The Vampires’ Journey III. Stoker’s Dracula kills romance

SPOILER ALERT: Dracula by Bram Stoker!

Buffy: in Dracula's thrall?

Because we have become accustomed to the established model of romantic vampires in contemporary vampire fiction it may come as a shock to many to discover that Count Dracula (as Bram Stoker originally wrote him) was not at all romantic. Modern conceptions of the Count, created by the many representations of him in film and TV, usually show him being driven by emotional desires to connect with a female victim. Even in BtVS, Dracula is represented as needing to have a deep connection to his victims (unlike the vampires we usually see in the Buffyverse who simply want to feed).  But Auerbach convincingly argues that Stoker’s Dracula was a decisive break from his romantic predecessors’ vision of vampires. And I would argue very different from current popular vampires. Some key points to note about Stoker’s Dracula are:

1)   Dracula showed his age. Nineteenth century vampires such as Ruthven and Carmilla appeared as young as their human friends,[1] Contemporary vampires are also usually young, constantly maintaining the age that they were turned vampire. But Dracula appears to Jonathan Harker as an old man. Harker describes his features as “strong”[2] but not attractive. He has characteristics that are distinctively strange but not extreme enough for Harker to immediately suspect he is not human. When he later appears to be younger, it is because he has overfed. He is still not attractive and appears bloated: “It seemed as if the whole awful creature were simply gorged with blood; he lay like a filthy leech, exhausted with his repletion.”[3] Where Dracula has gained youth it is because he has stolen it by drinking human blood. Here youth is not automatically associated with attractiveness as it often is today.

2)   Dracula is not pretty. Harker describes Dracula’s “Large eyebrows”, a “heavy moustache” that is “cruel looking” and “peculiarly sharp white teeth”. He had “extraordinary pallor”. His hands had hairy palms and his fingernails were “cut to a sharp point”. Jonathan feels repelled by Dracula. “I could not repress a shudder. It may have been that his breath was rank, but a horrible feeling of nausea came over me.”[4] While vampires in True Blood and Twilight today easily attract and allure humans, Dracula was repellent. In short Dracula’s appearance — and as soon becomes clear his actions — are monstrous. This is a vampire of horror, not an ambiguously placed “good” vampire seeking companionship, love or redemption but a creature of darkness who seeks to possess, feed on and conquer humanity. He has none of the irresistible charm and allure that earlier and later vampires share, that serve to draw in their intended prey or friends.

3)   Dracula does not need his victims to want to be bitten. Many film versions of Dracula have him establishing social friendships with his female victims before he begins to feed on them; they are charmed by him and become enthralled by him. In the original novel Dracula begins to feed on Lucy while she is sleepwalking, there has been no social introduction and she does not know him as he continues to come to her and take blood.

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was less about romance and friendship and more about taking, invasion and paranoia. Dracula came to England as a foreign invasion force to feed off and own its populace. Auerbach also comments that “Dracula’s lonely rigidity repudiates the homoerotic intimacy with which earlier vampires had insinuated themselves into mortality”.[5] Stoker’s Dracula is not interested in intimacy with male humans; he only wants to use them for their knowledge and their abilities to act as his agents to fulfill his plans. When Dracula drives away the three vampire women from Harker stating, “this man belongs to me,”[6] Harker belongs to Dracula as a commodity and not in any intimate sense. Auerbach points out that Stoker began writing Dracula in 1895, not long after the trial of Oscar Wilde had firmly criminalised homosexuality. It was no longer safe for vampire and other fiction to “languish in overtly homoerotic adoration of their mortal prey”.[7]

Dracula’s Animal Nature

Animal attraction? Lucy bitten by Dracula in dog form in Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula

Stoker’s Dracula was the first vampire figure to make animal transformations, becoming a wolf, a bat and a dog. Previous literary vampires had appeared human so that they walked among humans, socialising with and befriending them. In later film adaptions such as John Badham’s Dracula, (1979) and Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, (1992) these animalistic traits are represented as overtly sexual. But Auerbach comments that animals were not associated with sexuality for the Victorians, instead “they generated a lonely awe”.[8] Stoker’s Dracula’s animalism is not sexual, it merely reinforces his separateness from humanity. With an emphasis on romantic attachments with humans, vampires in current fictions tend to leave behind animal manifestations. There human appearances enable them to seduce and charm while werewolves and animal shapeshifters are often included in the narrative creating a contrast. This can be seen in the Twilight series, True Blood, Being Human and BtVS. The “animalistic” human often inspires the jealousy of the vampire within their relationships with humans. The vampire often treats the werewolf or shapeshifter with disdain, calling them “dogs” and being repulsed by the human’s interest in them. So again we see current trends leaving Dracula behind.

Dracula the lover?

Dracula and Mina's later development as tragic lovers

As men fulfill the role of Dracula’s agent in human affairs he has little need for meaningful contact with female humans, only feeding on them. First he feeds on Lucy, and as there is no romance or consent, if this is a sexual metaphor he comes as a rapist. She is a friend of Mina who is at the time Harker’s fiancé, but this connection seems coincidental. Later Dracula turns his attention to Mina because the men around her are pursuing him. In later versions of Dracula there is often a scene where Dracula sees a picture of Harker’s fiancé Mina during his stay in Transylvania and from this point becomes fixated on her. This was not an element of Stoker’s original, but is an attempt to bring heterosexual love into the narrative. In the novel, after Dracula has drank her blood and she his while she is in a non-consenting trance they share a psychic connection. She is bordering on vampirism. She is able to use her connection to him to assist the men’s hunt. She remains committed to defeating Dracula and does not want to become a vampire and join him. The connection did not exist before she became his latest victim and he had not yearned for her and sought her out as occurs in later versions. So Stoker’s Dracula is neither a same sex companion nor a potential heterosexual lover as he became in later representations. This model of romantic interest towards the opposite sex would only clearly emerge in the 1960s. Throughout the 20th century different film representations of Dracula meant a gradual shift in the dynamics of the narrative…

Please note this is part three of the The Vampires’ Journey. Please see earlier posts if you feel you are missing something.

To be continued… In the next post I will be exploring Dracula’s  journey through film… including Nosferatu

Text ©Angela Stapleford
Header and background images ©Angela Stapleford


[1] Auerbach, p63

[2] Bram Stoker, Dracula, Wordsworth Classics edition, 1993, p16.

[3] Stoker, p44. (Francis Ford Coppola’s film Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), has the youth being directly stolen from Jonathan as he goes grey while Dracula becomes young. Jonathan is restored after Dracula’s death. But in the book Dracula does not drink from Jonathan).

[4] Stoker, p17.

[5] Auerbach, p7.

[6] Stoker, p34.

[7] Auerbach gives an example of the kind of vampire fiction that Stoker turns from in “The True Story of the Vampire”, published one year before Wilde was jailed, where “Count Vardalek madly plays Chopin to a faunlike young man, kisses him on the lips and weeps”. Auerbach, p84.

[8] Auerbach, p88.

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4 thoughts on “The Vampires’ Journey III. Stoker’s Dracula kills romance

  1. Fascinating! I’d say my vampires definitely have more in common with the original Dracula than the vampires of modern story telling. They’re bad. ‘Nuff said. 🙂 Really love this post, though. Thanks for sharing!

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  2. Thanks for feedback. Cool, it will be good to read some recently written “bad” vampire fiction!

    I always thought vampires being all romantic was a bit suspect… Unless they have been cursed by gypsies and have a soul of course!

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  3. It’s refreshing to read you. At last someone who has actually read the novel and can talk about it.
    I always has resented the lack of a faithful adaptation of the novel to any cinematic medium. I think that the most faithful adaptation of the novel should be the BBC production of Dracula with Louis Jourdan as at he Count.I’ve always loved the novel because I have always lived my life surrounded by intelligent hardworking women and it was really easy for me to like Mina. It is true that the Count is not a romantic figure (who wants him to be) but I find a true love story between Mina and Jonathan. As you wrote, Mina doesn’t want to become a vampire and truly wants to destroy Dracula and somehow I have the feeling she does this , in part, for her love and devotion towards Jonathan. In someway she wants to help him overcome what he has suffered. I think she truly loves him and wants to help him, and I think that it was Stoker’s intention to be this way. Nice to have read you.

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