The Victorian age is at once identified generally as a time of nostalgic perfection and rigid oppression. It is the age of change and social advances as well as the age of the strict social structure and a severe regard for the customs of the past. During the later period, science had been seen to bring about numerous significant changes in the way people lived their lives, not always to the betterment of society and often creating situations in which the future effects were largely unknown. At the same time, there remained numerous unanswered questions regarding the role of the body and the functions it underwent, particularly as these concepts pertained to women, also considered the mysterious sex through no fault of their own. However, in this time of great social upheaval, women, too, were beginning to question their allotted place in society as more and more opportunities opened for them in the urban centers of the country, providing them with a means of supporting themselves and freeing themselves from the yoke of male domination. These positions were not the equal rights positions of modern times, so it was often difficult to determine whether one wanted to sacrifice freedom for comfort or comfort for freedom. Rarely was it possible to attain both? In reacting to and examining these various issues, numerous writers of the period opted to use analogies to explore the numerous possibilities. Bram Stoker, in his novel Dracula, uses the positive and negative concepts of blood to illustrate the various social positions taken during his time, including the positive and negative concepts of blood as a sign of life, a signal of sexual passion and release, and a symbol of the continuation of generations as well as the negative concepts of blood as a signifier of death, illness and the unknown and as a sign of evil.
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Blood in a positive light
Blood can be associated with a number of things that connote positive impressions, emotions, or ideas. The beating of a heart suggests the life-sustaining energy that pumps necessary blood through the veins and thus giving life. The presence of blood or a heartbeat within a system is so integral to life that the absence of either is taken as a sure sign of death. This simple fact of life was not a closely guarded secret among the literati but has been established knowledge for countless generations. In addition, the pulsing of blood through the body, as in heightened sexual awareness or passion, was and is often considered the ultimate experience of life, living at one’s fullest. Without pumping blood, heaving chests, and flushed cheeks, there can be no passion in the body and thus, somehow, less life in the individual. The experience of these heightened states of feeling provides a release, thus demonstrating the flowing of blood through the veins to be an essential and relieving exercise. Finally, blood in a positive sense can refer to the continuation of a family line as it is passed from one generation to the next, linking powerful families together or retaining the proud nobility of a long-forgotten and once-great race of men. All of these ideas of blood as a positive force are conveyed within the novel.
Blood as a sign of life
When Jonathan Harker first describes Count Dracula’s appearance to the reader, he uses the presence of blood, as it is evidenced in the color of the older man’s lips, as a sign of Dracula’s strong life force. “The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years” (19).
Blood and sexual passion
The three women who appear to Jonathan Harker in the Count’s castle are described in terms of over-red, over-ripe voluptuous sexual energy. “There was something about them that made me uneasy, some longing and at the same time some deadly fear. I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips” (41). The appearance of these women is continuously described in terms of these red lips and red tongue, associating them quickly with the color of the prostitute and the sexually wanton character. To be sure the association isn’t lost between the color and the concept of blood, Stoker even makes an outright reference to blood as the blond vampire’s breath is described “with a bitter underlying the sweet, a bitter offensiveness, as one smells in blood” (41).
Blood as a form of release
Blood as a symbol of the continuation of the generations
Blood as a continuation of the generations is a concept expressed early in the story by Count Dracula himself. In Chapter Three, he tells Jonathan of his family history, taking pride in particular in the blood that flows through his veins. “We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship” (31). He takes pride in the legends that say his blood contains the blood of the exiled witches of Scythia who could only find mates among the ‘devils in the desert’ and in the knowledge that one of his ancestors was actually Attila the Hun, one of the most blood-thirsty conquerors in history. This importance of the family connection gives Dracula the pride of place and the sense of nobility that his remote location, constrained movements, and the fear of the local people have now denied him. “We of Dracula blood were amongst their leaders, for our spirit would not brook that we were not free … the Szekelys – and the Dracula as their heart’s blood, their brains and their swords – can boast a record that mushroom growths like the Hapsburgs and the Romanoffs can never reach” (33). Rather than being glad that these warlike and very tumultuous times are now long past, Dracula seems to miss them, insisting that the cost of blood has now become too dear to world leaders and peace is made too quickly for the honorable spirit of the past.
Thus, in addition to seeing blood as a positive force in signifying the continuation of generations, Dracula invokes one more way in which it can be found in a positive light within the book, given one has the same outlook on things. As Jonathan Harker begins to settle in at the castle, Dracula tells him about the blue flames that were seen in the woods. As he does so, he mentions the fierce fighting that has taken place over these lands in the past: “it was the ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon and the Turk. Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders” (23). That blood given in the name of the battle was a badge of honor and thus a positive aspect of blood is again illustrated as Dracula talks about himself in another age as he went again and again into Turkey-land, “though he had to come alone from the bloody field where his troops were being slaughtered” (32).
Blood in a negative light
While blood can be seen in a positive light, it is much more often associated with concepts that are considered from a more negative point of view. When blood becomes manifest, such as when it appears on the outside of the body, it is typically used to convey the idea of death. Whether it is explicitly seen or merely suggested by the actions of the various characters in the scene, the presence of blood not contained by appropriate blood vessels indicates death has either come or is not long in following. However, blood can be seen in a negative light in other ways as well. The Victorians were just beginning their scientific explorations into the mysteries of the human bloodstream, how illness was conveyed, and the mysteries of the flesh. These were often terrifying concepts primarily based upon their unknowns. Understanding the Victorian’s fear of such an unknown substance, it is not surprising to find blood as a sign of illness or weakness within the characters in Stoker’s novel. Finally, the color of blood was easily associated, because of these more prosaic associations, with the concept of evil. Thus, anything that appeared the color of blood was necessarily associated with the unknown, illness, and death, found here within all of the evil characters.
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Blood as a signifier of death
The first use of blood as an indication of death within the novel appears as a young woman arrives at the Count’s castle attempting to win back from him the baby that was stolen from her. While she beat on the door of the castle demanding entrance, Harker remains upstairs witnessing the arrival of the wolves, who stream into the courtyard to attack the woman. Harker remarks that the woman gave no cry, but the wolves left shortly afterward licking their lips, indicating the presence of blood, coupled with his innate knowledge that the woman was better off dead.
Blood as a source of illness
Victorian fear of the unknown.
Blood as a sign of evil
Throughout the novel, Stoker continues to associate the presence of blood outside the body, or the color of blood manifest on the body, with signs of evil. This is introduced with Jonathan Harker’s first glimpse of Count Dracula as the coachman who meets his carriage at the pass to take him the rest of the way to the castle. Although it was dark and little could be seen, Harker indicates, “I could only see the gleam of a pair of very bright eyes, which seemed red in the lamplight, as he turned to us” (10). The redness of the three women Harker meets in the castle represent his first real brush with immediate death, prompting him to later comment, “As I look round this room, although it has been to me so full of fear, it is now a sort of sanctuary, for nothing can be more dreadful than those awful women, who were – who are – waiting to suck my blood” (44).