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Module 1: Vampires, Moral Degeneration and Late-Victorian Anxieties

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Vampires, Moral Degeneration and Late-Victorian Anxieties – Lesson Summary

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Bram Stoker
Abraham Bram Stoker was an Irish author, best known today for his 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as the personal assistant of actor Sir Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre, which Irving owned.

Plot of Dracula
Bram Stoker’s novel ‘Dracula’, published in May 1897, is one of the outstanding works of Gothic literature. The story, told in the form of letters and journal entries, tapped into the fears that haunted the Victorian fin de siècle.
A newly qualified lawyer, Jonathan Harker, travels to meet a client, Count Dracula, who resides in the remote Transylvanian mountains on the very edge of Christian Europe in the castle that has been the home of his aristocratic family for centuries. The Count wishes to discuss his planned move to London.
Harker soon learns that local superstitions against the Count have some basis in reality: Dracula is deeply feared, and he seems to prey physically on the local population in some way. Harker succumbs to brain fever, and can no longer quite trust his senses. Dracula makes his inexorable way to England, arriving on a ghost ship in the northern port of Whitby.
The novel offers suggestive glimpses of how he begins to prey on a local beauty, Lucy, who suffers a strange wasting disease that the professional men around her are unable to diagnose. It is only after Professor Van Helsing arrives, with an expertise in occult lore as well as medicine, that we learn that Dracula is a vampire, not just a figure of Eastern European superstition but a horrifying reality: a creature that sustains a half-life for centuries by sucking on the blood of the living.
Those drained in turn become vampires; Dracula is therefore the origin of an outbreak of a dangerous infection. The disbelieving men see Lucy revived and preying on young children after her apparent death; they are forced to kill her, using a wooden stake driven through the heart.
The second half of the novel focuses on Van Helsing and his friends working together first to expel the vampire from England, then to chase him back all the way to Transylvania, where they kill him, securing victory for Christian Europe over a dangerous enemy.
Gothic Tradition and Dracula
‘Dracula’ looks back to the tradition of Gothic fiction, asserting the numinous in the world. It locates itself simultaneously in the tradition of the explained supernatural, a tradition begun in Anne Radcliffe and culminating in the detective fiction of Poe.

Gothic Metaphors
The central Metaphor of ‘Dracula’ is the grave, the crypt, and the space of the novel, despite all its continental movements, is defined by closings-in and confinements.

Vampirism and Residuum
Vampirism is throughout Dracula similarly figured as a disease with palpable physical effects such as pallor, loss of appetite, loss of blood and eventually death.

Scrutinizing this particular aspect of vampirism seems natural to the generations of Westerners familiar with the vampire myth which reveals yet another link to contemporary representations of the Residuum.