Saturday, March 9

The Monster in the Mirror

I have often enthused about the writer's immense power to make a great point.  This point is frequently hidden inside allegory, which allows the writer's message to be heard by a huge audience without being repulsed by readers, or seen as socially unacceptable.  

Bram Stoker's Dracula is an astonishingly profound allegory for the strict sexual codes of the Victorian era.  

The exceptional poignancy and power of Stoker's metaphor really blew me away.  It was only through further research that I learned the story and purpose behind this Gothic novel.  

Unknowingly, I was doing the same thing as the Victorians had done - I was reading and enjoying it for its entertainment, without seeing the underlying message.  Now that I know what is really going on, I am astounded.  I can hardly believe how Stoker got away with this brazenly controversial statement!  


I am going to delve into the metaphor presently, trying my best to explain it succinctly so that you can glean the benefit from it without reading dozens of articles like me (unfortunately I have a research essay to write, too!).  But, also, I am obligated to make a quick disclaimer.

Due to the following sexual references, readers under the age of 15 are advised to exercise discretion.  

Alright, so let's begin at the beginning, by taking a quick look at Victorian society.  It was strictly patriarchal (controlled by men), and therefore, men were permitted freedoms and pleasures and given excuses for "natural" carnal instincts.  Women, on the other hand, represented purity, vulnerability, weakness and naive innocence.  A key point to understand is that for women, (or indeed homosexual males), expression of sexual desire was "unnatural".  "Unnatural" was seen, by extension, as "evil" and therefore "Satanic" or "ungodly".  

Another important context to understand is the link Victorians made between semen and blood.  They understood that both could pass disease, i.e. "bad blood" and "STDs".  While it may be a big stretch for our imaginations, Stoker used this link as the basis for his metaphor.  The process of a vampire penetrating another being and sucking their blood was code for sexual intercourse.  

I'm hoping that now you can begin to piece together the idea represented here.


Stoker, a homosexual in a society where 'sexual inversion' was punishable by law, used the concept of vampirism to create three images for readers' consideration:

1.  the potential for women (represented by the three 'weird sisters' who threaten to penetrate and suck the blood of the femininely passive protagonist, Jonathan Harker) to disrupt gender roles and begin to be more sexually aggressive, an idea that terrified the patriarchal Victorian society

2. the potential to see the ordinary heterosexual man (dominant and powerful with untameable carnal urges) as a monster, (Dracula, representing this man, forcefully penetrates an abject female victim - symbolic of rape)

3. the potential for homosexual desires between men, (Dracula is especially excited by the sight of Jonathan Harker's blood).  This image was particularly perverse to Victorian society.


This is an aspect that particularly amazed me.  Throughout the story, Stoker makes comparisons between the supposed villain, Count Dracula, and the supposed hero, Van Helsing.  Both are depicted invasively penetrating female protagonist, Lucy, (one with teeth, the other with hypodermic needles), in acts of arrogance and assertion.  While religion and society condemned those who violated sexual codes (homosexuality, sexually active women, rape, etcetera), those in the medical profession licensed the power to penetrate.

The aim was to make the reader unsure about their perception of good and evil, light and dark.  If that's not enough, have a think about this metaphor.

In the opening chapters, Jonathan Harker is using his mirror to shave when Count Dracula approaches him from behind.  Dracula has no reflection in this mirror.  It can be argued, that his presence in the reflection would be redundant when a monster's presence has already been established.  The monster is no one, "except myself".

House of Dracula - Nosferatu


  • Craft, C. (1984) Kiss Me with those Red Lips: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker's Dracula.  Representations 8.  p107 -133.  
  • Podonsky, A. M. (2010).   Bram Stoker’s Dracula: a reflection and rebuke of Victorian Society.  Vol.2 No.2 p1-3.  Retrieved from <>

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