Gothic Literature was a natural progression from romanticism, which had existed in the 18th Century. Initially, such a ‘unique’ style of literature was met with a somewhat mixed response; although it was greeted with enthusiasm from members of the public, literary critics were much more dubious and sceptical. Gothic writing is a style of literature that relies upon the evocation of moods, feelings and imagery for impact. This style of writing was developed during an age of great scientific discovery â€“ such literature marked a reaction against the prevailing ‘Age of Enlightenment’.
Many Gothic authors opposed the new-found faith and enthusiasm placed in these discoveries, believing that they restricted freedom of imagination. Consequently, Gothic writers inhabited areas where no answers are provided â€“ exploiting people’s fears and offering answers that are in stark contrast to the otherwise scientific explanations. Gothic writing is a style that depends upon the evocation of moods, which is reflected mainly in the writing style of a novel. ‘Dracula’ is written in the first person â€“ ‘I must have been asleep’ – with a constant change of narrator within chapters.
Wilde, however, wrote in the third person, omniscient, giving us the observer’s point of view whilst still showing us the intelligence and class of his characters through the language that they use â€“ ‘come, Mr Gray, my hansom is outside’. The diary entries or notes used in ‘Dracula’ are fragmented and have an epistolary structure ‘Jonathon Harker’s Journal’. This emphasises each of the character’s feelings of isolation and loneliness, adding to the appeal of the reader.
During the entries, Stoker goes to great lengths to show that his narrators are all rational and logical, ‘there was business to be done, and I could allow nothing to interfere with it’, and to show that their imaginations do not ‘run riot’ â€“ heightening the fear and interest of the reader, as a supposedly intelligent person is still shown as vulnerable. In ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ Dorian suffers from both actual and psychological isolation from his forced vulnerability. The reason why this happens is due to the increase of evil in him as the plot develops.
This is down to the corruptive character of Lord Henry, who increases his ‘terribly enthralling’ influence over him with the use of his ‘yellow book’- ‘For years Dorian Gray could not free himself from the influence of this book. ‘ The book becomes like a Holy Scripture to him and he lives a life devoted to bringing together new experiences and sensations with no regard for conventional standards of morality, or the consequences of his actions. He soon understands what has happened, but is unable to do anything about it by this time -‘You poisoned me with a book once.
I should never forgive thatâ€¦it does harm. ‘ The use of corruptive characters is also apparent in ‘Dracula’, as the corrupter is actually the Count himself, although Stoker shows his corruption as a more physical and more passionate act than the flattering and cerebral seduction of Lord Henry’s â€“ ‘her breast heaved softly. ‘ Corruptive characters were an important part of gothic writing, as not only does it show an immoral side to society, it also employs some sympathy towards the characters in the eyes of the reader.
Stoker presents psychological isolation through the individual diary entries of each character â€“ when each character is separated from the others they become isolated and vulnerable to Dracula’s attacks. Dracula has little power over them, however, when they are all together, and are able to break his ‘thrall’. Unexplained and uncertain events are a significant aspect of gothic text. The focus on mystery in ‘Dracula’ would have had a substantial effect on the reader in the 1890’s, as there was only one previous known author to write about vampires.
These nightmare realms of uncertainty are also present in Wilde’s novel. His audience was the same as Stoker’s, although earlier in the 1890’s, and his readers would suffer the same macabre interest in the sensational and supernatural when he described the painting, and how – ‘hour by hour, week by week, the thing on the canvas was growing old. ‘ Religion features quite frequently in Dracula, although the only real mention of it in Dorian Gray is when Basil quotes Isaiah when he looks at the portrait. ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, yet I will make them as white as snow. There is also a hidden implication in the ‘yellow book’ that Lord Henry gives to Dorian as a gift.
In Dracula, the ‘King-vampire’ may be seen to be a parody of Christ. Drinking blood bestows a sort of eternal life, and can be compared to the Catholic mass. To the God-fearing people of the 19th Century these references to Christ and religion would have had a profound effect on the way they viewed the novels. Including religious references in these novels would not only have captured the reader’s interest, but also given them the fear that what the authors are describing could be real.
Stoker makes it clear to the reader that the vampire is demonic and anti-Christian. He does this by offering perversions of Christianity in the novel. The first of these occurs with the character of Renfield who foreshadows the social disruption and insanity that will accompany Dracula’s descent upon England, or, in other words, modern civilization. Before most of the characters experience the wrath of Dracula, Renfield begins to act wild and speaks of the arrival of his lord. This is one of the perversions of Christianity that Stoker employs to show the demonic nature of the vampire.
Dr. Seward notes in his diary, ‘All he would say was: – ‘I don’t want to talk to you: you don’t count now; the Master is at hand. ‘ The attendant thinks it is some sudden form of religious mania that has seized him. It is here that Renfield acts as a demonic form of John the Baptist. Just as John the Baptist prepared people for the coming of Christ, Renfield prepares people for the coming of his lord and master, Dracula. Another example of a perversion of Christianity is Lucy Westenra. After her blood has been drained several times by the Count, she finally dies on September 20th.
An article in the ‘Westminster Gazette’ dated September 25th says that many children had gone missing and had returned after being ‘wounded in the throat’. The children all describe that they had been ‘lured away’ by the ‘bloofer lady. ‘ The newspaper article indicates that the first cases of missing children were reported around September 22nd or 23rd. The reader can assume that the ‘bloofer lady’ is Lucy Westenra, and this would mean that she rose three days after death. This is a perversion of the Christian Resurrection, and it reminds the reader of the evil from the East that is spreading westward into modern civilization.
The folk legends and traditions Van Helsing draws upon ‘He may not enter anywhere at first, unless there be some member of the household to bid him to come; though afterwards he can come as he pleases’ suggest that the most effective weapons in combating supernatural evil is symbols of unearthly good. In the fight against Dracula, these symbols take the form of the icons of Christian faith, such as the crucifix â€“ ‘I have placed the crucifix over the head of my bed. ‘ The novel is so invested in the strength and power of these Christian symbols that it reads, at times, like a propagandistic Christian promise of salvation for the innocent.
A main theme in both novels could be moral behaviour; though a contrast in these could be that Stoker focuses more on sexual morality. In the personification of Dorian Gray, it is shown how man always struggles with the unwritten laws and rules of modern society and human forbidden desire. Dorian Gray embodies immoral behaviour, not at the beginning but after he decides that he can do whatever he wants, for the painting will take all the burden of his shame. The complete denial of responsibility in Sibyl’s death is but the beginning of his moral degradation.
He relishes in observing the mutilation of the picture, and therefore his soul. His further meetings with Henry simply magnify this descent into extravagance: “… You were the most unspoiled creature in the whole world. Now, I don’t know what has come over you. You talk as if you had no heart, no pity in you. It is all Henry’s influence. I see thatâ€¦” Although Dracula has many scenes that seem to revel in sexual language and sensual description, these pleasures are heightened to a Victorian and Christian sense of morality.
In writing a novel that implicitly combines sin with sexuality in a moralizing way, Stoker is also given free reign to write incredibly lurid and sensual scenes. The themes of Christian redemption and the triumph of purity are successful, but the sexually loaded scenes that of the three female vampires closing in seductively on a powerless but desiring Jonathan Harker, for example, tend to linger longest in a reader”s mind. Colour is particularly noticeable in both of the novels â€“ both the authors use white as a sign of purity and innocence â€“ ‘All three had brilliant white teeth’.
It is the ‘white purity’ of Dorian’s boyhood that Lord Henry finds so captivating, much in the way that Harker had ‘some longing’ towards the three evil sisters he encountered. Red is also indicative of passion and liveliness â€“ ‘rose-red youth’ in Dorian Gray, and in Dracula it is used more widely for blood, stained purity and passion â€“ ‘the ruby of their voluptuous lips’. White is used to indicate the goodness and virtue of Dorian Gray -‘You are the most unspoiled creature in the whole world. ‘ However, this fades as the picture starts to change.
When ordering flowers for Sibyl he asks for ‘as few white ones as possible’ showing his loss of virtuousness, and the lack of need for it. One of the main contrasts in these two novels is the use of female characters. The main and almost only female character in the entire novel of Dorian Gray is Sibyl Vane. Her death happened on the verge of Dorian’s transformation ‘why is it that I cannot feel this tragedy as much as I want to? ‘ She is the entire innocent, beauty and purity that are in him. ‘She is everything to me’.
Sibyl’s portrayal of Juliet from Shakespeare’s tragedy ‘Romeo and Juliet’ foreshadows the doomed nature of Sibyl’s relationship with Dorian Gray. Women don”t play a substantial or crucial part in the novel. In the novel, women are present, but remain very shallow and stereotypical. Most of the women who do appear are upper class women, except for Sybil Vane. Even though Sybil Vane plays an important part in Dorian”s life for a while, her character remains unimportant, it”s the woman she plays he falls in love with. ‘When is she Sybil Vane? ‘Never. ‘ When she fails on stage, it doesn’t matter to Dorian who she really is beyond the parts she played.
Further in the novel, women seem only present at gatherings and meetings, but they seem neither of any importance to the story nor to the main characters. In contrast, the female characters in ‘Dracula’ are more dominating figures. The three ‘weird sisters’ that Harker encounters in Dracula’s castle are both his dream and his nightmare â€“ they in fact embody both the dream and the nightmare of the Victorian male imagination in general.
The sisters represent what the Victorian ideal stipulates women should not be â€“ ‘deliberately voluptuous’ and sexually aggressive ‘which was both thrilling and repulsive’ â€“ thus making their beauty both a promise of sexual fulfilment and a curse. However, this sexual proficiency threatens to undermine the foundations of a male dominated society by compromising men’s ability to reason and maintain control. ‘Dracula’ addresses the fear of things we cannot prove scientifically and rationally, and the ways we still rely on magic, ritual and faith to comfort and even to save us in an age of scientific curiosity and achievement.
Stoker”s characters are in love with modern technology: with telegraphs and trains, with typewriters and gramophones ‘write it out for him on the typewriter’ and primitive recording devices. As well, there are references to scientific and medical advances such as the ‘transfusion of blood’, which aim to dispel all mystery. The invasion ‘Dracula’ attempts provides a suggestion that people may be pompous and pretentious in feeling they can know and control everything: there are mysteries, which perhaps cannot be fully grasped. Dracula’ is defeated by human effort using tools of ritual, not by science or reason: ‘God”s madmen’ must do ‘wild work. ‘ To the reader, this would suggest that relying on such modernity would have a disastrous effect.
This would capture the attraction of the reader’s of the 19th century as they were beginning to use such progressive things. It would place a fearful belief in their minds that perhaps technology isn’t as successful as it is supposed to be. Although ‘The Picture of Dorian Gray’ is definitely described as a ‘Gothic’ text, it does not contain many of the features typical to a Gothic text.
There is no real particular mention of religion, animals/creatures or even any particularly bleak settings. However, in both novels loved ones and innocent people die, innocence and good is corrupted and there is a connection to sexuality. Both novels create an aspect of mystery for the reader of the 19th century. Stoker’s portrayal of a creature little known by the English public of the 1890’s would have been of fear inspiring fascination to read about. Though few would have read John Palidori’s vampire novel, more perhaps would have heard the tale of Vlad the Impaler.
He was a man who supposedly drank human blood or the blood of his war victims, and was in fact a ‘Dracule’. This basis in reality would add a sadistic interest to the novel. Wilde’s novel, though equally inexplicable, doesn’t create the same feeling of terror, but does raise a number of reservations in its reader. Both novels are seemingly successful texts in upholding the interest of the reader through many of the typical conventions of the Gothic tradition.