In the Victorian era, there was some form of racism and prejudice already present, it was directed towards foreigners and gypsies mostly. Two novels from the Victorian era where this kind of ‘othering’ is present, is Dracula by Bram Stoker and Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Both of these novels demonstrate in some way the Victorian society’s attitudes and ideas towards those they viewed as racially other. The two specific characters that will be examined and used for this discussion in the two novels are Count Dracula in Dracula and Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights. Both of these characters are not only seen as racially other, but also as demonic. Brantlinger (2000:161) had the following to say with regard to this topic:
“The demonic characters in Victorian novels are often, at least implicitly, racially others.”
“In Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the Count, carrying the scourge of vampirism from Transylvania to England, reflects several aspects of late-Victorian racism.”
“Heathcliff is likened to a vampire, a ghoul, and a cannibal – the last, a metaphor that associates him with the ‘dark races’ of the world.”
The quotes above will be the basis of what is to come in this essay and of what will be discussed with regard to the two novels. Below I will first discuss Victorian racism generally before moving on to the specific novels. Dracula by Bram Stoker will be discussed first with regard to how Count Dracula is seen as demonic and racially other. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte will be discussed next with regard to how Heathcliff is seen as demonic and racially other. After both of the novels have been discussed individually, a comparison will be made between Count Dracula and Heathcliff.
The ‘other’ as seen by the Victorians, were members of marginalised groups whose collective identity was seen as being different in vital ways from the white, Protestant, English-speaking Victorian mainstream. These ‘others’ were also seen as being unalterably alien and inferior (Galchinsky, 2002: 2).
In the Victorian era and even before it, dating all the way back to the Medieval era, the devil figure was seen as being black. This in part seems to be some kind of justification for the Victorians as to why they were prejudiced towards people with a darker skin tone. They though the colour black symbolised something demonic and evil. It has to be said also that they shared this view long before slavery existed. Regardless of the fact that the Victorians saw people with darker skin as demonic or devilish, some women were completely enthralled and obsessed with these ‘black devils’ (Daileader, 2005: 1).
When the slave trade was abolished some of the free slaves still remained in Britain to work in one way or another. This made the Victorians uneasy, even though these free slaves were working for them either directly or indirectly. Hints of Victorian racism can be noted in the journals of British travellers, they also believed that they were of a superior pedigree. The inclusion of this superior pedigree was problematic for various reasons. Blacks, browns, yellows, reds, and non-English speaking Celts were excluded. Scandinavians, Teutons, and Englishmen were included. The position classical Greeks, Romans, and Hebrews was less clear cut (Von Sneidern, 1995: 174).
During the Industrial Revolution, new technologies such as trains and steamships started to get used more often. This made travel over long distances faster and easier. This kind of new found mobility unavoidably forced the Victorians to experience greater regional, religious, racial, and national diversity. Until quite recently though, Victorian racism has not been noticed in literature from that era, but now that more people look at Victorian novels in a more critical way they started noticing Victorian attitudes towards racially others. The British was afraid of reverse colonialization (Galchinsky, 2002: 1).
Dracula by Bram Stoker has roughly been described by critics as a Victorian novel, a homosexual novel, and a classic Gothic novel, but never as a political novel (Clougherty, 2000: 139). As I have mentioned in the section before this, it has not been until recently that critics have started reading Victorian novels in a more political way, identifying political motifs within the texts. Criticism has persistently undervalued the novel’s vast and highly visible contacts with a series of cultural issues, especially those involving race, specific to the Victorian eras (Arata, 1990: 621).
Bram Stoker’s Dracula consists of a collection of documents written by various characters in the novel describing their experiences of coming into contact with Count Dracula, being victimised by him, and ultimately defeating him. Britain forms part of Western Europe and Transylvania where Count Dracula is from forms part of Eastern Europe. This is important to mention, because the West attributed negative characteristics to the East such as barbarism, darkness, and chaos. Thus, these same characteristics is attributed to Count Dracula (Stewart, 2006: 18). In Dracula Harker pointed out that he clearly noticed when he was no longer in the West and was entering the East (Stoker, 2011: 1).
Count Dracula is seen as a foreign intruder that represents Victorian fears and anxieties of degeneration, sexuality, and invasion that could potentially lead to the collapse of the British Empire. The Victorians’ fears and anxieties were directly linked to the effects of British colonialization (Metzdorf, 2012: 2).
During the Victorian era Britain started losing their hierarchy in world power, Germany and the United States of America started to become more powerful, threating Britain’s position. This along with factors outside of the country, made Britain feel uneasy and fearful. Dracula portrays the era’s most important and pervasive narrative of decline, a narrative of reverse colonialization (Arata, 1990: 622-623).
Jews has been seen as being monsters in history and according to Robinson (2009: 16), the composition of Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be seen as a metaphor for anti-Semitic anxieties in Britain during the Victorian era. Vampires such as Count Dracula live off of human blood and will kill in order to get it. The vampire is seen as a godless creature or even as the Antichrist. Christians are believed to have connected blood and death with Jews the same as they did with the idea of the vampire. “What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of a man?”, here Harker realises that Count Dracula is not entirely human and perhaps a monster regardless of looking like a human (Stoker, 2011: 23).
Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a novel is very much concerned with details of all sorts, yet when it comes to relationships, social groups and professional groups, it is not. Dracula is extraordinary because of its confusing and somewhat blurry categories. Such categories include the following: modern and primitive, civilised and savage, science and myth, good and evil, clean and unclean, life and death. Count Dracula is considered to be an anomaly, because of how ambiguous and confusing he is as a character. This is why he is seen by the Victorians as being ‘unclean’ (McWhir, 1987, 31). In Dracula, Harker imagines Count Dracula invading England and getting drunk on the blood of English people. He, Harker, feels powerless to stop him, and imagines that the English will be likewise “helpless” against the vampire (Stoker, 2011: 62).
Count Dracula was a ‘visible foreigner’ in the city of London. He was subject to several biases, prejudices and stereotypes. And as with most stereotypes, a person can bend and twist the truth in such a way as to make someone fit the stereotype (Clougherty, 2000: 140). Count Dracula pointed out to Harker that in London the people will know he is a foreigner in the way he ‘moves and speaks’ (Stoker, 2011: 34).
In Dracula, to be able to keep life and the country clean, pure and orderly, the unclean that threatened it has to be eradicated. This is exactly what Harker and Van Helsing did by rising up with the crusades in order to find Count Dracula and destroy him in the end (McWhir, 1987: 32).
Count Dracula is considered to be pure evil, repulsive and terrifying. He takes life, ends life, and/or pervert life. All of his enemies are those who wish to preserve life. The roles in the novel are rigid and clear with definite lines between good and evil, echoing the Victorian concern for purity (Peters, 2002: 1). A passage from Dracula below shows how Harker described Count Dracula (Stoker, 2011: 21):
“His face was a strong, a very strong, aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils, with lofty domed forehead, and hair growing scantily round the temples but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. 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. For the rest, his ears were pale, and at the tops extremely pointed. The chin was broad and strong, and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor”.
This description of Count Dracula by Harker makes it seem as though he is beast-like with his appearance and that he is quite revolting. All descriptions of Count Dracula appear to be negative in nature.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte is considered to be a Victorian novel, a Gothic novel, and a romance novel. The story is mainly a love story, but regardless of that, Wuthering Heights show elements of Victorian attitudes and ideas towards racially others. The target of racial prejudice in this novel is a character named Heathcliff.
When slave trade was still common, Liverpool was the best place to get the best slaves. Mr. Earnshaw in Wuthering Heights was in Liverpool and soon after returned home baring gifts to his children and with a young boy, Heathcliff. He said he found Heathcliff on the streets of Liverpool and looked for his owner, but could not find one, thus he took the boy for himself. Heathcliff’s racial otherness cannot be a matter of debate: Emily Bronte makes that explicit. From the first and frequently thereafter, Heathcliff is called a gypsy (Von Sneidern, 1995: 172). Passages from the novel referring to Heathcliff’s race include the following as written by Bronte (1996: 40-44):
“I declare he is that strange acquisition my late neighbour made, in his journey to Liverpool—a little Lascar, or an American or Spanish castaway.”
“You’re fit for a prince in disguise. Who knows but your father was Emperor of China, and your mother an Indian queen, each of them able to buy up, with one week’s income, Wuthering Heights and Thrushcross Grange together? And you were kidnapped by wicked sailors and brought to England.”
Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights depicted Heathcliff as both the hero and the villain of the story. He started out being a hero, but he turned into a villain because of vengeance. Heathcliff is described in such a way that gives the idea that he might have been a gypsy. During the Victorian era, the Victorians were quite prejudiced towards gypsies. This prejudice is seen as one of the main reasons as to why Heathcliff became a villain (Jose, 2016: 239). An example of how Heathcliff is treated for being a gypsy can be seen below as written by Bronte (1996: 65):
“Take my colt, Gipsy, then!” said young Earnshaw. “And I pray that he may break your neck: take him, and he damned, you beggarly interloper! And wheedle my father out of all he has: only afterwards show him what you are, imp of Satan.”
Nelson (2008: 2), sees Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights as a vampire, because of how he has power and control over Catherine. This is not literal, but rather figurative in meaning. Heathcliff has however been considered to be animal-like or beast-like in the novel. His brooding and troubled personality fits well with the idea of him being a vampire as well as with him being a Byronic hero. “…Heathcliff is: an unclaimed creature, without refinement, without cultivation; an arid wilderness of furze and whinstone”, (Bronte, 1996: 98).
Adding to the idea of Heathcliff being some sort of a vampire, the following is said by Krishnan (2007: 3), explaining why he could have been seen as one is because with literary vampires there is some kind of a psychological transferal. With this transferal, the vampire’s attach destabilises not only the physical heath of the person they attacked, but also their mental integrity. In Wuthering Heights, psychological vampirism is an intensely exploited trope, a metaphor that can scrutinise the borders between selfhood and otherness.
Gready (2015: 24-25), compared Heathcliff with Satan, because she believes that Heathcliff blends in flawlessly with the wildness of the nature around him and that he is the strongest personality in the novel regardless of his cruelty, violence, and immorality. Heathcliff is described as wild, passionate, and sexual. All of which is considered to be obscenities in the Victorian era and characteristics associated with Satan himself.
Heathcliff does not belong anywhere. He is always stuck in an in-between kind of situation: proletariat and capitalist culture, human and inhuman, the hero and the oppressed. Heathcliff is stuck in his own kind of limbo no matter what he does. He made an attempt in Wuthering Heights to integrate into the culture of wealth, respect, and romantic privilege that he deemed as socially encouraged, but he instead finds himself continuously forced into this limbo of his reminding him of his status as ‘other’ (Radcliff, 2004:1).
Some Victorian texts, such as Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, are only incidentally Gothic; others, such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, are highly conscious horror novels. This is one of the first general things these two novels have in common, but when looking at the specific characters, Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Heathcliff in Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, there are more ways in which they are different yet similar. Both of these characters are considered to be demonic and racially other according to the Victorian society in which they found themselves. Count Dracula has been interpreted as being a corrupter from the East, both a sexually and ethnically ‘other’. Heathcliff, although human, is considered to be the same as Count Dracula in that respect and he is repeatedly described in Wuthering Heights as a fiendish creature, demonic because of his obscure origins and devilish in his inclinations (Krishnan, 2007: 2-3).
The vampire is a term that is used to describe both Count Dracula and Heathcliff, but in different ways and for different reasons. Vampirism and its associated infiltration can be interpreted in a variety of ways: as disease-transmission, infection, psychological suggestion, or even barrier shattering liberation. Although, Dracula and Wuthering Heights stand as opposites on this continuum. For Bram Stoker, maintaining integrity of self, whether mental or physical, is vital; for Emily Bronte, the potential merging of selves that occurs through metaphorical vampirism is both necessary and liberating (Krishnan, 2007: 4).
Count Dracula and Heathcliff are not only seen by the Victorians as demonic and inhuman, but also as racially other. Count Dracula is from Transylvania, an Eastern European country, and this makes him an outsider and foreigner both culturally and ethnically. Heathcliff’s origins are unknown, but it is clear that he is of another race and not originally from Britain, he is often described as being dark of complexion and being a gypsy. The Victorians treated both of these characters as outcasts based on how they look and where they came from.
Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights were used in this essay to illustrate Victorian attitudes and ideas towards race. Both Count Dracula and Heathcliff are racially other from the Victorians and were treated negatively because of it. Two very different characters from to very different novels who ended up sharing a similar experience of Victorian racism, all because the Victorians were afraid of losing their position of power in the world.
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