Oscar Wilde was imprisoned gross indecency in May of 1895, and one month later Bram Stoker began to write his novel Dracula, a novel filled with transgressive sexual and a text which has been of great interest when applying queer theory to the Gothic English literary canon. Whilst correlation is not causation, this timing may not be entirely without meaning.
The Wildes and the Stokers were friends when Oscar and Bram were young. But that implies the families were part of a confined social group, this is not quite true. Oscar’s mother Jane threw lavish parties and had a wide circle of friends, it was probably at one of these parties that the two met. Oscar’s parents were incredibly fond of the young Bram, and this may have sparked competition between them. There is no doubt there was a tense relationship between the two, with Stoker outstripping Wilde academically in their youth. Then they both fell for the same woman Florence Balcombe who deserves her own article and will get one so I’m just going to skip ahead a little. Suffice to say it was Stoker and Balcombe who married
We don’t know much about Stoker’s life (due to his own Charlotte Brontë style curation), but an overwhelming number of scholars assert his role as a “gay observer” (Schaffer, 1994). This is has something to do with close textual interpretations and some of the more blatant homoeroticism in his most acclaimed work, Dracula, and with writings that have been discovered as part of a recently recovered “Journal”
Homoeroticism in Dracula
The Count is similar to the caricature of Oscar Wilde that developed during his trials and some of the other narrative similarities I will save for the Florence Balcombe article. Suffice to say that Dracula and vampirism are a direct threat to the moral fibre of 19th century Christian British moral fibre, in much the same way as many saw Wilde and “transgressive” sexuality. This idea that you can catch homosexuality has never quite gone away sadly.
Many read Jonathan Harker’s time in the Castle Dracula as a homoerotic experience of temptation. In the end, Jonathan has reconciled this time of imprisonment with his life with Mina, which seems almost sexless. He is able to exist in London with his male friends and his family life existing in harmony, without the looming presence of The Count. This duality of domestic sphere of the heteronormative family and homosocial/homosexual social spheres This might sound familiar from our exploration of Dorian Gray. This duality was very much of its time, and the 1890s proved to be a period of transition between this dualism and devastating persecution that accompanied public awareness of queer communities and individuals.
Reading Dracula as a reactionary work to the trials of Oscar Wilde is an interesting and fruitful exercise. The view is that perhaps Stoker felt extremely vulnerable and embarrassed by his friend’s public shaming during his trial, and feeling his own sexuality called into question by association he panicked and began the erasure of their association.
Stoker systematically removed Wilde, or any allusions to Wilde in his works and documentation, replacing them with angry condemnations of degeneracy, thinly veiled references to Wilde’s arrest and other similar moral “transgressions”.
For more on the link between Wilde, Stoker and Homoeroticism in Dracula read:
Schaffer, T. (1994). “A Wilde Desire Took Me”: The Homoerotic History of Dracula. ELH, 61(2), 381-425. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.simsrad.net.ocs.mq.edu.au/stable/2873274