Monsters & Madness

Secret Lives in Victorian Literature

Who is the Real Monster?

Although Dracula at face value is about the fear of a foreign monster, what actually makes Dracula so unnerving is watching the descent of normal humans into monsters, rather than the monster itself. While some of the grotesque parts of the novel take place when Jonathan Harker is alone with Dracula, it seems as though these scenes are only exposition for what is to come next: Lucy’s transition into a vampire. The existence of Dracula as a monster is less haunting, as he is never really portrayed as fully human: “Strange to say, there were hairs in the centre of [his] palm… As the Count leaned over me and his hands touched me, I could not repress a shudder,” (Stoker, 25). By immediately portraying Dracula as such an inhuman looking creature, the uneasiness of the reader lies in the shallow fear of the unknown. However, the real horror comes whenever the sweet, innocent, proper Lucy is transformed into the cruel creature she becomes: “…Lucy’s eyes in form and color; but Lucy’s eyes unclean and full of hell-fire, instead of the pure, gentle orbs we knew. At that moment, the remnant of my love passed into hate and loathing…” (Stoker, 225). The entirety of this passage induces much more horror than any other passage about Dracula, as readers are able to relate and imagine seeing someone that they love morph into something so evil in front of their eyes. It is easier for readers to pass Dracula off as an other, but to watch someone a reader can relate to become so barbaric is truly unsettling to the human condition. Therefore, Lucy’s tale of turning into Dracula, as well as Renfield’s descent and Mina’s threat of vampirism, is what makes this story a true horror story, even though they are not the main monsters.

4 Comments

  1. I agree with your claim that witnessing a loved one gradually become inhuman adds the true horror to the story. It’s interesting to examine this claim through Mina as well. Jonathan speaks of Lucy’s fate with the Count before turning to Mina and seeing, “as yet there was no sign of the teeth growing sharper; but the time as yet was short, and there was time for fear” (Stoker, 314). Within the same chapter, the scar is burned into Mina’s forehead, only emphasizing that it’s only time until she reaches her fate, which is not a pleasant one.

  2. I partially agree with your statement that “what makes Dracula so unnerving is watching the descent of normal humans into monsters, rather than the monster itself.” I agree that it is quite unnerving to watch the descent of normal humans into monsters, but I am not sure if that is more unnerving than the monsters themselves. In my opinion, the scene when Jonathan sees Dracula scaling down the walls of his castle at speed is the creepiest in the entire novel.

  3. You make a good point about the true horror lying not in the monster itself, but in the ways humans start to resemble that monster. In fact, the author seems quite self-aware about this, putting the focus more on Lucy rather than Dracula for a good chunk of the book. Similarly, I find that the most horrifying moments are when humans (or in this case, former humans) are described in inhuman ways: “The Thing in the coffin writhed; and a hideous, blood-curdling screech came from the open red lips. The body shook and quivered and twisted in wild contortions” (230).

  4. It’s interesting to consider the horror that comes from the transformations of the characters – from the sweet, compassionate Lucy to the heartless vampire version that exists of her in the afterlife. This change in Lucy – from her human self to her vampire self – is shocking, yet not as transformative as the change could be had she turned into a completely inhuman being. Taking what was once so warm and familiar – like a close family member – and altering their presence to make them somewhat less human is perhaps what makes it all so disturbing. Vampire Lucy still resembles her past self, and her beauty is even more pronounced. Yet, it is the slight modifications to her persona and appearance that makes the change truly horrific.

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