Vampirism and the British Empire

The fin de siècle proved challenging times with the many advancements at the end of the century. Notably, Gothic novels told tales of fantastical monsters preying upon powerless humans, as portrayed by the vampires in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. During the same time period, the British Empire expanded and occupied nearly half the known world. Dracula exemplifies many aspects of the fin de siècle through its characters. In the passage where Lucy is first bit by a vampire, Dracula’s lust for blood mimics the actions of the ever-growing British Empire.

Stoker’s use of contrasting colors paints Lucy as the vulnerable innocent and Dracula as the unknown monster, as is the common dynamic in Gothic texts. In the passage where Mina searches for a lost sleeping-walking Lucy, she finds her friend asleep on their bench by the church with “something, long and black, bending over the half-reclining white figure” (101). Lucy’s position as a figure “half-reclining with her head lying over the back of the seat” leaves her vulnerable, with her neck exposed to any vampire that happens upon her, such as Dracula. As the audience, we know Dracula is the former figure since Mina later describes his “white face and red, gleaming eyes” (101), which are tell-tale vampire traits throughout the book. Furthermore, vampires are more monster than human as Mina notes that Dracula looked like “whether man or beast, I could not tell” (101). Mina continuously describes Dracula as “something dark” and Lucy as “snowy white” (101). In this way, Stoker associates dark, shadowed colors with Gothic monsters, in this case vampires, while pure white colors associate with innocent, helpless prey, such as humans. This contrast between the two figures fits the Gothic theme of unnatural monsters preying upon human victims.

The one anomaly to this color contrast is that Dracula, a dark figure, also has a “white face” (101), even though white is the color associated with Lucy and innocent humans. However, this anomaly allows Dracula to mirror the actions of the British Empire at the time of the fin de siècle. By 1919, the British Empire ruled most of the world, including Canada, Australia, parts of Africa, and multiple pieces of other continents (as depicted in the map from Washington Post shown in class). According to the Longman Anthology text, the Empire perceived this rapid expansion as their “duty to spread British order and culture throughout the world” (1064). This expansion led to some wars and displeasure from the conquered people, some of whom died in British concentration camps (Longman 1064). Interestingly, this duty was phrased “The White Man’s Burden,” and Dracula is a terrifying vampire with a “white face” who sucks blood in order to spread vampirism. Cambridge historian J.R. Seeley, in 1883, describes the empire’s expansion as one who seemed “to have conquered and peopled half the world in a fit of absence mind” (Longman 1064). Similarly, Dracula has “a fit of absent mind” since doesn’t care who his victims are—as long as if he eats blood to sustain himself, it doesn’t matter who it takes it from. The British Empire, to some extent, didn’t care who they conquered as long as if the resources from that continent sustained the empire.

The Longman Anthology also states that an Englishman had a duty similar to “The White Man’s Burden,” where he deserved to “rule whatever childlike or womanly peoples he came across” (1063). Lucy resembles both a childlike and womanlike figure. When Mina leads her freshly bitten friend home, she comments Lucy had “the obedience of a child.” As Lucy wakes from her sleep walking, Mina’s description of Lucy’s “moaning” and how she “always wakes prettily…she did not lose her grace” sexualizes her feminine beauty (102). Dracula’s preying upon whatever childlike and womanly peoples he comes across—since he can thrive off the blood of anyone—fits both the description of a Victorian Englishman and the broader implications of the British Empire conquering the world.

Even though Dracula is a foreigner from Transylvania in the novel, he perfects his Englishman façade and moves to England. Dracula, determined to pass as a real Englishman in every way, even learns to perfect the English accent (27). Dracula’s actions mirror not just an Englishman but the entire British Empire at the time. In the same way vampirism sucks the life out of others to selfishly empower the vampire, the British Empire’s expansion trampled foreign lands in order to empower the empire.

2 thoughts on “Vampirism and the British Empire”

  1. This is an interesting observation, and something I did not think of. It is certainly interesting to think of Dracula as a symbol of imperialist Britain, especially due to the fact that he is seen as such a foreigner by Jonathan and the others. As you mentioned, there are interesting contradictions to Dracula’s foreign identity, given his near-perfect British accent and pale white skin, things that at the time were seen as the typical, ideal British person.

  2. The symbolism of the British Empire in Dracula is interesting because I didn’t think of the spread of Vampirism could be used also a spread of control. In other superstitions like werewolves, there is an alpha which turns other people and in turn gains control over them. With the British Empire, taking control over new territories and countries not only makes them apart of their empire, but also try to change the culture to a more Eurocentric type. I wonder what it could mean that Lucy was killed by the man she loved. Could it symbolize a country that has been taken over by the British Empire being able to rebel and gain back control over their autonomy? This is a stretch, but it is just one of the many theories that can be created when you factor in the comparison of Vampirism and the British Empire.

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