EN 4223 Seminar 11 Handout – Dracula
Bram Stoker b. 1847 in Dublin, to an upper middle-class Anglo-Irish family (father was a civil servant, and Bram went to a private school before studying at Trinity College, Dublin, the training ground for Ireland’s leaders and administrators). Started out as a civil servant (clerk in Dublin castle), but soon rejected this for a life at the fringes of the theatrical-literary circles. Was agent to the famous actor Henry Irving, dabbled in dramas and theatre reviews, editor of a literary magazine, and writer of gothic romances, mostly unsuccessful (anybody read Lair of the White Worm or Jewel of the Seven Stars?), one (Dracula, pub. 1897) successful beyond anyone’s imagining.
Germ of the story (see Hindle’s intro to the Penguin, p. x) was a dream Stoker had (young man, alluringly aggressive woman, older man who claims ownership – this became the scene in the castle with the confrontation between Dracula and the 3 female vampires), which was in turn interwoven with other textual elements that Stoker had seen on stage or read (3 witches in Macbeth; Le Fanu’s “Carmilla”; William Wilkinson’s Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia; social realist novels about the “new woman,” e.g. in George Gissing, etc).
Dracula a significant geopolitical text because of its fundamentally trangressive nature: in its dream-like origins and symbolism; its sexual overtones; its central trope of the vampire (blood, infection, miscegenation, foreignness, shape-changing/disguise), and its intertextuality. (i.e. a kind of schizophrenia of deep dream-content, and of narrative borrowings).
But also geopolitical at an overtly geographical/imperialist level: a story about historical change, social upheaval and change, transnational movements (including the movements of “property”), detection and chasing/adventure, etc – “geopolitical thriller,” a kind of early supernatural Ian Fleming or Michael Crichton.
I. Textual Miscegenation/Vampirism:
i. “Vampire” stories: Byron’s The Giaour, Polidori’s The Vampyre, Rymer’s Varney the Vampyre, Le Fanu’s Carmilla (maybe also Coleridge’s Christabel and Keats’ Lamia) – enigmatic, powerful, timeless, charismatic stranger who both threatens/violates as well as seduces/attracts.
ii. Gothic travel romance – like Ann Radcliffe’s accounts of journeys (especially by virginal girls) into “dark” countries/cultures, which stir up darkness within as well (also cp. Dacre, Charlotte Bronte, Walter Scott). A “dark anthropology” mixed up in this, as in point iii below.
iii. Victorian adventure/boys’ story – imperial fantasies of hunting, soldiering, travel, rescue and fortune-hunting (Baden-Powell, Conan Doyle, Kipling, Rider Haggard, Stevenson, Conrad’s earlier short stories; Dicken’s Oliver Twist an earlier version).
iv. Detective story: domestic scandal, sexual perversion, the “scientific” uncovering/unraveling of a mystery; (sub-text of the “scientific detective story” – S may have been influenced by his mother’s letter detailing Cholera epidemic in Sligo, Ireland)
v. Diary/epistolary form: 18th C precedents, the “new form” of the novel (spontaneous, formless), but also revealing, frank, shocking. Frankenstein uses epistolary form to suggest miscommunication, “floating” fragments. Victorian update (e.g. in Collins’ Woman in White, or even Moonstone) often used the trope of the “editor” who “objectively” pulled fragments together, but in the process also presented without comment “shocking” elements too.
vi. Biblical (OT) accounts of manifest destiny, a particular race exterminating an “unclean” competitor and claiming the sponsorship of a transcendent deity; might is right, but (also) right is might.
vii. Other smaller textual elements: Dracula as Faust (devilish pact); Dracula as Wandering Jew (eternal, but cursed); Dracula as satan (misery loves company, army of darkness); patriarchal/Oedipal struggles (Dracula as father-progenitor, but also as controller of desire; but uncannily mirrored by Van Helsing?); folk tales and superstitions; many Biblical allusions/quotations (mostly by Van Helsing); Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter? (Mina’s scar-let mark on her forehead, the result of a lapse in the marital bedchamber); Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner and the ghost ship
II. Figure of Dracula
a. Like many Gothic monsters, a figure for social anxieties:
i. Devolution and bestiality; power corrupts, serves desires, and brings isolation;
ii. Moral/intellectual/emotional stuntedness (his “child-brain that lie in his tomb for centuries,” as Van H says on p. 361 and elsewhere) a figure of the old civilization that inbreeds and stagnates (and thus the fate awaiting England);
iii. Blood as racial/genetic/cultural legacy (valorized as a social guarantee/corrective, but also feared as something impossible to police; inherently mixing, adapting)
iv. Racial other – civilized but old and decaying; European but mixed with slavic and other elements (“…it was the ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon, and the Turk. Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders” p. 28)
v. Incessant competition/struggle; Darwinian jungle, predation;
vi. Colonial consequences/empire strikes back: reverse colonization, undesirability of immigration;
vii. Financial gothic: money as sordid/foreign/motile, but also empowering, and dominant over real property (the houses D buys in Whitby and London); note anti-Semitic nature of this trope: D, with his gold-hoarding, money-grubbing ways (firstly in the guise of the coachman, but later in the fight in Piccadilly (he is cut and “a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out”…”grasping a handful of the money from the floor” p. 326) resembles the description of the shipping agent Hildesheim in Galatz, "a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theatre type," whose "arguments were pointed with specie" (p. 371). D, like Kalamake, takes on some of the characteristics of money? Disembodied/abstract, can flow like mist, can divide family members, a kind of bondage/madness (like the Bottle Imp), seduces the professional man Harker (through work/ambition), can be transported/smuggled across borders, etc.
viii. The (social/domestic/sexual/racial) intruder: whose intrusion into a space hitherto considered private and sacrosanct, cannot be thwarted because of trickery (e.g getting Renfield to issue invitation to the house) and magic (mist, bat);
ix. Disease, madness: not just contagious infection (via blood – Van H tells Mina “he have infect you” p. 340), but also social disease spread via mimesis/moral corruption (Renfield’s mimicry of D’s zoophagism; mimicry of habits like writing/journaling, as on p. 119 when Lucy writes “I must imitate Mina, and keep writing things down,” or p. 108 when Mina writes “I call him Arthur from her habit” – D as shape-changer, rejuvenator, student of languages and cultures, is the ultimate symbol of both imitation and contagion), and the “madness” of monomania/obsession (cp. Holmes in “6 Napoleons” and elsewhere – monomania and the detective-villain doubling) but also the madness of civilized man’s overreaction/paranoia (Van H and the Anglo-Am men are like paranoiac fanatics who cannot tell the world what they fear – prepared to kill D in plain sight even though “suspicion of murder” and “a rope” should be the consequence (p. 356).
x. Sexuality/desire: blood evokes passions, but also semen. Dracula’s effect is to make English women more “voluptuous” and beautiful – the sublime (in Burke’s sense) effect, of breaking out of repressive Victorian masculine ideas of contained beauty. Ambiguity of Mina’s phrase “I feel freer than I have been of late” (p. 360) – is D the imposition of sexual control (rape), or the liberation of Victorian repression and the creation of feminine sexuality as such?
Mirroring/doubling: although D ostensibly functions as “channeling” of ethnic/cultural anxieties onto a scapegoat foreigner, ultimately his traits mirror Victorian masculinity back onto itself (hence title of Nina Auerbach’s book, Our Vampires, Ourselves – double effect of channeling, simultaneously casts out and foregrounds social anxieties). Harker actually expresses his willingness to become vampire in the name of love (Mina “shall not go into that uknown and terrible land alone” p. 317). White men ultimately take on characteristics of the things they fear/hate in D:
i. Blood – transfusion, even to the extent of threatening life/health of donor, justified by “love”/chivalry – but engenders secrecy/jealousy/competition (“If our young lover should turn up unexpected…no word to him” p. 139). The clinical ruthlessness of the doctor; the chivalric standards of the Victorian male; the mad zeal of the lover; all gloss the taking of blood as pleasure, honour, duty. But Lucy is symbolically and effectively as much a vampire as D is, even before she actually becomes undead: she sucks up the blood of the men in her life, as she had earlier sucked out their vitality with her flirtatious, wanton ways (Seward: “Cannot eat, cannot rest…Since my rebuff of yesterday I have a sort of empty feeling” p. 68).
ii. Mixing/miscegenation – Lucy mixes the blood of 4 men in her veins (Van H’s crude joke, “this so sweet maid is a polyandrist” p. 187), while the same 4 men plus Mina’s husband risk their lives to save Mina’s (and avenge Lucy’s), and Mina’s child has the names of all his symbolic fathers. At least Dutch and American blood mixed into the English stock – but also D’s blood in Mina (and into her son?). Mixing of blood, as “prevention” of racial pollution, results in/justifies its own racial mixing.
iii. Sexuality/desire: irony is that D is not so much the corruptor of innocence (as the Victorian men believe), but the mirror of a threatening desire already in men/women. Lucy’s pre-vampiric activities already wanton and predatory: her desire for all her suitors (“why can’t they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her…?” “so I leant over and kissed [Quincey],” p. 67; “I sympathise with poor Desdemona when she had such a dangerous stream poured in her ear, even by a black man” p. 66); Mina’s sharing of Lucy’s intimacies via her letters (i.e. sharing her men – “I call him Arthur from her habit,” p. 108). Mina’s intimacy with Quincey and Arthur: “for when Lord Godalming found himself alone with me he sat down on the sofa and gave way utterly and openly. I sat down beside him and took his hand. I hope he didn’t think it forward of me…” p. 244. “Will you let me be your friend, and will you come to me for comfort if you need it?...impulsively I bent over and kissed him” (p. 246). Symbolically, Lucy’s death and the trauma it causes, becomes the occasion for Mina to assume a Lucy-like position, as the woman at the centre of a circle of male attention/need.
Victorian men as endemically unfaithful – the “love” that Quincey and Seward still profess for Lucy, even after she is betrothed to Arthur; the “love” that then moves all the men to act for Mina (“her whom, each in his own way, we loved” p. 317) – chivalric love as thinly-disguised or displaced eros? Killing D is a displacement of white male desire away from improper female form, onto a “cause” (for the woman) which is quasi-sexual in nature. Harker’s desire awakened by the 3 female vamps: “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain; but it is the truth” p. 45.
Latent bloodlust, misogyny, instinct for rape/mutilation – the killing of undead Lucy (note that on p. 220, Van H talks of “cut[ing] off the head of dead Miss Lucy” first, or at least as much as he does of staking her heart; but on p. 230, it is the phallic stake which is foregrounded).
iv. Violence, invasion – if D is figure of the unwanted foreign encroacher, Seward/Arthur/Quincey are his Anglo-Am equivalent – their numerous but vaguely-recounted “adventures” together (“in all our hunting parties and adventures in different parts of the world” p. 325; “prairies…Marquesas…Titicaca” p. 69), all involving action, hunting, violence, travel. D’s imperialisms (past and present) justifiable as survival or self-defence; Anglo-Am men’s version is gratuitous, adventure. Figuring of Anglo-Am global dominance – in the calm touristic “journey to Transylvania” taken by the Harkers “seven years” after D’s death (p. 402); in Quincey’s symbolizing of an America that “will be a power in the world indeed” (p. 185). Harker’s kukri – appropriating the violent tools of the native, but also a suggestion of going native (where does he get the kukri from, and learn to use it?)
Even D’s bestial images are echoed (albeit faintly) by Victorian men: Harker’s brute strength (“with a strength which seemed incredible, raised the great box, and flung it over the wheel to the ground” p. 400) recalls the box’s only other sole mover, D. D turns the bestial image on them, comparing their faces to “sheep in a butcher’s” (p. 326). Harker in the castle compares himself to “a rat…in a trap” p. 34. Van H stands between undead Lucy and Arthur “like a lion at bay” p. 172).
The ambivalent image of the “great game” – e.g. Van H saying “The first gain is ours! Check to the King!” (p. 159; also p. 270) – cp. Holmes, cp. Kim. Game terminology defuses tensions in the situation, but also de-moralizes both sides (as merely “play”).
v. Illegality, disguise, deception: if D’s project is to hide within and prey on the “teeming millions” of London, the Victorian men do the same: fooling the locksmith and policeman in opening D’s house in Piccadilly (p. 312, 318); deceiving the housing agent to get information (p. 284); etc.
vi. Money/power/corruption: Victorian men and women gradually reveal their overt materialism: Mina “How can women help loving men when they are so earnest, and so true, and so brave! And, too, it made me think of the wonderful power of money!” (p. 378). Mina/Harker’s petit bourgeoise materialism/ambition: “and now, married to Jonathan, Jonathan a solicitor, a partner, rich, master of his business, Mr Hawkins dead and buried…” p.182/3. “Solicitor’s clerk! Mina would not like that.” p. 22.
Reading Dracula is in many ways about reading how the Victorian mind reads Dracula – the projection of their sexual, social, financial, geopolitical, ethnic and genetic fears on him, their ultimate reflection/doubling of those same traits. The journey/adventure/quest motif thus becomes a ritual exorcism, with the reader as quasi-anthropological observer (cp. Harker’s own naïve anthropology) to this Victorian ritual of scapegoating, violent purgation, and reconstructed “order.”
III. Homosocial, Homosexual, Androgyny and geopolitics
The homosocial world we see in so many geopolitical texts is replicated here, except in seemingly more tense and fragile form. In Kim and KSM, homosociality a kind of boyish, immature desire to get on with the business of adventure/treasure/imperialism without the distractions posed by women, procreation, family and sexuality. In Dracula, the homosociality seems the more desperate and defiant because there is no contingent/philosophical reason for it (quite the opposite, the men are all blatantly virile and desiring, eg their desire to marry Lucy), the men are largely “at home” in England rather than far away, and professional MC men rather than outcasts and adventurers like Kim and Quatermain.
This deliberate and desperate homosociality then takes on homosexual connotations: in particular, the fundamentally/primal homosexual scene of this gang of men turning away from heterosexual family life to chase this male “other” halfway across the world. If there is something blatantly rapacious and sexual about Dracula’s penetrating bite, then the same might be said for the way the men impale him at the end (p. 400).
The homosexual connotations are exacerbated by Dracula’s essential androgynous position: on the one hand the ultra-virile foreign man who seduces English women away from their men (who are strangely rendered impotent in his presence, e.g. Jonathan in the Harkers’ bedroom), on the other hand there is the constant threat of homosexual contact (e.g. the few times his appetites appear to turn to men rather than to women – e.g. in the castle when he repels the overtly sexualized claims of the female vampires to Harker, and says “this man belongs to me…I promise you that when I am done with him you shall kiss him at your will” (p. 46), thus putting himself in an equivalent/competitive position to the women in relation to Harker. Also, his strangely feminised/passivised position: if his mesmeric power renders Harker impotently helpless, likewise in his coffin and in daylight he himself is rendered passive and helpless, in the female position (e.g. Lucy in her coffin) waiting to be impaled. As the bearer of tainted blood (disease), he is associated with (put in the position of) the dirty woman (prostitutes, especially foreign women) in the chauvinistic Victorian imagination. In making Nina drink his blood at his breast, he is a male mater figure (inversion of nurturing breast), but nevertheless feminised (p. 307).
Androgyny can be seen as yet another geopolitical spatial strategy/anxiety: another way to find and fit into interstitial spaces. The androgyne, like the hybrid figure (e.g. Kim), defies categorization, and this is both a geopolitical anxiety (how do you police and keep out that which defies categorization? How do you keep a watch on something that preys on men and women, can take the form of dog, bat, mist?), as well as a geopolitical strategy (the other fighting back – figure of the marginal refusing to accept marginalization (as a position), but using marginality (as a spatial/typological strategy) to penetrate into the centre (represented by London).
IV. Dracula, Race, Exoticism
Dracula poses a particular problem from the point of view of geopolitical racialism: on the one hand European (at least, not obviously and dramatically other the way Ignosi, the Lama, Indian Brahmins, Andaman natives and Pacific Islanders are other), on the other hand decidedly outside the Western European (Aryan?) cultural-racial circle (the Anglo-American and Dutch cartel).
The figure of the Count possibly points to the problem/anxiety of an (as it were) intermediary otherness/racialism, mid-way between the white European self and the dark-skinned native other. Hence his figuring as a kind of internalized otherness – his ability to feed off and mimic the West European, e.g. sucking Jonathan’s youth and insider knowledge in order to fit into the very heart of England (Picadilly in London – p. 183). The Count is the more insidious because he represents the possibility/fear of otherness without differentiation – if he becomes indistinguishable by dress, speech, manner, appearance and even blood (vampirism as a symbolic interbreeding), then the moral distinction that the West European wants to insist on, has to be made without any apparent otherness.
(Historically, the problem of the Count anticipates the intra-European crises that were to result in WW I and II, a series of ethnic conflicts such as the Jewish holocaust and ethnic cleansing in Serbia, the socio-economic divide between West and East Germans, etc. These are white-on-white, internecine acts of violence, rather than the old colonial, white-other variety. Dracula’s depiction arguably draws on Stoker’s (admittedly theatrical) images of Jews: not only the money-grubbing aspect, but when Harker sees him in Picadilly, he is described as a “dark man” with a “pointed beard” (pp. 183-84) – Europeans stereotypes of the Jew-in-Europe).
Dracula represents a geopolitical “pivot” (to use Mackinder’s term) – in symbolic/cultural terms, it is the anxiety of the “inside outsider” whose difference is disturbing, but cannot be located clearly in any physical/genetic trait. In political terms, it is the internecine in-fighting that is going to plague Europe itself, even after colonialism is in its waning phase – an in-fighting that points to the fact that social, cultural and economic differences and causes are deeper than and prior to overt racial differences.
V. Dracula and Geopolitical Desire
The entire novel is driven by and centred around desire: overt/expressed desires (D’s desire to emigrate and settle in England; sexual desire (D prefers pretty young girls; but also Harker’s lustful stirrings in the presence of the female vampires, and Quincey/Seaward/Godalming’s desire for Lucy); the taboo subject of female sexuality (most overtly seen in Lucy, but also in Nina’s hesitant mimicry of Lucy’s sexual persona); money/ambition (a series of property transactions run through the novel, not just D’s transferring of wealth to England, but Godalming’s inheritance of his father’s title and power, and Nina’s naked ambition for her husband’s professional success, which is achieved when old Hawkins dies and Harker inherits the business).
But also covert/taboo desires which can only be hinted at and symbolized in overdetermined forms: e.g. homosexuality (the logical conclusion to Western male impotence in the face of the new woman), which then has to be displaced and exorcised through the ritual scapegoating and mutilation of the threatening sexual other (but a ritual which itself takes on both homophobic and homosexual overtones); capitalist imperialism (which takes the place of naked forceful imperialism: D wants to buy into England, and after the gang forces him out, they in turn enact a kind of touristic appropriation of Transylvania: they go on a tour, and mark/confirm how “every trace of all that had been was blotted out” (p. 402); ie they consume a land that has been re-written to fit their victorious narrative.
The novel can thus be read (in D and G’s terms) as a kind of textual/cultural channeling of desire: writing a crisis of Western European modernity (of the family, work, masculinity, penetrating/violating the integrity of European space) which then legitimizes or catalyses a Western reaction which results in a purging, the restoration of order, and the extension of the Western European cultural order. Dracula is desire/desiring: the transformation of bad desire (for which D is the scapegoat symbol) into good (proper professional ambition; bourgeoisie order and progress; the restoration of cultural superiority; heterosexuality and the reproduction of the bourgeois family).
VI. Narrative, Time, Order
a. Narrative as camp/hypocrisy exaggerates social definitions (good vs evil, Occidental/Oriental, masculine/feminine) while simultaneously undercutting them with pseudo-coded opposite meanings (masculine impotence, homosexuality, androgyny etc)
b. Gothic narratives notoriously patchy/piecemeal, and Dracula’s no exception. Heterogeneous fragments intended to provide “simple fact” (Preface) without embellishment and authorial intrusion – but of course may have quite different effects, of unresolved ambiguity/confusion, incoherence, doubleness, lack of clarity.
Some disturbing narrative elements that are reported without comment: Mina’s ambiguous reference to “my husband…is coming” (p. 395), and her “shriek” as Harker kills D (p. 400); all the possible sexual codes in p. 2 above; the “look of peace” that Mina imagines she sees on D’s face (p. 401); the “grave and troubled” look that Van H and Seward exchange when Mina says she is now “freer than I have been of late” (p. 360), and many other egs.
c. Imbalance: objectivity cannot be attained through authorial withdrawal alone, but requires a balance of voices/positions. Narrative unbalanced because the Harkers and Seward dominate the perspective; others are underrepresented, some (Quincey, D) have almost no voice, and no direct/inside narrative.
d. Despite technology/writing, messages are miscommunicated or go astray: e.g. the warning telegram Van H sends to Seward on 17 September, “sent to Carfax, Sussex, as no country given; delivered late by twenty-two hours” p. 152); or letter from Mina to Lucy 17 September, “Unopened by her” p. 165. Again, foregrounds the invisible/nameless editor, as not only the one who opens the unopened, but also the one who decides what to collect/include (including unopened letters), while stopping other elements from entering (D’s books? Other legal instructions/communications? Other newspaper cuttings? Voices of the social/ethnic others?)
Nameless editor (who creeps invisibly into private correspondences, opens the unopened letters, decides which “needless matter” to “eliminate” (preface), is both a figure for Victorian autocracy (suppressing, ordering, gatekeeping, validating), but also of vampiric power (invisible, intimate, ambiguous/cryptic).
Like other “encyclopedic” (Said) and “participatory” narrative forms, this novel is a pretense of an anti-novel: a narrative without agency, without a single authoritarian control, the antithesis of the Victorian omniscient narrator. This narrative pose/pretence is all the more necessary (but also all the more ironic), given the strongly hegemonic and willful nature of the novel’s ideological drive. The “author” (single, willful, authoritarian) must give the illusion of disappearing, so that a kind of national/cultural/communal willfulness and authority can be written – one that assuages the community’s collective anxiety in an age of geopolitical crisis.