Orientalism was first described 1978 by Edward Said when he published his book, Orientalism. He discussed the term “orientalism” as the western world’s fabricated view that ‘The East’(the societies and people who inhabit Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East) were undeveloped and inferior to their western counterparts. During the Victorian era, England was on the verge of major breakthroughs due to its industrial development.
With the new advancement of technology, science, and medicine, Society was becoming aware of the fact that the knowledge and beliefs that had existed for centuries were no longer secure It was as if the people living during this period were situated on a line between the past and future. At the same time there was an attitude of ‘orientalism’ and fear of foreign persons. These notions became a focal point for Gothic literature; including Bram Stoker’s, Dracula. His novel portrays these fears and anxieties of Victorian society and the western world by showing the advancement of science versus old world folklore, using the Count as the representation for the ‘exotic’ East, and painting western society as superior and more civil than the East.
In the novel it presents the difference between science and folklore through Doctor Seward and Doctor Van Helsing. Doctor Seward stands for modern science and reasoning, while Doctor Van Helsing represents a character more susceptible to superstition belief. We learn that Doctor Seward is devoted to science when he states, “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, did I hold the key to the fancy of even one lunatic, I might advance my own branch of science”(Stoker 83). He refuses to believes that Lucy’s condition is due to something supernatural, especially something as ludicrous as a vampire.
This fact is further proven when Dr. Van Helsing spreads garlic in Lucy’s room. We learn from Dr. Seward’s diary when he writes, “We went into the room, taking the flowers with us. The Professor’s actions were certainly odd and not to be found in any pharmacopeia that I ever heard of.” He then mentions to Van Helsing, “Well, Professor, I know you always have a reason for what you do, but this certainly puzzles me. It is well we have no sceptic here, or he would say that you were working some spell to keep out an evil spirit” (Stoker 141). Later, In response to Dr. Seward’s attitude of the supernatural, we hear from Van Helsing, in what could be a response to all of England and their attitude of orientalism all well: “You do not let your eyes see nor your ears hear, and that which is outside your daily life is not of account to you. Do you not think that there are things which you cannot understand, and yet which are, that some people see things that others cannot?”(Stoker 220)
Along with the changes in technology and knowledge that were becoming available, a change in demographics was occurring in England. The empire was expanding and immigrants were moving in. Part of the fear and anxiety of western society was the exotic and different nature of ‘The East’. In Dracula, the major example of this fear is the Count himself. He epitomizes everything that The West are afraid of. Early in Stoker’s novel, as Dracula is showing Jonathan Harker around his castle he reminds him, “Transylvania is not England. Our ways are not your ways, and there shall be to you many strange things” (Stoker 28).
Similarly to how Edward Said described orientalism as being a belief that western societies are more superior than the east, Harker makes notes of the primitive conditions found in the countries surrounding Transylvania and writes, “It seems to me that the further east you go to the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to be in China?” (Stoker 2). When it is too late and Harker has already helped Dracula move to London, He realizes that Count Dracula is the embodiment of everything his country has feared of eastern societies. He realizes that Dracula could influence many to come and in essence, wage war on all of England. He says: “Then I stopped and looked at the Count. There was a mocking smile on the bloated face which seemed to drive me mad. This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where, perhaps, for centuries to come he might, amongst its teeming millions, satiate his lust for blood, and create a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless” (Stoker 59).
While Dracula, shows the exotic and primitive nature of Transylvania and ‘The East’, it presents England and ‘The West’ as a society that is more superior and righteous. This is evident as Dr. Van Helsing and the group are hunting Dracula, he compares their mission to the Crusaders long ago. Van Helsing actually believes that they’re on a mission from God when he says: “Thus are we ministers of God’s own wish. That the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him. He have allowed us to redeem one soul already, and we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more. Like them we shall travel towards the sunrise. And like them, if we fall, we fall in good cause.’ This shows that although Stoker emphasized orientalism in Victorian society, he reinforced the idea that western society is above and that of the east.
Throughout Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, there are many themes and lessons that teach about the time period, at which it was written. We learn that during Victorian society, orientalism and fear of ‘The East’ played a major role in society during that time. Amongst a changing world of newly developing technology, ‘The West’ was cautious of this new knowledge, yet more cautious and fearful of primitive, eastern countries penetrating their society. In particular, Count Dracula. He represented everything that England feared. Not only because he was a killer and bloodthirsty, but because his presence and influence could “infect” and lead astray from their imperialist empire, innumerable citizens of ‘The West’ for years to come.
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