The Queer Displacement of Desire in ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’

Today we navigate through the dangerously queer displacements of desire in ‘Frankenstein’ and ‘Dracula’! Before we start, some definitions:

‘Displacement’ originates from Freud and is defined as the unconscious ‘shifting of energy’ from one person to another, the ‘energy’ in question being desire. [1]

‘Queer’ refers to anything that opposes the dominant ideals that humanity is supposed to conform to.[2]

Victor Frankenstein’s creature and Dracula are therefore queer, as they subvert the conceptional ideals of humanity, being an artificially created monster and an undead vampire. I know, scary stuff.  The queer displacement of desire involves the subconscious, a lack of control, the invasion of the mind and body, the formation of a network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships and finally, death. Read on if you dare!

The queer displacement of desire first pops up via the subconscious in ‘Frankenstein.’ Victor Frankenstein’s established love for Elizabeth Lavenza is pitted against his desire to animate the creature. The queer displacement of Victor’s desire is first explained in Victor’s dream, in which, after kissing her, Elizabeth transforms into Victor’s mother, before he catches sight of the ‘miserable monster.’[3] In Victor’s subconscious mind, his desire for Elizabeth is displaced by his obsession with the creature. His kissing of Elizabeth offsets the events within the dream, creating an ideal image of heterosexual relations. This romantic gesture upholds heteronormative ideals, but quickly rejects them when the creature appears, as he becomes the object of Victor’s romantic desire. This relationship fully subverts heteronormativity, and is queer, as Victor appears to have romantic feelings for an artificially created being of the same gender. The shifting images in Victor’s dream directly correlate to the queer displacing of his desire, in favour of the creature. Haggarty validates this, arguing that queerly displaced desire raises questions about male homosexual desires.[4] Victor’s queer, non-heteronormative desire for the creature, displaces his desire for Elizabeth, as outlined by his subconscious mind. Victor cannot control this, suggesting that he cannot control the queer displacement of his desire. All in all, dreams are complicated and crazy things.

A lack of control in relation to the queer displacement of desire is also apparent for Jonathan Harker in ‘Dracula.’ Jonathan’s heterosexual desire for his fiancé Mina Murray is displaced in favour of the Brides of Dracula, which is displaced further by an encounter with Dracula himself, leading Maurice Hindle to assert that ambiguous desires drive the novel.[5]

Jonathan’s desire to marry Mina allows the reader to understand the magnitude of his displaced desire, as he finds himself thrilled and repulsed by the Brides of Dracula.[6] Jonathan describes that their teeth ‘shone like pearls against the ruby’ of their lips. The references to jewels suggest that their beauty is artificial, unnatural and downright creepy. Despite their queer appearance, Jonathan still has a ‘burning desire’ to be kissed by them, emphasising that his desire has fully shifted away from Mina in favour of the Brides.

Jonathan lacks control in this scenario as he takes the place of the female, as he ‘waited,’[7] and wanted, to be penetrated.[8] Jonathan refers to the Brides as animalistic, implying their role as predator and his as their prey.[9] His masculinity is fully subverted by the Brides, who adopt this masculinity by being sexually dominant. Jonathan instead displays a ‘feminine passivity’ towards them.[10] This example of ‘sexual inversion’ further emphasises the queer nature of Jonathan’s displaced desire, as he has entered into a relationship that has disrupted heteronormative gender roles, as the women are sexually dominant, and the male is submissive.[11] This is some real old fashioned thinking here.

Jonathan’s lack of control, and desire to be penetrated, is further explored by Dracula’s entrance. Dracula interrupts the Brides’ seduction of Jonathan by declaring that ‘this man belongs to me,’ taking full ownership and control of Jonathan.[12] At this point Jonathan loses control fully, as he falls ‘unconscious’ and is at the mercy of Dracula.[13] He later wakes up in his ‘own bed,’ to find that his ‘clothes were folded and laid on the bed.’[14] This implies that Jonathan was undressed by Dracula. It appears that Dracula’s claiming of Jonathan refers to Dracula’s sexual ownership of Jonathan, and control over his body. This hints at another queer displacement of desire that is non-heteronormative, due to the homoerotic undertones. Christopher Craft recognises the implication, arguing that Dracula’s penetration of another male is ‘threatened’ throughout the text.’[15] Craft’s use of ‘threatened’ implies that he recognises that no homosexual sex is explicitly stated, but also confirms that Craft believes this idea to be disruptive to the norm.

Mina too lacks control in her relationship with Dracula, and this results in the forced invasion of her mind. After forcing her to feed on him, Dracula declares that Mina shall come to his ‘call’ as he has forged a telepathic connection with her.  Dracula declares that Mina is now of his ‘flesh,’ implying that they are the same person, in a scenario that Hindle compares to ‘forced enslavement.’   As a result of her displaced desire, Mina’s mind is invaded by Dracula, allowing him to take full ownership of her, and enslave her. Dracula’s connections with Mina and Jonathan lead to a complicated network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships.

The pairing of Jonathan and Dracula, and Dracula’s assault of Mina leads to the development of a network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships. Mina is found with her face forced in Dracula’s ‘bosom,’ and her ‘white nightdress smeared with blood.’[16] We don’t know whether Jonathan and Mina have consummated their marriage, and her encounter with Dracula hints to this action, subverting her traditional union with her husband. Robert Tracy speculates that this scene represents consummation, as Dracula’s bite is seen to be penetrative and therefore sexual.[17] The white of Mina’s nightdress, which is representative of her purity, is stained by blood, a reference to the breaking of her hymen and loss of her virginity, creating an unholy union between herself and Dracula. Tracy recognises the queer nature of this, explaining that this ‘consummation’ creates a triangle that transcends and disrupts the loyalties of marriage, the bond between husband and wife.[18] Dracula’s encounters with Mina, and Jonathan, and the various queer displacing of the characters’ desires, disrupts the institution of marriage, creating a network of queer and non-heteronormative relationships. Similar networks are also formed in ‘Frankenstein,’ between Victor, the creature and Elizabeth, as outlined by Victor’s dream.

The network of queer, non-heteronormative relationships between Dracula, Jonathan and Mina are forged due to Dracula’s overpowering sexuality, which is an important aspect of the queer displacement of desire. Despite her distress, Mina notes that she ‘did not want to hinder’ Dracula, when he forced her to feed on him.[19] Here she changes from an unwilling to willing participant in this action, implying that Dracula unlocks her sexual desires, and that she indulges in them with him. Her desire for Jonathan is queerly displaced in favour of Dracula in this moment. Judith Weissman is unsurprised by this, citing Dracula’s unprecedented, unmatched sexual performance as the reason why Mina succumbs to him.[20] Such a union between a human and supernatural being is especially queer, as Mina is supposed to be one of ‘God’s women,’ a figure that would be antithetical to the ‘devilish’ Count.[21] [22] It appears that the overall sexiness of vampires is overpowering yet attractive to humans, as demonstrated by Jonathan’s encounter with the Brides, and Mina’s with Dracula… and apparently ‘Twilight.’ This is queer, as the satanic-like vampires are able to seduce even the purest of humanity, such as Mina. To varied extents, both Mina and Jonathan indulge and allow this unholy sexual union, emphasising the queer nature of their displaced desires.

Death is the outcome of the queer displacement of desire within the Gothic novel. Victor’s dream implies that he has created death instead of life, as after kissing Elizabeth, she becomes ‘livid with the hue of death.’[23] This foreshadows her death at Victor’s hands, as he has prioritised the creature over her. Haggarty too observes this, noting that Victor’s displaced desire for the creature and his neglect of Elizabeth leads to her death.[24] This is highlighted by Victor’s misinterpretation of the creature’s warning, that he shall be with Victor on his ‘wedding night.’ Victor rudely forgets that Elizabeth will too be present on their wedding night, as traditionally it is when the marriage is consummated. Duh. This supports the idea that Victor harbours homosexual feelings for the creature, as Victor chooses to delay the consummation of his marriage and pursue the creature instead. This implies that Victor’s desire has been fully displaced away from Elizabeth, leaving her vulnerable. Unsurprisingly, Elizabeth is later found ‘lifeless and inanimate.’ Elizabeth’s death is the result of Victor’s queerly displaced desire, and her demise frees Victor to pursue the creature for the rest of the novel. Elizabeth’s death is similar to that of Mina’s assault in ‘Dracula,’ demonstrating that the tension caused by the queer displacement of desire reaches its peak at moments that are sexually charged, as like the creature, Dracula throws ‘his victim back upon the bed.’[25] Ultimately, the displacement of desire describes a shift in lustful thoughts from one to another, and it is unsurprising that the climax of such conflicting desires sometimes results in death.

The queer displacement of desire away from the heteronormative is dangerous within the Gothic novel, as it just causes a load of grief and sometimes death. Just steer clear of vampires and artificially created monsters, and you’ll be fine.

Thanks for reading!

Stay safe, stay inside. Read something cheerful.

[1] Salman Akhtar, Comprehensive Dictionary of Psychoanalysis (London: Karnac Books, 2009) p. 263.

[2] David Halperin, Saint Foucault: Towards a Gay Hagiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997) p. 62.

[3] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2009), p. 39.

[4] George Haggarty, Queer Gothic, (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2006) p. 58.

[5] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011) p. xxxv.

[6] Ibid., p. 45

[7] Ibid., p. 45.

[8] David Punter and Glennis Byron, The Gothic (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004) p. 232.

[9] Ibid., p. 45.

[10] Ibid., p. 232.

[11] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011) p. 232.

[12] Ibid., p. 45.

[13] Ibid., p. 45.

[14] Ibid., p. 48.

[15] David Punter and Glennis Byron, The Gothic (New Jersey: Wiley-Blackwell, 2004) p. 232.

[16] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011), p. 300.

[17] Robert Tracy, ‘Loving You Always: Vamps, Vamps, Vampires, Necrophiles, Necrofilles in Nineteenth-Century Fiction’ in Sex and Death and Victorian Literature, ed. by Regina Barreca, (London: Macmillan, 1990) pp. 32-59. p. 34.

[18] Ibid., p. 44.

[19] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011), p. 306.

[20] Ibid., p. xxxiii.

[21] Ibid., p. 201.

[22] Ibid., p. 300.

[23] Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (Oxford: Oxford World Classics, 2009), p. 39.

[24] George Haggarty, Queer Gothic, (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2006) p. 58.

[25] Bram Stoker, Dracula (London: Penguin Clothbound Classics, 2011), p. 301.

Published by harpalkhambay

I'm a second year English Literature and History student, and wanted a space to explore topics within those fields that interest me.

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