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  • “You Can’t Trust Wolves No More Nor Women”:Canines, Women, and Deceptive Docility in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Keridiana Chez (bio)

Although they may pass as little more than a comic aside in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), the novel’s fictional news clippings about a wolf’s escape from the London Zoo tell an important story about a very bad wolf that has tricked its masters into believing it is a very good dog. While the zookeeper declares that “you can’t trust wolves no more nor women” (126), the Bilders foolishly “receiv[e] and pe[t Bersicker] like a sort of vulpine prodigal son” (129), fawning over the “nice well-behaved wolf” (126) with “most tender solicitude” (129). The skeptical reporter expresses surprise that “neither Bilder nor his wife thought any more of the wolf than I should of a dog” (128)—a wolf that has, after all, spent his night of freedom terrorizing London and aiding the vampire Dracula in his attacks on Lucy Westenra. Both beloved pet and dangerous threat, Bersicker embodies an argument against the mismanagement of a deceptively docile household member. Returning to the quiet comforts of the domestic space, Bersicker appears, notes the reporter, “as peaceful and well-behaved as that father of all picture-wolves—Red Riding Hood’s quondam friend” (129).

While many of his contemporaries embraced dogkeeping and humaneness towards animals,1 Stoker crafted a novel that represents dogs and wolves as agents of Dracula, susceptible to his “rabid”—that is, unreasonable or fanatical—control. In turn, the discourse and management of rabies linked petted canines and petted women; their supposed innate susceptibility to rabidity represents both anxieties regarding intimacy and how such intimacy threatens gender and species hierarchy. Studies of Dracula have emphasized the desire to eradicate whatever evil Dracula and vampirism can be said to represent (variously identified as New Women or reverse colonization, for example). Understanding the discourse of rabies management and its relation to the novel allows us more fully to reconstruct the perceived risk to the late-Victorian family suggested by Dracula—not so much the risks of dalliances with prostitutes, but the risky affects that are supposed to inhere in marriage: love, esteem, and adoration.2 Dracula, in fact, functions as a handling manual for untrustworthy canines and women, illustrating the dangers posed by prized domesticates. This [End Page 77] reading of Dracula moves beyond etymology and symptomology to investigate how Dracula not only fomented but also managed these anxieties, effectively teaching the English how to live with the quotidian terror of domestic intimacy at the heart of their hearths.

In effect, Dracula functions as a pedagogical tool to teach, through the vehicle of terror, how to love one’s wife (or pet dog, or other similarly positioned household dependent). The logic applied to dogkeeping resonated discursively with wife management, producing husbands comfortable with the paradox of feeling positive attachment—love—for that which might need to be destroyed, euthanized, at a moment’s notice.3 Rabies discourse evinces this paradoxical love for a dispensable object—what I call “paranoid love”—that mediated Englishmen’s relationships with their wives as well as interspecies relationships. In “becoming with,” in Donna J. Haraway’s words (19), humans and their canine companions have participated in a reciprocal “co-constitution” (27, 63) that, as I will show, has been defined by love and terror. Lover-killers, killer-lovers: these are the paranoid lovers produced by the discursive logic of Dracula.

Rabid Dogs, Rabid Women

We are hardly pressed for choice when it comes to locating a real-life referent for Dracula’s disease: critics have read it as cholera (McNally and Florescu 137), syphilis (May), degeneration (Spencer, Pick), onanism (Mighall, D. Mason, Sellers), and, more lately, tuberculosis (Byrne). While many of these choices seem well-grounded, the consensus within the medical field is, according to Juan Goméz-Alonso and Jean Theodorides, that rabies offers the most likely origin for the myths of vampirism (856; 114). According to Victorian encyclopedias, the vampire was well known to appear in the form of a dog, among other forms (“Vampire,” Chambers’s; “Vampire,” New International), and the vampire bat was...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 77-92
Launched on MUSE
2014-05-24
Open Access
No
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