The significance of blood in Gothic literature can be illustrated in many aspects. At the elementary level, the presence of blood and bleeding serve as a metaphor for the breakdown of the whole body; life is fragile, and depends on the integrity of circulation, the monthly flow of blood for reproduction, and the staunching of blood from wounds to prevent mortality. In this metaphor, the body could represent more than a person or a family; it can stand for a racial or nationalistic body, too. Spilled or lost blood makes the body weaker, mixed blood undermines purity, alcohol or drugs in the blood are poison or corruption.
At another level, blood denotes genealogy, lineages and procreation. This notion of using blood as a metaphor for for the family tree applies beyond Gothic literature; blood has long been used as a euphemism when describing one's ancestry, such as "I have Nordic blood on my dad's side." In this manner the speaker expresses consanguinity with the father's Nordic ancestry, but avoids the mention of sperm or sexual acts. No one says "My grandfather had sex with a Nordic woman to conceive my father."
In another euphemistic turn of phrase, family loyalties are also frequently characterized with the phrase 'blood is thicker than water.' This notion is challenged in Gothic texts like Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that foreground certain anxieties within the family structure, prodding for flaws in the relationships between fathers and sons, husbands and wives. The continuity and good relations among bloodlines is also important to the Gothic in that it is directly connected with the Gothic exploration of the rules of inheritance and marriage. Early Gothic novels such as Walpole's Castle of Otranto are focused closely on the tension around who should inherit the estate when an important person dies. The Gothic texts in the Victorian era were more concerned with the rise of the bourgeois class that threatened to destabilize the ruling power of the former elite. Therefore, the Gothic treatment of blood sometimes focuses on the purity and taintedness of blood, like in Bram Stoker’s Dracula to highlight contemporary societal anxieties. Blood, due to its ability to be transfused between humans, can be treated as a transactional currency in the Gothic text as exemplified in Stoker’s Dracula. This commodification of blood is highly significant as it reflects the anxiety of the genre towards the increasing dominion of capitalism and industrialization that threatened traditional ways of life.
The ambivalence of blood’s dual functionality as a life-giver and yet also a life-denier highlights the liminal space that blood occupies in the Gothic genre. Stoker’s Dracula is the epitome of a character who both denies and yet gives ‘life’ to his victims. This ability to maintain a bifurcated ideology is a hallmark of the Gothic, a genre in which it is entirely possible for an action to be purely good and evil at the same time.
The notion of blood as a life-giver is further extended by its religious connotations. The blood of Biblical Christ who had sacrificed himself on the cross for mankind’s salvation is subverted in Stoker’s Dracula when Dracula, now possibly perceived as the Anti-Christ who consumes his victim’s blood instead of giving blood for salvation.
Courtesy of James Tan, National University of Singapore and Wendy Fall, Marquette University.
Hughes, William, David Punter, and Andrew Smith. The Encyclopedia of the Gothic . Chichester, West Sussex, UK : Wiley-Blackwell, 2013. Print.
Eliza, or the Unhappy Nun: Exemplifying the Unlimited Tyranny Exercised by the Abbots and Abbesses Over the Ill-Fated Victims of Their Malice in the Gloomy Recesses of a Convent. Including the Adventures of Clementina, or The Constant Lovers, a True and Affecting Tale., Unknown
Priory of St. Clair; OR SPECTRE OF THE Murdered Nun. A GOTHIC TALE [Transcript], Sarah Scudgell Wilkinson