The Geography of the Gothic: Stoker Conforming to and Varying from Conventions of Gothic Fiction
In this essay, I will analyse Bram Stoker’s Gothic taking as a reference point his novel Dracula. The main purpose of these pages is to present the aspects conform to conventions of Gothic fiction and the ones that vary from this genre.
The Genre of Gothic
Gothic fiction is considered a literature and film genre that mainly combines death, fiction and horror, and occasionally romance. Gothic narratives always describe journeys, flight and pursuit tales or stories of escape (Duncker, 2004). 1790s writers, considered the first wave of Gothic novelists, had recurrent modes of writing: their narratives made the familiar sound strange and difficult material was approached without contemporary political and sexual restrictions. The topography and iconography of the Gothic is distinguished by castles, monasteries, fortifications, convents, locked houses and prisons. These places are always depicted old, dangerous, mysterious,… Gothic fiction is concerned with mental narratives, in other words, the representation of logic dreams. Transgressions and taboos are not an obstacle for a Gothic writer, this means that authors can take risks with their material. The Gothic releases indirect desire, and readers become spectators of the forbidden spectacle.
The Uncanny constitutes one of the main aspects of Gothic fiction. This concept was first developed by Sigmund Freud, and he defines it as “in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and old-established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression” (Freud, 1955, cited in Botting & Townshend, 2004: 2) This notion includes events that repeat, reverse, double and return normal judgements and applies not only to ghosts that cross the firm line between life and death, but also to passages between times and places, inside and outside and minds and worlds. The Uncanny is central to discussions of Victorian Gothic. It is about crossing and transgressing boundaries and it also deals with a refuse to remain in place, which triggers discourse. The Uncanny keeps criticism alive because it shows an obscurity and darkness that only the truth of critical discourse can brighten. I believe that Stoker has expelled some disturbing elements from society and has also reaffirmed the boundaries between certain categories in Dracula: life and death, civilization and degeneracy and human and nonhuman. Count Dracula has violated or made ambiguous such boundaries.
Viewing the Past
Gothic has always been a way of viewing the past, as David Punter asserts. The texts belonging to Victorian Gothic are especially useful for the history of the period. They expose the return of suppressed historical doubts and fears. In Stoker’s case, there was not an explicit intention of illustrating the social concerns of the period, still he does so. In his novel Dracula, Jonathan is the perfect representation of an industrialized society; he is an ordinary guy, professional, not exceptional, not superstitious and not imaginative.
Themes like religion, sex, the Un-dead, the unhuman creatures, the deconstruction of “Angel in the House” notion and the evil are common and essential topics of Gothic fiction. According to Glennis Byron, Gothic is closely related to anxieties produced by many scientific discourses, such as evolutionism, mental psychology and sexology,… All these discourses were already questioning and dismantling conventional ideas of the human. In Stoker, as in many Gothic writers of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, these anxieties are both managed and aggravated. There is a characteristic creature that became familiar during late Victorian Gothic that is entirely applicable to Count Dracula. It is a creature that drains the vitality of others or whose supernatural beauty or goodness is linked to a hidden ugliness.
In general, the nature of Gothic fiction is composed of a doubleness represented by the power of the evil against which the protagonist battles. I believe this is roughly the case with Count Dracula and Jonathan, taking into account that, later on, Jonathan will not be on his own but with other characters to defeat the evil. Besides, Stoker depicts the going out to Transylvania as basically a going in to the dark continent itself and a real contact with something alien. By transmitting this idea, Stoker enters into the true Victorian Gothic, just as in Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. Nevertheless, in the latter case the destiny is the colonized Congo.
Traditionally, the Gothic has been understood as the register of repressed desires, thus revealing “which should have reminded hidden”. In my opinion, this fact illustrates how latent topics or taboos of that period could emerge and have a voice. These repressed desires could only be revealed in few occasions, notably in literature through specific genres like Gothic, music and theatre.
“The sleep of reason produces monsters” is an etching by Francisco Goya that resumes perfectly the Gothic. Going back to Romanticism, we notice that it moves away from enlightenment and puts reason to sleep. In the case of Gothic stories, they appeal to the emotional part of us and they usually do not work if we analyse them rationally. This is not the case with Dracula, since this novel works even analysing it rationally.
Dracula is considered a multiform novel. It cannot be categorised as epistolary in view of the newspaper accounts that it contains. There is not one single governing perspective as multiple narrators appear throughout the novel. All of them express the truth. This multiplicity of narrators is labelled as “polyphony”. Polyphony reflects that there is no single truth and that did not happen in the nineteenth century, it was not common then, but Stoker had yet introduced it. In addition, this multiple narrative form expresses, in a subliminal way, instability. The more terrifying the moment is, the more frequent polyphony is.
To conclude, the aspects in which Stoker varies from Gothic fiction conventions are few compared to the ones that he conforms to. I found advantageous the fact of learning more about the thought of the age by means of Gothic fiction. Finally, I would remark the unique versatility of Dracula, considering the success even subdued to a rational approach.
- Stoker, Bram. Dracula. London: Penguin Classics, 2003.
Chapters in Collective Volumes
- Arata, Stephen. “The fin de siècle”. In Kate Flint, Writing Victoria’s England. United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2012. 145-147.
- Botting, Fred and Townshend, Dale. “Introduction”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Nineteenth-Century Gothic: At Home with the Vampire. London: Routledge, 2004. 1-11.
- Bruhm, Steven. “On Stephen King’s phallus; or, the postmodern Gothic”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Twentieth-Century Gothic: Our Monsters, Our Pets. London: Routledge, 2004.170-190/.
- Duncker, Patricia. “Queer Gothic: Angela Carter and the lost narratives of sexual subversion”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Twentieth-Century Gothic: Our Monsters, Our Pets. London: Routledge, 2004. 330-344.
- Punter, David. “Heart lands: contemporary Scottish Gothic”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Twentieth-Century Gothic: Our Monsters, Our Pets. London: Routledge, 2004. 291-311.
- Spencer, Kathleen L. “Purity and danger: Dracula, the Urban Gothic, and the late Victorian degeneracy crisis”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Nineteenth-Century Gothic: At Home with the Vampire. London: Routledge, 2004. 304-330.
- Wilt, Judith. “The imperial mouth: Imperialism, the Gothic and Science fiction”. In Fred Botting and Dale Townshend (eds.), Twentieth-Century Gothic: Our Monsters, Our Pets. London: Routledge, 2004. 134-146.
Articles in Academic Journals
- Byron, Glennis. “Bram Stoker’s Gothic and the Resources of Science”. Critical Survey, 19.2, 2007: 48-62.
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Introduction In this essay, I will analyse Bram Stoker’s Gothic taking as a reference point his novel Dracula. The main purpose of these pages is to present the aspects conform […]