Science, Religion and the Forces of Evil in Literature
Christianity is undoubtedly central in Dracula. Christian symbols such as crucifixes are present all throughout the novel and some religious rituals take place in order to exterminate the Un-Dead. This fact is usually left aside by critics, who focus on analysing the role of women in society and the response of men to the New Women, but the truth is: this novel cannot be understood without taking in consideration the role of religion. We must remember that Dracula is set on the late 19th Century London: faith in this period was central in society. This essay will discuss why religion is so present in Dracula and its importance and signification in the novel.
First, we should talk about the figure of Professor Van Helsing. The novel is mainly set in London, where most people are Protestants. However, Van Helsing comes from the Netherlands and he is clearly a Catholic. As a Catholic, the reader expects the character to be portrayed as someone very superstitious and almost fanatically religious, but his figure is a mixture of both science and religion: he uses religion in a scientific way in order to save Lucy’s soul and to eliminate Dracula.
‘Oh, Professor, I believe you are only putting up a joke on me. Why, these flowers are only common garlic.’
To my surprise, Van Helsing rose up and said with all his sternness, his iron jaw set and his bushy eyebrows meeting,
‘No trifling with me! I never jest! There is grim purpose in what I do, and I warn you that you do not thwart me. Take care, for the sake of others if not for your own.’ (Stoker, 1897: 159)
In this section we observe Professor Van Helsing using uncommon methods – non-scientific methods– but taking it extremely seriously. We must remember that this story takes place in the end of the 19th century, a period when religious faith is gradually starting to disappear whilst faith in science is rising. This is the century of God’s death proclamation by Friedrich Nietzsche, of Freud’s psychoanalysis and of Darwin’s The Origin of The Species. Hence, Dracula “seems to argue for the necessity of belief in an increasingly secular society.”(Sanders, 2015: 78) Furthermore, the way Van Helsing uses religion in such a scientific way seems to be appealing to the readers for them to believe in religion the same way they believe in science. Van Helsing represents both scientific and religious worlds; his figure seems to depict the possibility of both accepting new discoveries in science but keeping traditional Christian values and faith.
It is often asserted by critics that this novel presents a dualism between Catholicism and Protestantism and some even state that Stoker tries to convert Protestant readers to Catholicism through the novel. However, we must not forget that although Stoker was born in Ireland, he was raised in Anglicanism. Symbols such as crucifixes or convents that appear in the novel are usually related to Catholicism, but they are not exclusive of it. However, I think that the important issue in the novel is not whether which one (Catholicism or Protestantism) is portrayed as the best religion, but that religion itself is represented as the winning force over the devil forces. CN The protagonists, whether Catholic or Protestant, gather together and fight against the evil force that is personified in Dracula, a huge threat for the English society. In several passages we can see religion, often represented through crucifixes, preventing Dracula and Lucy from performing evil acts: “I drew away and his hand touched the string of beads which held the crucifix. It made an instant change in him [Dracula], for the fury passed so quickly that I could hardly believe that it was ever there.” (Stoker: 38) and “She [Lucy] was leaping for them, when Van Helsing sprang forward and held between them his little golden crucifix. She recoiled from it, and, with a suddenly distorted face, full of rage, dashed past him as if to enter the tomb.” (Stoker: 254). In both passages we observe that whenever the Un-Dead seem furious and/or ready to attack, they can be stopped by a crucifix, that is, by religion. That way, the power of religion and of God’s will win and the evil forces remain powerless.
Finally, as Noelle Bowles points out, “Stoker connects faith, English patriotism, and non-ritualist Anglican skepticism quite early in the novel” (Bowles, 2013: 247) When Jonathan Harker is about to arrive at the castle, he is advised not to enter because it’s Saint George’s Day eve. Saint George is the patron saint of England, so every English reader knows the legend and pictures the brave knight slaying the dragon when reading this passage. The reader, hence, associates Harker with the saviour and the Count Dracula with the evil reptile. “That Dracula is associated with the reptilian is appropriate on several fronts—the Biblical connection of the serpent to evil, temptation, and hence, the Satanic” (Bowles: 247): the reader is now, from the very beginning, aware of the danger that Dracula represents not just for the nation but also for religion and trusts that Jonathan Harker will be the redeemer of England. Moreover, by connecting patriotism and religion this passage is advocating for collective religion for as “the Victorian age also witnessed movement away from orthodoxies of Bible, Church tradition, and shared liturgy, and towards privatized belief systems.” (Jay, 2012: 350) The novel, hence, is actually hinting what we will find later on: a group of men – and not only Harker, as the reader might expect- will take control of the situation and save England thanks to religion.
All in all, religion in Dracula cannot be neglected. Spirituality is central in the late 19th Century, for many scientific discoveries and technological advances challenged Victorians’ perceptions of what was possible. Faith in science was rising and religious faith was starting to be questioned. Not only that, but social changes also provoked a change in faith towards a more privatized way of believing. That’s why in Dracula Stoker seems to be promoting religious belief and advocating for old traditions, for the old collective values. Furthermore, Dracula also puts in scene a huge threat to the nation that is finally defeated thanks to religion: religion is portrayed as the only great good force that will always win the evil forces.
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Christianity is undoubtedly central in Dracula. Christian symbols such as crucifixes are present all throughout the novel and some religious rituals take place in order to exterminate the Un-Dead. This […]