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Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ Essay

Texts can be modified or appropriated to suit different audiences or purposes, yet still remain firmly within the genre. Discuss Stoker’s ‘Dracula’ and at least one of the films you have studied. FW Murnau’s 1921 film Nosferatu is an appropriation of Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula. Despite it being an appropriation, explicit gothic conventions remain evident, which explore societal fears and values. These fears and values differ from Dracula, due to distinct contextual influences of different time periods. Stoker’s novel Dracula, presents the fear of female promiscuity, for which vampirism is a metaphor. Such fear can be related to the time in which Dracula was written, where strict Victorian gender norms and sexual mores stipulated that women should be either both pure and chaste as a virgin, or a wife and mother. It is the fear of women surpassing these sexual boundaries, as prescribed by a patriarchal society, that Stoker explores through the reversal of gender roles.

This is evident in the “seduction scene”, where Harker is shown to be passively subjugated by the female vampires he encounters in Dracula’s castle, “looking out from his eyelashes”. His passivity highlights the Gothic motif of duality, by reversing typical Victorian gender roles, whilst expressing the Victorian concern of female sexual proficiency threatening a man’s ability to reason and maintain control. This is further shown through the vampire’s primal sexuality; “licked her lips like an animal”. Such simile, depicting them as sexually aggressive predators, effectively allows Stoker to portray how their promiscuous behaviour is in direct opposition of what the Victorian ideal stipulates women should be. The Victorian values of a woman and her role in society are evident in Stoker’s portrayal of Lucy, after she is transformed into a vampire by Dracula. Not only is she depicted as a sexual predator, through her alluring and inviting voice, but one who possesses anti-maternal behaviour, preying on children; “growling over it as a dog growls over a bone…the child gave a sharp cry…”

Such metaphor allows Stoker to effectively express how Lucy’s behaviour is of direct contradiction to Victorian values. The plot resolution of Dracula also explores the female Victorian values of the time, through Mina resuming her role as a housewife and mother. Dracula is more than a novel of Victorian mores, it is also a novel underpinned by Christian values. During Stoker’s time, Christianity was being rejected in favour of faith science and technology, and it was feared that it would corrode moral values. This is shown through Dr. Van Helsing utilising science in attempt to defeat Dracula and his minions. However, Helsing also uses traditional religious methods, such as communion wafers and crucifixes, being Christian symbols present throughout, to control, and ultimately defeat them. The Christian value of eternal salvation is evident when Lucy is restored to a state of grace, released from the “devil’s Un-Dead” from a stake driven through her chest, after which she shows a “holy calm.”

Pathetic fallacy is used by Stoker to depict the mercy of the act; “outside the air was sweet, the sun shone…as if all nature were tuned to a different pitch.” Furthermore, the stake, being a phallic symbol, can be seen as the redemption of men and their manhood, from the prevailing sexual promiscuity of Lucy and the vampires. Order is restored, through men regaining dominance over women. Nosferatu explores different societal fears to those addressed in Dracula. This is because the values and the audience have changed. Murnau wrote Nosferatu in a completely different time period and country to Dracula. The audience was a post defeated Germany, who was struggling with the hardships associated with World War 1. However, Murnau has still integrated gothic conventions to keep this appropriation within the gothic genre, such as the shadow motif.

The shadow motif is arguably the most effective gothic convention, which in the scenes it is used, would have been horrifying for the people of Murnau’s time. This is because most people were trying to come to terms with the notion of evil, after the effects of the war, and feared vampirism. Murnau addresses these fears not only through the shadow motif, but through various camera shots, negative film and the use of fast motion, which create all create disconcertment. Low-angle shots, portraying Orlok as a dominant force, are example of a technique used that would have created terror and distress for the audience of Murnau’s time. Nosferatu is far less sexually explicit than Dracula, focusing on the fear of inexplicable evil intruding on the unified love of a married couple, rather than a women’s sexual position in society. Murnau explores this through the sleep walking, balcony scene, where Ellen reaches out with her arms, possessed, and the responder is left to question whether she is reaching for Orlok, or her husband Hutter.

The fear of being controlled whilst subconscious, and unaware of what is happening – the notion of the supernatural, is a gothic convention employed by Murnau. Murnau in this scene also uses colour imagery to highlight the notion of duality, being another gothic convention. Ellen’s white robe, symbolising innocence and purity is a contrast to the black surroundings, emphasising the good versus evil convention. The fear of social contagion is also a differing value to that of Dracula. Murnau explores this through the rat motif. The plague of rats symbolically parallels with the plague in Germany around the 1920’s, which was a contextual influence for Murnau. The plague of rats also represents the monstrousness of Orlok, and how he is a carrier of death. Orlok’s facial features such as pointy ears personify him as rat, relating to the societal fear of social contagion.

The plot resolution of Nosferatu explores the fear of patriarchy being devalued. This is because during the time of when Nosferatu was produced, society was still very much a patriarchal one. The gender role reversal of Ellen being instrumental in defeating Orlok, and Hutter and Dr Bulwer as ineffectual is how Murnau explores this. Murnau effectively employs gothic motifs and techniques in Nosferatu , despite it representing a different audience and purpose, exploring different values and societal fears to that of Dracula. Its gothic conventions, which are similar to Dracula, keep it firmly within the gothic genre.


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