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Vampire as Anti-Christ

Posted by on Sunday, February 17th, 2019 in Dracula Literature, Religion and Literature

The Presence of Evil in Contrast to the Absence of the Divine in Bram Stoker’s Dracula

by Minjie Su

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Chapter Eighteen, Dr Van Helsing recounts several defining characteristics of the Count, among which many are evidently drawn from the folkloric: the inability to cross running water, obligatory sleep in the ‘earth-home’ and ‘coffin-home’, strong dislike of the smell of garlic, ways in which he can be killed, just to name a few.[1] In addition to the old and traditional, Dracula also shares many traits with his predecessors, such as the lordly Ruthven, a womanizer with serious moral issues, and Countess Carmilla who accustoms to luring her victims through her (sexual) charm and afflicting on them both physically and mentally. Whereas the folkloric and the Victorian vampiric tales before Dracula only imply a rather vague binary of good versus evil, light versus darkness, and God versus the Devil, however, it is Bram Stoker who explicitly establishes such dichotomy by portraying the vampire as an Anti-Christ figure.

Vampires are condemned, and their souls barred from Heaven. Long before Stoker, this belief has already been ‘canonized’ by Eastern European folklore. In his article, Paul Barber points out that the post-mortem transformation would normally take forty days, which happens to be the same length of time that a soul needs to pass from this world to the next.[2] Intriguingly, this is the also the number the days that a male (thus perfect) embryo requires to acquire its final shape and soul, and the newly-become mother is normally confined in bed for approximately similar length of time to be cleansed in the Middle Ages.[3] The emphasis on forty in the folklore, then, may be read as an attempt to balance between birth and death, or – as in the case of revenants – between birth and ‘re-birth’ through a convenient magical number, but it is not necessarily a piece of evidence for the revenants’ condemnation or demonization. Likewise, Murgoci stresses on the distinction between the vampire and the Devil, which, she argues, only become vaguely associated with each other only due to the lack of imagination of a more plebeian class.[4]

The direct association between the vampire and the devil is only implied in Polidori’s The Vampyre and Le Fanu’s Carmilla. In the former, the word ‘devil’ is nowhere to find and ‘demon’ only appears in Polidori’s own Introduction.[5] Even when Ianthe’s parents tried to dissuade Aubrey from his excursion, the vampires are only described as evil, supernatural, and in a general sense infernal.[6] In Carmilla, though it is made explicit that the mysterious Countess never says her prayers and obviously partakes no known religion, she only occasionally hints that creatures such as herself are ‘evil spirits’ that are associated with bad dreams; she herself, as a matter of fact, is never once referred to as the devil or demon, not even by her pursuers and destroyers.[7] It may be no surprise, therefore, that both tales end in a way deprived of religious or ritual-like ceremonies: Lord Ruthven does not die at all but escapes retribution – both humane and divine; Countess Carmilla is killed in front of witnesses and medical examiners, reminding the readers rather of the Arnold Paole story.[8]

Bram Stoker, however, went much further beyond that. Whereas his predecessors at best identifies the vampire’s source of power as devilish and could be countered by the power of Christ, Stoker’s Count Dracula is far from being a mere member of the Devil’s horde – he himself is the head, the source, the centre of an anti-Christian cult.

The reputation of Dracula as the Devil has reached Jonathan even before he sets foot in the Count’s castle, even though he himself has not realised it until much later: upon entering the coach, he hears a few foreign words mumbled by the driver and his landlady. These words include ördög, which in ancient Hungary refers to a god ‘controlling the dark forces of the world’ and later became a designation for the devil after Christianization.[9] The most conspicuous piece of evidence, however, comes with Renfield, Dracula’s faithful servant and ‘spy’ within Dr Seward’s asylum. Renfield constantly refers to the Count as ‘He’ with capitalized initial and addresses him as ‘Lord and Master’ when he appears in person.[10] When Mina comes down to talk to him, he talks about his ‘belief’, and quotes the Scriptural statement that ‘For the blood is the life’.[11] Later, in an almost theological conversation between Dr Seward and Renfield, when the doctor asks whether he considered himself a god, the patient firmly denied it as it were blasphemous; instead, he compares himself to Enoch, because Enoch ‘walked with God’.[12] Renfield’s deity, however, is essentially a God as opposed to God. In his reasoning with Dr Seward, he makes it quite plain that his God, unlike the Christian God, does not give much thought to the soul.[13] The sentence he quotes to Mina is particularly intriguing, for it is most likely borrowed from Leviticus 17:14, when ‘eating blood of any flesh’ is avidly admonished against, precisely because blood is the life.[14]

In addition to worshippers, a god also needs disciples and followers, which further leads to liturgies to confer those statuses. As in Christian performances, it is important for Dracula’s disciples-to-be to be initiated through feeding his own blood to his victims, an act bearing stark resemblance to the Eucharist – indeed, later in the story, it is a Eucharist wafer that marks the dark power within Mina who just fell from grace.[15] This ceremonial aspect in the birth of vampires has been explored ever more fully in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 movie, where Lucy’s initial taste of Dracula’s blood takes place in the Westenra garden instead of the Whitby cemetery, a tiny yet significant deviation from the book on Coppola’s part. In this important scene, Lucy lies on a table-like sarcophagus very much resembling a church altar.[16] Furthermore, Dracula’s monstrous face at that scene has been pointed out as full of ‘Pan-like features’, which ‘resemble strongly the traditional depictions of the Christian Devil’ – a point that is used to accentuate Dracula’s identity as the Anti-Christ.[17]

In contrast to the presence of this powerful, materialized evil, the Crew of Light, on the other hand, only have very limited resources; and no direct supernatural aid could be found. Of course, one can argue that they are equipped with Christian items – holy water, the Eucharist wafer, crucifixes – as well as weapons attested by folkloric beliefs – wooden stakes and garlic, but unlike the deity-worshipper and granter-receiver relationship between Dracula and Renfield, Lucy, and Mina, there is no discernible hierarchy among the Crew of Light. It is true that Professor Van Helsing is more knowledgeable than the rest of the Crew and acts on several occasions as their leader, but he is by no means an equal to Dracula as far as supernatural power is concerned. Rather, the Crew all identify themselves as followers of God, who or whose messengers never once appear in the story; nor are the followers given any guidance.

It is, as a result, no surprise to see that, contrary to Renfield’s strong faith in Dracula’s promised immortality (‘You will reward me, for I shall be faithful’), the Christian characters in the story are always in despair – even when they hoped, they hoped in a rather desperate and depressing fashion: Jonathan calls for God for help, for willpower, or for mercy several times, yet he is repetitively left utterly helpless and has to find resort in the most dangerous, in which death would be sweeter and considered as a token of God’s mercy.[18] Similarly, the captain of Demeter in his sailing log implored God for guidance, and, in his despair, he even declares that ‘God seems to have deserted us’.[19] In the following entries, he constantly emphasizes the necessity to put his trust in God and the Blessed Virgin and ties the crucifix around his wrist. This detail is particularly interesting, for if he does not do so, the ship probably would perish at sea and drag Dracula – who cannot cross running water – down with it. But ironically enough, far from preserving his own life, the captain’s faith in fact delivers the monster to England in safety to carry on what Zanger called an ‘inverted Crusade’ against the men of God.[20]

To conclude, despite Stoker’s indebtedness to both the Eastern European folkloric traditions and to his literary predecessors, he moves one step further and establishes his vampire as an Anti-Christ figure, rendering to his masterpiece a religious appearance that is lacking or at beast glossed over in Polidori and Le Fanu. The presence of Dracula as Anti-Christ serves a sharp and intriguing contrast to the absence of the divine. God’s presence is only felt by the Crew of Light’s repetitive prayers and utterance – this very imbalance between good and evil is perhaps the reason why Coppola felt the urge to stress on God’s power in his ending.[21] The final question is perhaps why – why at all did Stoker create such contrast? There is probably no definite answer to it, for, with the author long gone, there is no way to fathom what was in his mind when he was at work with pen and paper. Nevertheless, conjectures can still be made. Perhaps, it is after all the heroes’ willpower and faith that Stoker wished to celebrate; and the absence of anything materially divine helps to foreground the mindpower of the Crew and Mina. The fact that Dracula is fought against and eventually defeated by modern science – blood transfusion, phonography cylinder, and hypnosis – foregrounds Stoker’s emphasis on human reason and intelligence; and the war between the Count and the Crew can be read as a clash between the obsolete and the modern, between the uncivilised and the civilised, between ‘other’ and ‘us’. Yet the presence of the Anti-Christ gives a glimpse into the spiritual and the supernatural; at least that much is real. Perhaps, it also allows us a glimpse into Stoker’s own era and mind: born in the age of industry and science, he himself may have perceived the world as struggling in the clash between the scientific and the spiritual, between the material and the unseen. God may be absent, but He is not entirely gone – thanks, ironically, to the presence of the Devil.

Bibliography

Barber, Paul, ‘Forensic Pathology and the European Vampire’, in The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. by Alan Dundes (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), pp. 109-42

Coppola, Francis Ford, dir., Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Columbia Pictures, 1992)

King James Bible, The Bible Gateway <https://www.biblegateway.com>

Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan, In a Class Darkly, Vol. 3 (London: R. Bentley, 1872)

Lurker, Manfred, Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons (London: Routledge, 2004)

Marak, Katarzyna, Japanese and American Horror: A Comparative Study of Film, Fiction, Graphic Novels and Video Games (Jefferson: McFarland & Company Publisher, 2014)

Murgoci, Agnes, ‘The Vampire in Roumania’, Folkore, 37/4 (1926), 320-49

Nicolas Orme, Nicolas, Medieval Children (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003)

Polidori, John William, The Vampyre: A Tale (London: Sherwood, Neely and Jones, 1819)

Stoker, Bram, Dracula (New York: Modern Library, 1996)

Zanger, Jule, ‘Metaphor into Metonymy: The Vampire Next Door’, in Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, ed. by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), pp. 17-26

Notes

[1] For Van Helsing’s account, see Bram Stoker, Dracula (New York: Modern Library, 1996), pp. 262-64. For the folkloric vampires, see Agnes Murgoci, ‘The Vampire in Roumania’, Folkore, 37/4 (1926), 328, 333. For Paul Barber, see Barber, ‘Forensic Pathology and the European Vampire’, in The Vampire: A Casebook, ed. by Alan Dundes (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2006), p. 123, pp. 125-26, and p. 129.

[2] Barber, ‘Forensic Pathology and the European Vampire’, p. 124.

[3] Nicolas Orme, Medieval Children (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), p. 14 and p. 21.

[4] Murgoci, pp. 322-23.

[5] John William Polidori, The Vampyre: A Tale (London: Sherwood, Neely and Jones, 1819), ‘Introduction’, p. xxiii, where Polidori cites a poem in which the vampyres’ victims are said to ‘know the demon for their sire’.

[6] Ibid., p. 44.

[7] Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, In a Class Darkly, vol. 3, (London: R. Bentley, 1872), p. 125, and p. 155.

[8] Polidori, The Vampyre, p. 72. Le Fanu, Carmilla, pp. 258-60. For the account of Arnold Paole, see Baber, ‘Forensic Pathology and the European Vampire’, p. 110.

[9] Stoker, Dracula, p6. Manfred Lurker, Routledge Dictionary of Gods and Goddesses, Devils and Demons (London: Routledge, 2004), p. 143, s.v. ördög.

[10]Stoker, Dracula p. 308.

[11] Stoker, Dracula, p. 257.

[12] Ibid., p. 296.

[13] Ibid., pp. 295-96.

[14] Leviticus 17:14 (King James Bible), The Bible Gateway <https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=leviticus+17%3A14&version=KJV>

[15] Stoker, Dracula, p. 327.

[16] Francis Ford Coppola, dir., Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Columbia Pictures, 1992), 0:42:08-0:43:17.

[17] Katarzyna Marak, Japanese and American Horror: A Comparative Study of Film, Fiction, Graphic Novels and Video Games (Jefferson: McFarland & Company Publisher, 2014), pp. 88-9.

[18] Stoker, Dracula, p. 113, p. 40, p. 45, and p. 50.

[19] Ibid., p. 93.

[20] Jule Zanger, ‘Metaphor into Metonymy: The Vampire Next Door’, in Blood Read: The Vampire as Metaphor in Contemporary Culture, ed. by Joan Gordon and Veronica Hollinger (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1994), p. 23.

[21] Coppola, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, 1:58:19-2:01:00.

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