Burying the Undead in Dracula

In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the concepts of life and death are some of the most important motifs throughout the novel, as, aside from the obvious amounts of violence present, characters are dealt with situations that highlight the beliefs on life and death during the Victorian Era.

In chapter 15, Van Helsing confronts situations regarding death when thinking of what to do with Lucy’s dead body after Dracula has killed her.  He thinks intensely of his confusion of whether to respect the dead body or to go through cutting her head off and filling it with garlic. During this process of preparing to perform these rituals, the thought of vandalizing a dead body to this extent is normally unthinkable to someone at the time, (even nowadays, given that I personally haven’t heard of anyone getting their head stuffed with garlic). Though in this situation, Van Helsing doesn’t really think twice about it, and understands the importance of the situation. This adds a level of horror to what is already a scary book, given the differences of norms set in this world and those in the real world. This made me think back to the Longman Anthology, where within a chart of data providing what were common expenses of those of the Victorian Era, a “Respectable Christian Burial” was listed under “Cost of Goods” (1046).
Something else I find interesting in relation to the concept of death as understood in this era is the term “buried life”, especially as examined through a religious lens. The anthology describes this term as “individuals struggling for identity in a commercial, technocratic society” (1069). I think this it is certainly significant to think of this term in regards to what the Anthology coins a “crisis of faith”’ in the Victorian Era. Explained in the Anthology, “The crisis of religious doubt occasioned by biblical scholarship and scientific discoveries hit Christian belief hard” (1056). In taking the two of these terms together, it is likely that people of the Victorian Era lost a sense of identity in their struggle for religious belief. Obviously throughout history, specifically European history, religion has been key to what comprises one’s identity, and the scientific progress and religious doubt of the time would only exacerbate a crisis of identity.

To tie this back into Dracula, maybe this would make the book all the more creepy reading it as a Victorian. This makes me think back to the article from “Transylvania Superstitions”, as I wonder how religion and superstition would interact during the Victorian Era, particularly regarding how one would interpret Dracula. Gerard explains that “superstition in all its manifold varieties constitutes a sort of religion, applicable to the common household necessities of daily life” (Gerard 332). In serving as a “sort of religion” maybe the formulation of such superstitions such as Dracula are to fill the emptiness felt with the “crisis of faith”. To put it more simply, if people are turning away from Catholicism and other mainstream sects of Christianity, what makes some witches and werewolves so much more crazy?


One thought on “Burying the Undead in Dracula”

  1. I really like how you point out the dilemma between respecting or vandalizing Lucy’s dead body, and how that relates to religions and superstitious concerns. This post made me think of how vampire Lucy is deemed an “unholy devil” who they ward off with crucifix. Even though one of the ten commandments is “thou shalt not kill,” Van Helsing is one of the characters who agrees it’s totally appropriate to kill a vampire since they are not holy beings.

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