Dracula: The Connoisseur's Guide
By Leonard Wolf
Dracula Suck! That's the name of a soft-porn movie and the message imprinted on T-shirts that teenagers wear. The films audience is not left long in doubt about the meaning of the sentence. The T-shirt wearers displaying their message also have a raunchy intent in mind. Dracula sucks! Yes. He does. Once past the smile or the giggle the low-key joke induces, what is surprising is how much of the Dracula Matter, like a homunculus, is encapsulated in those two words.
In the twentieth century, the question of what Dracula really sucks: blood, power, psychic energy, identity is still a matter of perplexity. For the nineteenth-century reader, it was beyond discussion. He was a vampire in a long tradition in which the vampire sucked blood. In Stokers novel-and not until then-the victim, in addition to blood, lost his or her immortal soul and joined the legion of the damned. I have suggested, too, that for Victorian readers - especially for the men - Dracula had the appeal of pornography disguised as adventure fiction. In the scene in which the lovely, loathsome ladies are gathered around the supine Harker, when the blonde licks her lips and bends "lower and lower" over his body, every Englishman who ever dreamed of-and was denied -oral sex, was hoping against hope that her lips would travel much farther south than his neck.
Now, at the end of the twentieth century, that's an easy judgment to make. Sexual repression was endemic in the Age of Victoria, when the Queens view of the marital embrace was that she endured it patriotically. She is reported to have told her daughter the night before her wedding, "Just close your eyes and think of England."
Of course we have come a long way since then. Then why are people in the more relaxed twentieth century still Fascinated by Stoker's story?
Mostly, the answers turn on sex.
In America we have lived through the 1960s, in which the advent of the birth-control pill and the nearly simultaneous sexual revolution took place. In the glow of those years of liberation, enthusiasts proclaimed that if everyone in the world achieved orgasm, there would be no more wars. Leaving that wistful notion to one side, our sexual behavior, beginning with that decade, veered sharply away from its traditional restraints. Virginity lost its cachet, marriage its rock-solid permanence. Sex, which had been regarded with some awe because it was linked to procreation, cast off its serious mantle and became recreation.
However, it takes more than a hundred years to shake off the effects on our subconscious of thousands of years of acculturation. Over eons, we have burdened an instinct whose expression in nature is both simple and quick with an enormous weight of cultural, social, psychological, and personal meaning. The result is that in the recesses of the subconscious our shadowy hungers, lusts, fantasies, yearnings and fears have their hiding place. To this day, sex is the human wild card. Sex is still "a worrisome thing that leaves you to sing the blues in the night."
And then there is sexuality itself.
What a graceless thing is human coupling -hardly different at all from the mating of dogs. What was God thinking when He designed us? In a contest for gracefulness, a pas de deux wins anytime over the movements of a coupling couple. One notices how in novels written earlier in this century, when their characters reached the moment of lovemaking, authors always drew the curtain over the event with the word "Later." And how, even now, in today's more graphic movies, the couples are surrounded by distracting film-technology effects-constantly shifting camera angles, double exposures, changing foci, lighting effects, or camera angles, not to mention ridiculous surges of music meant to keep pace with the lovers through their moods as they roll about in the direction of their climax. Outside of hard-core porno films, screen love making turns something that, in the real world is ridiculously simple into a mishmash that is part wrestling match, part ballet exercise, part game of blindman's bluff. It's enough to make one yearn for the good old days when there was a fade-out at the critical moment in the film. What I suggested twenty-five years ago was that, given how over determined, how complicated a part of our lives sex had become, we ought not to be surprised that the vampire's embrace might seem to be, at least in fantasy, more attractive than the sexuality we know.
For the most part, I stand by those words, but what I overlooked then-and what needs emphasis now -is the mysterious attraction of the silence that is a critical element of vampire imagery. That stillness emphasizes the passivity of the victim, who therefore cannot be held responsible for being victimized.
In Dracula Riving (1992), a recent Roger Corman film, that languorous sweetness is reflected in the following dialogue. The character speaking is Alec, the "bad" vampire in this film, which has two vampires, one good and one bad. He says: "Life is about controlling, grasping. Death is about letting go. No more struggle. It's a liberation." The scriptwriters may have remembered Emily Dickinson's poem, "After great pain a formal feeling comes," which ends with the lines about death: "First chill, then stupor, then the letting go." When Lawrence Durrell writes about that languor in The Alexandria Quartet, the passivity has a silken charm: "Until you have experienced it, you have no idea what it is like. To have one's blood sucked in darkness by someone one adores." When a similar sentiment was expressed by the blood-drinking Alex in my living room in 1971 there was no literary distance I could put between myself and him. Alex, it will be remembered, said, "Beautiful! If somebody cares enough for you to suck your blood ... I can't think of much more to ask."