- Bram Stoker’s The Lady of the Shroud:Supernatural Fantasy, Politics, Montenegro and Its Double
In 1909 Bram Stoker set out to recreate the success of Dracula with another novel about a vampire, The Lady of the Shroud. However, this time the book performed a narrative and generic volte-face in which the seeming vampire was revealed to be in fact a living girl reduced to sleeping in a coffin for political rather than supernatural reasons. As a result, a book which had begun with a High Gothic encounter between living and seemingly dead concludes with a celebration of the newly established Balkan Federation brokered by the hero, the charismatic, seven-foot-tall Irishman Rupert Sent Leger; he has won both the crown of the Land of the Blue Mountains and the hand of the lovely Teuta, that being the name of the girl in the coffin.
The worlds of supernatural fantasy and of politics may well appear to be at opposite ends of the spectrum, and one might therefore see the trajectory of The Lady of the Shroud as having made a startling deviation from one genre to another that is entirely different. In many respects, however, the political narrative to which the book ultimately turns is even more fantastic than the supernatural narrative that it disavows. It is a recurring feature of Stoker’s writing about the supernatural to insist that, as audiences were later to be warned at the end of the stage version of Dracula, such things do happen. When it comes to the story of the Balkan Federation and of the Land of the Blue Mountains, though, this is less realpolitik than “a political fable,” to use Renfield’s term for the Monroe Doctrine,1 for the events which Stoker postulates are fantastic on a number of levels and could come to pass only in a parallel universe of the kind proposed by a possible worlds theory. In much modern fantasy, the conceit of parallel worlds and intersecting planes has given rise to a set of narratives in which slightly different versions of our own world are to be found existing elsewhere in the universe. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy (1995–2000) [End Page 519] is an obvious contemporary example. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there was a loose equivalent to this in what we now call Ruritanian fiction, pioneered by Anthony Hope and soon taken up by other writers including the notorious Elinor Glyn. To some extent, Ruritanian fiction is what Stoker has created in The Lady of the Shroud. He has done so, however, not merely in pursuit of an academic idea but to advocate a very real and very specific agenda: to support the struggle for independence of the small Balkan country of Montenegro and, by extension, to cultivate the qualities and values which he saw as underpinning and enabling its strength. This article first examines the possible sources for Stoker’s book and then considers the implications of these texts’ strongly marked propensity to develop an analogy between Montenegro and Scotland. This is symptomatic of a wider trend in Stoker’s novel to reach for parallels and comparisons. In the case of The Lady of the Shroud, this urge extends to the foregrounding of the text’s own generic and ideological affiliations, which, in keeping with the idea of possible worlds, are of two sorts, fictional and factual, as Stoker both registers an awareness of travelogues and political writing about the real Montenegro and simultaneously responds to the burgeoning genre of Ruritanian fiction. Yoking fact and fiction in this way allows Stoker to use the novel as a vehicle for political advocacy, with particular reference to two of his most characteristic concerns—the power and allure of the sea and Celticness.
The political narrative of the novel centres on the Land of the Blue Mountains, and it is here too that the element of fantasy and of the parallel world motif is strongest, for the Land of the Blue Mountains both is and is not Montenegro, a land that at the time Stoker wrote was on the very cusp of change: it became a...