When it was first published, Dracula was one among many Gothic horrors that pitted englishmen against the terrible monsters of the supernatural. Among these are well known tales of horror, Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekel and Mr. Hyde, or Le Fanu’s Carmilla. However, though it does share a number of similarities with these works, the novel has far more in common with many reverse colonization stories of the time.
Stories that involve strongly eastern creatures threatening British hegemony, only to be just barely repelled by the western hero. Some critics claim that the reason Dracula remains so popular is because he is an adaptable invader, but they largely refer to the legacy of Dracula rather than the novel itself, and there are many pieces of textual evidence to support this.
Rather than an invader, Dracula is a conquer at odds with the modern world. Dracula is a reverse colonization narrative in which Dracula is representative of common British fear of eastern influence and reverse colonization, this is displayed in both his mannerisms, weaknesses, and in the nature of his downfall by modern heros, with modern technology, in which Van Helsing acts as a mediator between the old and the new.
The period in which Dracula was written is very important to its understanding. It was a time in which the British began to fear the loss of their superiority, and with good reason.
The rise of Germany and the US as economic powers along with the falling value of British goods on the global market and rising unrest in British colonies all contributed to a country wide fear for the security of the Empire. For a country that was the most powerful in the world only years ago, this was an extreme shift, and the literature of the time reflected it.
“Late-Victorian fiction in particular is saturated with the sense that the entire nation - as a race of people, as a political and imperial force, as a social and cultural power - was in irretrievable decline,” writes Stephan D. Arata, a professor at the university of virginia.
Stoker perfectly portrayed this, as he wrote many works that were heavily focuses around imperialism on reverse colonization. Such works include The Snake's Pass (1890), The Mystery of the Sea (1902), and The Man (1905).
The vampire itself is an interesting creation, as what we know of vampires today was largely inspired by Dracula, and both sets of characteristics are important to our understanding of the creatures and how they are representative of a dark force of nature.
First, Vampires are well established as creatures of a twisted nature. According to Van Helsing, who seems to be the absolute authority on all things supernatural, he can “direct the elements, the storm, the fog, the thunder, he can command all the meaner things, the rat, and the owl, and the bat, the moth, and the fox, and the wolf."
One of the first things the author asserts is his connection to the darker side of nature, painting his creature as a kind of prime evil - a creature against God. This is even more apparent in the vampiric aversion to all things holy and his weaknesses found in natural things, such as certain plants and herbs taken from vampire mythology, running water, and most notably, the sun.
The sun is a bit of an obvious symbol, but an important one, thoroughly establishing Dracula as a creature of the night. While vampires in legend have always been nocturnal, there was little evidence to point to the sun hurting or majorly impairing them. As Van Helsing puts it, “His power ceases, as does that of all evil things, at the coming of the day.”
Probably the most important aspect of the vampire is its association with blood and the act of colonizing its victims.
Even Dracula himself acknowledges the importance of blood, for, as he states, “in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship." In that same monologue, he mentions blood almost obsessively, covering much of the lands racial history, which we will touch more on later. While vampires don’t need blood to survive, feeding greatly empowers them.
Later in the novel, Dracula was seen “with a pointed beard, with a few white hairs runnin’ through it." As we clearly see, it appears that after just a few days of feeding, Dracula appears to have slightly de-aged. It is also notable that Dracula converts, or “colonizes” his victims by forcing them to feed on his own blood.
The fact that he appears to only do this to women is strongly symbolic of colonization in that he is “trading blood” with the women of Britain. The only way to preserve the life of Lucy is with the blood of the living, here we have the instance of blood combating blood. The colonizing nature of Dracula carries a double weight both in his vampiric abilities, and his background as a Romanian. Emily Gerard, who is famous for the influence her Transylvanian folklore had on Dracula, believed that Romanian culture and blood was strong to the point that it overpowered others.
According to Gerard, the Hungarian woman who weds a Roumanian husband will necessarily adopt the dress and manners of his people, and her children will be as good Romanians as though they had no drop of Magyar blood in their veins; while the Magyar who takes a Roumanian girl for his wife will not only fail to convert her to his ideas, but himself, subdued by her influence, will imperceptibly began to lose his nationality. This is a fact well known and much lamented by the Hungarians themselves, who live in anticipated apprehension of seeing their people ultimately dissolving into Romanians.
Dracula, both as a creature and a Romanian, is a colonizer at heart. Specifically attacking the women of the country in order to both conquer, and convert. Harker is well aware of this as he laments in his journal, “This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where, perhaps, for centuries to come he might... create a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless."
Dracula the man is perhaps even more important than Dracula the vampire, for though he is a colonizer by nature, he is a conquer at heart.
Revisiting Dracula’s heritage, he never gives specifics as to from whom, exactly, he descends. Only that he is descended from the Szekely warrior race and that in his land, “there is hardly a foot of soil... that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders." Dracula comes from a land of constant invasion, even pointing out that his race was destined to become a conquering one.
Dracula also reveals to Harker that he has a lust for conquest, lamenting that “the warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace, and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told."
Dracula's desire is also shown in the careful amount of preparation he is willing to through in order to begin his conquest, such as his obsession in the house, the dozens of boxes of earth, his extensive reading material on Britain, and his knowledge of the english language, which is noted to be very good, though heavily accented.
Some critics argue that the reason Dracula has remained so iconic is because he has the ability to blend into any society, but this isn't necessarily true.
Perhaps the cinematic Dracula so many are familiar with has this ability, but there are a huge number of differences between the two.
While the cinematic Dracula was a suave, charismatic, aristocrat, the Dracula we know from Stoker's work is far different. To begin, Dracula very rarely interacts with society, and when he does, it is usually perceived as odd. The wolf keeper says that he “did not like the airs as he give ‘isself," and remains aloof with Dracula until he has reason to believe that he might be a person who sells or raises wolves.
The other instance, when he meets the man at the train station, the man recalled “that he be all in black, except that he have a hat of straw which suit not him or the time."
Again, Dracula appears out of place in society. He also stands in stark contrasts to his enemies in terms of the technology they use.
While Dracula travels by boat or carriage, they travel by train, and use telegraphs to communicate or eliminate the need for travel altogether. In fact, the “Crew of Light” is portrayed as very modern, making use of typewriters, cameras, and better weaponry to defeat the Count.
Dracula is not the sophisticated societal camillian we like to think of him as, but an archaic warrior, ultimately defeated by our modern British heros.
In conclusion, by giving Dracula origins in the eastern region, as well as roots that carry strong implication of domination, Stoker creates a reverse colonization narrative in which Dracula is an archaic force of nature existing far outside social norms. As the enemy of modern Britain, he continuously fails to exist in western social spheres, until felled by the crew of modern heroes, whose victory is largely attributed to both Dracula's natural weaknesses, and their technological advancements.
Originally submitted to the University of Texas at San Antonio by Austin Dominguez