Dracula. One of the absolute necessities for any course on the Victorian Fin de Siècle. By the time we get to it in week 5 we’ve touched on aestheticism, decadence, degeneration, changing masculinities, homosexuality, the femme fatale, the gothic … and it’s all in there and more. It’s also a text on which there is a super-abundance of critical commentary, and our second online session of the course exploits this fact. The class are invited to enter the ‘Dracula’s Vault’ forum (with virtual garlic, of course) after having first found an article on Stoker’s novel. It must be an article, and not a chapter in a book, and so in part it is a reminder for my students as to how they can go about searching for scholarly articles via the databases of journals that my university subscribes to. Each student has to find a different article. In the forum they post up a summary of their article’s argument, and respond to some of the other summaries of their classmates.
Whereas the first Fin de Siècle Online Experience (FOE) session had been slow to get going, this one is well underway by Saturday lunchtime, the day after the class. Early on someone summarises an article by Elizabeth Miller, ‘Coitus Interruptus: Sex, Bram Stoker and Dracula‘, which is trying to take issue with the contemporary default mode of reading Dracula as being a text everywhere about the sexual. This sparks lots of good debate, as the student isn’t convinced by Miller’s attempts to say a stake is (only) a stake is a stake. Neither am I. Later on someone also posts on Christopher Craft’s excellent article ‘”Kiss me With Those Red Lips”: Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula‘ (Representations 8 (Fall 1984), pp. 107-33), which opens with the following: ‘When Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu observed in Carmilla (1872) that “the vampire is prone to be fascinated with an engrossing vehemence resembling the passion of love” and that vampiric pleasure is heightened “by the gradual approaches of an artful courtship,” he identified clearly the analogy between monstrosity and sexual desire that would prove, under a subsequent Freudian stimulus, paradigmatic for future readings of vampirism. Modern critical accounts of Dracula, for instance, almost universally agree that vampirism both expresses and distorts an originally sexual energy’ (p. 107).
I am struck by my class really enjoying getting their teeth into (sorry) debates about this text. Someone establishes a pattern that other students follow of summarising their essay then very clearly heading a new paragraph ‘My opinion’, which means that they are practising taking a stance in relation to a critical argument. It’s a lively and busy forum discussion for the week. It also demonstrates to students just how varied and plural readings of texts can be.