“You couldn’t (doubt yourself) with eyebrows like yours”
–Jonathan Harker to Van Helsing
I wrote sometime back about this online course I took last year, ‘Fantasy and Science Fiction’. You can find my post here. Each week, we were supposed to read a book and write a 270-320 word essay which would “enrich the reading of a fellow intelligent student”. The essay shouldn’t read like a review, but should be somewhat analytic and definitely informative. So today I present to you my essay on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, assuming there are very few book-lovers who haven’t read it. I started with the quote I’ve placed at the beginning of this post.
Physiognomy is the art of judging an individual’s character by studying their facial features. Though considered a pseudoscience now, it was widely popular in the author’s time. In the novel too, it plays an especially important role. Not only does the description of a character’s facial features paint a vivid picture of the character in our minds, it also tells us from the outset whether that particular character is good or evil, which is of paramount importance in this novel.
Thus, the driver who transported Jonathan to Castle Dracula has red eyes; the devil has red eyes, and so as soon as we read this description we know that the driver is somehow dangerous. The Count has “a very strong, aquiline, [..] thin nose [..] lofty domed forehead”, signifying his strength of body and character, and his pride. But more noteworthy are his “fixed and rather cruel-looking” mouth and his “peculiarly sharp white teeth”. Even his coarse, broad, hairy hands with the long, sharp fingernails further the impression that the Count is more beast-like than human. Although during the first few hours of Jonathan’s visit we have no concrete reason to doubt the Count, his physical description is enough for us to beware of him. Similarly, Dr. Seward’s “strong jaw and the good forehead” tell us of his courage and intelligence. Van Helsing is a “kindly, strong-faced old man”, which tells us that he is mature and experienced, brave and forceful.
Physiognomy is also a valuable literary device in signifying the change in the characters’ personalities. Jonathan’s gray hair not only symbolize his shock and terrible ordeal, but also emphasize the fact that he is an old soul; he has experience and knowledge way beyond his years. Similarly, the startling change in Lucy’s features (eyes that were “dull and hard at once”, “voluptuous lips”) warn the reader of her conversion into an Undead. Mina too, bears the scar on her forehead as a reminder of her “unclean” status.
Thus, although much criticized now, the art of Physiognomy proves to be a most advantageous tool in the hands of the author; it helps us in identifying the undercurrent of the novel–the basic theme of the story–the triumph of good over evil.
Have you read the book? If you have, what do you think of my critique? And if you haven’t, do you want a link where you can download it legally from?