With the recent release of the new film Dracula, there has been some renewed interest in the original work by Bram Stoker. Dracula is a profoundly Christian work, and its insights could prove fruitful for discussion. In this paper, I will argue that although modern, skeptical society provides Dracula, sin, and evil a powerful opportunity, good can triumph through a combination of faith, tradition and superstition, and the benefits of modernity.
Dracula can be a representation of evil and the sins of selfishness, materialism, and lust. Dracula’s attacks make people feel “miserably weak” (137) in their sickness, and Lucy reports that “sickness and weakness are selfish things” (137). Dracula is also very selfish in his want of blood, where he will kill for it. He thus can be a representation of selfishness. When Dracula was cut by Jonathan’s knife, “a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out” (326). Dracula bleeds money. He also buys homes in upscale neighborhoods throughout London. Dracula can thus be representation of materialism. Dracula, a vampire obsessed with the exchange of bodily fluids, can also be a representation of the sin of lust. Dracula is “the father or furtherer of a new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death, not Life” (322). His new order of being he chooses to be formed from the modern, progressive capital city of London.
The modern, skeptical society of the British leave then open to an attack from Dracula, and thus sin. When planning for his empire, Dracula tried to “find out the place of all the world most of promise for him” (341). He chose London. London at the time was the capital of the greatest empire in world; a home of modern thought and skepticism. Van Helsing described the modern age as being “so skeptical and selfish” (201). Of course, selfishness and other sins can easily grow where selfishness is already present, but skepticism too works in the favor of Dracula and sin. Skepticism destroys faith and religion, which are key forces of good, as the skeptic can “see nothing but a travesty of bitter truth in anything holy” (354). Atheism and agnosticism were growing intellectual movements at the time, posing a threat to religion and tradition moralities. This skepticism would help Dracula “for in this enlightened age, when men believe not even what they see, the doubting of wise men would be his greatest strength” (341-342). In a literal sense, people refusing to believe in the existence of vampires would help him, but in a metaphorical sense, the doubts of wise men on topics such as sin would necessarily help sin to fester. With “wise men” such as Nietzsche and others doubting the existence of objective morality and instead support relativism, people would be much less likely to oppose sin. After all, how can one oppose something if one does not think it exists? Of even our heroes, Van Helsing says, “a year ago which of us would have received such a possibility [of vampires existing], in the midst of our scientific, matter-of-fact nineteenth century?” (254). The modern scientific world focuses on what is, and not what ought to be.
This lessening of morality is evident in the book from the example of the New Woman. When Lucy is killed by Dracula, she is transformed into the Un-dead herself. Her “purity” is replaced with “voluptuous wantonness” (225). She has the same “features of Lucy Westenra. Lucy Westenra, but yet how changed” (225). She quite literally becomes a new woman. The pure, chaste, pretty earlier state of Lucy stands in stark contrast with new sexualized woman of Lucy. Being a vampire, she too then becomes a symbol of evil and sin. The New Woman thus is an example of the decay of moral values present in 19th century London. As long as the skepticism is allowed to grow in London, the people will be easier targets of Dracula and sin.
However, the forces of good can fight against Dracula and sin through faith and religion. Van Helsing arms his team each with a “crucifix” (265) and a “sacred wafer” (266). On a literal level, Dracula is repulsed by the crucifix and the Eucharist, but on a metaphorical level, sin too is repulsed by Christianity and the Eucharist. Mina reminds the reader that “the taste of the original apple… remains still in our mouths” (195). As humans, we are given to sin and the temptation has been with us ever sense the fall, but Christianity and particularly the Eucharist have the power to help us overcome the evil and sin around us and in us. Van Helsing says that “we have on our side power of combination” (254). Combined in unison through a church (or The Church, whether it be Catholic or Protestant, for Stoker), we can help each other in our own fights against sin. In Whitby, “the steps are a great feature of the place. They lead from the town up to the church” (73). Symbolically, the civilization of the town is fallen, but the church maintains its high position on the top of the hill. Following the faith will not be easy, and Mina remarks that for “faith it would be easier to die than to live, and so be quit of all the trouble” (380). However, we must endure the trouble and live out the faith to triumph.
Tradition and superstition can help the forces of good to overcome Dracula and sin. When attacking Dr. Seward’s ward, Dracula made sure that “all the manuscript had been burned” (304), including the diaries and Van Helsing’s collection of superstitions about vampires. Dracula wants the current superstitions destroyed and wants new ones from being formed (which is what would happen with their diaries). Metaphorically then, sin would benefit from the destruction of tradition and superstition too. Van Helsing arms his team to fight Dracula with “garlic” (265), which they only know the benefits of through superstition and tradition. Lucy remarks, “how true the old proverbs are” (64). The old proverbs, such as Aesop’s Fables, teach moral lessons and instruct those who hear them how to be better people. Lord Godalming, being of the nobility, is a symbol too of the role of tradition in fighting against evil and sin. The role of the nobility in fighting evil is of course not new in British Literature, stemming back to the role of knights. Mina compares the company to a tradition force of knights saying, “we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more [souls]” (341). That the nobleman Arthur and the others (as knights) lead the fight against the evil of Dracula and thus sin shows the value of tradition. Van Helsing says, “tradition and superstition… are everything. Does not the belief in vampires rest for others—though not, alas! for us—on them?” (254). Unlike in the novel where only a handful of people have personal experience with Dracula, we all know of sin through the personal experience of our conscience, but tradition and superstition and invaluable in forming our consciences. We cannot prove through science or pure reason that murder is wrong, but we are told it is and rightly accept it on the basis of authority and tradition. The superstitions of Paganism played their role as satisfying humanity’s spiritual needs before Christianity, and in many ways prepared the world for Christianity. As Van Helsing says, “to superstition must we trust at the first; it was man’s faith in the early, and it have its root in faith still” (348).
The moral lessons from superstition and tradition are instrumental in supporting traditional morality and the fight against sin and evil. (From a Catholic perspective, the “tradition” mentioned could easily be interpreted as Tradition as well, and thus be even more important in humanity’s fight against evil. However, I am unsure if Stoker was a Catholic). The New Woman plays a role related to superstition and tradition as well. Mother were largely responsible for raising their children and teaching them right from wrong. Van Helsing explains the need for “good women, whose lives and whose truths may make good lesson for the children that are to be” (197- 198). In the crucial task of raising children with faith, morality, and tradition, the New Woman is not to be trusted. The undead Lucy, a symbol of the New Woman, “held something dark at its breast” (225). It had a child there, and had been sucking the blood of children for days. In contrast, Mina had a “sorrowing man’s head resting on me, as though it were that of the baby that some day may lie on my bosom, and I stroked his hair as though he were my own child” (245). Mina takes care of her child and loves and helps it to grow, but the New Woman only sucks the life (blood) out of the child, representing their hopes of heaven.
The benefits of modernity and science can be used to combat Dracula, sin, and evil. The third grouping of items with which Van Helsing equips his team, besides the holy items of faith and the garlic of tradition and superstition, is modern technology: a “revolver” and “electric lamps” (265). Although modern society is the spot where Dracula thinks he can best attack, there are of course many positive benefits from modern society to fight Dracula, evil, and sin. After all, the villagers near Castle Dracula are certainly equipped with both faith and superstition, but they do not triumph over Dracula as Van Helsing’s team does. The difference is using the forces of modernity against Dracula, evil, and sin. Van Helsing realizes that “our enemy is not merely spiritual” (265) and thus his team, “for other enemies more mundane, this revolver and this knife” (265). Unfortunately, evil has devotees in human form too. For example, violence would ultimately be needed to stop the Jack the Rippers of world. Van Helsing sees the benefits of the “resources of science” (254). The transfusions prolong the life of Lucy, and can be symbolic of all of modern medicine and its healing powers. Lucy explains the spiritual benefits, saying, “health and strength give Love reign” (137). The most obvious benefit of modern society in defeating Dracula on a literal level is money. Jonathan says how, in a case of trouble, “Judge Moneybag will settle this case, I think!” (355). But metaphorically money can have a powerful role in defeating evil too. Mina notes “of the wonderful power of money! What can it not do when it is properly applied; and what might it do when basely used” (378). When it is abused, of course much bad can from it. But when properly applied, money can be used to fight disease, end poverty, and build churches. Thus, through a combination of faith, tradition, and modernity, good can triumph over evil individually and socially.
Written By: Dominic LaMantia