Did Orson Welles make Dracula romantic?

(October, the month of Halloween, conjures one name in our household: Dracula! This is the second of a series of posts on various aspects of Dracula and vampires in general. I’ll be giving away a two-pack of my own vampire novels Blood Groove and The Girls with Games of Blood to one lucky commenter per post, so comment early, comment often!)

For a while–we’re talking decades–I’d believed the romantic take on vampires began with Anne Rice. Before “Interview with the Vampire, these creatures were villainous, if occasionally attractive, creatures of the night. After her, they became tortured heroes, as much a victim of their bloodlust as the people they killed.

Yet I’ve had to re-evaluate this after hearing a radio broadcast of Dracula produced and directed by Orson Welles, who played both the Count and Dr. Seward.

In Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula is not a ladies’ man. He is old, thin, has hairy palms and bad breath. The idea of the “sexy” vampire originated with the theatrical adaptations that played in theaters before movies were common, and became codified with Bela Lugosi (this is covered in great detail in David J. Skal’s excellent book Hollywood Gothic: The Tangled Web of Dracula from Novel to Stage to Screen). Christopher Lee enhanced this in the Hammer films, but in all of these incarnations, Dracula’s attractiveness was just a lure; women might swoon for him, but he could care less.

Welles was a master of the radio medium, as his famous 1938 Halloween broadcast of War of the Worlds demonstrated. He also did many other radio dramas, several of them based on classic works of fiction. But in his production of “Dracula,” done in the summer of 1938, he may have been the first to suggest–okay, to flat-out say–that Dracula’s relationship with Mina Harker was something more than predator/prey.

In the radio drama, which follows the broad outlines of the novel pretty closely, the good guys finally corner Dracula in Transylvania; they have mere moments before the sun sets and he is able to command his vampiric powers. In the script, Dracula’s voice speaks his thoughts aloud, summoning help:

There is one very dear to me who has not answered! My love … Mina. There is less than a minute between me and the night. You must speak for me, you must speak with my heart.

Then, moments later:

Flesh of my flesh, come to me, my love. Come into the night and the darkness, you have served me well, my love, my bride … 

Clearly, Dracula feels something greater than mere bloodlust for Mina: he calls her “my bride.” There’s no indication that this feeling is mutual: she responds to him only under his psychic influence. But it’s not a big step to have his love reciprocated, as is now a common trope in vampire fiction. Indeed, the love between vampire and victim has now almost wholly replaced the previous trope of horror and fear.

And did it all begin with Orson Welles?

You can listen to the production starting here.

4 Comments on “Did Orson Welles make Dracula romantic?”

  1. Thanks for pointing this out. Bookmarked it for future listening.

    It’s kind of cool how so much Old-Time Radio stuff has survived to this day, given how many other things from that era were treated as ephemeral and are now lost.

  2. This is pretty interesting. You always find such different angles to explore! Now I will be constantly paying attention to see if I can find other evidence of the “romantic” vampire in older works.

  3. I’m at work, so I can’t listen to the lines in context, but taken as they are in your article, they sound like they are “spoken” psychically by Dracula to Mina. In that context, the love-laden language could be interpreted as part of the seductive aspect of his powers — still predator to prey, but in a wooing posture toward the prey. Just a thought.

  4. You’ll have to forgive me, it’s been 15+ years since reading Dracula, and I’ve just pulled out a quick copy to peruse.

    Reading Dracula around age 13, before seeing any movies, I remember I assumed that the relationship was a somewhat romantic one. Dracula tries to lure Jonathan with the brides and I felt it was a kind of trade on the Stoker’s part, women for women (in a time when women were possessions).

    Also, in the novel, when she sees his youthful face, she describes it as “not a good face” but also as “sensual.” Then Mina begins to take on vampiric qualities as they go to hunt Dracula. Also, she shrieks when Jonathan cuts Dracula’s throat (whether sorrow for the loss or shock at the violence it’s hard to say), and she says she’s glad that Dracula’s face was at peace before he crumbled.

    It’s hard to say whether there were intimations of a romantic bent to their contact without rereading the book AND trying to take into context the background of Stoker’s time and upbringing. Maybe it was my hormonal child’s heart but I always believed he loved Mina.

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