A Problem, Of Oppression Of Homosexual Men in Dracula By Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker’s Wilde Desires: The Impact of Victorian Values on Dracula
The last few years have been favorable to the gay community, especially with the legalization of gay marriage occurring last year in the United States. In the past, however, those who fit the description of a homosexual were looked down upon and forced to repress who they truly are. In the Victorian Era, one notable person who had this type of discrimination forced upon them was Bram Stoker, author of Dracula. It is widely believed that Stoker had feelings for or even had been sexually involved with Oscar Wilde, an Irish playwright. When Wilde was brought to court for being a sodomite, an unfortunate term from the time that was used to describe homosexual men, Stoker was concerned that he would be outed as well. Because of this unfortunate incident, it is believed that Stoker included references to his fears within Dracula. Considering how the Victorian Era viewed relationships between two men, there are comparisons that can be made between characters and events in the novel with stereotypes and prejudices that were held with homosexual men.
The author of Dracula, Bram Stoker himself has been noted as having homosexual tendencies during his lifetime. In “Vampires We Are” Richard S. Primuth says that “Bram Stoker was a closeted homosexual and a friend of Oscar Wilde, a not-so-closeted gay man. Stoker idolized Walt Whitman and met him while touring the U.S., and he had a passionate relationship with actor Henry Irving. He began writing Dracula one month after Wilde was convicted of sodomy and sentenced to hard labor” (17-18).
Stoker has a history of seeking relations with other men including Oscar Wilde. When it is noted that the writing of Dracula took place around a month after Wilde’s imprisonment, it gives the idea that it may very well have been written with an agenda in mind. With this, it may be possible that Dracula was written in order to spite those who supported Wilde’s imprisonment.
The Victorian Era was a period of time that occurred during the reign of Queen Victoria from 1837 to 1901. It was a period of peace and prosperity, but there were still some old values that held true. In the spring 1992 issue of the Victorian Newsletter, Joseph Cady states that
“Victorian culture officially held that homosexuality ‘could not be’ in the phenomenal sense-that is, that homosexuality literally ‘did not exist’ in human experience and ‘was not there’ in the Victorian social world-while at the same time implicitly acknowledging that homosexuality was indeed ‘there’ in Victorian society and had to be rigorously contained, by, among other means, the preservation of a strict public silence about it” (48).
Like a disease, any mention of homosexuality must have been quarantined. In this case, any works that even mentioned homosexuality were censored in order to keep a level of public decency, one that would possibly be thrown out of order should information get out.
Despite being dearly beloved as an artist during this time, the values that the Victorians imposed on Wilde were eventually used to justify his imprisonment. In “A Theory of Scandal: Victorians, Homosexuality, and the Fall of Ocscar Wilde”, Ari Adut describes Wilde’s treatment by saying that “Wilde was prosecuted and condemned to the fullest extent of the law even though the evidence against him was circumstantial, uncorroborated, and tainted” (2). Despite the fact that what he did was not illegal, the Victorians showed no mercy when it came to condemning Wilde. An indirect victim of this incident were those who appreciated Wilde’s work: “While Wilde’s art was later to be branded as corrupt, his works received considerable critical acclaim and remained very popular across all social classes until the day of his arrest” (2). Looking to completely destroy Wilde’s reputation because of his homosexuality, those in positions of power sought to label his works as corrupt even though they were subject to massive critical acclaim. The Victorians not only sought to condemn Wilde, they also wanted to erase as much of his impact on their culture as possible.
Bram Stoker lived during the majority of the Victorian Era, from 1847 to 1912, and therefore Wilde’s prosecution would have had an effect on his life. The reason for this is that it is widely believed that Stoker himself was a homosexual. In “‘A Wilde Desire Took Me’: The Homoerotic History of Dracula,” Talia Schaffer says that “For a gay observer like Stoker, secrecy and self-assertion both became desirable goals even as Wilde’s trial constructed 1890’s homosexual identity as a delicate negotiation between them” (381-382). The trial of Oscar Wilde came about when Wilde was accused of sodomy, where he was then outed as having relationships with other men. In his works Stoker seems to have made some subtle references to his relationship with Oscar Wilde. In “Dracula’s Earnestness: Stoker’s Debt to Wilde,” Samuel Lyndon Gladden says that “in Dracula, which appeared just eight days after Wilde’s release from Reading Gaol and flight from England, Stoker uses the word “wild” and its derivatives thirty-four times…” (63), considering the time period that it was released during and the impactions of a relationship between the two, it is easy to see the significance of this action.
In the work itself, there are examples of the word “wild” being used which may coincide with Gladden’s theory. In the first chapter, Jonathan writes in his journal when he is journeying to Dracula’s Castle that a group of dogs howling was “borne on the wind which now sighed softly through the Pass, a wild howling began, which seemed to come from all over the country, as far as the imagination could grasp it through the gloom of the night” (Stoker 18). When wild dogs howl, it is often to warn the rest of the pack that there is an unwelcome guest in their territory. Jonathan, an outside force who is presented as an archetype of Victorian society throughout the novel, has come uninvited into the territory of the wolves. In the life of Bram Stoker, the unwanted values of the Victorian Era have taken away a friend and lover from him, and he is using Dracula as his vessel to express his discontent with their imprisonment of Wilde.
Dracula is a character that has many eccentric traits that he must keep hidden in order to survive, much like how homosexual men in the Victorian Era must have. In “Whispers of the Unspeakable: New York and Montreal Newspaper Coverage of the Oscar Wilde Trials in 1895”, Greg Robinson says that “Wilde’s crime was described in terms of his deviant, ‘artistic’ and ‘effeminate’ traits, rather than immoral sexual behavior, which suggests that popular ideas on ‘the homosexual’ as a distinct and familiar social type had already formed by that time.” (15). Like how a homosexual man was described, Dracula is shown as a force of evil not through direct violence but by his eccentric traits. The Count is a man who lives by himself in a gigantic castle in the middle of nowhere, inviting another man to stay the night, whose greeting is described by Jonathan as:
“The light and warmth and the Count’s courteous welcome seemed to have dissipated all my doubts and fears. Having then reached my normal state, I discovered that I was half famished with hunger… I found supper already laid out. My host, who stood on one side of the great fireplace, leaning against the stonework, made a graceful wave of his hand to the table, and said, ‘I pray you, be seated and sup how you please. You will I trust, excuse me that I do not join you, but I have dined already, and I do not sup.’” (Stoker 23).
Dracula is more than happy to serve as a host for Jonathan, and sits with him while he eats to be a good host to him. A stereotype of homosexual men is that they are natural-born hosts, and Dracula fits this description; going out of his way to ensure the comfort of someone he hired to work for him. Not only that, but Dracula allows Jonathan to eat as much as he wants, watching him obsessively as he does so.
The first night that Jonathan spends with Dracula, he cuts himself while shaving, and Dracula’s reaction was described as “When the Count saw my face, his eyes blazed with a sort of demonic fury, and he suddenly made a grab at my throat. I drew away, and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him, for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there” (Stoker 31). To Jonathan, Dracula is defined by his behavior, and only backs off in the presence of the crucifix. In the Victorian Era, homosexual men were discriminated against in the name of the church. In fact, sodomy (the crime that Oscar Wilde was accused of) was named after the town of Sodom in the Book of Genesis, which was a town that was destroyed by God due to its lustfulness.
This scene is presented in an interesting way in the Francis Ford Coppola movie based on the novel. Within the scene, Dracula walks in on Jonathan shaving, surprising him as Jonathan cannot see Dracula’s reflection in the mirror. When Dracula approaches Jonathan, he gets very close to him and begins to shave him. When Jonathan gets cut, Dracula pulls away from Jonathan, and takes great pleasure in sucking his blood behind Jonathan’s back (Coppola). A typical, negative, stereotype of homosexual men is that they are sex hounds that flirt with any man they see. Dracula not only has intentions to make Jonathan stay with him for as long as possible, but also has one to make Jonathan belong to him forever by making him a vampire. Dracula cannot outright state his intentions, however, as doing that will “out” him, and people who do not share his affliction may try to kill him in the name of decency. Instead, he must repress these feelings, much like how Stoker has to hide his desires for Wilde in order to prevent being imprisoned and persecuted in a similar manner to how Wilde has.
There is even more references to homosexuality’s influence on Stoker. Schaffer says that “Dracula explores Stoker’s fear and anxiety as a closeted homosexual man during Oscar Wilde’s trial.” (381). Throughout Dracula, there are several scenes that bring to mind the inner desires of a closeted homosexual man. In “Productive Fear: Labor, Sexuality, and Mimicry in Bram Stoker’s Dracula”, Eric Kwan-Wai Yu states that
“In fact, even the most erotic scene ends with utter revulsion and the chilling recognition of demonic threats posed by the Other. Kept prisoner in Castle Dracula, one night Harker is approached by three beautiful vampiric women with pearl teeth and ruby lips. Their attractive features and ‘silvery, musical laugh’ arouse in Harker’s heart a burning sexual desire” (147).
This scene is a significant one in the novel, as it establishes vampires as creatures of sexual desire, not to mention Dracula’s reaction to the event. While the vampire brides are attacking Harker, Dracula yells “How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back I tell you all! This man belongs to me!” (Stoker, 43). In short period of time, Dracula has gone from soliciting Jonathan Harker to sell him real estate, to inviting him in, now to claiming Jonathan as his own. He is afraid that the attractive vampire brides are going to take away from him a man that he has feelings for. To Stoker, the heteronormative values that England had during the Victorian Era took away from him someone that he had personal feelings for, and is showing his fear through Dracula’s claim on the body of Jonathan Harker.
In conclusion, there are many references that are made to the oppression of homosexual men throughout Dracula, which were inspired by Stoker’s fear of being outed as gay. Since the policies of the Victorian Era called for all mentions of homosexuality to be hidden, the intentions of Count Dracula’s actions are often left ambiguous to Jonathan, whom he claims as his own. Much how like the only existing idea of gay men that was around during this time period was that they were effeminate, colorful personalities, Stoker presents Dracula as a larger than life personality whom cannot control himself in the presence of Jonathan Harker sometimes. Stoker, much like Dracula, must make his desires for another man hidden or risk being seen as affronts to God by Victorian Society. By making these comparisons, Stoker is venting his anger about potentially being outed as a result of Oscar Wilde’s trial.
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