Fear of the Foreign in Dracula

The fear of the “other,” or of those different from oneself, is an idea that has permeated mindsets since the first human societies interacted with one another. Often, this idea is overcome as different individuals and groups learn to work and live together in harmony. However, other times both throughout history and currently, issues between the different groups cause conflict and may create everlasting stereotypes and negative biases of their “other.” A frequent medium by which these stereotypes were and are perpetuated and spread is via literature. Taking a look at late 17th century British literature, Bram Stoker’s Dracula offers the read an in-depth look into the British fear of the other and all that is foreign. This idea is presented, primarily, in the form of three main and obviously foreign characters: the terrifying invader from the East Count Dracula, the bright Dutchman Abraham Van Helsing, and the heroic Texan Quincey Morris. By identifying these characters as distinctly “other” from their English counterparts in the form of their accented speech and particular mannerisms, the reader is able to formulate particular ideas about the negative stereotypes that existed about foreigners at this time in Britain. Furthermore, the overall storyline and plot for each of these characters is revealing of Stoker’s general impression of foreigners: namely, that they were in a sense “polluting” the pure English society and language and needed to leave.

Of the three characters, Dracula is the most obviously negative portrayal of a foreigner as he is, essentially, a blood-sucking non-human from the “exotic” and “unknown” East. Before the reader even gets the chance to view Dracula himself as a foreigner, the reader is exposed to Dracula’s obviously foreign land and people as seen through the eyes of Jonathon, an Englishman. Therefore, from the beginning, the reader’s first knowledge of Dracula is of his foreignness. The reader then continues to see evidence of Dracula’s foreignness and difference from the English via his strange appearance (red eyes and all), strange actions (such as his refusal to eat, drink, or smoke in Jonathon’s presence) and his eerie obsession with London and desire to perfect its language. As Jonathon described, in the Count’s library can be found “a vast number of English books…all relating to England and English life and customs and manners” (24). In this same scene, Dracula explicitly expresses his desire of going to London by stating that this particular idea had “given [him] many, many hours of pleasure” (24). Although Dracula has this desire, he also seems to recognize that, as a foreigner, he can never truly integrate (and Stoker might argue that possibly he shouldn’t even try) into English society as he remarks that, due to his way of speaking, anyone in London would recognize him as a foreigner. This idea, that accented or flawed English is a mark of foreignness and impossibility of being adapted in England and accepted as truly English is present throughout the novel.

There are several things to note about the Count’s particular way of speaking. One of many is his seemingly, overly formal use of English such as used when first welcoming Jonathon into the house by telling him that “you [Jonathon] will need…to refresh yourself by making your toilet. I trust you will find all you wish” (20). The fact that Dracula is attempting to speak this way marks the English emphasis on proper and perfect English, which Dracula takes to an extreme. Another thing to note, which is also true for one of the other foreigners, is his frequent use of the phrase “my friend” towards Jonathon whereas Jonathon does not return the favor. This particular phrase is, no doubt, telling of the Count’s desire to be English as he realizes that he cannot be considered as such unless the people of English believe it to be so. Therefore, he is trying to establish this relationship with Jonathon while Jonathon does not seem to desire the same, thus installing a sense of English superiority as foreigners want to be English but the English don’t want to be foreigners. Finally, while the Count is speaking he frequently seems to distort typical English word order using phrases such as “who more gladly than we” and “when was redeemed” (34). The frequent jumbling and misplacement of English words could be representative of Dracula’s potential state if he were to be in London: that he himself had been misplaced just as his words were.

Although Van Helsing is also a foreigner, his role and character is not played off as quite so obviously negative as that of Dracula. From the very beginning, the reader is exposed to Van Helsing’s genius as a doctor . However, he is constantly defined by his foreignness just as Dracula is. The very first impression the reader receives of Van Helsing is in the form of a letter in English to Dr. Seward that is full of the various grammatical and word order distortions that becomes so common of Van Helsing throughout the novel offering such sentences as “were fortune other, then it were bad for those who have trusted, for I come to my friend when he call me to aid those he holds dear” (120). As the reader has been offered absolutely no other background or biographical information on Van Helsing, the reader is immediately impressed with the idea that Van Helsing must be a foreigner. Other characters acknowledge this as well. Lucy’s maids, for example, do not discuss Van Helsing by his name but with the title the “foreign gentleman” (136) as does Quincey when he remarks on him as the “Dutchman.” Although these names are by no means derogatory, they demonstrate how, in England at the very least, Van Helsing will always be marked by his foreignness and is almost dehumanized by the lack of a name. This implies that to the English, the fact that a person is foreign is more significant than any other character trait he or she may possess.

Not only do the other characters remind the reader of Van Helsing’s foreignness, but Van Helsing’s own actions and speech do, as well. Numerous times throughout the novel when Van Helsing is shocked, instead of adopting the typically-English “my god!” he proclaims “mein gott!” which is German for the same exclamation. Beyond this particular, obviously foreign expression, Van Helsing’s daily speech serves as a constant reminder of his otherness as well as a constant division of Van Helsing from the other characters. One of the many distinguishing features of Van Helsing’s English that he shares with Draula that puts him at variance with the English of the “true” Englishmen is his frequent inclusion of the term “my friend,” which he uses to address nearly all of the main characters at some point of the novel, frequently asking that they be united in friendship even upon just meeting them as he does with Mina. Like Dracula, although no doubt for very different reasons, this particular linguistic feature is implying Van Helsing’s possible desire to be considered “English” as opposed to just an “other” in England and he hopes that that might be possible if he can build strong enough English relationships.

Another feature of Van Helsing’s English that tends to stand out quite distinctly is his frequently incorrect verb conjugations (or more specifically, in forgetting the final letter or two of a verb as he does when he tells John that he has “for many years trust me” (170), thus, forgetting the “-ed”). Van Helsing’s inability to properly conjugate these “action words” in the English language may also imply his inability to properly “act” in English society, such as the instance when Van Helsing laughs uncontrollably at Lucy’s death in a way that Dr. Seward, an Englishman, simply can’t understand (179). This again implies the improbability of a foreigner integrating properly into English life as he or she can neither speak nor act in a way that is considered truly English.

In comparison to both Dracula and Van Helsing, Quincey Morris is quite a minor character. However, Quincy serves as something of a special case in this argument because, although he is ultimately foreign, he can connect with the Englishmen in a way that Dracula and Van Helsing cannot as he is a native English speaker. Because of this, in a way Quincey seems much less foreign to the reader than either Dracula or Van Helsing. In fact, really the only time in which his Texas origins seem to mark him as different occur in his very Texan-slang based and un-English proposal to Lucy in which he claims that he “know[s] [he] ain’t good enough to regulate the fixin’s of your little shoes” but still asks her to “hitch up alongside of [him] and let us [Quincey and Lucy] go down the long road together, driving in double harness?” (64).

Beyond this speech, the novel does not present another instance in which Quincey uses such strong Texas slang. In fact, when he is around the other Englishmen, for the most part his speech nearly seems to match theirs. No doubt, Quincey is removing his Texas slang and mark of otherness as he realizes the importance of speaking “pure” English if one really wants to fit into British society. As Quincey does not make grammatical errors as both Dracula and Van Helsing do, he is therefore much closer in achieving this goal and perhaps is often presented in a positive light because of this. However, Quincey’s ultimate fate and untimely demise in the novel suggest that him fitting into Britain as a “true” Britain could never actually happen.

Based on this idea, it seems significant to look at the ultimate fate of these three characters to determine Stoker’s ultimate message about foreigners. This message is, more or less, that foreigners don’t belong in and are “de-purifying” England and must therefore be exterminated in some way. In the case of Quincey, although he is often depicted as a heroic and pleasant individual throughout the novel, he is ultimately killed in the end. Quincey’s seemingly random and uneccesary death can then be seen as something of his “punishment” for migrating and adapting too far into English society as a foreigner, albeit a fellow native-English speaker.

Dracula, as would be expected as the villain of a Victorian novel, is also met with death at the end of the novel. The logic behind the need for his death is much less discrete than that of Quincey’s. After all, Dracula is sucking the blood of the inhabitants of Britain. Aside from this, it can also be argued that Dracula’s need to die was stemmed from his foreignness. Ultimately, it was his differences that made him the most frightening. As a foreigner, Dracula was trying to essentially infiltrate London and desiring to become a part of its culture, as the reader can see with the above examples of his extensive English library. As he did, in fact, actually manage to begin this infiltration, he had to be killed off before he could truly “corrupt” the pure British society.

Van Helsing’s life, on the other hand, is spared although he is a foreigner. This can no doubt be accounted for the fact that, although Van Helsing is also foreign, unlike Dracula and Quincey, he seems to have no intention to stay and continue “corrupting” England. Instead, he prefers and chooses to return to his home of Amsterdam. Possibly, this is because Van Helsing realizes that he could never truly integrate into British society. Another interesting thing to note is that, although Van Helsing is one of the most important characters in the book, he does no journaling (or at least none that the readers are allowed to see) himself. This is also true with the other two foreigners, Dracula and Quincey. No doubt these three have their own opinions and thoughts about the events, yet they remain unrepresented as the representation is only offered by those who are English. This, in fact, is a final depiction of the necessity of pure English language and pure Englishmen to tell the story of English success.

Altogether, Bram Stoker’s Dracula offers the reader many examples of fear of the other and unwillingness to accept said others into into one’s own society. This unwillingness to accept stems from the British fear of invasion and de-purification of both their culture as well as their language. These examples include the villain from the East: Dracula, the Dutch doctor: Van Helsing, and the heroic American: Quincey Morris. In the end, in one way or another, they leave England, thus implying Stoker’s belief in the necessity of foreigner to do so. Unfortunately, ideas such as this are still present more than 100 years around the world in countries beyond England and will continue as long as there are different types groups of people throughout the world.

Works Cited

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. Ed. Andrew Elfenbein. Glenview, Il: Pearson Education, Inc, 2011.


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