Fall is here! This is not a drill! It’s time to finally feel a slight chill in the air. The leaves are going to change. Pumpkin Spice Latte is back (if that’s your thing). It’s also the time of year that I love to cuddle up with Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s Frankenstein. I am not sure if there is a book that I love to read more. Especially if it is coffee shop reading in the fall. It is a part of my yearly pilgrimage into the holiday season.
However, this year, I am going to be doing something different.
I am reading Dracula by Bram Stoker instead.
I want something different—but not too different.
Stoker and Shelley seem to be guardians of the classic gothic genre. What binds them in similarity is their exploration of new technology. Shelley’s technology examines how far humans are willing to go to act like god. Stoker’s shows technology as a new path for people to possess more agency in their lives. Using traveling typewriters and railroads might seem a little slow to us these days, however they’re apparently very useful when it comes to hunting the undead.
Another reason I want to read Stoker is his…
Treatment of Women and the Male Ego
Shelley’s Elizabeth dies because of Victor’s ego in making the creature, on their wedding night no less. Stoker’s Mina manages, despite the bickering among the men, to be the active agent in Dracula’s downfall. It is interesting to see between the books how women are treated. This is the nineteenth century, so I am not really holding much hope for real respect or whatever, but if you want to fall down the feminist theory rabbit hole about vampires, Nina Auerbach’s Our Vampires, Ourselves is a fun read. What interests me is that, while Mina and Lucy are prey for Dracula, it’s Mina whose agency leads the team to Dracula; not Lucy, the pure domestic Victorian.
I think that the real reason that I want to read Dracula this year is to look at Stoker’s view of women. I don’t really need to read another book written by a dead white man. However, for some reason, I have a strange curiosity about it. Stoker wrote Dracula on the eve of a new century, and it has been argued that Mina is Stoker’s version of the “New Woman,” a person who embraces their bodies, their brains, and their agency. It would be a long time into the 20th century, and a few waves of feminism, before the idea of a “new woman” was actualized. While there is talk among the men about saving “poor Mina,” they wouldn’t be able to bring down the vampire without her.
Finally, monsters are freaking cool.
It took me years to come to terms with how monsters affect us. Monsters are the mirrors we should be holding up to ourselves, and finding our failings as human beings. For Frankenstein the monster was a manifestation intense emotions that Shelley couldn’t publicly show. The creature killing Elizabeth on her wedding night can mirror Shelley’s feelings of being a daughter to her mother. (Mary Wollstonecraft died from complications of the birth). Shelley showed us what the would would look like if we didn’t need mothers. In the emotional and physical sense. Dracula is also a monster of repressed emotions, his vampires were free to explore “base” feelings on others. If it’s an allegory of male Victorian sexuality. The vampires, being on the margins, are free to explore their own sexuality. They frighten the men’s sensibilities in the novel (Jonathan Harker is consistently scandalized—I am pretty impressed he survives, to be honest). This is a chance for us to explore our own vices and our own dark feelings.
I am looking forward to taking this journey.