The man who worships a fiend for a God may be in some sense spiritual, but his spirituality will be a devilish fanaticism. — Francis William Newman

Dracula enables us to glimpse even so the persistence of a deep strain of the Evangelical mentality into an age when Evangelicalism itself seemed dead and buried, with the stake of modern thought. . . . In some fashion, the ghastly vampire is “rooted” in the sacred and in holiness, and derives his vitality from them; in some fashion, he is an emanation of the religious impulse. —Christopher Herbert, 211-12 [emphasis added]

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n “Fanatical Imagination in Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” the afterword to Evangelical Gothic: The English Novel and the War on Virtue from Wesley to Dracula (2019), Christopher Herbert convincingly argues that Stoker’s novel is “one of the most religiously saturated popular novels of its time” (211) and unlike its predecessors, Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872), which make little reference to religion, Dracula “instructs readers to interpret the tale in particular theological terms.” In fact, the novel’s characters “pray constantly for the intercession of Almighty God in their struggles with the demonic; they cross themselves, brandish crucifixes, and invoke the protective powers of Communion wafers . . . A vampire, declares the devout Van Helsing, nominally an advanced medical scientist but more a lay priest (and necromancer) and the book’s main religious authority, is ‘an arrow in the side of Him who died for man’: the battle against the plague of vampirism is a battle specifically on behalf of Jesus” (211).

Herbert’s main point, he says, “is not to prove that Dracula must henceforth be read in a doctrinaire way specifically as a commentary on British Evangelicalism but, rather, to suggest that the repertoire of imagery and analysis elaborated in the course of the long tradition of nineteenth-century anti-Evangelical writing proves in this text, at this late date, once again to be the vehicle for themes of fanatical conversion-obsessed religion” (218). Dracula’s “insatiable craving to bite into the bloodstream of new victims and by that act to claim them as converts to his perverted sect needs to be seen . . . as a fantastically heightened fin de siècle version of the warnings issued by anti-Evangelicals” (215) Evangelical Gothic hammers away powerfully, continually, but not always convincingly at two main points: first, that we should not credit late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Evangelical Protestantism, as many historians have done, for the moral tone and social improvements of the Victorian age, and, second, that Evangelical emphasis that only faith rather than good works brought salvation actually resulted in attacks on traditional morality. However much his main arguments depend on partial evidence and skillful polemic, his interpretation of Stoker’s novel rings true, and Herbert’s three main arguments about Dracula convince.

First of all, he points out the way Victorian and earlier Evangelical preachers, such as the immensely popular Charles Spurgeon (whose works remain in print today), identify “as a fundamental pathology of fallen mankind ‘a kind of delight in sin’ and a sadistic eagerness to seduce others into depravity” resembles the actions of the vampire. . . . This Evangelical preacher’s idea of an ‘appetite’ for depravity feeding insanely on itself and on the souls of victims, burning with passionate heat and yet belonging to the spiritually “dead,” is exactly the one that Stoker calls vampirism” (214).

Second, Herbert relates Dracula’s lust for blood with what he calls the “astonishing cult of blood” (221) in Evangelical poems, hymns, and sermons. The hymns of Charles and John Wesley, for example, contain such lines as “let us drink Thy blood” (# 30), “We feed on thee/ and drink Thy precious blood” (#42), and “We thirst to drink Thy precious blood,/ We languish in Thy wounds” #112).

The intensely eroticized blood-parasitism of Dracula is of course treated as a diabolical pathology by Stoker, but we can see that it only replicates (in comparatively rather mild terms) the delirious cult of blood that was so noteworthy a feature of British religious imagination in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. “The altar streams with sacred blood, / And all the temple flames with God!” declares one ecstatic hymn (#89) that seems to conjure Aztec rather than respectable Protestant devotional exercises.

Still the wounds are open wide,
The blood doth freely flow
As when first His sacred side
Received the deadly blow:
Still, O God, the blood is warm,
Cover’d with the blood we are. (hymn #122) [221]

Evangelical “pollution thinking” — the idea of sin as uncleanness — provides the third link of “puritanical nineteenth-century Protestantism to gothic horror in Dracula . . . This ideologically laden figure of speech, a crux of the puritanical imagination, depicts ‘sin’ not as a function of human moral agency or of the moral significance of human actions but, rather, as a material, quasi-physical condition” (224). This “language of disgusting uncleanness” pervades the novel functioning “as its central moral vocabulary” that created “nightmarish urgency to a familiar turn of Victorian thought. The trope of thinking of moral disorder as a disgusting quasi-physical condition—has always been the work it does in fostering panicky ideologies based on shunning the unclean, on policies of social segregation or of social “cleansing,” and on the worship of what is called purity of blood” (224-25).


Herbert, Christopher. Evangelical Gothic: The English Novel and the War on Virtue from Wesley to Dracula. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019. [Review by George P. Landow].

Last modified 5 December 2019