Noses, Nails, and Nosferatu

From the moment that British solicitor Jonathan Harker steps foot in Dracula’s fictionalized Eastern Europe, he is far out of his depth. He is blindsided at every turn by mysterious and unusual sights and experiences, forewarned by those on his path to not continue, and tossed about until he lands in the hands of one Count Dracula in his Transylvanian castle. The Count himself is a rather peculiar individual and one whose charming looks are often portrayed as part of his appeal–and while later events within the novel provide a basis for this appearance, it is a supposedly hideous and monstrous old man that Jonathan encounters when he first arrives in Transylvania. He details the count’s features, such as his “lofty domed forehead” (chapter 2) and hair that “[grew] scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere” (2) and “seemed to curl in its own profusion” (2). Altogether, Stoker illustrates to his readers that Dracula, put simply, does not look like our heroic British protagonists. Furthermore, when this passage is put into conversation with the text’s fixation on physiognomy, I would argue that Stoker’s grotesque description of Dracula’s Eastern European features in relation to his vampirism serves to alienate him from the “good” British characters he is juxtaposed against. The linkage of Dracula’s non-British appearance to his sinister nature suggests deeper underlying beliefs regarding physiognomy and Britain in the Age of Empire.

Dracula’s emphasis on physiognomy makes it impossible to ignore the deliberate word choices employed by Stoker: the Count’s initial features are intentionally not those the remainder of the work associates with beauty. In fact, before this description, Jonathan outwardly claims that his host is of a “marked physiognomy” (2), establishing that he considers Dracula’s features to be of some importance to his personality and morality. When a man who is by all means a “good” British citizen is faced with an aquiline nose, curly hair, and coarse hands, the implication of malice or immorality is undeniably present. To Jonathan, Dracula’s appearance is “strange,” “peculiar,” and “cruel,” altogether words that are undeniably negative; and when Dracula turns out to be sinister, it is revealed that his appearance has said so all along. A valiant crusade is led against this hideous Eastern European man by brave British men and women, and once more, through Stoker’s narrative, physiognomy is proven justified.

3 thoughts on “Noses, Nails, and Nosferatu”

  1. The emphasis on Dracula’s facial features is a very prominent tool used by Bram Stoker. I think the references to physical appearance function as one more mode of differentiating Dracula and his army as “other.” Stoker, as you point out, proceeds to compartmentalize the facial structure of Dracula as ugly, compared with the beauty of the English folks. One thing I would raise as a point of inquiry is that I do not get the sense that the three vampires that show up in Jonathan Harker’s dreams fall into this un-beautiful classification. I wonder why their relation to Dracula would not result in the same type of alienation from beauty.

    1. I do not think this complication you point out is actually as much of a complication as it appears to be. Groups of people are not just othered and dehumanized by being made ugly and monstrous, but they can also be othered and dehumanized by being oversexualized, especially asian women. It is notable to this observation that the three women are only described as beautiful to the extent that we are not even told basic details like their relation to Dracula.

  2. Agreed, Dracula is a great example of xenophobia for all the reasons you pointed out. Also, being that his main trait is drinking blood and spreading his vampirism, he is literally a parasite, which is how many xenophobes view immigrants. In addition to this, Dracula seems to mostly prey on women. This is another cornerstone of xenophobia, the fear that those from other countries will “take” and “harm” “their” women. This fear has been used to conjure up support by many political figures, a notable one from the last decade is Donald Trump. Dracula is an interesting read not just for the plot but also for what we can infer about what it says about human nature given it touches on many societal and social issues still prevalent today.

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