Sunday, December 13, 2015
I vant to suck your gender roles
I love vampire stories. I love Anne Rice's moody vamps, I love the silliness of Fright Night, I like cartoons about vampires, songs about vampires, movies about vampires, and books about vampires. (And no, Twilight isn't about vampires it's about toxic relationships and giving up your life to a cute dude - so maybe it's about psychic vampires because just thinking about all the flaws in that story sucks away my energy.) But for all of that I had never read the big one that started it all, Dracula. So I fixed that.
There are lots of good reasons that Dracula is a story that keeps getting told. The novel is complicated and exciting, full of interesting characters and perspectives and it has a fair scattering of humor for all that it's a pretty serious subject. But there are also lots of good reasons that Dracula keeps getting reinterpreted instead of simply remade and I think most of those reasons are rooted in the fact that Dracula is a product of its time and thus is confoundingly sexist and laughably stodgy.
I actually want to give Stoker the benefit of the doubt on the issue of sexism in the story - much of the novel's action is predicated on bad things that happen when men try to protect women. There seems to be a pretty heavy suggestion that hiding information from women is a bad thing and that noble idiots cause a hefty helping of the world's problems. Mina Harker is clearly one of the most important characters in the story and the reader is constantly reminded of her abilities, but in like one of the most sexist ways possible. Mina's got the brain of a man and the heart of a woman, she's got a man-brain that's stronger than her weak and frail body, she's a saint among women who is beautiful and pure, she's brilliant and so has to be kept away from knowledge because she's also sensitive and it might prove too much for her. Stoker obviously wants his readers to admire Mina but he also wants them to never, ever, for a single second, forget that she is a woman and thus unequal to the men around her - she may be smarter but she's also weaker; they may be noble but she's pure. YES I GET IT SHE HAS A SANCTIFIED AND UNTAINTED VAGINA WHICH ALLOWS HER TO BE MORE IN TUNE WITH GOD, THANK YOU FOR PASSING ON YOUR GROSS PURITY CULTURE, VICTORIANS.
I liked a lot of Dracula. I liked the epistolary narrative, I liked Van Helsing's speech patterns and humor, I liked Jonathan Harker's initial disbelief and growing horror, I liked the triumvirate whose friendship survived proposing to the same woman, I liked Renfield's wobbling sanity. But I didn't like the constant reminders about the importance of purity in women, I didn't like the illustration of corruption through failed women, and I didn't much care for the upper-class snobbery that clings to every part of the story like a film. There's a lot that's good about Dracula, and the story is tremendously engaging. But it's also a product of its time and is horribly dated and jarring as a result.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Trident Press International. Naples: Florida. 2001. (1897).