During the late Victorian Era, Britain experienced a controversial period of development where new technology and science threatened the religious beliefs of society. Bram Stoker’s gothic novel of Dracula (1897) addresses the fears and anxieties brought about by modernisation and highlights the clash between old and new beliefs and values. Stoker incorporates a variation of superstitious and scientific elements into this fictitious context to pose his view that science alone isn’t enough to prevail the supernatural forces and that traditional values and attitudes can’t be neglected in societal progression. He constructs the main characters with diverse experience in science and religion to portray the conflict that is produced as a result of contrasting views. The novel is composed of the epistolary form to express the personal responses of different characters towards the changes brought about through foreign exposure. The development of each character’s journal writing throughout the novel assists in conveying the personal development experienced by each of them as they try to conquer foreign mysteries. Dracula is a complex and multi-layered story with messages engrained deep beyond the surface of the narrative. Hence, this novel is Stoker’s symbolic means of portraying the tensions between the foreign and the familiar during the late Victorian Era.
Throughout the earlier section of the novel, Stoker uses the male protagonist Jonathan Harker’s response to the supernatural concepts as a symbolic representation of British society’s view towards science. Jonathan Harker is characterised as a typical English businessman whose been conditioned to conformity, believes in rational thinking and dismisses superstitions. He reflects the general population of Britain at the time whose attitudes were conditioned by British superiority over neighbouring European empires and who believed that ‘others’ were primitive, occult and superstitious. As he journeys to the East, he observes the foreign people and towns with judgemental tone as peculiar and lower class, manifested in his comment, “The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who were more Barbarian than the rest… They are very picturesque, but do not look prepossessing”. Harker portrays himself as sensible, modest and dignified and neglects superstitious advice from foreigners as demonstrated during his stay at the Golden Krone Hotel remarking, “It was all very ridiculous… there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it”. The dramatic irony employed through his resentment for any knowledge and scepticism from these ‘peasants’ is what leads to his downfall and foreshadows his imprisonment by Dracula later in the novel. As the story progresses, he becomes Dracula’s victim and surrenders his innocence to the filthy, menacing supernatural world. His pure mind is tainted by the ‘blood’ of the supernatural elements, and his cries to be salvaged from this exposure as expressed in, “I feel the dread of this horrible place overpowering me… I am encompassed about with terrors that I dare not think of…” become progressively powerless against Dracula’s dominance. Harker’s emotive language reflects his mental struggle against the reality of Dracula’s evil which parallels with Britain’s similar response towards the growing scientific intervention that disrupted religious beliefs of Christianity. Stoker, therefore, initiates the idea that avoiding exposure to new ideas is a flaw and that one must be open to new possibilities to avoid the dangers of ignorance.
During the Victorian Era, the West used their growing knowledge of new technologies and science to broaden their understanding of the world as manifested by the characters who Stoker specifically contrived to utilise a variety of scientific methods in their attempts to defeat Dracula. When Lucy is bitten by Dracula, Van Helsing – although not aware of the cause – observes a sign of blood loss and urgently states “There must be a transfusion of blood at once”. During their mission to restore Lucy, the two neurologists Van Helsing and Seward use what they consider as a superior scientific method to solve this obscure condition just like “The mind of great Charcot” who Van Helsing alludes to as having applied formal and advanced new techniques. Helsing prepares his medical ‘paraphernalia’ and ‘instruments’ for the procedure. This language choice is reflective of Helsing’s methodical style of medical treatment which contrasts with the Eastern superstitious methods of ‘garlic’ and ‘crucifixes’. This process is repeated four times on Lucy by various men with little success and ironically the ‘Londoners’ aren’t aware that Dracula is the source of this blood loss and so are indirectly battling against him to save Lucy’s life. Their investigations become increasingly more tactical, and they continue to refer to previous journal entries for clues. This style of investigation is not unlike criminology which was the most sophisticated method of crime study at the time. Van Helsing demonstrates this analytical thinking when describing Dracula as a criminal stating, “The criminal always works at one crime – that is the true criminal who seems predestinate to crime and who will of none other”. The metonymy in comparing Dracula to a criminal portrays Helsing’s preference towards applying scientific knowledge to solve problems rather than considering less logical and rational methods which implies the ‘East’. However, there are many times where the ‘Londoners’ resort to using superstitious methods to dissuade Dracula from further action which in the end is a stake through the heart. Thus, Stoker strategically uses this novel to express his criticism of scientific and technological progress during the Victorian era by undermining it with traditional methods.
The developing beliefs in science and technology of the late Victorian Era is thoroughly explored in Dracula. Bram Stoker uses the outcome of the story and the characterisation of his protagonists to pose a statement regarding the value of science in society. He also emphasises the power of superstition and Eastern culture and promotes it as something that shouldn’t be undermined by new technologies. Furthermore, Stoker’s novel behaves as a symbolic representation of the threat of science to the West during the late Victorian Era and is constructed to pose questions concerning the value of progress and its contribution to society.