Following its publication in ‘Lippincott’s Magazine’ in 1890, Oscar Wilde’s novel, ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’, was widely criticised for its focus on the sensual and passion driven behaviours of its main character. Wilde’s novel is classed as a gothic novel as it features common devices of the genre. We can also draw similarities and differences between ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ and Bram Stoker’s gothic fiction ‘Dracula’.
Stoker’s novel, written in the late nineteenth century, focuses on the horrifying villain, Count Dracula. Both writers evoke a sense of suspense and fear towards the reader through their literary texts. When Dorian sees Basil again, since he first began his mysterious pleasure-seeking journey, we see Dorian react rather melodramatically as he starts to feel anxious upon the encounter with his old friend. Basil is previously seen to be associated with morality and goodness or the superego in Freuds psychoanalytic theory about the unconscious mind.
Basil elicits a ‘strange sense of fear come over Dorian’, this perhaps suggests that Dorian seems to fear the judgement that may come from his morally virtuous friend. As Basil begins to address the rumours he’s heard about Dorian, he comes up with the idea to show Basil ‘his soul’ through the stained portrait. Wilde evokes a sense of fear as he begins to foreshadow Basils death as ‘a bitter laugh of mockery broke from the lips of the younger man’. This shows Dorians hubris nature as he claims to Basil he can show him ‘soul’, to which Basil replied, “only God can do that”. Basil identifies Dorians blasphemous language and attempts to save him, ‘you must not say things like that’. Similarly we see Stoker also evoke a sense of fear and suspense through the use of religious imagery, which intends to shock the Victorian reader. In the opening chapter of ‘Dracula’ we see Jonathan Harker arrive in Transylvania where he is faced with the strange superstitions of the townspeople. His landlady warns him that it is the eve of St George’s Day, a night when at the stroke of midnight ‘all evil things in the world will have full sway’, the landlady then continues to place a rosary around his neck, which is idolatrous for him as ‘an English Churchman’.
As he continues on his journey on the coach Jonathan is aware he is being talked about by the people around him and begins to translate their words – ‘satan’, ‘hell’, ‘witch’ and ‘vampire’. This creates a sense of suspense as these phrases connote to the supernatural and may foreshadow any unexplainable events that might occur. In the beginning of chapter 13, we see Wilde reflecting elements from the gothic into his settings. Dorian is seen to lead Basil up the stairs where ‘fantastic shadows’ cast on the wall and a ‘rising wind’ which make the ‘windows rattle’. Wilde’s use of carefully established sound and lighting effects begin to create a sense of fear and dread as the description creates an eerie atmosphere and perhaps foreshadows Basil’s tragic end. It can be interpreted that these gothic terrors are a projection of Dorian’s mental state as Dorian murders Basil near a policeman in a civilised urban landscape, this contrast intensifies the horror whilst developing the gothic genre. Dorian tells Basil that “Each of us has Heaven and Hell in him” thus showing Basil’s views on repentance and salvation. This may be an allusion to the play ‘Doctor Faustus’, as the devil Mephistopheles tells Faustus ‘This is hell, nor am I out of it’.
The echoing of this line may intensify fear as the writer references hell, which to a Victorian reader would not only shock them, but scare them as Victorian England was predominantly Protestant, where the thought of Hell was a common anxiety. Similarly, Stoker is seen to equally create a sense of fear and suspense through his settings. When Johnathan first arrives at the Counts’ castle he is unsure if he is in reality “what sort of grim adventure was it on which I had embarked?”. The ruined castle can be seen to be a typical location of the Gothic genre and Stoker’s description matches up to the conventions of Gothic tradition. Typically Eastern Europe was perceived as medieval and superstitious which links to the fear of immigration in Victorian England. As the fear of STI’s and moral decay began to grow and was seen to be afflicting society. Stoker links this to ‘Dracula’ in the way he aligns Count Dracula with what Victorian London would have regarded as morally corrupting.
Furthermore, we see fear and suspense first peak towards the end of chapter 3 when Johnathan is visited by three women who begin to see him as their victim. ‘I suppose I must have fallen asleep; I hope so but I fear for all the followed was startlingly real’. This shows how Johnathan hopes his dream was ‘all sleep’, but he fears this as there is a conscious actor defiance