‘Dracula’ and the Liminal Zone

[written by Vampire Awareness Month co-conspirator, Mark S. Deniz]

(Disclaimer: in this particular post I do not go into any great lengths to exemplify what the liminal zone is, beyond the description given nor do I attempt to explain Stoker’s interest in it. My post is merely to show my interest in the two)

The Liminal Zone

LIMINAL (Latin limin, “threshold”): A liminal space is a blurry boundary zone between two established and clear spatial areas, and a liminal moment is a blurry boundary period between two segments of time. Most cultures have special rituals, customs, or markers to indicate the transitional nature of such liminal spaces or liminal times. Examples include boundary stones, rites of passage, high school graduations, births, deaths, marriages, carrying the bride over the threshold, etc. These special markers may involve elaborate ceremonies (wedding vows), special wardrobe (mortarboard caps and medieval scholar’s gown), or unusual taboos (the custom of not seeing the bride before the wedding). Liminal zones feature strongly in folklore, mythology, and Arthurian legend. See the Other World for further information. For in-depth discussion, see Victor Turner’s Drama, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society.[1]

‘Dracula’

Dracula is an 1897 novel by Irish author Bram Stoker, featuring as its primary antagonist the vampire Count Dracula. It was first published as a hardcover in 1897 by Archibald Constable and Co.

Dracula has been attributed to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. Structurally it is an epistolary novel, that is, told as a series of letters, diary entries, ships’ logs, etc. Literary critics have examined many themes in the novel, such as the role of women in Victorian culture, conventional and conservative sexuality, immigration, colonialism, postcolonialism and folklore. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, the novel’s influence on the popularity of vampires has been singularly responsible for many theatrical, film and television interpretations throughout the 20th and 21st centuries.[2]

‘Dracula’ and the Liminal Zone

Stoker’s novel is riddled with examples of the liminal zone, most significantly the title character Count Dracula, who is neither living or dead but, as Van Helsing calls him, one of the un-dead, existing in this threshold state. Even though the term liminal is most often used in conjunction with spirits, there is such a wealth of instances in the book that when you start looking for them, you almost find yourself slipping into some quasi-dimensional space of your own.

Take for example the narrative, many novels work with a standard format of third person or first person narrative (with the occasional braving the intriguing but extremely difficult second person narrative). Stoker uses many main characters – who would you say the main character of ‘Dracula’ is? I once thought Harker, or Mina, or even Van Helsing but whilst re-reading the book I can’t help thinking that if I have to give one narrator the title of main character it has to be Dr. Seward, as it seems his narration uses much more ‘airtime’ in the novel – but they all employ varying methods to impart their information: Lucy uses hand written journals, Mina is perfecting shorthand, whilst her husband Harker is proficient in shorthand and Dr. Seward speaks into a phonograph (employed by Cushing’s Van Helsing in ‘Dracula – 1958).

The location of the castle, as early as page one, gives us a lovely sense of the liminal:

I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia and Bukovina.[3]

We often talk of his accommodation being in Transylvania and forget the other two. Not even his castle can be said to belong to one place, one region, it is on a threshold.

Dracula, for obvious reasons is the subject of much of this examination of the liminal. Here we have one of Harker’s descriptions of him:

What manner of man is this, or what manner of creature is it in the semblance of a man?[4]

Before Van Helsing expresses similar views on Lucy:

It is her body, yet not it. But wait a while, and you shall see her as she was, and is[5]

That beautifully Van Helsing-esque quote, says much about the blurring of things, people, places in this wonderful novel: we have a scientist (Van Helsing) using spiritual and religious beliefs (at a time when there was much opposition between science and faith), we have sweet, beautiful Lucy turned into a killer, in the most foul way, as she is a killer of small children, the Demeter (the ship carrying Dracula and also goddess of the Earth in Greek mythology, sailing the seas…) crashing in Whitby (beaches long used as an expression of the liminal – the land formed of the sea) and much of the action takes place at dusk and twilight (between day and night) with the climactic scene taking place at sunset.

There is much to be looked at within the novel that I haven’t even begun to touch on here: the madness/lucidity of Renfield, the whole concept of a woman with a woman’s heart and a man’s brain (Mina) and that Mina spends the latter half of the novel in a liminal state, powerless to stop herself aiding it, that which her friends and husband hunt.

Hunter becomes the hunted, becomes the hunter, becomes the hunted…

I have much more to say but feel that I am on the threshold between blog post and more serious article. The post was intended to be more of an introduction to a topic that has interested me very much over the years and one that helps maintain my opinion, that for all its flaws and shortcomings, Bram Stoker’s Dracula is one of the finest novels every written.

Notes

[1] Link: http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/lit_terms_L.html

[2] Link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracula

[3] Dracula; Stoker, Bram; Bantam Classics Edition 1981; pgs. 1-2

[4] Dracula; Stoker, Bram; Bantam Classics Edition 1981; pg. 35

[5] Dracula; Stoker, Bram; Bantam Classics Edition 1981; pg. 225

About Mark S. Deniz

English teacher, writer, editor, publisher, reviewer and blogger. Founder of publishing company, Morrigan Books and imprint, Gilgamesh Press and editor-in-chief for review site, Beyond Fiction. Also cycles, plays floorball, listens to lots and lots of music, reads a ton of books and tries to fit in some TV, film and writing too. View all posts by Mark S. Deniz

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