Dracula vs. Twilight
DRACULA VS. TWILIGHT
Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) is a Gothic horror novel about the Transylvanian vampire Count Dracula and his attempted migration to London. The story follows the adventures of the characters who become unwittingly involved with the Count and their attempts to defeat him.
Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight (2005) is the first of the Twilight trilogy and centers on Isabella Swan (Bella) and the vampire Edward Cullen, who fall deeply in love. The story follows the trials and tribulations they face in order to be together.
Vampires have been going strong in literature since the eighteenth century, and with over a hundred years between Dracula and Twilight, any attempt to compare them has to be an open-minded affair. Superficially, Dracula and Edward can be compared in terms of their icy skin or an aversion to sunlight, but this review aims to delve deeper into the thematic and cultural concerns of the novels to make a core comparison.
In terms of structure, Twilight and Dracula share elements of narrative device, as both lack an overall omniscient or authoritative voice. Twilight is a first-person narrative and draws the reader in to experience events as Bella does, thus creating a process of identification with her character.
Dracula, with its epistolary narrative, creates believability through the ‘documented’ style of journals, cuttings, and letter entries. Because it is written from multiple perspectives, readers have to draw their own conclusions from the accounts.
Both texts are structured with a linear plot in the sense that there’s a feeling of ‘real time’ to the chronology of events and both use the literary device of foreshadowing to propel the action, whether through dreams or the appearance of two small marks on the neck…
Regarding character, Stoker’s Dracula is legendary, a true monster, whether he’s feeding babies to voluptuous, half-naked vampire brides or leaving a trail of corpses in his quest for world domination, there’s no room for crossover. Dracula is evil; ‘we’ are good. Stoker serves up a straightforward narrative of good vs. evil, with plenty to fear from the vampire, personally and as a civilization.
With Edward portrayed as a figure of desire in Twilight and a symbol of modernity, physically beautiful and living in luxury, he offers a distinct alternative to Dracula. The Count is unable to complete a move to London from his antiquated castle without help from his contemporary lawyer, Jonathan Harker. With Edward enrolling and re-enrolling at high school, he eternally ‘hangs with the kids’ and remains continuously fashionable. Dracula, however, lives in the vicinity of terrified peasants, embracing his bloodlust, and appears frozen in time. If Dracula represents Gothic symbolism as a relic of the past, steeped in superstition and unable to interact, Edward, as an uber-vampire, spans centuries and easily integrates into the everyday, morphing our understanding of the legend.
This results in an altogether more human vampire, as Edward’s beauty, self-awareness and passion for Bella places him increasingly in the realms of romantic hero and undermines connections with vampirism and Dracula. It is Meyer’s process of normalizing the vampire that reverses any element of fear and makes Edward believable as Bella’s love interest. Switching the focus onto the love affair in Twilight makes it comparable to a romantic novel. The no-go zone between the vampire and the human is absent in Twilight, to the point where they become lovers and Bella ultimately wishes to sacrifice her humanity to this glamorized vampirism.
Conversely, Dracula, to Victorian audiences, held a large amount of fear simply because the Count was so foreign and far removed from daily life. With British imperialism collapsing and the Victorian fear of revolt from colonized peoples, Stoker employs the motif of contagious vampirism as synonymous with invasion, potentially decimating the nation. The Victorian division of East and West is as distinct as the division between human and vampire in Dracula. Stoker’s loaded language highlights this; ‘The Crew of Light’ is a Western alliance attempt to defeat the Count, the battle centers on a Western woman, Lucy Westenra, her name literally translating to ‘light of the West.’ The divide remains constant throughout the novel, with Dracula continuing as a menacing outsider, in contrast to Twilight, where Edward walks among ‘us’.
The act of biting as a sexual motif can be read in the tension in Twilight, with Bella making no secret of her breathless longing to be ‘bitten’ and penetrated by Edward’s fangs. The fact that Edward can control both his lust and his urge for human blood becomes a twofold comment with regard to his status as a virgin and his abstinence from ‘taking’ Bella in any sense. Dracula’s addiction to and permanent hunting for blood again serves a dual purpose in reference to his character; not only is he a ruthless killer but in targeting women and the brides at his castle he is an immoral seducer. The disease of his vampirism, some critics have argued, display Victorian fears of syphilis and highlight Dracula’s deviance from abstinence of any kind. After Mina has tasted blood from Dracula’s body, she is accused of impurity and forbidden from intimacy with her husband until her virtue has been reinstated. Similarly, Lucy Westenra’s blood transfusion post-bite makes her as good as married to Arthur, becoming “his wife in the sight of God” when he attempts to restore her purity with his ‘honorable’ patriarchal blood.
The main female characters of Mina in Dracula and Bella in Twilight are surprisingly similar, considering they were written over a century apart. Stoker firmly aligns Mina to the Victorian ideal of an angel in the house where she readily gives “my love and duty for all the days of my life”; this is mirrored in Bella’s admission that “I wasn’t interesting. And he was. Interesting…brilliant…perfect…and beautiful.” While Dracula has been accused of being a concession to the male imagination and indicative of the repressed female sexuality of the era, it’s disappointing that Meyer ascribes the same fate to Bella; very little has changed despite decades of female empowerment.
Bella seems to have the initial ingredients for an independent heroine (“I wasn’t used to being taken care of”) but falls woefully short of actually regaining any control over her relationship with Edward: “Our relationship couldn’t continue to balance…We would fall off one edge or the other, depending entirely upon his decision.” Mina and Bella symbolically represent the virtuous damsels in distress; even their names translate to love and beauty, and they believe themselves inferior to their mates. Lucy, at the other extreme, as a flirtatious woman aware of her sexual power, was symbolic of the independent female or ‘New Woman’ patriarchy feared, and ultimately this foreshadows her demise. With such extremes of femininity presented in Dracula and Twilight, I think it makes it hard for some modern readers to entirely relate to the female characters, although the first-person narrative of Twilight achieves it more successfully.
The potential comparisons on the novels seem endless but whether you’re team Dracula or team Twilight you can see how the fiction reflects its creative age and there’s no denying the popularity of both texts. The gradual evolution of the vampire, through Stoker, Rice, Meyer et al, from a malevolent monster to the glamorized, sexy superhuman takes the vampire legend from something feared to desired. Ultimately, Dracula and Twilight represent two ends of the spectrum regarding the literary vampire but as much as they differ the most surprising part is how many threads they do share. Both narratives contain levels of predictability in terms of good vs. evil, Dracula more so than Twilight due to the trilogy format, but the goalposts have markedly moved in terms of who’s on which side. It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon and favor the classical work of Dracula over Twilight, but it has to be born in mind that these were written in separate eras and have distinct target audiences. I think both texts deserve space on the bookshelf as contemporary comment on the evolution of the literary vampire and a reflection of the cultures that informed them.
CC Feature Image courtesy of Patricia. Pictures on Flickr