Mirror, Mirror On the Wall, Show Me My Narrative Foil

Dracula is mired in juxtaposition: Dracula and Van Helsing, Jonathan and Harker, Mina and Lucy, Lucy and the three vampire women. Stoker uses these comparisons to convey who or what is “good” or “right” in the world.

As we have thoroughly discussed in class, Dracula is obviously the bad, terrible, not good side of imperialism: the consequences. He is conniving, evil, and preys on society’s most vulnerable (women, obviously); worst of all, he’s a foreigner. He brings Jonathan to his castle to help him practice English until he is “content if [he is] like the rest”, AKA until nobody can tell he is not from England. Dracula is a personification of the perceived threat of reverse colonization.

Van Helsing, on the other hand, is kind, wise, and of a far more acceptable old age than Dracula. His goal is to kill Dracula and prevent from inserting himself into British life. He saves Lucy’s soul and helps our merry band of Englishmen (plus one American and one woman) enact revenge on her tormentor. He comes to England on an invitation from Dr. Seward (Stoker 122). Despite not saying everything at the beginning, Van Helsing is very honest in his intentions and actions. Because of his opposition to Dracula, Van Helsing is the “right” kind of foreigner: He helps protect England, maybe even improve it by sharing his knowledge of vampires.

Keeping in mind Stoker’s origins in mind, I think the addition of Van Helsing to Dracula’s imperialism metaphor adds another layer by implying that it is okay for foreigners to land on British soil as long as they do it legitimately. Illegal immigrants like Dracula will snatch up available real estate property, assault good British women, and create a threat to British children. However, invited foreigners are allowed and welcome, especially if they help root out their illegal counterparts. This helps balance Stoker’s status as an Irishman living in England with the obvious xenophobia in Dracula because he himself was a contributing member of British society.

Red, White, and… Black?

Visual juxtaposition is a wonderful medium, both in literature and visual arts, through which a creator can express different themes or messages. Dracula has an abundance of light-dark contrast, only it often adds a third color: red. Stoker uses this trio of colors to communicate the fear of foreignness being allowed to infiltrate Victorian life.

Why do I say “allowed”? Lucy. In chapter 10, as Dr. Seward and Van Helsing are finishing Lucy’s (first) blood transfusion, they finally notice the two red puncture marks on her neck, conveniently hidden by–wait for it–a black ribbon. (Stoker 133-4) It is fairly clear to readers that the marks are from Dracula, who has been feeding on Lucy for quite a while now. To put it a different way, a foreign man who feeds on an innocent, unknowing, upper-class English girl has gone undetected long enough for her to nearly die several times. In the Age of Empire, with foreigners streaming steadily in and out of England, Victorians feared for the purity of their homeland. Between their “responsibility” to “civilize” the rest of the world and the pseudoscience of social Darwinism, a situation like Lucy’s is a nightmare. The two punctures on Lucy’s neck are reminiscent of Dracula’s red eyes when Mina finds him hovering over Lucy on the cliff (Stoker 101). Even if he’s not in the room with Lucy and the doctors, his presence is still felt. However, Lucy has taken active steps to hide the evidence. In the same way that Dracula hides in darkness, she hides his bite with a black tie. To add insult to injury, it takes someone from a similar region to Dracula to discover what is ailing her and save her life. Van Helsing is the most foreign character in the book so far, and he is 100%, genuine human (so far). Additionally, Van Helsing is incredibly secretive about what he thinks is causing Lucy’s illness. It takes a secretive foreigner to root out another well-hidden foreigner, despite the efforts of several well-educated Englishmen. Stoker is taking this fear of foreign subterfuge and turning into a plot device. But hey, who knows, maybe our intelligent, strong Englishmen will be able to save the day without any further help from Van Helsing.

Call Me Ghost Ishmael

Passage: “I should be preaching… opposed to opulence.” (Braddon 292)

Lady Audley’s Secret is filled to the brim with mysteries and, well, secrets. What strikes me, though is that we know nothing about our narrator. Most 3rd-person-perspective novels have a nameless, unidentified narrator who exists solely as the eye through which we see characters & events. n Lady Audley’s Secret, however, our narrator has personality that usually leads to readers discovering they had some connection to the events unfolding before our eyes. They comment on different characters’ actions and thoughts; they directly address the readers so much in the first two paragraphs of the book that I genuinely thought the whole novel would be told in second person; they know and see things that an individual watching this unfold shouldn’t know. They also show favor or disdain towards certain characters, particularly Lady Audley and Robert. As in this passage, though, I would like to focus on Lady Audley.

The narrator has never minced words with Lady Audley. They certainly did not when describing her portrait in chapter eight, going so far as to call her “a beautiful fiend”.  Unlike that passage, though, our narrator dives straight into her “wretchedness” (Braddon 292). There is none of the narrative objectivity seen in the age-old “all seeing eye” narrator here. This familiarity and frankness implies that our narrator knew Lady Audley very personally, including her secrets. Sir Michael knows close to nothing about his wife. Alicia would certainly be heard calling Lady Audley “wretched” that many times in so few sentences. George might also call her such horrid things. Phoebe and Luke, however, are the only ones that know a large enough secret for Lady Audley to continue paying their bills; Luke is as likely as Alicia to bad-mouth “my lady” like this. Frankly, I doubt he would even think to compare her to “a half-starved sempstress” (Braddon 292). So, my theory? Our narrator is either George’s ghost or Phoebe. If we were being told this story by George’s ghost, it would explain how they know Lucy, Robert, and Harcourt Talboys so personally and how so many private scenes are described. Ghosts have also become a repeated visual in the novel. Sure, according to normal ghost rules they aren’t omniscient, but how are we, the living, supposed to know that for sure

A Strange Decision

Passage: Page 34, “‘What’s this… the public-house, Luke.'”

This passage is short, only a few lines of description and dialogue as Phoebe and her cousin Luke go through Lady Audley’s jewelry. Luke finds a secret drawer, the contents of which Phoebe steals. The biggest point of repetition here is “rubbish”. The little shoe and lock of hair Phoebe takes are only of sentimental worth, nothing else. So why take it? Perhaps the secretiveness is what inspired her. She seems mischievous and cryptic with her “curious smile” and her comment to Luke about “[his] public-house”. Additionally, the narrator takes the time to describe Phoebe’s eyes dilating as she sees the contents of the drawer. The parcel was, after all, kept in a secret, locked drawer that presumably only Lady Audley had access to. But say the secretiveness is not why she took it–maybe it was the implications of the objects. A local widowed baronet marries a young, impoverished governess… only for it to be revealed she might have, or once had, a child. The situation, especially combined with Lucy’s refusal to share anything of her past with anyone, could quickly become a blazing scandal. Yes, Phoebe is well taken care of by the Audleys, but what else could she get if she held that threat over Lady Audley’s head, both for herself and for her fiancé? The passage is a lovely piece of could-be foreshadowing that sinks its hooks into the reader with how infuriatingly vague it is about Phoebe’s motives compared to the other characters.