“Sometimes I think we must all be mad, and shall one day wake to sanity in straight-waistcoats.”
This is probably the single quote that summarizes why I’m so personally attached to Dracula. One of the major things that I think modern audiences have trouble parsing in the text is that the heroes are living in the rational world of modernity and all of them have a very hard time believing that what’s really causing all their problems is a supernatural entity. For people reading the book today, one can’t really hear the word “Dracula” and not immediately make the connection to vampires. There’s a weird assumption that follows that there’s something amiss when the protagonists don’t pick up on the signs that the Count is so obviously a vampire. Jonathan is frequently dismissed as incompetent for failing to sacrifice his nascent career based on the warnings of the Transylvanian locals. Van Helsing’s hesitation in telling his skeptical protege that he suspects vampirism is seen as senseless, rather than being read as a cautious measure to ensure that he can continue to treat Lucy with what he believes will be most beneficial towards her.
The reality of Dracula is, however, that everyone in it is stricken with doubt and this doubt is incredibly important. In addition to the trouble the principals have rectifying a vampire in the “up-to-date with a vengeance” nineteenth century, the bulk of the narrating cast struggles with afflictions that, however they might have been addressed in the 1890s, would definitely qualify as some form of psychiatric illness today. The idea that Mina or Jonathan or Seward aren’t actually experiencing what they’re experiencing, but are “mad” crops up over and over again. The Harkers struggle to believe the content of Jonathan’s journal and even after Mina’ assault they continually feel that the situation they face is somehow unreal. Seward, whose function in the book is on one level to have his worldview proven wrong, is continually plagued with the specter of madness as he tries to make sense of the reality of vampirism. In the manuscript, he even questions his sanity at the moment he opens the door on the night of October 2/3, comparing the ensuing scene to something out of an opera.
I can’t speak for everyone, and I’m hesitant to go into very much detail, but this sort of doubt and constant second-guessing, even in the face of what should be convincing evidence, is very much how I’ve found mental illness and abuse interact. Abusers often rely on their victims inability to correctly recognize what’s going on as abuse, and this is especially true in cases where the people they prey upon don’t always have a consistent relationship with reality. As Van Helsing eventually says, Dracula relies on the modern world’s refusal to acknowledge him as his shield, and I think this defense goes far deeper than just his reliance on the legal authorities to take his side against the protagonist’s. For much of the book, he relies on his victims explaining away what he does as nightmares or delusions. He relies on people’s self-doubt and sickness convincing them that they’re the one’s in the wrong. The quote above, is honestly more terrifying to me than anything else in the novel. It suggests an infinite number of doubts that are terrible to contemplate. It hints at a world in which the heroes are chasing a phantom, and have quite possibly slaughtered a woman in a near-death trance in their pursuit of it. It’s this sort of conundrum, this inability to discern whether what’s hurting you is external or internal, that makes the combination of abuse and mental illness so excruciating, and the novel, at least for me, is constantly addressing that sort of terrible fear, which is something that’s incredibly important to me.
Louis followed an anti-feminist gamer on twitter today. Kinda not cool. The guy was super surprised by the follow, so it's not like Louis met him or something.