Dracula (1897) is a throughly modern novel, and not only as regards the technology deployed within the story—technology that includes telegrams, typewriters, trains, blood transfusions, shorthand, and an early sound recorder. The novel is also notable for its advanced social views, particularly as regards the role played by its heroines: Mina Harker and Lucy Westenra. Dracula’s general thrust is a confrontation between technological Anglo-American middle-class society—an American cowboy armed with a Bowie knife makes an appearance—and primitive Central European absolutism, represented by the occultistic and feudal Count Dracula.
The novel’s main protagonist, Jonathan Harker, is, after all, a lawyer—a supremely middle-class profession; and the other heroes include a psychiatrist and Professor Van Helsing, a man who pioneers the blood transfusion. The novel anticipates the next century, the Great War and World War II: a prolonged confrontation between aristocratic mystical Germanic continental absolutism and rationalistic techno-scientific Anglo-American liberalism.
Dracula is an erotic novel: the Count performs “anti-sex” on his female victims; whereas in procreative sex the man inseminates the woman, Dracula removes his lover’s blood with a kiss-like bite; in the normal sex act, a new life is produced—in Dracula’s perverted sexual embrace the victim is granted an eternal, though cursed, life for themselves. When Dracula turns Lucy into a vampire she becomes a perverted woman; she is flagrant—she exposes herself to the heroes in the twilight, with lustful glee—and she preys upon children for blood, an inverted motherhood. Lucy is doomed by her name: Westenra—the west, the sun sets in the west; and Ra, the Egyptian sun god; she belongs to the place where the sun (Ra) sets, the twilight zone that is Dracula’s kingdom.
However, Dracula is not, in the main, a conservative novel; it is, as already noted, against the old Europe—against magic and for science. When Van Helsing wants to save Dracula’s victims he resorts to the experimental blood transfusion—highly dangerous at the time, for blood groups were unknown—but he does not use, say, a magical spell. The indication is that the basic answer to magic and religion is material science, not a return to mysticism; even if it is clear that the occult is real. High Victorian confidence in science was such that even if the Devil were to be shown to exist, he would be dealt with scientifically. In the 19th century, Victorian physicists confidently announced that all that was to be known about physics had been discovered; as they say today, the science is settled. This explains, in part, the extraordinary confidence found in Europeans, particularly the British, in the 19th century; supposedly, everything was basically known, there was just a mopping up operation to perform—everything will get better and better...
Dracula anticipates a recrudescence; in the twilight zone lurks the vampire—irrational and romantic. In 1897, Freud was already well at work; his ideas were yet to blossom into consciousness but Stoker tapped the zeitgeist: his novel is partly set in dreams, in the liminal and repressed world—the world of repressed female sexuality, in the twilight. And Einstein’s relativity was on the way, it would dissolve the contention that all was known about physics; everything would become relative and fuzzy—fuzzy logic, fuzzy dreams with a strange man and strange desires. Dracula is also liminal, it retains faith in science, progress, and deist Protestant Christianity but it introduces the dream and the unconscious into play—uncertainty. In this new uncertain world, the occult and mysticism made a return; it was, for Spengler, the second and decadent mysticism that every culture enters in its decline.
Vampiric German: Nietzsche had damned complacent bourgeois rationalism; surely Nietzsche was a Dracula-like figure; he haunted Europe, a migrant and exile—just like Dracula. He yearned for the Count’s aristocratic countenance; for dreams, mystery, and blood—for purple sheets and eroticism; for a return of the repressed. It all came together in Bolshevism and Nazism: irrational movements that left genteel Edwardians, such as George Orwell, residually wedded to their 19th-century rational liberalism, in shock and disorientation. The dreams had come back, the wild hunt had come back: the vampyre, the feudal lord. T.E. Lawrence cautioned that the dreamers of the day are dangerous men: the 20th century was their century, Dracula anticipated it—the Nazi occult, they used dark forces to resurrect blood aristocracy.
For the Marxist, Dracula is, pace Hegel, bourgeois society’s artistic summation. Just as it was about to be pulled down by the Great War and the Bolshevik Revolution, middle-class society produced a novel that celebrated its victory over the aristocracy and superstition: Dracula stands for every European feudal society that had been liquidated by “progress” by the century’s end. The owl of Minerva, just like Dracula himself, takes flight at dusk: Stoker could understand the whole rise of the middle class only when it had come to the end.
The bourgeois fears primae noctis: aristocratic Dracula has his way with the middle-class Harker’s virginal fiancée before their marriage—the middle class, the lawyers, put a stop to that. The novel features no working-class characters, only middle-class professionals, aristocrats, and gypsies—the latter being people who belong nowhere, not typical factory proletarians by any means. The working class, already a huge political force in 1897, is completely absent. Dracula’s world is not about them, it is about events that have already transpired; we only understand the event after is has transpired, just as 1984 arrived to explain what mass proletarian politics looked like when Hitler and Stalin had ebbed away.
The political movement Dracula definitely anticipates is feminism. Dracula’s principal heroine, Mina Harker, is a prototypical feminist: a girl boss in embryo. While Jonathan is imprisoned by Dracula in Transylvania, Mina works on her shorthand and typewriting skills. Her goal is to be a modern wife: the modern woman has correspondence skills to help her husband in his work—at the time, the typewriter was a relatively new innovation; if Stoker produced the novel now, he would probably have Mina learn to code. Indeed, it is Mina’s skill with shorthand and the typewriter that proves pivotal to the final victory over Dracula.
The progression is roughly as follows: the modern wife who helps her husband with typing and shorthand (circa 1897-1926)—perhaps she wears trousers and rides a bicycle, both promoted by the socialist H.G. Wells as feminist measures; the career gal, with her shared apartment in the city and secretarial course (circa 1926-1977); and, finally, the girl boss (circa 1977-2021), the post-graduate woman in charge, nominally, in an office environment. So little Mina is a feminist homunculus in the first stage; the stage where the woman remains attached to her husband; she has not encountered Cosmopolitan magazine yet—her daughters will.
A contemporary feminist would be horrified at Mina’s “patriarchal” and religious outlook, for throughout the novel she is held up as a model Christian wife; she embodies the Victorian ideal: the angel in the home. Yet this Christianity is a degenerated veneer; the male characters all worship Mina, not God; she is good and wise beyond compare—a moral compass for the men. This has never been the view in Christianity, nor any Abrahamic religion: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam agree that women are evil; they caused the Fall. Perhaps it was because the Church of England abolished the saints and the cult of Mary, but it seems that Anglo-American Christianity ended up worshipping actual women, not femininity as embodied in the Virgin; hence feminism derives from degraded Protestantism: believe all women, as they say today—yet we only believe in gods, right?
Whereas the 18th-century aristocrat attended the Hellfire Club and knew—as Dracula does, with his vampire harem—that woman is a harlot, the prissy Victorian bourgeois thought woman is stainless; she is a moral guide for us men. This is why we see Greta Thunberg—a mentally retarded girl who knows nothing about climate science—held up as a global authority, promoted by her narcissistic, selfish, and, above all, self-righteous parents. She is, as with Mina, an object for the rational Puritanical mind to adore as a moral lodestar; both mentally deficient and a girl, surely a holy person for a secularised Christianity that beatifies the marginal.
Stoker’s Dracula has become an all-powerful archetype for the Western mind; since the novel was first published there have been innumerable plays, films, television series, cartoons, web series, sequels, and prequels—the vampire has been sent into outer space and turned into a musical. The appeal lies in Dracula’s completeness as a piece; it has a yin-yang quality—we are not entirely sure that Dracula is the villain; he is very desirable, especially to women. He speaks to the rationalist liberal’s residual bad conscience: aristocracy, blood, and religion will never go away—they are eternal and undead, no matter how much science and technology we produce.
In the late 20th century, Buffy the Vampire Slayer emerged; she is Mina Harker’s logical development: Jonathan Harker pushed aside; his granddaughter has not only learned to type, she now leads a fully autonomous life as a vampire hunter in sunny California. The flip side to the democratic Puritan spirit embodied by Buffy is the Twilight series; here women want to give in to the aristocratic vampire—he is completely desirable to them, not be feared or triumphed over through science and technology; Buffy had her vampire lover, but she never gave in to his approaches. And, of course, Twilight formed the basis for Fifty Shades of Grey; the adult twin to the adolescent Twilight, where the sadomasochistic potential inherent in Dracula is developed in a purely materialist way. This is the dream world where you are sucked, drained, mauled, and finally fall, helpless and paralysed, into a warm bath—perhaps filled with blood, it is hard to tell in a dream—where you are devoured by a man.
In Twilight, genuine spiritual tension is reintroduced into life: the heroine cannot have her vampire lover, for he might bite her to death if they kiss. Hence Dracula reintroduces—through the dream, shades of Jung—genuine taboo and the powerful desire it entails; it reintroduces aristocracy, magic, and blood at a time when almost all spiritual dimensions to life exist only as metaphors, if that. Deep down, we prefer Dracula—though he is wicked—to his Protestant middle-class foes and their blood transfusions; and we prefer him because he is more real: the dream is always more real. Rational sexual relations mediated through science—antibiotics, birth control, and Tinder—are dull: the vampire, the taboo is erotic; he is the dream man. He is what you really want, and would want even more in its most forbidden form—its virtuous form—namely: aristocracy, blood, eroticism, and spirituality.