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  • Productive Fear:Labor, Sexuality,and Mimicry in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
  • Eric Kwan-Wai Yu

The "anxieties of empire" expressed in Dracula, Bram Stoker's classic vampire novel, have attracted a great deal of critical attention lately. Although the rise of vampirism can be traced back to medieval folklore, Dracula is decidedly modern, and much of the story actually takes place in London in a vigorous phase of Britannia's commercial and military expansion. Stoker began working on the novel in 1890 but did not have it published until 1897, the very year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee and the height of jingoism; it was also a time when imperial decadence became known.1 While Friedrich Kittler might have gone too far in claiming thatJonathan Harker, the English solicitor who visits Count Dracula's castle, isan "imperial spy" (60), Patrick Brantlinger has fruitfully identified the novel as a piece of "imperial Gothic." The main themes of this genre, according to Brantlinger, include "individual regression or going native" and "an invasion by the forces of barbarism and demonism" (230). Dracula's invasion of London, as Stephen Arata lucidly explains, is a nightmarish incident of "reverse colonization." Reminding us of Stoker's Anglo-Irish hyphenated identity and the debate over Irish Home Rule at the time, Arata argues that Stoker must be keenly aware of the tensions caused by colonial aggression and the racial problems that ensued. Transylvania, the count's native land, "was known primarily as part of the vexed 'Eastern Question' that so obsessed British foreign policy in the 1880s and '90s," a land noted not only for the belief in vampires but also for "political turbulence and racial strife" (Arata, 627).

I shall not dwell on the various sources of the late-Victorian cultural anxieties concerned. Reading the major periodicals of this period, Samir Elbarbary finds a discourse of "primitivism and degeneracy," which undermines dominant evolutionism and scientific progressivism (113). In addition to the fears of atavism, miscegenation, and reverse colonization, some critics find obvious anti-Semitic connotations in thedescriptions of Count Dracula's hoarding of money and sanguinary parasitism (Halberstam, 337–41; Gelder, 14–15). To this list one might add [End Page 145] the fears of the "lumpenproletariat," of the Irish rebellion, of the "New Woman," of sexual transgressions, especially homosexuality perceived as "gross indecency" in the wake of Oscar Wilde's trial, or, of "sexual anarchy," to borrow Elaine Showalter's catchy book title. 2 Reacting to Dracula scholarship in the past two decades, which has dealt with various kinds of anxieties, Nicholas Daly reminds us of the phenomenal growth of the British Empire between 1870 and 1900. This period also witnessed much tighter government control, including the encroachment on the private sphere and the free market (182–83). The discourse of crisis, paradoxically, did not lead to actual collapse: "Fears there may well have been of the decline of Englishness within England, as well as assaults from without, but these fears had the effect of buttressing—not enfeebling—the power of the state" (Daly, 183). Furthermore, these fears "established a mission for a new group of professionals in human management" (183). Seeing the vampire fighters in the novel as a team of male experts, Daly relates them to the rise of professionalism in the late nineteenth century. He further claims that Dracula "uses anxiety to produce as both necessary and natural a particular form of professional, male, homosocial combination" (181).

This paper is an attempt to substantially revise and further developDaly's intriguing "productive fear" thesis to arrive at an entirely different end. Drawing on Max Weber's study of the Protestant work ethic, I turn to the often neglected problematics of labor in the novel, highlighting thequasi-religious sense of high duty and ascetic hard work in the vampire fighters, the so-called "Crew of Light." The main thrust of my argument is that fear aroused by the paranoiac perception of sexual perversity begets a curious kind of work ethic in the imperial subject, reaffirming Enlightenment reason and scientific progressivism while, at the same time, betraying the very unreason in reason and the profound anxieties underneath the confidence in progress and empire. Contrary...


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