It is not unusual for critical approaches to Dracula to consider its series of binary oppositions. Nina Auerbach typifies this approach when she writes “Dracula is in love less with death or sexuality than with hierarchies...the gulf between male and female, antiquity and newness, class and class, England and non-England, vampire and mortal, homoerotic and heterosexual love, infuses its genre with a new fear: fear of the hated unknown” (Auerbach 66-67). Clear oppositions are indeed initially established in the text, but in the course of its reading deconstruct themselves, presumably due to the multiple and contradictory viewpoints of the Victorian era in which Bram Stoker lived. In particular, the binary of science and nature falls apart under close examination. Dracula, who is nature at its most primal, “red in tooth and claw,” evokes Darwinian fears of nature breaking down the realm of logical society. But, curiously, when faced with this threat to the objective scientific viewpoint, the Crew of Light all but abandons reason, resorting to a hodgepodge of religious artifacts and logical methods in an attempt, ultimately, to kill the idea that science itself is only a result of natural evolution, inseparable from the phenomena it attempts to catalog.

    The Romantic period emerged largely as a reaction to the industrial revolution and the new uses and development of science in the late 18th century. Frequently, Romanticism evidenced reverence for a nature that was wilder and more intense. Stoker idolized several English Romantic authors, even going so far as to seek out Walt Whitman on a visit to the United States. The more Gothic themes of Dracula are clearly a direct lineage from Romantic novels like Frankenstein, whose epistolary structure is remarkably similar. With such Romantic influence, one might expect an idealization of nature too in Dracula. And there are many passages in which nature's beauty transcends the horror of the novel, including epic tableaus of the Transylvania wilderness and glimmers of nature of London, characterizing Stoker as a neo-Romantic of sorts.

    Romanticism began a century before the publication of Dracula, but the associations of increased industrialization persisted in the Victorian era. Increased urbanization, commerce, and industrial-ization marked the expansion of the British Empire under the reign of Queen Victoria. Also expanding were the boundaries of human knowledge, with the telegraph, the phonograph, new railroads, and new branches of science and medicine, including psychology. Amongst this remarkable growth of knowledge came the revolutionary thought of Darwin, whose proposal that man was no different than the beasts surrounding him shook the very foundations of intellectual thought. The Romantic vision of nature faced new opposition with the advent of the theory of natural selection. When Tennyson wrote of “nature red in tooth and claw,” he evoked the fear that in a Darwinian world religion held no answers. This new nature was a looming monster that destroyed God and humbled man.

    Stoker’s characterization of Dracula epitomizes these fears. The Count is frequently associated with nature. His castle sits “on the very edge of a terrible precipice...As far as the eye can reach is a sea of green tree-tops, with occasionally a deep rift where there is a chasm. Here and there are silver threads where the rivers wind in deep gorges through the forests” (31). This landscape renders it literally a fortress of nature, with the abyss surrounding it representing great unknowable natural forces. Dracula’s physical form is also connected to nature. Jonathan describes his first impression of the Count: “his face was a strong—a very strong—aquiline...and hair growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere...the mouth...with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips...his ears were pale and at the tops extremely pointed” (23-24). The animalistic qualities are impossible to ignore, made even clearer by the description of the nose as aquiline, or eagle-like. Jonathan notes the Count’s hands have “hairs in the centre of the palm” and nails that “were long and fine, and cut to a sharp point” (24).  Later, as he attacks the sleeping Dracula with a shovel, “the head turned, and the eyes fell upon [him], with all their blaze of basilisk horror” (54).  The basilisk is a mythical dragon-like creature, linking Dracula to the reptile, who is among the most primordial in Darwin’s natural hierarchy.

    These animal features are also behavioral, notably when Jonathan sees Dracula “slowly emerge from the window and begin to crawl down the castle wall...face down, with his cloak spreading out around him like great wings...the fingers and toes grasp the corners of the stone...just as a lizard moves along a wall” (39). Jonathan records that he sees “the Count go out in his lizard fashion” (39). These two comparisons to a lizard further cement the reptilian characteristics of Dracula. The women vampires of the castle, too, impress Jonathan with their nonhuman behavior. As they are upon him, about to suck his blood, one “arched her neck” and “licked her lips like an animal” (42). The horror in these images comes from the combination of human appearance and animal behavior, a fear that underneath the civilized exterior of a gentleman Count lies a beast.

    The Count displays an impressive control over animals. On the initial journey to the castle, disguised as the driver, he at one point leaves Jonathan surrounded by a ring of wolves. Upon Dracula’s return, Jonathan “heard his voice raised in a tone of imperious command [and] as he swept his long arms, as though brushing aside some impalpable obstacle, the wolves fell back” (20). Later, when the howling of the wolves reaches the castle, Dracula says affectionately, “Listen to them—the children of the night. What music they make!...Ah, sir, you dwellers in the city cannot enter into the feelings of the hunter'” (24). Dracula distinguishes between those who live in urbanized environments and those in the wilderness, suggesting that civilization has cut off Jonathan’s natural instincts. Dracula also controls the elements. The weather shifts to allow Dracula safe passage into Whitby harbor, an event repeated more explicitly upon the return trip to Transylvania. The captain of the schooner keeps a log, and in it describes how one of the men “had been sheltering behind the deck-house, as there was a rain-storm, when he saw a tall, thin man...come up the companion-way” (81). The rain appears just as Dracula does. As he kills the crew, it grows into a maelstrom, one that hits the docks of England along with Dracula. Nature has landed in all its fury.

    Dracula’s opponents are associated with science, knowledge, and technology. Before his diary even begins, Dr. Seward is intrinsically connected to technology, as a parenthetical note reads “kept in phonograph” (61), a startlingly new invention for Stoker to include. Seward is also a psychiatrist, and studies his patient Renfield with intense scientific scrutiny, hoping to find the cause of his madness. When Renfield commences eating birds, Seward wonders:

  1. what would have been his later steps? It would almost be worthwhile to complete the experiment. It might be done if there were only a sufficient cause. Men sneered at vivisection, and yet look at its results today! Why not advance science in its most difficult and vital aspect—the knowledge of the brain? Had I even the secret of one such mind...I might advance my own branch of science to a pitch compared with which BurdonSanderson’s physiology or Ferrier’s cause would be as nothing. (71)

This passage goes beyond scientific method, although both doctor and patient are here involved in a devised experiment. Both pioneers Seward invokes were among the first to practice vivisection. Stoker equates scientific advancement with the cutting apart or deconstruction of nature. Seward’s mentor Van Helsing is a “philosopher and a metaphysician, and one of the most advanced scientists of his day” (106). The professor soon demonstrates his adherence to scientific principles. Examining Lucy, he declares “there is no functional cause...and yet there is cause; there is always cause for everything” (108). To find an explanation for all natural occurrences is of course a main tenet of science. The invasion of nature into a scientific realm occupied by these men, a realm more used to invading nature itself, naturally provokes a disagreement. If science has always quested to control nature, now nature returns to invade science.

    The Crew of Light’s resistance to this uncontrolled invasion of nature is itself less than scientific. Van Helsing decks Lucy’s room with garlic and Seward notes “the Professor’s actions were certainly odd and not to be found in any pharmacopoeia that I ever heard of” (121).  He goes on:  “It is well we have no sceptic here, or he would say that you were working some spell to keep out an evil spirit” (121). Observing children with bite marks after Lucy’s death, Seward attempts to apply reason, saying “there is some cause in common” (170), and when questioned further, “I do not know what to think, and I have no data on which to found a conjecture” (170). These events are beyond the realm of data collection and analysis. At one point, this leads Van Helsing to question science itself: “Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explain not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs” (171). He proceeds to spout a long list of things found in nature that are impossible, according to science, preceding his list with “things done today in electrical science which would have been deemed unholy by the very men who discovered electricity—who would themselves not so long before have been burned as wizards” (171). His proof for the apparently impossible list is that “we all know—because science has vouched for the fact” (172). This is not a declaration of the inadequacies of science—it is a confirmation of its ability to both observe and perform the impossible. This insistence on scientific ability masks the contradictory attitudes of the characters.

    Van Helsing then tells Seward he merely “wants [him] to believe” (172), before informing him that Lucy has come back from the dead. One must first accept a difficult truth before attempting to conquer it with science. Even accepting the impossible (that they are combating a vampire), they still attempt to use the scientific method. Van Helsing declares “we, too, are not without strength. We have on our side power of combination – a power denied to the vampire kind; we have resources of science; we are free to act and think” (210). He continues, “we have here much data, and we must proceed to lay out our campaign” (213). Even if facing a supernatural foe, Van Helsing still turns to the “data” at hand, and intends to use the “resources of science,” attempting still to hold to the traditional binary. In truth the resources are largely spiritual rather than scientific—crucifixes, stakes, and the Eucharist. The methodology of the hunt is systematic and relies on both reason and trial and error, those staples of the scientific method. But already that pure scientific method has become striated with religion and superstition in its attempt to cope with a more primal nature.

    Notably, the scientific method has already been questioned in the novel by the character of Renfield. Dr. Seward’s patient suffers from a madness that is at times reminiscent of the scientific method itself. Seward describes his behavior, writing that he “was catching flies and eating them, and was keeping note of his capture by making nail-marks on the edge of the door between the ridges of padding” (109). He uses these flies in turn to catch spiders, and then the spiders to catch birds, with the goal of accumulating as many lives as possible. This collecting is organized and designed with specific intent, an experiment with the hypothesis that Renfield will grow stronger the more lives he collects. This systematic study is eventually revealed to be vampiric in nature. Renfield attacks Seward with a dinner knife, cutting his wrist and “licking up, like a dog, the blood which had fallen” (129). Later on, when he explains his actions in an attempt to convince Seward and company of his sanity, he tells them it was in order to gain life, for “the blood is the life.” What else is most of medical science, if not an effort to prolong life? Here Renfield is directly related to Dracula, as he is the only non-vampire character in the novel to drink blood voluntarily. He is also compared to a “dog” while doing it, dehumanizing him. But Renfield’s experimentation and attempts to extend his life through scientific methods also link him to the Crew of Light. Renfield’s science, however, is revealed to lapse back into raw nature, susceptible to the same brutal instincts as Dracula. The binary of science and nature, or more specifically any hierarchy between the two, reveals itself to be not so clear cut when we examine the actions of Stoker's characters. In the fight of good against evil, the side of good uses “the resources of science.”  But almost inevitably they find that they cannot adhere to a strictly scientific approach in this particular conflict. If Renfield exemplifies many aspects of the scientific method, he is also locked up in an asylum for it. 

    A postmodern lens helps somewhat reconcile these ambiguities. Postmodern critics attacked the realm of science in the 1990s, calling into question the objectivity of the scientific method in particular. Patricia Waugh writes in the The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism:

  1. sociologists of science have joined forces with post-modernists to claim not only the cultural situatedness and ideological constructedness of even scientific knowledge, but also the unverifiability of any reality affirmed by scientific claims or proofs. Scientific theory...may be empirically adequate without necessarily describing the world at all. Scientific discourses use models and metaphors from everyday language already imbued with ideological slants and suggestive connotations. (Waugh 303)

Postmodernists argue that science cannot escape its cultural surroundings, and that those surroundings affect its findings. They also call into question the scientific method itself, arguing that parts as simple as choosing a hypothesis can affect how an experiment is conducted and how data is interpreted. The attempt of science to conquer nature, in reality or as depicted in Dracula, is bound to be futile, as definitive truth can never be located. It is no wonder then, that Seward has “no data upon which to found a conjecture.” Nor is it surprising that faith gets mixed up in the methods of the Crew of Light. The language and ideology of religion were bound to seep into scientific practice in the Victorian era, even if the findings of science challenged the authority of the church itself. As they struggle for authority, the discourse of religion and the discourse of science infect one another.

    The Crew of Light demonstrates how scientists attempt to separate themselves from that which they observe. Although he suspects a vampire, Van Helsing does not take drastic preventative measures until Lucy is already turned by the Count. Even after Seward and Van Helsing have entered the tomb where Lucy, now vampire, lays, and seen her coffin empty and then full, they do not kill her. Van Helsing says “to act now would be to take danger from her for ever” (180). Why not kill her then and there, and never tell Arthur what they have done? Their hypothesis—that Lucy has been turned into a vampire—is not yet verified. Before action, proof must be found. Seward and Van Helsing sit and watch Renfield oscillate between madness and sanity, their observation becoming a sort of vampirism itself. Van Helsing wonders: “perhaps I may gain more knowledge out of the folly of this madman that I shall from the teaching of the most wise” (225). Just as Seward longs for “a sufficient cause” to experiment on the patient, Van Helsing longs for the growth of his own knowledge from the unfortunate circumstances of others. In both Lucy and Renfield’s cases, the scientists must wait and observe. This observation requires them to separate themselves from the subject that they study, looking down upon it. This observational separateness, considered necessary for the scientific method to operate correctly, is precisely the separateness that postmodern critics of science have called into question. Is science really objective, or is the observational method mixed in with the subject under observation?

    Nature is not separate from mankind, something that was dawning on the Victorians with the publication of On the Origin of Species. The Crew of Light, in their battle with Dracula, demonstrate behaviors similar to that of the Count, proving that nature lurks inside all of them. Throughout the course of several chapters, Lucy needs blood transfusions from every member of the Crew. These transfusions are as sexualized as any feeding Dracula performs. The first is from Arthur, her husband, prompting Van Helsing to say post-transfusion, “the brave lover, I think, deserve another kiss” (115). This kiss is not the only link to sex, as the men are all exhausted after they give their blood, spent as though they had just finished intercourse. Seward remarks that “it was with a feeling of personal pride that [he] could see a faint tinge of colour steal back into the pallid cheeks” (119), just as though Lucy had just finished a spirited romp in bed. Although these sexual transfusions are done for the good of Lucy, they fulfill the sexual desires of the men regardless. As Seward writes, “No man knows till he experiences it, what it is to feel his own life-blood drawn away into the veins of the woman he loves” (119). When the Crew goes to Picadilly to find the final boxes of dirt, they know that their entry into the house will be illegal. Godalming, a Lord whose “title ought to make it all right with the locksmith, and with any policeman that may come along” (261), tells Harker: “You had better not come with us in case there should be any difficulty, for under the circumstances it wouldn't seem so bad for us to break into an empty house. But you are a solicitor and the Incorporated Law Society might tell you that you should have known better”  (261). They both know the illegality of their mission and choose to bend the law regardless. Godalming abuses his title for illicit purposes, something that Dracula also uses to his advantage. The sexualized treatment of Lucy and breaking into the Picadilly house distance the Crew from societal rules and suggest a base nature inside of them that longs to see Dracula dead not as an opponent to science, but as an invader in their territory, their corner of nature. They begin to exist somewhere outside of the binary.

    These views have been remarked upon by some critics, notably Carroll Fry and Carla Edwards, who use the behavioral sciences in their critical approach. They choose the term “sociobiology,” which “suggests that a ‘whisper within’ leads us to programmed responses that transcend reason and the conscious mind....the whisper emanates not from symbolic intuition but from millions of years of adaptive behavior and inhabits the most basic level— the human gene” (Edwards 40). This approach looks at character motivation as coming from an evolutionary standpoint, particularly resonant when considering the rise of Darwinian theory in the Victorian era. Fry and Edwards write that the attacks by Dracula on Lucy and Mina indicate “that Dracula has not only seduced the community’s women but infected them with vampirism. Lucy becomes a vampire and other, not of the human species, and Mina seems well on the way to the same fate” (Edwards 52). Dracula has also previously boasted “that his progeny will dominate the human species” (Edwards 52). Considering this viewpoint, the scientists portrayed in Dracula fall prey to their own primal urges, driving off the vampire not because he is an evil scourge but because he is encroaching on their territory and their women, and indeed even threatening the propagation of their genes. The plot becomes natural selection in action. The Crew of Light tries to conquer Dracula, a natural force, but they are blind to their own natural urges. To take this approach one step further is to view all behavior in the novel as due to to genetics, insinuating that even as it attempts to fight back nature, science itself is a direct result of natural forces.

    Dracula does not remain strictly representative of nature, either, for the vampire was once a scientist as well. Van Helsing returns from researching the life of the Count and tells Seward that “he was in life a[n]...alchemist...the highest development of the science-knowledge of his time. He had a mighty brain, a learning beyond compare...there was no branch of knowledge of his time that he did not essay” (263).  Although Dracula represents a pure, violent nature, he at one point acquired a vast knowledge, paralleling that of Van Helsing. It is never revealed exactly how Dracula became a vampire, but it seems to have something to do with his “attend[ing] the Scholemance” (263) and having “dealings with the Evil One” (212). Despite being run by the devil, the Scholemance is, at its most basic, merely a school. Even if the devil corrupted Dracula, resulting in his eventual return from death as a vampire, Dracula only attended this school to attain further knowledge. After all, he had already amassed every “branch of knowledge of his time.” It is a desire for knowledge that drives him to dealing with the devil, so it is that attempt to learn more which results in his own vampirism. Van Helsing continues, comparing the “faculties of mind” of the Count to “only a child,” but admits that “he is growing, and some things that were childish at the first are now of man's stature. He is experimenting, and doing it well” (263). Through experimentation, Dracula is expand-ing his knowledge and mental abilities. Here Stoker turns Dracula into a metaphor for the growth of human knowledge as a whole. Just as prehistoric man used technology that was “childish at the first,” only growing in his abilities as he continued to experiment, so Dracula is able to expand his circle of victims through the use of his brain. He also further muddles the science-nature binary, being at once the scientist who is lapsed into raw nature and the natural who has evolved science—a combination in himself.

    The almost scientific method for killing vampires is established earlier in the text. Van Helsing tells Seward that in order to kill Lucy they must “cut off her head and fill her mouth with garlic” and “drive a stake through her body” (179). When they enter the tomb to do just that, Van Helsing, “with his usual methodicalness, began taking the various contents from his bag and placing them ready for use. First he took out a soldering iron...then his operating knives...and last a round wooden stake...with this stake came a heavy hammer” (190). Seward notes that, “a doctor’s pre-parations for work of any kind are stimulating and bracing” (190). Van Helsing’s preparations to kill Lucy are like a doctor preparing for surgery, although his implements include a stake and hammer, which Seward describes as like those “used in the coal-cellar for breaking the lumps” (190). The Crew of Light is applying their methods of medical science to a new operation: vampire killing. These methods have branched out into the realms of folklore (the garlic) and even daily life (the coal hammer).

    At the very end the Crew of Light betrays their methods, not killing Dracula in the correct fashion. Stoker leaves the ending deliberately ambiguous. Mina records:

  1. I saw the Count lying within the box on the earth...As I looked, the eyes saw the sinking sun, and the look of hate in them turned to triumph. But, on the instant, came the sweep and flash of Jonathan’s great knife. I shrieked as I saw it shear through the throat; whilst at the same moment Mr. Morris’s bowie knife plunged into the heart. It was like a miracle; but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, the whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight. (325)

The look of triumph on Dracula’s face, the fact that the sun is setting (not to mention that Dracula is seen active during the day at the beginning of the novel), and the Count’s ability to dissolve into dust-like particles, allow for the possibility that he is still alive. By reverting to their instincts—attacking the enemy immediately—and ignoring the rational strategy previously established to kill vampires, the Crew of Light fails to kill Dracula, and nature prevails. The other possibility is that Dracula has indeed been destroyed, as Mina does see a look of peace pass over the Count's face. If this is the case, he has been destroyed not by their rational methods, but by their instinct to attack. Van Helsing says at the close of the novel that they “'want no proofs” and “ask none to believe [them]” (327). They have abandoned the scientific method.

    Like Jonathan Harker’s view from Castle Dracula, scientific theory needs to operate above nature in order to succeed. Dracula’s invasion of London brings a particularly violent nature into the realm of science, corrupting the binary opposition of the two and revealing the inadequacies of science's quest for truth. Perhaps Stoker’s original ending would have been more fitting then—the castle, the only evidence of human ingenuity amongst the wilderness, crashing down into the nature surrounding it and dramatically demonstrating the connection between man’s logic and the natural world. But in the final version, it is the ambiguities that are the key. If the Crew of Light has killed Dracula, was it due to their rationality, their religiosity, or resorting to their instincts? It must be a combination, which eliminates the distance separating science from its cultural and natural surroundings. If Dracula is alive, then all of these have failed, and nature prevails over man’s abilities regardless. The ambiguity surrounding the death of Dracula pervades the text as a whole as well. As the Crew of Light deals with their own “Evil One,” they stray from their steadfast rational approach and their behavior begins to resemble that of the Count. Combined with the revelation that Dracula himself was once a learned man who lapsed into his violent natural state, these details blur any real distinction between science and nature, demonstrating Darwinian tendencies towards the evolution of knowledge. Of course the forces of reason fail to destroy nature—they are borne of it. The abilities of man are created by his natural state, while his observations of the natural world surrounding him help advance these abilities. Stoker does not completely foreshadow the somewhat hopeless views of the postmodernists, who suggest that the advancements of science may hold no water in reality. Nor does he fully embrace science as a savior, as the pursuit of knowledge by Dracula leads to his eventual return as a vampire. Stoker recognizes that human knowledge can be used for good, as in the case of the Crew, or for evil, as demonstrated by the dealings Dracula has with the Scholemance. He does, however, portray both the attempt of science to separate itself from the world around it and the ways in which it is informed by its surroundings, something that practitioners of science even today would be wise to consider.

Works Cited

Auerbach, Nina. Our Vampires, Ourselves. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1995.

Fry, Carrol L., and Carla Edwards. “The New Naturalism: Primal Screams in Abraham Stoker’s Dracula.” Midwest Quarterly September (2005): 40-54.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.

Waugh, Patricia. “Postmodernism.” The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism. Ed. Christa Knellwolf and Christopher Norris. Vol. IX. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001. 289-309.


A “Power of Combination”: Deconstructing Science in Dracula

Joe Kozlowicz