Vampire religion

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20 Scopus citations

Abstract

THIS ESSAY HIGHLIGHTS AND SEEKS to trace the conflicted logic of the strong religious motivation exemplified in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897). First it analyzes the tensions in Stoker's polemic against the primitive other of religion/ superstition, setting that polemic off against those of two late-Victorian anthropologists, William Robertson Smith and James Frazer. For these theorists, the basis of the superstitious mentality lies in the principle of taboo, according to which the divine and the unclean are one and the same and divinity manifests itself in contagious physical transmission. Dracula on the level of its overt homiletic rhetoric presents the campaign waged against vampirism by Van Helsing and his friends as an allegory of the suppression of wicked archaic superstition in the name of enlightened, spiritualized Christian religion. Yet the novel is itself an emanation of a deeply superstitious mentality: it powerfully endorses a moral conception (a familiar one to the Victorian middle classes) based on the perils of the contagious transmission of uncleanness, it portrays the disgustingly filthy Count as an object of religious veneration, and it ascribes frightening magical agency to religious instruments like crucifixes and communion wafers. Along the way it proclaims an ideology of the violent purification of society from the influence of enemies of religion, particularly unclean women and, implicitly, Jews - the ideology against which Frazer particularly warns as posing a lethal danger for the future of European civilization. The argument of Dracula about the relations of religion and superstition is irresolvably contradictory. At the same time, Stoker carries out an exposé (or offers a case in point) of the perversely reflexive relations obtaining between vampirism and Christian religion in the age of the dominance of evangelicalism. He echoes earlier writers, notably Feuerbach, in diagnosing a strain of vampiric sadism at the heart of Christian piety. In its theme of erotically charged blood-drinking, Dracula evokes in particular the dominant motifs of the Wesleyan hymnal, and thus bears witness to the pathology that energizes Victorian spirituality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-121
Number of pages22
JournalRepresentations
Volume79
DOIs
StatePublished - Aug 1 2002

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies
  • Arts and Humanities(all)
  • Sociology and Political Science

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