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Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The Clash: Marquis De Sade and Bram Stoker

The Marquis De Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom and Bram Stoker’s Dracula both chronicle battles in the war between Christianity and Neo-paganism, but each one takes an opposite side. While Sade’s dialogue proposes that the pleasure of the individual is of paramount importance, Stoker’s novel advocates love and faith as the greatest of life’s virtues. Both men use allegory and moral satire to assault one another’s ideologies and convert readers to their worldview. In Philosophy, Sade’s spokesman, Dolmance, is the romantic hero whose ultimate triumph comes at the end when he recruits Eugenie and destroys the hypocrite Christian, Madame De Mistival. In Dracula, the Sade-like character is the vampire count himself, who is exorcised from the earthly realm by Christian heroes after failing to seduce the virtuous Mina.

In the final years of the nineteenth century, Bram Stoker found himself faced with a society that was in the process of abandoning the traditional values of faith and chastity and replacing them with values akin to Sade’s – existentialism and the cult of individualism. Though many modern critics believe that the values of Victorian England were oppressive to a fault, Stoker feared that their disappearance would cause society to degenerate to the level of chaos and cruelty previewed in the literature of the Divine Marquis. While a mere Gothic romance on the surface, Stoker’s novel Dracula is actually a searing social critique of the relaxation of sexual mores.

Stoker attacks the values of Sadism by going right to the source. His title character, Dracula, is the ultimate Sadist. Often compared to Vlad the Impaler, Dracula is just as much a reflection of Dolmance, the hero of Sade’s Philosophy in the Bedroom. Just as Virgil uses Aeneas to condemn Odysseus, Stoker uses Dracula to condemn Sade. Of course, before one can understand the satire fully, one must understand what it was in Sade’s Philosophy that Stoker was mocking.

Sade begins his Philosophy by calling upon all libertines to place themselves first – above the demands of family, society, and God: “It is only by sacrificing everything to the senses’ pleasure that this individual, who never asked to be cast onto this universe of woe, that this poor creature who goes under the name of Man, may be able to sow a smattering of roses atop the thorny path of life” (Sade 185).

Sade continues in this vein throughout the entire work, advocating self-fulfillment even at the expense of others. Unlike many modern existentialists, he carries his views to their logical end, advocating a society where morality is the only crime and where only the strong survive. Still, the basics of the doctrine appeal to the existential pain of all humanity by espousing romantic notions of freedom and self-empowerment. Consequently, much of Sade’s reasoning regarding religion and sexuality gained a measure of popular acceptance over time. This bothered Stoker, because he felt that accepting the attractive elements of Sade’s philosophy was not possible without being forced to embrace the ugly as well.

Rejecting the fundamental egoism of Sade’s philosophy, Stoker takes the opposite moral position in Dracula. His heroes are the very models of Christian goodness; they feel love for one another, they do not give in to their animal passions, and they subordinate their desires to their responsibilities in the name of God and social order. Vampirism, on the other hand, “is only an extreme version of the evil of the body against which Christians have been told to fight for almost 2,000 years,” (Weissman 74).

Throughout Dracula, Stoker sets up a series of parallels between his novel and Sade’s dialogue. The corruption of Eugenie is retold from a Christian perspective in the seduction of Lucy. Though the seduction is seen as a positive thing in Sade, it is an abomination in Dracula. The philosophy of infanticide extolled by Dolmance in Sade is vilified in Stoker. Also, Stoker refuses to see sexual wantonness as a form of liberation. Instead, he sees it as a prison, and portrays it as such.

The most obvious parallel between the two works is the one between Dracula and Dolmance. The only noticeable difference between the two noblemen is that Dracula is literally what Dolmance humorously claimed to be – one of Satan’s foot soldiers. Otherwise, the similarities are uncanny. Dracula and Dolmance are both pale aristocrats with aquiline noses, pure white teeth, and cruel features (Sade 192), (Stoker 26-27).

They are as alike in philosophy as they are in demeanor. As selfish as Dolmance, Dracula fled from his command during combat and allowed his army to be slaughtered at the hands of the Turks. The act was cowardly, irresponsible, and criminal, but Dolmance would have approved of it for it kept Dracula alive. The suffering and deaths of hundreds of others is irrelevant.

Had he met Dracula, Dolmance would surely have been envious of Dracula’s animalistic nature. Time and again in Sade’s Philosophy, Dolmance criticizes humans for trying to strip themselves of the cruel, animal side of their existence. He uses nature to debunk the ideals of love and family that Christians claimed to hold. “Familial love is allusory,” says Dolmance. “Do animals know these things? No surely not” (Sade 353).

While renowned Dracula critic Leonard Wolf did not believe Stoker was writing a formal treatise against Darwinism, he did point out that the character Dracula is “really a kind of Darwinian superman; he’s an animal. Stoker probably was disturbed on some level by the Darwinian scientific currents of the time…. I think Stoker’s Dracula is very hung up on science” (Wolf 28)

The two sadists agree that animals are higher forms of life, only Dracula can participate in it more fully than Dolmance. To the vampire, the howling of the wolves is akin to the music of the spheres. “Listen to them, the children of the night. What music they make.” Dracula can not only understand the languages of animals, but also communicate with them and order them as a commander would an army. In addition, the Count has the ability to transform himself into the “baser animals” including rats, owls, bats, moths, foxes, and wolves. In fact, his connection to the animal world is so close that it is unclear if he is man or animal. When Mina catches a glimpse of him at a distance in the moonlight, she can not tell if he is man or beast (Stoker 78). At another point, Jonathan Harker, observes Dracula crawling headfirst down the castle wall, moving “just as a lizard moves along a wall” (Stoker 38).

To the sadist, the dark side of nature – death, fornication, and pitiless aggression – is beautiful and the bright side of nature – childbirth, kinship, the forming of communities – is disgusting. Neither Sade nor Dracula approves of motherhood. Both saw the essence of motherhood as loathsome and unnatural.

Critic Phyllis A. Roth recognized this antagonism towards the mother figure and was repelled by it as one of the many examples of the book’s alleged misogyny. She said, “In accepting the notion of identification with the aggressor in Dracula, as I believe we must, what we accept is the reader’s identification with the aggressor’s victimization of women. Dracula’s desire is for the destruction of Lucy and Mina and what this means is obvious when we recall that his attacks on the two closest of friends seem incredibly coincidental on the narrative level. Only on the deeper level is there no coincidence at all: the level on which one recognizes that Lucy and Mina are essentially the same figure: the mother” (Roth 62).

The anti-mother attitude makes sense as both Dracula and Sade walk in darkness and despair. The very act of a woman giving birth is an unselfish act of hope that adds another human to civilization. The sadist’s only consolation in the face of such tragedy is to target the newborn as either fodder or as a potential initiate, and the only way to get to the children is through their protective mothers.

This is the real motivation behind Sade’s attack on motherhood in Philosophy in the Bedroom. His reasoning that women are biologically superfluous to the process of reproduction is absurd, but one that must be made to justify his dismissal of them (Sade 206). As scatterbrained as some of his leaps of logic often are, there is a thematic unity to his ranting that holds up better once his prejudices against the forces of the establishment at least appear to be grounded in sound reasoning.

Naturally, the Virgin Mary is the most hated figure of all in Sade’s bedroom. She is a mother and a Virgin and a symbol of the morally oppressive Catholic Church. Sade rightly identifies her as a threat to all he holds dear and refers to her as “the repellent and shameless Mary” (Sade 299).

Dracula, too, hates Mary, and every other woman who ever looked to her example either as a virgin or a mother. As protection against Dracula, the Protestant Jonathan Harker is asked to carry a rosary – the Catholic symbol of the Virgin Mary. The Romanian who gives him the rosary says “Wear this for your mother’s sake” and it later proves to be effective protection against Dracula. It is yet another example in Stoker’s masterpiece of the symbol of the mother figure – or of her ideal, the Virgin Mary – pitting herself against vampirism and winning.

Vampire and philosopher alike take pride in the slaughter of children. According to Madame De Saint-Ange, “a pretty girl should concern herself with fucking, never engendering” (Sade 201). She adds, “dread not infanticide. The crime is imaginary” (Sade 249). Dolmance agrees, claiming that it is “charming” to cheat propagation of its rights and “to contradict what fools call the laws of Nature” (Sade 229). To the sadist, there is no moral difference between killing a child before or after birth since humans can destroy whatever they create.

Though readers of Philosophy never get to see infanticide practiced by its proponents, readers of Dracula are shown sadists in action kidnapping and killing small children. It is Stoker’s way of making one think twice before converting to Dolmance’s worldview. Early in the novel, Dracula feeds a baby to his three brides at his castle (Stoker 43). Later on, Lucy Westenra, his new convert from the world of Christianity, begins her career as a vampire by drinking the blood of little boys. In a scene reminiscent to the climax of Sade’s dialogue, the baby’s mother comes to the castle to try to rescue her baby from the count’s clutches, only to be torn apart by a pack of wolves under his command (Stoker 48). Before she dies, she yells to Dracula, “Monster! Give me my child!” just as De Mistival warned Eugenie, “You are amid monsters here!” (Sade 355)

Dolmance claims that all men have the right to rape (Sade 318), and Dracula does just that whenever he feeds on a woman’s blood because vampire attacks are violent and sexual violations of the victim. But the vampire attack is more than that. It is the ultimate blasphemy – an inversion of Communion. While Christians in a state of grace move closer to God while drinking Christ’s body and blood, the vampire rapes and corrupts his victims, infusing them with sadistic desires and turning Communion into cannibalism. When it comes to blasphemy, vampires are artists, making Dolmance’s misuse of the Lord’s name look like child’s play.

As Madame De Saint-Ange speaks aloud her plans to initiate Eugenie into a life of sadism, her words sound no different than those a vampire would use before creating another of its kind. She speaks of “immoralities’ poison, circulating in this young spirit together with the venom I shall inject, will in the shortest possible time wither and still all the seeds of virtue that, but for us, might germinate there” (Sade 191).

According to Leonard Wolf, readers often do not pity the victims of vampire attacks because those victims no longer exist as individual humans but as “the living pieces of the Host”. He describes the attacks as a form of “`spiritual pornography,’ where we get these horrible things happening that thrill us in the foreground, where it’s merely a blood exchange, but they thrill us profoundly in our spiritual center when what we see is that it’s a corruption of the soul, an exchange of disasters that are deeply rooted in our relationships not just to family but in our relationship to God” (Wolf 26).

While Wolf made these statements in connection to Anne Rice’s vampire novels, readers may react in just as primal a manner when reading Dracula, though Stoker would not have wanted his audience to side with the vampires, only to understand what makes the creatures so attractive to their victims.

Interested not only in the symbolic meaning of the vampire attack but the literary tradition from which it sprang, critic Carrol L. Fry rightfully claims that Lucy’s fall from grace mirrors the fall of virtuous women of popular fiction from Richardson to Hardy:

“In dozens of novels of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this pure woman is pursued by a ‘rake,’ a seducer who has designs on her virtue. The melodrama is based on the reader’s suspense regarding whether or not he will succeed. Those women who have lost their virtue become ‘fallen women,’ outcasts doomed to death or secluded repentence. In Dracula, there are two ‘pure women,’ Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker, the former of whom actually does ‘fall.’ The role of ‘rake’ is played by Count Dracula, and vampirism becomes surrogate sexual intercourse. The women who receive the vampire’s bite become ‘fallen women’” (Fry 35).

Although such spiritual poisoning is figurative in Eugenie’s case, it takes place literally in Lucy Westenra’s as she is corrupted by venom injected into her by Dracula.

Before she met Dracula, Lucy was a kindly innocent. She was so beautiful that she received three proposals of marriage in one day. She had a kind heart, so she felt sorry for the men she had to turn down – you see, they were all three gentlemanly and handsome. Mourning for the spurned, Lucy wrote to Mina: “Why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble? But this is heresy, and I must not say it” (Stoker 57).

Lucy’s problem was that she could see only the moral code and not the reason for it. Had she examined what marriage was in its ideal form she would have realized that no more than two people could be joined as Lawrentian soul mates. Any more than two and it is no longer marriage but prostitution.

The same suggestion of one woman pleasing many men is also made in Philosophy, but with the romantic veneer stripped away to reveal the true ugliness underneath: “Are not the services a young girl renders in consenting to produce the happiness of all who apply to her infinitely more important than those which, isolating herself, she performs for her husband? Woman’s destiny is to be wanton, like the bitch, the she-wolf; she must belong to all who claim her” (Sade 219).

Lucy’s love of the three men is part of the lure that drags her into the world of sadism. She is gradually corrupted by Dracula and becomes the very she-wolf that Sade was talking about. The following passage is told from the perspective of Dr. Seward, one of Lucy’s former suitors, who confronts her as she is about to feed on the blood of a small child:

“When Lucy – I call the thing that was before us Lucy because it bore her shape – saw us, she drew back with an angry snarl, such as a cat gives when taken unawares; then her eyes ranged over us. Lucy’s eyes in form and color; but Lucy’s eyes unclean and full of hell-fire, instead of the pure, gentle orbs we knew … [They] blazed with unholy light, and [her] face became wreathed with a voluptuous smile. Oh, God, how it made me shudder to see it! With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone” (Stoker 157-158).

It is plain to see how Sade’s supposedly elevating philosophy has literally dragged the virtuous Lucy down to an ugly, animalistic level. She is compared twice to enraged animals – a snarling cat and a growling dog. Fallen far from God, she is an “unholy” “thing,” much like “a devil.” More sexually free than before, she is repeatedly called “wanton” throughout the book and the word “voluptuous” is attached as firmly to her as it is to the other female vampires. She is also called “cold-blooded” and “callous” and she, like the other vampires, has virtually no love in her.

As sexy as the women vampires are, Stoker drives home time and again the point that they are whores who feel lost without true love. For Sade, love is a curse, but Stoker makes a valiant effort to prove how horrible a fate it is for a woman to have her purity and compassion stripped from her. In Dracula, it is a true tragedy that vampires confuse hate with love (Stoker 41, 43, 49 and 125).

As stated before, Saint-Ange believed firmly in the potency of the vampire venom, guaranteeing victims to be “straightaway damned” (Sade 191). This is not entirely true in Dracula, as Mina is injected with the venom, tastes the pleasures of the dark side and rejects them. In fact, at the very end of the book, Mina chooses motherhood and a faithful marriage to Jonathan over the licentious, hateful life Dracula had offered her. In this manner, Mina is the exact opposite of Eugenie. While Mina would rather die than convert to Dracula’s unholy religion, Eugenie would “sooner suffer death than perform a good act!” (Sade 217).

The hero of Dracula, Professor Van Helsing, is both a scientist and a Christian, demonstrating Stoker’s belief that science and religion should work together. Van Helsing, unlike his contemporary scientists, equates faith with open-mindedness (Stoker 173) and criticizes science for wanting “to explain all; and if explain it not, then [say] there is nothing to explain” (Stoker 143).

At the point in the novel when the forces of good reach their time of greatest trial, Van Helsing advises his comrades to emulate Mina’s courage and fortitude: “She is one of God’s women, fashioned by His own hand to show us men and other women that there is a heaven we can enter, and that its light can be here on earth. So true, so sweet, so noble, so little an egoist – and that, let me tell you, is much in this age, so skeptical and selfish” (Stoker 142).

Stoker saw the foundations of the Catholic Church cracking under the strain of attacks from Darwinists and political revolutionaries, and launched an appropriate counter-attack, for one of the worst tragedies in the book happens before the ruins of a church (Stoker 78). One of the most poignant symbols in the book, the ruined church suggests that Lucy could have been saved from destruction had the church and all it stood for remained intact.

Even though vampirism fills Stoker’s heroes with revulsion, they constantly fight against the temptation to give in to hatred. Mina and Van Helsing both know that self-righteousness is the quickest path to becoming exactly as cruel as the creatures they hunted, so they constantly urged their hot-blooded male companions to “strike in God’s name” against the vampires (Stoker 160). In the end, their virtuous generosity is paid off, as they are able to liberate the vampires’ tortured souls. All the vampire women, and even Dracula himself, are liberated from their sadistic lives and sent to the forgiving arms of God in Heaven (Stoker 260).

Dolmance and Eugenie are not as kind to Madame De Mistival as Mina and Van Helsing are to Dracula. No one would argue that Madame De Mistival finds any form of salvation in being stitched together and given syphilis so that she could have no more children (Sade 363). While Dracula is released from his cursed existence, Madame De Mistival is made a prisoner of her own body.

Sade, who believes that no human being is capable of being divinely good, ferociously mocks this kind of piety. This is why he portrays Madame De Mistival as a hypocrite and a fool – she stands by her Christian beliefs while she herself is incapable of living up to the standards of behavior she has set for the world to follow. Her very presence is a disruption to the sanctuary that the bedroom provides. To restore Dolmance’s proper sadistic control to the bedchamber, she had to be destroyed.

While all vampires – both human, like Dolmance, and supernatural, like Dracula – use pleasure to corrupt the innocent, what they fear most is to be corrupted themselves. Love is the one thing that can truly destroy a vampire. Dolmance says as much himself, referring to love as a disease that can destroy. “Ties of love, may you never know them. Fuck. Divert yourselves, that’s the essential thing – be quick to fly from love” (Sade 285).

The same principle holds true in Dracula. When love takes hold of Renfield, he gives up on his own dreams of immortality and selflessly tries to protect Mina from Dracula. Once Renfield makes this conversion, Dracula has no choice but to kill him. The love that unites the ranks of Christians divides and conquers sadists.

While Dracula’s women serve as little more than whores, they too find themselves starved for true affection. “You yourself never loved; you never love!” the blonde vampire cried defiantly to Dracula, to which he replied, in a soft whisper: -- `Yes, I too can love; you yourselves can tell it from the past’’’ (Stoker 43). As Dracula admits this, he casts his eyes on Jonathan Harker, suggesting an attraction for the young lawyer. As if to defeat his own feelings of affection, he promises Harker to the women, eager to kill what he loves to wipe the scourge of affection from his mind. If Madame De Mistival is ultimately a sham in Sade’s eyes, than surely the sadists/vampires are just as phony to Stoker, for they sometimes feel the effects of the very love they deny exists.

Sade was so convinced of the persuasiveness of his attack on morality that he advocated its use as a handbook for the young. Dracula could be just as effective as such a handbook, because its defense of conventional morality is just as poignant as its attack on sadism. It is ironic that, throughout the 20th century at least, conservative parents have objected to horror stories on moral grounds, not realizing that virtually all such tales bear positive Christian messages. Only since the 1970s with the sexual revolution and Anne Rice have the nature of vampire stories changed, depicting sadists as romantic heroes.

And yet, even today, many vampires are still portrayed in movies and on television as Bram Stoker intended – as dangerous and animalistic satires of the Marquis De Sade himself.



Sources:

de Sade, Marquis Donatien-Alphonse-Francois. Justine, Philosophy in the
Bedroom, and Other
Writings
. New York: Grove Press, 1990. 177-371.


Fry, Carrol L. “Fictional Conventions and Sexuality in Dracula.” Dracula:
The Vampire and the Critics, Ed. Margaret L. Carter. Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1988. 35-38.


Roth, Phyllis A. “Suddenly Sexual Women in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”
Dracula: The Vampire and the
Critics
, Ed. Margaret L. Carter. Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1988. 57-69.


Stoker, Bram. Dracula: Illustrated by Greg Hildebrandt. New Jersey: The Unicorn Publishing
house,
1985.

Weissman, Judith. “Women and Vampires: Dracula as a Victorian Novel.”
Dracula: The Vampire
and the Critics
, Ed. Margaret L. Carter. Michigan: UMI Research Press, 1988. 69-78.


Wolf, Leonard, and David J. Skal. “Beyond Dracula: New Age Evil.’’ Imagi-Movies Winter 1994:

24-30, 35-36, 40-41, 61.

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