Dracula: Evil Monster or Tragic Hero?

We’re talking Dracula over at Stitched Smile Publications today, and I thought I’d invite you all to the party. My lovely boss, Lisa, posed this question:

“‘Dracula and the Gothic Novel’ brings up the idea of the Byronic Hero, a literary character type made famous in the poetry of Lord Byron 100 years prior. This Byronic Hero is always male, strikingly handsome or at least attractive, alienated from society, troubled, mysterious, and usually somewhat threatening to the female protagonist. Sometimes this Byronic Hero is literally the protagonist of the story, but we can see his traits in many antagonists in Gothic/horror fiction too. Down through various movie versions, Dracula has been portrayed as either an outright monster, or a tragic Byronic Hero. How well does the Dracula of Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” fit the mold of the Byronic Hero? Or is he truly “monstrous,” something outside of human experience? If he is monstrous, what are those traits that make him a monster? If he is a Byronic Hero, what specifically are those traits? Or is he a bit of both?”

Conversation and debate has ensued, with some of us on one side of the fence, and others staring at them from across the way. Here’s my own humble opinion:

I’m afraid I’m also going to have to jump on the “evil monster” side of the fence. Like James, I too have no problem romanticizing my vampires; I also enjoy Anne Rice, the Black Dagger Brotherhood is my favorite set of paranormal romance bloodsuckers, and Twilight is the guilty pleasure I’m ashamed to claim. However, in the case of Stoker’s Dracula, there are a couple personality traits that I believe blow him out of the running for tragic hero.

First, he’s purposely manipulative. He’s naturally compelling, due to his otherworldly nature, and he doesn’t hesitate to use this to his advantage. He uses Renfield and the man’s obsession more than once to advance his own motives. In the black and white film with Lugosi, Dracula has the ability to hypnotize with his eyes, again causing his victims to do his bidding against their will. His own agenda takes precedence over everything else.

Secondly, I would argue that Dracula is completely without empathy; rather, he is sadistic, taking pleasure in the suffering of others. He is amused by Renfield’s obsession and goes on to encourage it, with no thought to how it harms Renfield. He is overly pleased by the anguish both Harker and Lucy’s three admirers suffer in knowing their love interests are at risk. In fact, I think it’s safe to say he even feels a sense of superiority–he is able to lord his status as a vampire over the mere mortals, and views them as nothing more than a meal to sate his own desires.

Dracula is demonstrably more of a sociopath than a Byronic hero. He knows he’s evil, and he doesn’t care. His own desires, and his own survival, trumps all. He will do whatever necessary to get what he wants, he feels no remorse over it, and even goes a step further in actually enjoying it.

Now, if we were discussing the Wolf Man, I think I could make a strong argument for tragic hero. But Dracula? Stoker’s Dracula? Sorry. Can’t do it.

What are your thoughts? Are you with me, or against me? (It’s absolutely fine, by the way, if you’re against me.) 

Let the debate begin!

For more on this and other Gothic/horror literature discussions, please visit https://bc.instructure.com/courses/912645.

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