Review of David J. Skal’s Article “His Hour on Stage”

In the article “His Hour Upon the Stage,” David J. Skal characterized Bram Stoker as a manipulator because he utilized the typical Victorian biography and distorted it into a theatrical entity. Skal claimed that the novel Dracula would have never been adapted if Bram had not acquired a personal connection with the theatre and that Bram’s primary goal was to produce a theatre version of the novel.

However, there was an onset of problems whilst converting the novel into a live action play as specific scenes were inconsistent unless the action was described or executed by the actors. Also, Dracula’s psychology was inaccessible which caused a dilemma with narration and identification. Although the first theatre reading of Dracula in 1897 was unsuccessful, the rendition of the novel gained immense popularity in the theatre world near the end of 1927. The Broadway version would be described by David J. Skal as “…an essential dichotomy…which served practical, dramatic, and commercial considerations while working against Stoker’s vision” (Skal, 1997). This quote is interpreted as Skal expressing that the new, misconstrued vampire image had excited and assisted the audience in relating to the character.

After the Broadway version had gained worldwide popularity, visual markers associated with vampires began to show up in several films. For example, the 1930 Tod Browning film that included, “patent-leather hair, patent-leather shoes, a continental accent, and bilious green makeup” modernized the idea of vampires (Skal, 1997). Overall, Stoker’s authorial status was marginalized and disregarded as he served his own self-interests in the theatre instead of providing an accurate biographical representation.

In the article “Dracula: An Unseen Face in the Mirror,” Carol A. Senf explored the opposition of Good and Evil and the credibility of the novel’s narrator. The novel depicted the differentiation between Good and Evil as the characters presumed that the wicked act of murder had a proper reason behind it. The narrators believed that they were children of God and that any similarity to Dracula was incorrect because of their social values. However, their “evils,” such as violence and sexual desires, overrode the “good” in which they held. Senf detailed how Stoker utilized an anonymous editor to provide statements in the text and to leave indications about the disparity between action and judgement by the characters. Sanity came into question when deranged attributes emerged in the novel such as drinking the blood of insects, signs of schizophrenia in Westenra, and Jonathan Harker’s nervous breakdown after he escaped the Count’s castle. This begged to question the authenticity of the narrator and if the perspectives of the characters were accurate.

Along with the question of the narrator’s sanity, the reason behind why the characters destroyed Dracula was equally important. Jonathan Harker stated in one of his novel entries that Dracula had not appeared in the mirror, which caused a sense of fear in Harker whenever the Count was near. Harker began to suspect that Dracula was not human and was superstitious of what Dracula truly represented. This idea can be correlated back to the belief that creatures with no souls had no reflection and further illustrated Harker’s absence of moral vision (Senf, 1979). Senf continued by stating that Stoker’s narrative technique did not allow Dracula’s perspective and created a prejudiced nature amongst the narrators. Overall, Senf identified the concealed side of the human characters and the parallelism between Evil and Good within the central characters.

In the article “’Kiss Me with Those Red Lips’: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” Christopher Craft described how passionate love can be heightened through the usage of fear. Craft illustrated that the distortion of sexual energy was common in literature that contained vampirism. This could be explained through the human’s natural desire for pleasure and fear, as the bliss was masked by a “monstrosity” (Craft, 1984). While being seduced by the three vampire women, Jonathan reported a wicked desire to kiss the red lips of one of the women with full knowledge that it would traumatize Mina Harker. Craft went on to describe how gender roles in the novel were flipped, for example when Harker was captivated by the three sisters. When one of the sisters bit his crotch, she was penetrating him which caused a gender role flip.

Another example was when Van Helsing’s crew tried to revive “human” Lucy after she had been converted into a vampire. The crew tried blood transfusions, which was the first masculine driven probing in the text; however, ended as an ultimate fail. Van Helsing proceeded to use a stronger method of infiltration, a stake, as he held an unyielding conviction that penetration was specifically designated to men. Craft went on to recount how the ending of the novel mirrored the common Victorian ideals which were the following: heterosexuality is good, and impulse is bad. Jonathan and Mina’s child could be interpreted as the renewal of these qualities, yet the birth was, “…curiously immaculate and disturbingly lurid” (Craft, 1984). This quote portrayed that although the child was deemed as “sinless,” the adolescent had been riddled with sin because of the caregivers past actions.

Overall, Craft demonstrated how flipped gender roles embody the destruction of natural order and how sexual desires can override common sense in individuals.