Dracula, East and West


Proposing a method for helping students make sense of the politics behind regional geography (using popular culture), Jason Dittmer writes:

The continued survival of regional geography classes within geography curricula reflects several factors. First, despite the general disdain for regional classes by geographers who favour systematic courses (Brunt, 1995), the classes continue to have tremendous appeal for students, who still associate geography with the study of specific regions and desire intimate knowledge of a region (Halseth & Fondahl, 1998). Second, the resurgence of place in recent theoretical debates has re-established the importance of local understandings, leading to an increased need for regional specialization within the discipline. Many geographers have illustrated the importance of place and region to social theory (Pred, 1986; Gregory, 1989; Massey, 1993).
Nevertheless, these regional courses pose a dilemma. The very scope and definition of the courses is contrary to much of geography’s current body of theory because it accepts the region as an object to be studied rather than a social process, constantly in the act of reconstruction. To engage in the act of teaching a region is, to a certain extent, to endorse a certain set of boundaries and characteristics of that region. For instance, to teach a course on the Geography of Europe is to select some geographic extent for Europe, and to base [-p.50] that decision on some cultural or other criteria. Often, this is dictated to some extent by the choice of textbook, although it is always possible to add to or subtract from the scope of the text. However, the alternative to fixing the boundaries is not palatable either; the goal is not to descend into an endless deconstruction of the metageography of place….” (pp.49-50)

How, then, do we give life to these theoretical and abstract thoughts in the classroom? How can we teach regional geography while still emphasizing the economic and political motivations behind the regions we discuss? The key is to provide the material and discursive bases through which regions are constructed, allowing the class to witness the process of region and identity construction that is so critical to the new regional geography (Warf, 1990; Paasi, 1996).” (p.50)

“…it is important to discuss the processes by which regions are produced as dominant constructions of reality.
In my Geography of Europe class I accomplished this by connecting the metageography of Europe to popular culture in a way that can be replicated elsewhere. In particular, I used the novel Dracula (1897) by Bram Stoker as a lens through which to discuss the social construction of Eastern Europe. To do this, the class viewed Francis Ford Coppola’s movie Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). The movie differs from the book in a few plot points (notably, it includes a back-story for Dracula and a love story between the Count and Mina Murray) but is useful for class discussion because the students connect to the medium perhaps better than to a novel written in 1897 and also because Coppola uses dramatic [-p.51] visual clues to help constitute the difference between Eastern and Western Europe. Following the viewing, a discussion ensued in which the instructor’s role was to provide a summary of the geographic literature on the construction of Eastern Europe as well as a geographic interpretation of the novel. This paper begins with a history of the division of Europe between East and West, highlighting the role of travel literature and other writings in the development of an informal system of regions. Furthermore, the political and economic incentives and consequences for the perpetuation of these regions are discussed. In the next section, a geographic interpretation of Dracula is outlined, identical to the one used in the classroom discussion. This geographic interpretation outlines the dichotomies used to portray the fundamental differences between East and West. Finally, survey and test data are used to assess the success of this lesson in teaching students about the social construction of regions.” (pp.50-51)

Larry Wolff (1994) attributes the construction of an Eastern Europe that is separate from the civilized portions of Western Europe to Enlightenment philosophers (in particular, Voltaire and Rousseau) who perpetuated and mythologized each other’s accounts of a backward and barbaric homogenous region (despite some of these writers never actually
going there). For example, Voltaire’s History of Charles XII (1731) was critical in mapping Eastern Europe in the popular imagination by describing Charles’s march through Eastern Europe. This book was written in the first person and instilled a fantasy-filled image of Eastern Europe that later travellers would take with them, inserting a lens of preconceptions in their imagination. We know that the book was influential because it had several printings and translations, and its effect was far-reaching and long lasting.” (p.51)

“In addition to this representation from philosophers who may or may not actually have
been to Eastern Europe there were similar depictions available to the public from completely fictional travellers, such as those of Baron Munchausen (Wolff, 1994). While
there was a real Baron Munchausen who did travel through Eastern Europe, the stories
published about his namesake were tall tales written by Rudolf Raspe (1785) that portrayed Eastern Europe as a ridiculous and fantastic place. This representation became fashionable just as travel to the region increased…. At the same time, Southwest Asia and East Asia received a much more romantic image, perhaps because of its inaccessibility for most Europeans. The connection between inaccessibility and romance is reiterated by Goldsworthy (1998, p. 75), who notes: “the Gothic plot [as of Dracula] requires a setting which is sufficiently close to the reader to appear threatening, while nevertheless being alien enough to house all the exotic paraphernalia—the castles, the convents, the caverns, the dark forests at midnight, the mysterious villains and the howling specters”.” (p.51)

In Dracula, as in other literature of the time, Western Europe and Eastern Europe are portrayed as opposing spaces, which together embody a series of dichotomous relationships. As mentioned previously, this process of othering was enabled by Western [-p.55] Europe’s hegemonic economic and cultural power. Senf (1998, pp. 24, 37) alludes to some of these dichotomies, but the importance of them to the constitution of Eastern Europe is not fully recognized. The first of these dichotomies is Western Europe’s civilization versus Eastern Europe’s barbarism. This opposition is one of historic importance, as ‘civilization’ is a value-laden word that originally meant simply a settled, non-nomadic existence (Davies, 1996) but has since come to be associated with good manners, ethical decision-making, distinguished culture and other normative goods. Barbarian, in its original formulation (by the ancient Greeks—see McNeill, 1997), simply meant one who does not speak Greek, but has since become associated with all that is uncivilized: poor hygiene and appearance, cruelty to enemies, a lack of distinguished culture and a lack of attachment to place. This normative geography is inscribed in Dracula’s text, as Transylvania and the Count himself are both portrayed as barbarian. For instance, Jonathan Harker writes this in his journal on the way to Transylvania (Stoker, 1897, p. 3): [‘]The strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who were more barbarian than the rest, with their big cow-boy hats, great baggy dirty-white trousers, white linen shirts, and enormous heavy leather belts, nearly a foot wide, all studded over with brass nails. . .. On the stage they would be set down at once as some old Oriental band of brigands.[‘]” (pp.54-55)

Dracula partakes in a longstanding tradition of representing Eastern Europe as a place of sexualized violence.” (p.56)

“In a similar manner to the distinction made between Western mind and Eastern body, Stoker’s novel maintains a historical distinction between Western science and Eastern magic.” (p.56)

“That Eastern Europe is a place of fantasy and magic is a long-held truism in travel literature. This is a fundamental theme of Baron Munchausen’s travelogue. (p.57)

“Eastern Europe is portrayed as a place eternally of the past, with London (and all of Western Europe) portrayed as the dynamic source of change and innovation.” (p.57)

Dracula must be seen in its full literary and historical context. The Count must be
from Eastern Europe for the story to have its maximum cultural resonance; the story is as horrifying as it is because Dracula is this emblem of Eastern European danger threatening the West.
Dracula is not the only novel to take advantage of this geographic imaginary— Goldsworthy (1998, p. 76) notes that: “Typically, because of the need for a dichotomy between the familiar and the exotic, Gothic locations are on the edges of a particular geographical area, in its remote corners and on its borderlands.” Indeed, the entire Gothic genre helped construct difference between Eastern and Western Europe, even if that was never its specific intention. Stoker wrote the novel for the same reasons as most authors: to profit. Therefore, he exploited the already-existent division of Europe as the geographic framework of his novel, and through that hugely successful novel he inadvertently perpetuated that division, perhaps contributing more to it than any previous author or philosopher. The success of Dracula and books like it has vast political and cultural ramifications, as that success helps to structure the geographic imagination of its many millions of readers.” (p.58)

Dracula is particularly important within the genre because of its literary longevity and its role as the inspiration for an entire genre of books and movies, as well as a sub-culture, each of which reconstructs the division of Europe into east and west and makes it more of a taken-for-granted fact of life.” (p.58)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold, mine) Jason Dittmer (2006): Teaching the Social Construction of Regions in Regional Geography Courses; or, Why Do Vampires Come from Eastern Europe?, Journal of Geography in Higher Education, 30:1, 49-61

ABSTRACT “This article describes the difficulty of teaching about the construction of regions in regional geography courses, which are themselves built on a metageography that often goes unquestioned. The author advocates the use of popular culture to make this very complex issue palpable for undergraduates. Thus, the construction of Eastern Europe within a larger European framework is clear through a study of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the movies that the book has spawned. Included in this article is an analysis of the geography presented through the Dracula narrative, and the contents of the classroom experience created by the author to teach that analysis. The article concludes with survey data that illustrate the reaction of the students to the lesson as well as evidence that the lesson improved student learning.”

Gothic weddings


Once again, I’m off-topic, but I thought the beginning of this discussion an interesting one; Catherine Wynne writes that:

“BRAM STOKER dedicated The Lady of the Shroud (1909) to the American actress-manager Genevieve Ward. In the text’s climactic moment a bride-to-be emerges from a burial crypt for a midnight wedding to a man who fears that she may be a vampire. Such Gothic events recall the quasi-marital ceremony in Lucy’s crypt in Dracula (1897) in which Godalming stakes the vampire in her coffin because, as her fiance, he has the “better right.” The latter is an ill-fated match while the former, despite its vampiric trappings, proves to be benign and beneficial for both family and nation. The Gothic marriage has precedents in Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), in which Theodore wants to marry the descendant of a murderer who has usurped his family’s rightful place on the throne. The fact that Matilda is on her deathbed is irrelevant—”if she cannot live mine … at least she shall be mine in death.” Familial and sexual transgression is avoided when Matilda dies before she can agree to the union, but the possibility of ill-fated marriage is established as a preoccupation of Gothic narratives at the inception of the genre.” (p.251)

“This article explores how the focus on fatal unions in Irving’s 1890 production of Ravenswood and the destructive Gothic marriages of Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) and Le Fanu’s “Schalken the Painter” (1839) are transformed in The Lady of the Shroud, in which the dual influence of Gothic theatrical and literary traditions, charged by Stoker’s preoccupation with “sex impulses,” produces a fiction that stages a feminine Gothic.” (p.252)

A couple of interesting statements:

“Moral rectitude is central to Stoker’s public attitude to women. Anxieties attending the public figure of the female are manifested in fictional marriage ceremonies that vacillate between moral rectitude and morbid eroticism, and females in Stoker’s fiction oscillate between puissance and passivity, as the writer and Lyceum business manager struggles with the implications of increasing female autonomy in the late-Victorian and Edwardian
periods. At the Lyceum, Stoker encountered actresses who were arguably the most creatively and economically liberated Victorian women. His role, integral to the functioning of the theatre, but enacted at a distance from the cultural interplay between stage and audience, endowed him with the unique resources to provide an equivocal interpretation of contemporaneous gender identity.” (p.253)

“In Women and the Victorian Theatre,” Wynne continues, “Kerry Powell argues that “the Victorian stage realized another world … where the normal categories of gender could be modified.” In this other world actresses “might transcend a fixed domestic identity, cultivating ‘myriad lives’ and exercising a power and independence thought incompatible with wives and mothers.”” (p.254)

“For Susan Glenn, the stage “gave women important new sources of cultural authority and visibility” but “just as the institution of the theatre welcomed and profited from the unorthodox behaviour of women on stage, it was frequently hostile to women’s growing assertiveness off stage.” The Victorian actress was often seen as declassed and the attempt to retain or sustain respectability had to be rigorous.” (p.266)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold, mine) Catherine Wynne (2006) Bram Stoker, Geneviève Ward and The Lady of the Shroud: Gothic Weddings and Performing Vampires. English Literature in Transition, 1880-1920, 49(3), pp. 251-271

Reference is to: Susan A. Glenn, Female Spectacle: The Theatrical Roots of Modern Feminism (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000), 8.

Monsters and the Mind


Noting the incredible success and longevity of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), Saler and Ziegler ask:

“What is it about the plot and the characterization of vampires in Dracula that make it the most famous example of vampires in English fiction? Why, in particular, has it been more influential than Le Fanu’s Carmilla which preceded it in time and is of equal or perhaps greater literary distinction?” (p.218)

They begin by answering this question with reference to Nina Auerbach, who apparently argues that “Different social orders and different culturally supported sensibilities and sensitivities […] find expression in different sorts of vampires.” (Saler and Ziegler’s words, pp.218-219)

According to Saler and Ziegler:

In contemporary English the word “monster” is used in a variety of ways. In applying it to folk narratives, however, we can productively limit its range. We commonly use it to refer to legendary or mythical beings in narratives that display, to greater or lesser extents, certain family resemblances. The anthropologist David Gilmore has sampled monsters described in the folk narratives of diverse cultures and represented in paintings and sculpture from the Upper Paleolithic to the present. He finds that monsters typically exhibit a constellation of features: great size and/or remarkable strength; a prominent mouth with fangs or some other means of facilitating predation on humans; an urge to consume human flesh and/or blood; and hybridism, for they often combine human and animal features, or mix living and dead tissue, or manifest amalgams of discordant parts of various organisms (pp. 174–89).” (p.220)

They go on:

More broadly with respect to narrative organization, Gilmore maintains that monster tales exhibit “a recurring structure no matter what the culture or setting” (p. 13). That is, in monster tales there is a characteristic three-stage, repetitive cycle. First, the monster emerges from mysterious nether regions, much to the surprise and consternation of some human community. Second, the monster attacks and kills humans, and early attempts of the victims to defend themselves fail. Third, the community is saved by a culture hero who, by his strength [-p.221] and wit, contrives to defeat the monster. This cycle is likely to repeat itself for, if the monster is driven away, it returns, and, if it is slain, its kin may later appear.

We supplement Gilmore’s analysis by noting that the monster-slaying hero is often cognitively advantaged over those whom he saves. He assumes that the monster’s behavior is rule-governed, and he knows or infers the rules and uses his grasp of them to advantage. He thus exhibits admirable metarepresentational skills, for by forming predictive representations of the monster’s thoughts and intentions, he is better able to dispatch it.

We claim that in Stoker’s novel Dracula the characterization of vampires strongly resembles that of typical folkloric monsters. We maintain, moreover, that the plot of Stoker’s novel replicates the threestage structure of typical folkloric monster-slaying tales.” (pp.220-221)

Stoker’s novel Dracula is a self-contained monster-slaying story that provides closure and catharsis. The intrusion of the supernatural into the natural is successfully resisted, in large measure in consequence of Van Helsing’s revelation that the supernatural is rule-governed (albeit by special rules) and that knowledge of the rules appropriate to vampires gives us power over them. Indeed, by the end of Stoker’s novel loose ends are tied and boundaries are restored. But this is not the case for Le Fanu’s novelette Carmilla. As Jack Sullivan points out, Carmilla “does not have a neat resolution in which evil is banished.” […] In Carmilla, Sullivan writes, “Ambivalence is the controlling principle throughout the story” (p. 64). But that is not true of typical monster-slaying narratives.” (p.222)

Gilmore affirms that, “a deep and abiding fascination with monsters is pan-cultural” (p. 135). Why should that be so? David Quammen, the author of a recent book on predators, suggests that we look to our evolutionary past for an answer: [‘]Great and terrible flesh-eating beasts have always shared landscape with humans. They were part of the ecological matrix within which Homo sapiens evolved. . . . The big teeth of predators, their ferocity, and their hunger, were grim realities that could be eluded but not forgotten. Every once in a while, a monstrous carnivore would emerge from forest or river to kill someone and feed on the body. . . . And it conveyed a certain message. Among the earliest forms of human self-awareness was the awareness of being meat.[‘]” (citing David Quammen, p.222)

Drawing on Pascal Boyer, they write: “Given […] our long history as prey, it is reasonable to suppose that among our ancestors, as in the case of various other animals that were also threatened with becoming “meat,” selection occurred for neurologically grounded dispositions to apperceive, and to respond to, predatory threats. Frequently encountered responses among prey species include flight, fight, or playing-dead.” (p.223)

We fear monsters—vicarious fear is still fear—and we derive pleasure—vicarious pleasure is still pleasure—from killing them. The psychological stress occasioned by our fear is relieved by the slaying, and the reductive process is experienced as pleasurable.” (p.224)

Ref: (italics in original, emphases in blue bold, mine) Benson Saler and Charles A. Ziegler (2005) Dracula and Carmilla: Monsters and the Mind  Philosophy and Literature, 29(1), April 2005, pp. 218-227

Reference is to: David D. Gilmore, Monsters: Evil Beings, Mythical Beasts, and All Manner of Imaginary Terrors (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003).

David Quammen, Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator of the Jungles of History and the Mind (New York: W. W. Norton, 2003), p. 1.

Pascal Boyer, Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought (New
York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 216.

The authors also note: “For some interesting additional reflections on our (incomplete) transit from prey to predator, see Maurice Bloch, Prey Into Hunter: The Politics of Religious Experience (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).”

Dracula and Victorian purity – a different take


Here’s another one I really enjoyed… Christine Ferguson argues that:

It has become customary to enlist Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) in support of what remains a dominant myth of the culture and popular fiction of late Victorian Britain: namely, that both were obsessed with the preservation of a pure, homogenous, and unchanging national identity increasingly under siege from subversive elements. While critical assessments of the nature of the menace or the success of narrative resistance vary, the essential terms of the debate—outside versus inside, dangerous dissonance versus healthy cultural stability—remain remarkably consistent. So common, indeed, is this approach it has earned its own sobriquet as “the anxiety theory,” an expression used by Nicholas Daly to describe the thesis whereby a particular fictional villain signifies a dissonant threat to an established social order. This article allies itself with recent critical attempts to challenge the overly anxious construction of the nineteenth century by showing how Dracula, long a seminal text in the mythology of Victorian paranoia, anathematizes the very values of conformity, sameness, and hierarchy it is said to engender. Nowhere is this process more evident than in Stoker’s treatment of language, a currency that becomes interchangeable with blood in Dracula and provides a primary tool for the vampire’s exclusion.

Once dismissed as unworthy of serious scholarly attention, Dracula has in recent years spawned an immense critical industry populated with increasingly ingenious modes of interpreting the identity and cultural resonance of the vampire. The Count has been identified with real historical figures—Henry Irving, Vlad the Impaler, and Charles Stewart Parnell—as well as a host of late Victorian social fears, including ones about same-sex desire, devouring female sexuality, monopoly capitalism, the New Woman, the Jew, reverse colonization, unruly democracy, and the contradictory nature of Anglo-Irish identity. The rich variety of these laudable critical interventions is somewhat negated, however, by the surprising dependence on the anxiety paradigm that so many of them share.” (p.229)

Regardless of the [-p.230] specific nature of the threat represented by the vampire,” Ferguson continues, “Dracula is described, time and time again, as anarchic disruption to some historically specific convention of bourgeois culture, to an order obsessed with the maintenance of order and purity. Anxiety—about the dangers of social and sexual change, about the replacement of social stability with chaos and mayhem—remains the dominant idiom of Dracula, and it is one long overdue for reconsideration. We must reassess our willingess to impute a horror of destabilization to a novel so deliberately fraught with wildly varied and often chaotically fractured forms of subjectivity and communication.
Far from being a spectre of transgression, Stoker’s Dracula is a victim of relentless limitations that render him even more ineffective, once his occult nature is understood, than a mundane petty criminal. Vampirism has given him supernatural strength and transformative powers, but has also subjected him to a series of prohibitions which often curtail these powers when they are most needed, such as at the moment of his death.” (pp.229-230)

“Dracula is no more able to assimilate Mina within his vampiric identity than he is to master and standardize the forms of language [-p.245] and linguistic transmission that she embodies.” (pp.244-245) …

“In sucking Mina’s blood and forcing her to suck his, he aims to bind her in a relationship of seamless communication whereby her thoughts will become transparent and his wishes may be planted directly into her mind, without need of an unreliable external medium. Telepathy seems to offer him the ultimate vehicle of linguistic control, far more stable and manipulatable than speech and writing. Yet what the Count fails to realize is that no form or act of communication with the living is wholly pure and controllable. At Mina’s request, the vampire hunters hypnotize her at daybreak when Dracula’s powers are at their weakest, and they thus obtain crucial information about his whereabouts. The failure to anticipate the reciprocality and volatility of their telepathic union, indeed, of all acts of communication amongst the living, proves to be the Count’s undoing. Using Mina as a sort of remote sensor, the hunters track down Dracula and slaughter him rather unceremoniously with a few knife thrusts. Dracula’s spectacularly anticlimactic physical death is no more than a footnote to the real triumph that has happened elsewhere, that of nonstandard and multimediated English against the deadly tongue of the vampire. The nation emerges triumphant not because of its purity or physical might but because of the mutable and diverse nature of its native language(s). 
Far from a dread of difference, we find in Dracula and other fin de siècle invasion texts a cultural fulfilment of the Darwinian ethos of variation. In The Origin of Species (1859), Darwin had praised the advantages of diversity, noting that “in the general economy of any land, the more widely and perfectly the animals and plants are diversified for different habits of life, so will a greater number of individuals be capable of there supporting themselves.” Simply put, vitality is the product of modification; the more varied a community, the greater its sustainability. For many of the late Victorian imaginative interpreters of this edict, the most privileged site of variation was not the body, but the one trait that seemed most definitive of and exclusive to humanity—language.” (p.245)

The argument is a really sound one – and very interesting to read.

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Ferguson, Christine (2004) Nonstandard Language and the Cultural Stakes of Stoker’s Dracula ELH, Volume 71, Number 1, Spring, pp. 229-249

Bram Stoker’s Dracula – female potency etc


Her theoretical approach is not one I like to work with, but there were still a couple of things I liked about what Barbara B. Birge wrote in her analysis of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. She writes:

Few would disagree with the notion that vampires are evil. Alluring and seductive as some vampires might be, these are deadly, unnatural creatures of the night, preying and feeding on the lives of others, and “sucking” their victims into their eternally unfulfilled and predatory existence. They are fiends who even devour babies, their mouths greedily dripping with blood. Worse than any addict, they show no compassion in their obsessive search for the substance they crave and depend on. They are the “undead who know no peace, returning nightly from their coffins to hunt the living.
The vampire can be viewed as a metaphor of predatory, self-concerned, emotionally insatiable people who use and drain others without compunction (“devouring” mothers and narcissistic lovers come to mind). Vampiric relationships are surely less than desirable. As Jungian analyst Julia McAfee has noted, ”The vampire describes a psychological process where the struggle into being through love has gone awry. Vampirism is a paradigm of a blood-sucking, life-sucking love, a fatal possession.”
In his film Bram Stoker‘s Dracula, director Francis Ford Coppola has presented a vision of the vampire, however, that compels us to look again at this traditional profile. While Coppola has offered a truly horrific portrayal of the vampire Dracula, he has also revealed another dimension of the vampire that is unsettling in its complexity. Furthermore, he has depicted the heroine of the story, Mina, in nearly as complex a light. As a result, the vampiric relationship between these two characters is not so easy to dismiss as negative. Indeed, despite the seemingly destructive situation, it has positive effects on both characters.” (p.22)

“Persephone in her mother’s perpetual care, Eve in Eden, and Mina in Victorian England – each woman begins her story as a relative innocent in a hghly restrictive world. But each woman, in her own way, refuses to remain separated from the wisdom and potency forbidden her. Each reaches [-p.34] out for it and even takes it into her body through consumption, as if to say, “Now it is in me and you cannot have it back.” In many if not most cultures, this refusal to obey, to be split off from what is yearned for, to be distanced from one’s own potential, necessitates transgression. Transgress literally means “to cross over,“ as in crossing a boundary. And where a boundary separates these heroines from the potency they must have, that boundary must be crossed.
Returning to the Dracula story, this crossing over is especially demonstrated in Mina’s persistence in loving Dracula even when she sees him for the monster he is. This is no blind love, no dependent (or co-dependent) delusion. Mina is fully, humanly ambivalent, living with her mixed emotions and (in object-relations terms) refusing to”split” Dracula into good and badHer ability to cross boundaries is poignantly embodied when she kisses him in his hldeous state. Crossing the boundary and touching the wolf, crossing the boundary and drinking the blood, crossing the boundary and kissing Dracula in his monstrousness, all make it possible for the split cross to come together in the end.” (pp.33-34)

Ref: Barbara B. Birge (1994): Bram Stoker’s: Dracula: The quest for female potency in transgressive relationships, Psychological Perspectives, 29:1, 22-36

Monstrosity and motherhood in Bram Stoker


Lisa Hopkins looks at the representation of motherhood in Bram Stoker’s writing, declaring that:

Much critical attention has been paid to the representation of female characters in the novels of Bram Stoker. Often, his patent uneasiness about women has been attributed to his fear of the New Woman movement, to which Dracula, in particular, openly refers. […] I want to argue that Stoker’s response to the figure of the New Woman, and indeed his figuring of his female characters in general, is radically inflected and informed by the shaping circumstances of his early life in Ireland and his Irish identity – particularly when it comes to his representations of women as mothers or motherly, which are deeply rooted in the representations of maternity in the cultural imagery of his Irish background.” (p.5)

Dracula, instead of progressing, like so many other Victorian novels, towards a closing marriage, ends instead on an image of motherhood. The final paragraph of the novel is ostensibly offered as a celebration of domesticity, continuity, and affective ties.” (p.6)

Motherhood, then, is encoded at the close of the novel not as any idyllic image of Madonna and child – indeed the child sits not on its mother’s knee, but on Van Helsing’s, and Mina herself is silent throughout the closing ‘Note’ – but as a merely temporary refuge from precisely the kinds of sexual knowledge that initially unleashed the horrors of vampirism amongst the Crew of Light. In fact, despite its structural status as narrative telos, this closing representation of motherhood is fissured by the same kinds of ambiguity that have made many of the novel’s images of maternity only slightly less obviously monstrous than the figure of the Count himself. The figuration of motherhood as implicitly monstrous is pervasive.” (p.7)

Mother-figures in Stoker are closely and consistently associated with monstrosity.” (p.8)

Hopkins analyses both The Snake’s Pass and Dracula in some depth, concluding that “Stoker’s writing […] on one level insists on a separation of the sexual and the maternal while, at another, radically confounding them, seeing maternity as in fact impossible to confine within its appointed bounds but dangerously, monstrously, manifesting itself elsewhere. This is a patterning which seems, ultimately, only partly explicable in terms of a response to the unease generated by the New Woman. Underpinning it, surely, is a widereaching and deep-seated psychological unease with woman as mother, which may well be attributable to Stoker’s own feelings of ambivalence about the devouring mother and the maternal wife. Moreover, in his response to these two Irish women, we may well see Stoker as encoding a broader aspect of Irish culture as a whole, with its emphasis on the power of the mother who is also, in the legend of the pregnant women in the cave, available for marriage, or who, in the case of the Virgin Mary, transcends sexuality altogether to offer only maternity.” (p.8)

Ref: Lisa Hopkins (1997): Vampires and Snakes: Monstrosity and motherhood in Bram Stoker, Irish Studies Review, 5:19, 5-8

Whoever fights monsters


“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster.” (Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, IV, 146) (quoted Kratter, p.31)

Considering “the paradoxes that surround the mythologizing, demythologizing, and remythologizing of the traditional figure of the vampire” (p.31), Matthew Kratter draws on Girard to argue that “the scapegoat mechanism […] lies at the root of the vampire myth” (p.41). He considers five ‘moments’: “(the most archaic and traditional form taken by the vampire, then in a medieval persecution text, a late-Victorian novel, a German Expressionist film, and finally a series of [-p.32] contemporary popular novels) in order to demonstrate the various metamorphoses undergone by the vampire throughout a history….” (pp.31-32)

He writes: “Vampires are found in every traditional culture [Note: this is something Dundes refutes], where they always inspire fear, horror, revulsion, as well as fascination and even reverence. In world mythology and folklore, the traditional vampire is represented as a terrifying sacred figure, a monstrous Other who threatens to destroy, but also paradoxically possesses the ability to benefit, the community. The dual nature of this representation suggests that we might read the traditional vampire in the light of Girard’s “double transference,” in which a persecuting community attributes its own disorder and order to a persecuted victim (Things Hidden 27). This would seem to imply that the traditional vampire is originally nothing more than an innocent victim who has been transfigured (or “mythologized”) by collective persecution.” (p.32)

“In Violence and the Sacred, Girard writes that [‘]any community that has fallen prey to violence or has been stricken by some overwhelming catastrophe hurls itself blindly into the search for a scapegoat. Its members instinctively seek an immediate and violent cure for the onslaught of unbearable violence and strive desperately to convince themselves that all their ills are the fault of a lone individual who can be easily disposed of.[‘] (79-80)” (quoted, Kratter p.34)

“Ernest Jones reminds us that even as late as 1855, a cholera epidemic in Danzig resulted in mass hysteria and the widespread belief that the plague had been spread by vampires (Jones 123). We know now that “plagues” are the result of bacteria or viruses—though with the advent of AIDS, the links between blood, plague, and the search for scapegoats (e.g. gay men, promiscuous heterosexuals, the CIA, etc.) have reemerged in a startling new constellation. Even as the vampire is being demystified in our world, even as we are at last becoming conscious of our new interpretive ability to “see through” myths and persecution texts, the vampire is being remythologized and reborn in a thousand new incarnations. Such is the durability of the old sacrificial order that under attack, like the HIV virus, it goes underground and reemerges in new strains. Before our culture congratulates itself on having moved beyond the need to believe in demonic powers, the need to project our own violence onto symbols of absolute evil, we would be well-advised to notice that any secularization of Satan that has occurred over the last hundred years has been accompanied by an extraordinary revitalization of the vampire myth.
In other words, if our age is no longer able to believe in the “opera Sathanae,” it does believe in Dracula, who is a kind of secularized or media popularized Satan. Bram Stoker’s Dracula, first published in 1897, has never [-p.36] been out of print and has been the subject of more films than any other novel.” (pp.35-36)

Stoker’s Dracula is a vampire at the crossroads, where the traditional monster of folklore meets modernity—where the primitive Sacred is incarnated in contemporary times and invades the modern metropolis.” (p.36)

We have seen how the vampire always invades the community from without, bringing with it violence, social disorder, undifferentiation, or (which is the same thing) the plague. Although the vampire is clearly a symbol of internal social meltdown, he is always connected to the invading Other.” (p.37)

With Rice’s attractive, almost Byronic vampires, we have come a long way from the bloated and pestilent figures of folklore, or even Murnau’s melancholic Nosferatu. In fact, much of Rice’s tremendous popularity seems to derive from her ability to reanimate other hackneyed nineteenth-century formulae, such as the fusion of sexuality and death. Take, for example, the following description of blood-drinking by one of the vampires in The Queen of the Damned:
[‘]The blood is all things sensual that a creature could desire; it’s the intimacy of that moment—drinking, killing—the great heart-to-heart dance that takes place as the victim weakens and I feel myself expanding, swallowing the death which, for a split second, blazes as large as life.[‘] (Rice 1988, 3)
In the era of AIDS, Rice’s vampires obviously provide vicarious titillation for a generation that has been taught to fear all exchange of blood and bodily fluids. Unfortunately, her uncritical portrayal of eroticized violence also turns the original victim into a victimizer. The vampire-outcast is remade in the image of sexual liberator and counter-cultural hero, and then imitated in neo-Byronic fashion—as is evident to anyone who has seen the black cloaks, fake fangs and blood on American university campuses, or witnessed the recent proliferation of neo-Gothic nightclubs and music videos, which manage to combine sado-masochism and blood-drinking with a renewed obsession with the undead.” (p.42)

“…our secular thinkers believe that the sunlight of modern scientific rationality has [-p.43] finally destroyed the phantom of superstition, but at the same time there is the growing concern that what we are witnessing is just one more version of the myth of regeneration through violence. Nietzsche’s comment about the growing inability to distinguish monster-hunter from monster becomes prophetic of our modem dilemma. How are we simultaneously to see absolute evil for what it is, while still maintaining pity for the innocent victim (Nosferatu? Mina?)? And how are we to side with the innocent victim without turning him into a victimizer or an idol (as Rice does), or succumbing to the endless cycle ofretributive justice?” (pp.42-43)

Ref: Matthew Kratter ‘Twilight of the Vampires: History and the Myth of the Undead’ Contagion: Journal of Violence, Mimesis, and Culture, Volume 5, Spring 1998, pp. 30-45