Under the Cape: Covert Homosexuality in Bram Stoker’s Dracula- by Gregoire Marshal

Bram Stoker’s Dracula is subject to a queer reading.  Dracula has clear homoerotic tendencies and since these tendencies are both sexual and outside the norm (i.e., evil), they must be destroyed. But the suggestion of the homoerotic does not stop there. Homosexuality is also hinted at in the use of the woman as intermediary and in the homosocial relationships among the members of the Crew of Light. By widely accepted usage, “homosocial” implies a close non-sexual relationship among men. The Crew of Light is an attempt to illustrate a homosocial relationship (i.e., non-sexual) thereby portraying them as good and therefore allowed to survive.  However, the novel itself subverts this definition.

Homosexuality in Victorian England was illegal and there is evidence of a “homosexual panic” in the 19thCentury (Clark 170).  In addition, Stoker maintained a long-distance correspondence relationship with Walt Whitman, a somewhat openly homosexual American poet and was friends with Oscar Wilde, the Irish-born playwright convicted of gross indecency (homosexuality) in 1895 (Clark 169).  As an aside Clark, in his Chapter 11 contribution to the book Horrifying Sex: Essays on Sexual Differences in Gothic Literature suggests that Stoker (also Irish-born), in writing Dracula is attempting to disassociate himself from Wilde by associating Wilde with the monstrous Count (Clark 169).   However, anecdotal evidence – such as books consulted by Stoker on Eastern Europe and trips to Whitby — suggests Clark’s analysis in this instance may be questionable, since it appears that Stoker’s work on the Dracula may have started years before Wilde’s conviction.  Add the initial workings of Freud and his thoughts on the unconscious or “unconscious cerebration” (Stoker 86) to the sexual panic and Stoker’s friendships with known homosexuals and there is the perfect backdrop if not for a covert homosexuality at least for a latent one throughout the novel.

Though disguised – for legal or social or Stocker’s own psychological reasons — Dracula is clearly open to a queer reading. Dracula himself as a character has obvious homosexual tendencies and his main love interest initially is Jonathan Harker.

To start with the obvious (and analogous with homosexuality in the past), Dracula is an outsider, even in his own country, he is unmarried and lives a secretive life without any real relationships with others. He is only free to be himself under the cover of darkness (the rest of the time he is closeted) and is associated with things evil, such as “Satan.” (Stoker 11).  But this is just a beginning and could be applicable to any one considered an outsider, no matter what the reason.

Within the novel there are multiple places where the meaning of the outsider becomes associated with the homosexuality of the character Dracula himself.  His finger nails were almost feminine, “long and fine and cut to a sharp point.” (Stoker 25) The hairs in the “centre of his palm” (Stoker 25) and the implies that Dracula is something less than normal since the normal human hand has no hair follicles and a myth of unknown origin suggests that male masturbation can cause this, furthering the notion of the sexually degenerate Dracula.

One of the first obvious signs that Dracula has a special love for Harker is when Harker awakes in Dracula’s castle to find himself surrounded by three female vampires who are about to descend on him.  Dracula, in a fury, stops the hinted at sexuality and declares. “How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it?  Back I tell you all! This man belongs to me!” (Stoker50).  Later in the same scene Harker notes, “The Count turned, after looking at my face attentively and said in a soft whisper, ‘Yes, I too can love.’” (Stoker 50).Christopher Craft, in his article “’Kiss Me with Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” posits an additional homoeroticism in the same scene by pointing out that Harker becomes passive and “awaits penetration from a woman” (Craft 109) – one of the weird sisters in Dracula’s castle.

Later in the novel, Jonathan Harker records in his journal, “It has always been at night-time that I have been molested or threatened, or is some way in danger, or in fear.  I have not yet seen the Count in the daylight.” (Stoker 58).  The implication of “molested or threatened” cannot be overlooked, nor can the fact that Harker associates this with both night and Dracula.

It is interesting to note that even though Dracula is attracted to Harker, nothing ever seems to come of it.  The only time Dracula assumedly and directly penetrates a man is in his decimation of the Demetercrew. All of Dracula’s encounters have been with women.  This is not to deny the implied homosexuality.  Rather, it is to sublimate it.  Dracula himself states to the Crew of Light, “Your girls that you all love are mine already; and through them you [emphasis added] and others shall be mine….’ (Stoker 361) While Dracula’s love for Harker (or any other man) cannot be directly expressed, Dracula settles for the thing that is the closest substitute, women. As Dracula drinks the blood of Lucy Westenra, he (and Van Helsing) know he is drinking the transfused “blood of four strong men.” (Stoker 182) After Lucy’s death the next victim of Dracula blood lust is Harker’s wife Mina. Dracula has preyed on Mina numerous times and in a mock wedding ceremony, with Harker helpless at the side of his wife (almost in the position of voyeur in a menage a trois), Dracula bares his breast and presses Mina’s mouth to a wound so that she “must either suffocate or swallow some of the.…” (Stoker 340).  The scene itself unfolds as nearly an act of oral sex, but also as a confused and multi-layered act where Mina swallows some of the ‘“spurt’”. (Craft 125) As Craft points out it is also “a lurid nursing” and additionally states that Dracula’s self-inflicted wound suggests a “bleeding vagina,” (Craft 125), thus causing a sort of gender reversal where Dracula takes on some female aspects.

Even at the death of Dracula himself, we see a suggestion of homosexuality.  Earlier in Dracula it is Arthur who kills his undead almost-wife Lucy and it is Jonathan who is asked to promise to kill his wife Mina if she becomes one of the undead.  The killing of the vampire, then, is the duty of the husband.  Who kills Dracula? Jonathan. (Stoker 442). Thus, furthering the intimacy of the relationship between Jonathan and Dracula.

Dracula, the sexual monster, is destroyed and a sense of normalcy and order is restored.  Or is it?

As counterbalance to Dracula’s “monstrous” sexuality, Stoker attempts to show a healthy, social relationship among men in the Crew of Light, which is why the monster must die, but the Crew can live on in itsVictorian “goodness.”  Stoker fails. In “Preying on the Pervert: The Uses of Homosexual Panic in Bram Stoker’s Dracula by Daimon Clark, the author suggests that the relationship among the members of the Crew of Light is a “homosocial closeness that borders on the homoerotic.” (Clark 174).  This is based on a more detailed argument made by Craft in “Kiss Me with Those Red Lips” which states that Quincey, the child of Mina and Jonathan, is “the fantasy child of those sexualized transfusions, son of an illicit and nearly invisible homosexual union.” (Craft 129) Craft in his article quotes the novel: “It added joy to Mina and to me that our boy’s birthday is the same day as that on which Quincey Morris died. His mother holds, I know, the secret belief that some of our brave friend’s spirit has passed into him.  His bundle of names links all our little band of men together; but we call him Quincey.” (Stoker 443) Even here on the side of “goodness” and under the guise of the homosocial is the covert homosexual theme that runs throughout Dracula.

As noted, Stoker was no stranger to homosexuality.  That is not to say that he was a practicing homosexual, but it does suggest that his friendships and his novel Dracula strongly show a strong fascination with the topic, even if it remains covert or latent.  There are a number of reasons why Stoker may have told the tale this way. He may be actively attempting to isolate and destroy his own conscious or unconscious homoerotic demons as seen in many cases of homophobia or gay bashing.  Or he may be killing off the social and homoerotic anxiety of his times.  Or maybe he was simply selling to an audience what the audience was willing to buy (or what publishers, editors or decency would allow). There are suggestions that the first response to a request to publish Dracula was a “no,” and that the first 102 pages of the original manuscript are missing.

Works Cited

Clark, Daimon. “Preying on the Pervert: The Uses of Homosexual Panic in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” Horrifying Sex: Essays on Sexual Difference in Gothic Literature, edited by Ruth Bienstock Anolik, McFarland & Company, Incorporated Publishers, 2018, pp. 167-176

Craft, Christopher. “’Kiss Me with those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, University of California Press, Representations, Autumn 1984, pp. 107-133.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula, New York, New York, Barnes & Noble Classics, 2003, first published in 1897.