Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

The Meaning of Sleep when Monsters Walk the Night

A motif that features prominently in Bram Stoker’s Dracula is that of sleeping and dreaming. The act of sleeping itself becomes congruent with various meanings. Apart from the traditional associations of ‘eternal sleep’ as a metaphor for death, a good night’s sleep, for example, is considered to be “deep, tranquil, life-giving, health-giving’’ (202). However, for Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker, their nights turn into “presage[s] of horror” (201) that do not grant the two women rest and peace but leave them “feel[ing] terribly weak and spiritless” (419). The reader knows that both women feel weakened in the morning because Count Dracula visits them at night to feed on their blood. Sleep therefore also becomes a human (and predominantly female) weakness in Stoker’s novel. It takes men like Dr. Seward, Professor Van Helsing and Jonathan Harker to protect these two women in their sleep. Dracula only ever manages to come close to Lucy and Mina when, for some reason, none of the men is close by. What seems especially interesting in this context is the fact that the male characters in Stoker’s novel desperately need sleep to mentally and physically strengthen themselves in order to defeat the antagonistic Count Dracula. Prioritizing their own sleep, however, forces them to abandon Lucy and Mina which in turn, leaves the women defenseless and therefore weakens the novel’s female characters.  Thus, Stoker creates a framework in which male strength equates female weakness.

All in all, by falling asleep and transgressing into an unconscious state, Stoker’s (female and male) characters lose all capabilities of taking active agency for themselves. Therefore, they surrender themselves to Dracula. In Jonathan Harker’s case, by falling asleep in a different room in the Count’s castle (Chapter 3), he similarly surrenders himself to the three female vampires. The very idea and practice of nightly sleep is therefore inverted by monsters that walk the night. To be even more precise: the sheer existence of a supernatural creature such as Bram Stoker’s vampire contorts the natural order of Victorian England including the traditional human activity of sleeping.

1 Comment

  1. I love your idea that sleep helps give men strength while it is the women’s weakness. I think this idea of sleep can also be related to the theme of insanity in the novel. Mina says in her journal after Dracula bites her that, “I must be careful of such dreams, for they would unseat one’s reason if there were too much of them” (276). Mina’s insistence that what is happening to her must be a dream occurs because it is the only way she can rationally reason the event. Mina is worried that if she thinks “the dream” is reality then that means she would be insane. However, her assumption that Dracula biting her isn’t real causes her more issues the long term.

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