Thursday, January 24, 2013

BOOK: Bram Stoker's Dracula

Gay Vampires Or The Construction of the Other in Dracula

Count Dracula’s terrifying identity is constructed, not as a monster, but as an outsider. He is, in every sense, a foreigner to the (heteronormative) Victorian cast of characters that quest to destroy him. Early in the novel Jonathan Harker almost obsessively comments upon the Count’s strange appearance, eating and sleeping habits and even odor. This pervasive xenophobia reflects the historical context of the novel, written for imperialist England.
The Count’s appearance is so profoundly alien that the characters cannot help but comment upon it. Mina Harker’s description of the Count:

I knew him at once from the description of the others. The waxen face; the high aquiline nose, on which the light fell in a thin, white line; the parted red lips, with the sharp white teeth showing between; and the red eyes that I had seemed to see in the sunset on the windows of St. Mary’s Church at Whitby. (292-293)

Although Harker is at times repulsed by the Count’s otherness, and upon allying against Dracula the company certainly demonizes him, the characters cannot help but feel seduced by his features and mystique throughout the novel. In many ways the Count’s otherness, a kind of orientalism per Said, is fetishized by Stoker and for the benefit of his reader. Everything about the Count is established to confirm the Western conception of identity by acting as a foil – a confirmation of binary power structures, of East and West, of good and evil.

The conversion of Lucy is perhaps the most profound example of the Count’s seductive powers. Lucy is posited to be the model of pure, virginal, English femininity; both frivolous and helpless. Lucy finds herself unable to resist the allure of Count Dracula and quickly succumbs to his influence (though Mina, a less traditional example of femininity and a kind of new-heroine introduced by Stoker, resists and eventually overcomes Dracula’s seduction). We find that the only solution to the Count’s seductive grasp upon Lucy is an elaborate and extremely suggestive murder-ritual mirroring phallic intercourse performed with group-sex overtones. The men would rather sacrifice monogamy and the life of one of their women than lose her to a foreign influence.

Throughout the text, though particularly in the early stages of the narrative, there exists an unspoken sexual tension between Harker and the Count. This tension is first made fully apparent when Harker cuts his neck shaving and the Count reacts strongly with desire: “his eyes blazed with a sort of demoniac fury”.
This homosexual desire is manifested as heterosexual displacement when Harker encounters the three female vampires in the Count’s castle:

All three had brilliant white teeth, that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips. There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. (51)

Harker’s passivity, as is demonstrated by his feigned swoon, is a drastic inversion of Victorian gender roles. In every other instance Harker is very much a man-of-action and this instance of passivity, in spite of danger, suggests his (and the Victorian male’s) desire for some kind of passive role in the sexual economy of England. Stoker’s careful description verifies this assertion as is evidenced by the mounting sensuality of the scene:

Lower and lower went her head as the lips went below the range of my mouth and chin and seemed to fasten on my throat… I could feel the soft, shivering touch of the lips on the supersensitive skin of my throat, and the hard dents of the two sharp teeth, just touching and pausing there. I closed my eyes in a langorous ecstasy and waited – waited with a beating heart. (52)

The women-vampires demonstrate an active sexual appetite, subverting the role of the proper Victorian lady, whereas Harker becomes passive and eagerly awaits the moment of penetration. The penetration of the vampire’s teeth on the neck is undoubtedly a phallic image, though Stoker finds it necessary to couch this homoerotic imagery in heterosexual eroticism through the use of the three women.
The unspoken homosexual desire existing between the Count and Harker becomes apparent upon the intercession of Dracula: “How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me” (53; emphasis added). However, Dracula (and perhaps Stoker) is unwilling to permit a homoerotic coupling, vampiric or not. The mere suggestion of such a thing is enough to frighten (and titillate) the Victorian readers.

This unrealized homoeroticism coupled with Dracula’s apparent preference for women throughout the rest of the novel presents a situation equally (if not more) troubling to the Victorian English: bisexuality. The vampire is by nature bisexual and perhaps transgendered. The vampiric act is one of phallic penetration coupled with the reception of vital fluid. (One must note that in many psychoanalytical readings of this text blood and semen are often interchangeable.) Women who have been converted to vampirism become “masculine” through their sexual aggression. Unfortunately, Stoker does not offer us a male vampire apart from the Count so we must rely on his early and unrealized impulses towards Jonathan Harker for evidence of homosexual desire.

The Count’s transgendering is demonstrated during his final seduction of Mina:

His right hand gripped her by the back of the neck, forcing her face down on his bosom. Her white night-dress was smeared with blood, and a thin stream trickled down the man’s bare chest which was shown by his torn-open dress. The attitude of the two had a terrible resemblance to a child force a kitten’s nose into a saucer of milk to compel it to drink. (288)

This scene presents us with an inverted maternal scene. Dracula is nursing Mina from his breast as a mother to a child (reducing Mina’s sexuality to an infantile status). Stoker further classifies Dracula as other by confusing his gender. Dracula’s protean nature (and sexuality) would indeed be terrifying to Stoker’s audience. In a culture of well defined binary opposites (“brave men and good women”) ambiguity is perhaps the greatest threat.

Works Cited:

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. New York: Signet, 1965.

Stevenson, John Allen. “A Vampire in the Mirror: The Sexuality of Dracula.” PMLA 103.2 (1988) 139-149.

Demetrakopoulos, Stephanie. “Feminism, Sex Role Exchanges, and Other Subliminal Fantasies in Bram Stoker’s ‘Dracula’”. Frontiers: A Journal of Women’s Studies. 2.3 (1977) 104-113.

Craft, Christopher. “’Kiss Me With Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula”. Representations. 8 (1984) 107-133.

Nick Heling

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