“Build the wall!” – Bram Stoker, maybe

Throughout Bram Stoker’s Dracula, we are given many detailed descriptions of characters, whether they are important to the story or not. I find Stoker’s descriptions both interesting and confusing. He himself being a foreigner, writes foreigners in a seemingly unfavorable light. One particularly thought-provoking moment is when Dracula shares with Harker his desires to master the English language. Harker recounts the conversation:

“Well, I know that, did I move and speak in your London, none there are who would not know me for a stranger. That is not enough for me. Here I am noble. I am a Boyar. The common people know me, and I am master. But a stranger in a strange land, he is no one. Men know him not, and to know not is to care not for… I have been so long master that I would be master still, or at least that none other should be master of me” (27). 

Words that are repeated more than once include: know, stranger, and master. Dracula cannot live without having power over others. He sees himself as more important and deserving of honor than other people; in fact, he feels entitled to it. He distinguishes himself from humans, conveying how void of humanity he really is. His sole use of masculine pronouns when describing the “common people” suggests that he is only concerned about the opinions of men. He finds manipulating women easier and need not worry about their reactions. 

I think Dracula’s attitude here somewhat reflects the mindset many immigrants (including Stoker) had during that time period. Not much dealing with needing absolute control over others, but to fit in with the general public would make their lives immensely more tolerable. They might have felt entitled to the same treatment native English people received, but unlike Dracula, had no means to change their situation. 

The passage gives the sense that Dracula believes English culture is superior to his own, and himself superior to all others. Perhaps this could help explain Stoker’s true thoughts on foreigners, but it is still very much unclear. Dracula is supposed to be viewed as undeniably pure evil, and his corrupting influence on others could reflect fears of foreign culture replacing English culture. Then again, Van Helsing is also a foreigner, but a force of good. The fact that some foreign cultures are seen as more acceptable than others adds an interesting layer to the novel. 

3 thoughts on ““Build the wall!” – Bram Stoker, maybe”

  1. I find your analysis that “Dracula believes English culture is superior to his own, and himself superior to all others” very thought-provoking. There’s a fascinating tension between Dracula being “at the top of the food chain,” as we called it last class, and also seeking to fit into British society. It makes me wonder about the distinctions between vampire and human culture (or supernatural and human culture) and English and Transylvanian culture. Perhaps Dracula uses this speech to Jonathan to justify why he would be worthy of participating in “superior” English culture. Perhaps he perceives vampire culture as above all superior to human culture, but wishes to infiltrate vampire culture into English society. In any case, the tension between the cultures and the desire for admiration relates to the gothic tenet of the sublime. Dracula feels the need to tell Jonathan how grand and excellent he is, while simultaneously expressing that Transylvania is not the most excellent location he could reach.

  2. This is such an interesting passage and your analysis is very thought-provoking. In fact, Dracula’s view on accents and perfection is still part of an ongoing discussion in linguistics: Does it make sense to aim for a native speaker level in a second language? There is still no clear answer for that, however, in language tutoring, Count Dracula would be advised to lower his expectations and to set more feasible goals.

    What this discussion also shows is that British English as a variety is seen as the most desirable one. We could link this to concepts like imperialism and Social Darwinism…

  3. Several of the other texts that we have read this semester also deal with themes surrounding the foreign and fears surrounding the foreign. I’ve noticed that many of these focus just on how foreign influences are dangerous and harmful to British society. Your take on how some foreigners and foreign cultures are “good” is quite interesting as we’ve only really seen the foreign being shown in a negative light. The idea that Victorians might have seen some foreign cultures as good is something that I haven’t thought about before and it would be interesting to see if any other sources from this period agree with the view that Stoker is presenting.

Leave a Reply