The plot of Dracula takes place in the contemporary universe of Bram Stoker. This point is largely ignored by most later adaptations of the novel, which continue to situate the plot in the 19th century, thus obscuring this major semantic aspect.
Dracula and science
Two figures of the scientist
Dracula opposes the vampire count and his adversary, Abraham Van Helsing, on many points, including that of the use of science: the portrait of the connoisseur who only apprehends knowledge as a means of serving his own interests is opposed that of the researcher who puts his knowledge at the service of humanity and who remains open to all hypotheses, probable or not.
Dracula, when he was mortal, was indeed a scholar, as Van Helsing recalls: “during his lifetime he was a remarkable man, warrior, statesman, alchemist; and alchemy then represented the highest degree of science. He had a powerful intelligence, an unrivaled culture ”(p. 492). After his physical death, the count retained this taste for knowledge. The importance given to the description of its library, which appears to be an important part of the Count’s castle, attests to this taste, moreover for various fields: “history, geography, politics, economics, botany, geology, law” (p. . 60). But this thirst for knowledge, which primarily concerns England, is devoted to evil ends: it is for the count to deepen his knowledge in order to dominate, and this, for the benefit of a single being. : himself.
Van Helsing is also a great scientist; his former pupil, Doctor Seward, speaks of him in these terms: “He is at the same time a philosopher and a metaphysician – indeed one of the greatest scientists of our time” (p. 199). But unlike the count, this researcher uses his knowledge for the benefit of others, “for the good of humanity” (p. 200). He thus transmits his knowledge, since he teaches it; more broadly, his desire to defeat the vampire count is driven by the desire to save the world. In addition to this generosity, he is endowed with a remarkable open-mindedness since he remains open to all branches of knowledge, including those which do not yet know scientific verification – and of which vampirism is part.
Dracula’s intelligence is above all empirical, uninventive and repetitive. He certainly learns from his mistakes and perfects his modus operandi, which does not fail to frighten Van Helsing who insists on the fact that the monster must be got rid of before it really becomes invulnerable (his intelligence improves because , at the time of the action of the book, he lives for the first time in a populated city, in this case London, rich and complex in terms of human interactions). But, at the same time, its action is always part of the same scenario, which makes its action predictable to those who really know how to think. When he failed (whether against the Turks in the fifteenth century in the Ottoman Empire, or against Van Helsing in London), he fell back to his castle to prepare a response from there. This is what will allow Van Helsing and his companions to suppress him.
Paradoxically, the explanatory power of science is questioned by Professor Van Helsing himself: “This is indeed the fault of science: it would like to explain everything; and when it is impossible for it to explain, it declares that there is nothing to explain “(p. 321)
The theme of madness
This theme, repeated in many later adaptations, is central to Stoker’s novel. One of the characters, Doctor Seward, is indeed the director of a mental asylum, in this case the one next to the house that Dracula bought in England, Carfax. The mystery of madness adds to and amplifies the mystery inherent in fantasy literature: one of the hospital’s patients, Renfield, is also under the orders of the Prince of Darkness. But more than the spectacle of madness, it is the border between madness and reason which is put forward here: Renfield has, thus, flashes of lucidity which place him above the other characters who, for their part, do not. not perceive the danger against which the madman warns them. Moreover, after his mishap in the Count’s castle, Jonathan Harker has the feeling of falling into madness; only the revelation of the real existence of vampires will cure him of his fear. The exploitation of this theme is part of a modernist perspective since the novel by Bram Stoker is contemporary with the first studies of Sigmund Freud.