The novel Dracula by Bram Stoker is an unconventional one in nature as it is filled with uncanny events and people. The main protagonist, in the beginning, is Johnathan Harker, a solicitor who goes to meet Count Dracula in Transylvania to guide him in his arrival to England. However, he soon finds himself in a situation where he feels helpless as he is imprisoned in Dracula’s castle. Count Dracula is a vampire, and Stoker employs ancient superstitions about vampires to empower him and evoke fear in Jonathan. Similar to many books from the late 19th century Dracula explores the Gothic which Britannica describes as fiction that has “a prevailing atmosphere of mystery and terror” (Britannica). The mysterious environment of the Gothic gave Stoker the freedom to have Dracula engage in what is usually considered unconventional behaviors. In the late 19th century homosexual relationships were regarded as an unconventional exploit. Dracula has a typical blood-lust but the Count intriguingly decides to satisfy this craving by kidnapping a male character, Jonathan, aligning with a homosexual narrative. Kidnapping narratives are characterized by their one-sided nature and dominance over love and this holds significance within the late-19th-century context, highlighting the complexities in relationships especially those involving same-sex attraction. In Stoker’s Dracula, the Gothic serves as a means to subvert the conventional heterosexual power dynamic of kidnapping narratives. Through this relationship between Jonathan and Dracula Stoker offers a complex portrayal of homosexuality, particularly noteworthy when viewed in the context of the late 19th century.
The introduction of Dracula as a Gothic figure and his subsequent control over Jonathan challenges the traditional gender roles in kidnapping narratives, allowing for the consideration of intimate same-sex relationships. In classic kidnapping narratives, there is usually a powerful creature or person that holds their beloved hostage. Some examples are Beauty and the Beast, and the mythology of Persephone and Hades. Dracula is similar to the characters in these stories because he is an intimidating character. Stoker employs the Gothic when he makes the Count establish his power by committing several mysterious acts that make Johnathan feel powerless. When Jonathan is imprisoned, Dracula puzzlingly asks him to write letters about his travels beyond the castle. This prompts Jonohtnan to write in his diary about the state of his relationship with the vampire, “I would fain have rebelled, but felt that in the present state of things, it would be madness to quarrel openly with the Count while I am so absolutely in his power;” (Stoker 64). In this passage, it is evident that Jonathan deeply wishes to defy the Count’s demands but knows that he’d be in more danger if he did due to being “absolutely” under the power that Dracula has. In the narratives I mentioned earlier, the powerless characters are placed in a situation similar to Jonathan’s, with the key distinction being that Jonathan is male and finds himself in a traditionally female role. This subverts a typically heterosexual trope which shows an embarkment in considering intimate relationships between people of the same sex. The creepy atmosphere of the Gothic allows Stoker to do this since Dracula is already a monster who does strange things. Due to homosexuality being taboo in the late 19th century if Dracula had not been a strange creature Stoker might not have been inclined to explore a narrative with this relationship.
Dracula has a perverse love for Jonathan that creates a complex dynamic between them, especially in the context of the late-19th century. During the late 19th century homosexuality was considered perverse or strange leading to a lack of representation. Dracula represents a rare exception to this since Stoker is able to establish a relationship between the two men. The love is one-sided since only the Count shows affection, however, this development is still important when considering the time period. The love Dracula has for Jonathan is proven during a pivotal scene when Jonathan encounters three vampire women who have the intention of sucking his blood. Dracula stops the women and after he admonishes them one claims that he cannot love, and the scene proceeds, “Then the Count turned, after looking at my face attentively, and said in a soft whisper: — “Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past. Is it not so?’” (Stoker 62-63). In this passage, the Count explains that he has the capacity to love Jonothan just as he has loved the other vampires. When Dracula first appears in the scene he yells at the women for even being near Johnathan, but he whispers this line. Additionally, even though he is talking to the women this passage describes that he is “attentively” looking at Jonathan. Both of these factors reveal the sincerity he feels and that he does in his own perverse way love Jonothan.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula stands out as an unconventional novel that pushes the boundaries of societal norms and traditional storytelling conventions of the 19th century. Through the use of the Gothic genre, Stoker creates an atmosphere of mystery and terror that allows him to explore unconventional behaviors and relationships, including the complex dynamics between Count Dracula and Jonathan Harker. Similar to other kidnapping narratives this relationship is obviously not an ideal representation of love due to the harmful power dynamic that is prevalent. However, what Stoker does here is important because he begins to consider the idea of these love stories happening between the same sex. While Dracula does not display the best representation of homosexuality it embarked on a territory that was taboo for the 19th century.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Gothic novel.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 4 Aug.
2023, https://www.britannica.com/art/Gothic-novel. Accessed 17 September 2023.
Stoker, Bram. Dracula, edited by John Paul Riquelme. Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016.