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Modern Fiction Studies 46.3 (2000) 632-645



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"Double Born": Bram Stoker and the Metrocolonial Gothic

Joseph Valente

I. The 1890's

For centuries, the Anglo-Protestant settler population of Ireland, unlike their peers in India, Jamaica, or Hong Kong, identified themselves as national subjects of their adopted homeland, as Irishmen in short. By the late eighteenth century, however, the bulk of this population, unlike their Anglo peers in America and Australia, elected to sue not for separation from but for reintegration with the metropolitan state of Great Britain. And with the Act of Union in 1800, they succeeded. Ireland ceased to be a distinct if colonized geo-political entity and assumed the unique and contradictory position of a domestic or "metropolitan" colony, at once a prized if troublesome colonial possession and a despised but active constituent of the greatest metropole on earth, the United Kingdom. From that point until the founding of the Free State in 1922, the Irish people found themselves at once agent and object, participant-victims, of Britain's far-flung imperial mission--in short, a "metrocolonial" people.

The self-division thus inflicted upon the collective identity of the Irish people roughly corresponded to the ethnic division of status and authority that already existed within Ireland itself. The Anglo-Protestant [End Page 632] minority, their self-identification as Irishmen notwithstanding, mainly participated in and profited from the administration of empire, both at "home" and abroad, while the Gaelic or Celtic majority suffered their connection to the British empire as a bitter subjugation, notwithstanding their participation in many British cultural and political institutions, customs, and practices.

In the case of Bram Stoker, however, even this deeply compromised line of ethno-national division was effaced. Stoker was not a standard middle-class Anglo-Irish Protestant closely identified with Ascendancy rule, as has been almost universally imagined. 1 His ethnic origins and social inscription alike were a good deal more complicated. Although stoutly Church of Ireland and so eligible for a wide range of sectarian advantages, the Stokers were by no means members of the Ascendancy, or even the true middle class, to whom their quasi-professional, petit-bourgeois aspirations must have seemed decidedly arriviste. Moreover, only Stoker's father, a hapless functionary in Dublin Castle, could claim strictly Anglo-Saxon or even British descent. Stoker's mother grew up in the rural west of Ireland and hailed from the Galway Blakes on her distaff side: not, however, from the famous Norman Caddel family, but from a native Irish family whose original Connacht moniker was O Blathnhaic. 2 That Stoker himself came partly from Celtic stock, that he was an Anglo-Celtic rather than traditionally Anglo-Irish subject, surely undercuts the popular position that Stoker substantially shared the anxiety of Anglo-Irish intellectuals like W. H. Lecky or imperialist politicians like Lord Salisbury at the prospect of Celtic racial pollution, atavism, or degeneration. 3 He was after all a stealth version of the sort of racial mixing that made such men uneasy: an inter-ethnic half-caste whose confessional adherence allowed him to straddle the informing cultural and political distinctions of Hibernian life. In defiance of the received ethnological categories of his era, Stoker was a member of a conquering and a vanquished race, a ruling and a subject people, an imperial and an occupied nation. Little wonder he came to devise a gothic estate called the "double born." 4

As the above items suggest, the metro-colonial condition, of which Stoker's subject position was an extreme and therefore exemplary case, names an uneasy social and psychic space between authority, agency, and legitimacy on one side and abjection, heteronomy, and hybridity on the [End Page 633] other. Accordingly, it conditions a peculiar economy of desire wherein individual subjects are defined, in analogous but often divergent ways, by the simultaneous enactment and betrayal of their conflicting identifications. If, as George Stocking has written, "there was a close articulation, both experiential and ideological, between the domestic and the colonial spheres of otherness," the formations of a domestic or metropolitan colony, both...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-658X
Print ISSN
0026-7724
Pages
pp. 632-645
Launched on MUSE
2000-09-01
Open Access
No
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