, Dracula can control wind. Moreover, he can establish contact with lunatics. Unlike most vampires, he does not die in the sunlight but loses his ability to transform. However, he is traditionally vulnerable to garlic, holy water, and sacramental wafer. In Dracula’s aristocratic appearance, Stoker allows several traits that make him strange, for example, “peculiarly sharp white teeth,” “remarkable ruddiness” of lips, “extremely pointed” tops of the ears, hairs in the centre of the palm, long and sharp nails, and “extraordinary pallor” of his skin. Before Harker knows it, the reader is already sure recognizes Dracula as undead. It reflects the fact that in common perception, vampires became a reality due to popular belief. Thus, they have outgrown the purely demonstrative function of reflecting the fears as the etymology of monstrum suggests. Dracula, like other monsters, “quite literally incorporates fear, desire, anxiety, and fantasy” that gives him “life and an uncanny independence”.
Cohen’s second thesis is the monster’s ability to escape. Dracula escapes final death centuries long. He appears and escapes in different images, as either a bat, or a wolf, or a cloud of dust. The vampire nature is transcendental; he is not alive and not dead. Vampires disappear in their coffins leaving corpses behind. Dracula travels with his coffin with fresh earth because he uses it to sleep instead of a bed. Cohen denotes that Stoker’s Dracula is a new type of a vampire engendered by decadence culture. Hence comes his alluring sexuality that hypnotizes his victims, both female and male.
Dracula does not only escape but is also extremely difficult to kill. His supernatural strength, elusiveness, finally, the fact that he is already not alive, makes him a difficult target. Stoker describes the traditional procedure of killing a vampire. The vampire killer should thrust his heart with a stake, cut off his head, and fill the mouth with garlic. The ritualized murder is the only condition to give final peace to the vampire’s soul.
Dracula’s monstrosity is a “harbingers of crisis”. Cohen means ontological, social, and cognitive crisis. The ever-transforming body of the vampire disables any reasonable classification; therefore, it is the embodiment of the deep anxiety and uncertainty. Vampires are creatures legitimated for existence by the internal collective fears; in addition, Dracula is the creation of Bram Stoker, his personal fears, and national fears on the verge of epochs. Stoker wrote his novel in 1987, at the sunset of the Victorian Era when maintenance of the colonial system became complicated and the social pressures increased. The cultural response to the subconscious anxiety was decadence, “decay” of the society. Stoker transformed the foreboding of trouble in the image of Dracula, evasive evil and sophisticated aristocrat.
A crisis that is outside the individual competence evokes a wish to run away, to dismiss the troubles that are beyond one’s power. Dracula does not only embody the existential fear of the crisis and coming changes but also offers the way to escape. He has a power to convert victims into the undead, creatures that exist outside the physical, social, or moral laws. This power is frightening, but as any power, it is fascinating. In fact, the image of Dracula conveys an idea that to overcome the mundane limitations, one should step over the moral and become an outcast.
The fourth thesis formulated by Cohen denotes emergence of monsters at the contact of differences. Monsters are the reaction of subconsciousness to the Otherness. The Other is incomprehensible, unpredictable, discomforting, and simple annoying. According to Cohen, physical difference matters, but the primary one “tends to be cultural, political, racial, economic, sexual”. Dracula’s foreign origin enhances the sensation of his Otherness. The Count is a Transylvanian aristocrat. The land lies in Eastern Europe, in the places that folklore settles with various monsters. Meanwhile, the other characters are from England, America, or Holland. Obviously, Stoker chose the clash of cultures: enlightened and progressive West and obscure and mysterious East. Dracula’s assistants are Gypsies or Slovaks, the first traditionally associated with magic and the last – with ignorance.
Britain had ruled the globe for a long time; it had colonies in Asia, Australia, North America, and Africa. The British treated the conquered nations from position of superiority; they considered that Britain brought culture and civilization all over the world. Respectively, they despised and oppressed indigenous peoples. In Stoker’s time, colonial system approached its crash and the fear of the rebellious Other spread in the country. Therefore, Dracula’s arrival in England symbolizes the fear of the Other experienced by Brits.
For Dracula, the Other is represented by humans. Although he was once a man, his new nature has left nothing human in him. Although he kills people and expresses superiority and contempt to the weak human race, he is also cautious against them. While monsters are associated with “perverse and exaggerated sexual appetite”, it is particularly true of Dracula. His act of blood consumption has sexual connotation; his victims feel strangely attracted to him despite the horror.
Oates writes that the figure of Dracula is a merger of pagan and Christian beliefs. Otherness is always perceived as negative. Therefore, Dracula evokes associations with the devil. Moreover, he names himself in England Count De Ville. Thus, in the confrontation between the protagonists and Dracula, there is a fight between good and evil, rational over irrational. The interrelation between the human Self and the Other represented by the vampire enhances the scary effect of the novel.
The fifth thesis sounds as follows: “The monster polices the borders of the possible”. That means that monsters establish the borders of safety. Cohen observes that in folklore, curiosity entangles punishment more often than reward. The fear of darkness lives in the heart of any child and many adults, for dark places are not safe. Dracula, like other vampires, follows the rules of safety and has certain limitations: he preys at night, he cannot step over a threshold without invitation, he cannot step over a sacramental wafer, he cannot cross the sea, and he cannot break into a circle that is a symbolic protective circle.
The sixth postulate that “the fear of the monster is really a kind of desire” stresses the aspects of sexual appeal, the aesthetical side of fear, the enchantment of evil, and the desire to comprehend the incomprehensible. The problem is that forbidden fruit attracts. Curiosity drives humans to dark places where they can encounter real or imaginary enemy. With Dracula, Stoker describes attraction and repulsion that act simultaneously. Vampire sexuality is magnetic and hypnotizing; the victims even do not attempt to resist though they understand the horror of the situation. There is something so outrageous in the act of vampire’s feeding that the horror stills the victim. Moreover, in Dracula, repugnance is mixed with desire.
Dracula is attractive in a more lofty sense as well. He is a supernatural creature that has stepped beyond the limits imposed by a mortal body. He possesses incomparably greater freedom. His strength, his knowledge, his power over nature, and his ability to transform are incredible. He is able to convert people to vampires and introduce them to his sort of existence. Moreover, apart from the physical abilities, Dracula’s personality is fascinating. Several factors that are rather human than monstrous enhance his magnetism. The aristocratic title, wealth, and authority add weight even to humans. Stoker hints the Dracula was a scholar – finally, he had centuries to learn what he wanted. . Furthermore, Dracula’s ancestors entered a pact with Devil due to their thirst for knowledge. Moreover, his self-possession raises him over the primitive bloodsuckers. As a real creation of evil, Dracula has everything to offer to a mortal. His arsenal for seduction contains lures for any human vice.
Finally, the subconscious perceives the monster as Alter Ego, a personality that mirrors the wishes kept secret from the conscious. Dracula violates all taboos; he manages the impossible, and commits the unthinkable. The inner voice hushed by the social, ethical, cultural, and physical limitations could say that it is enviable if people were not afraid to recognize it. This embodiment of alterity defines the duality of people’s attitude to Dracula.
The sevenths and the last Cohen’s thesis is that “the monster stands on the threshold of becoming”. Cohen means that monsters are the products of our imagination and the work of our subconsciousness. Therefore, they challenge people’s self-identification, cultural assumptions, tolerance to the Other, etc. A child grows up when it finds courage to look under the bed or to pass a dark closet to learn that there is nobody there. Similarly, an adult recognizes his or her fears and weaknesses to become stronger. Dracula, as a perfect monster, is a perfect tool to learn oneself.
Bram Stoker created a new type of vampire. His Count Dracula is more than a reproduction of folk legends. His Dracula acquired new dimensions in the agreement with the personality of creator and the contemporary reality. The greatest difference from the traditional monsters is that the Count is seductive and intellectual. Like other creative people, Stoker perceived the impeding collapse of the colonial system, the disappointment with the hypocritical Victorian moral, the social pressures, and the anxiety about the fate of the world. As the result, he created a unique monster that tailored so well to the subconscious fears of the contemporary society that received a life of its own. Dracula is a monster in the cultural dimension since he corresponds to the theses developed by Cohen. As a vampire, he challenges the nature of life and death. At the same time, he is a real monster because he precisely meets the people’s ideas about monsters being evasive, merciless, insatiable, mean, pervert, seductive, scary, and at the same time attractive like the prince of darkness himself.