- Vampires, Mummies, and Liberals: Bram Stoker and the Politics of Popular Fiction
David Glover’s wonderful title is a reliable indicator of how well written, elegant, and enjoyable this book is; it also hints, through its conjunction of fantasy/mythology with culture, history, and political ideology, at the large scope and complex syntheses of Glover’s argument: how much analytical mileage he gets out of Stoker’s variegated popular oeuvre (consisting of romance and adventure novels as well as Dracula and other supernatural gothics, one of which features a revivified mummy). This title does not, however, give a hint of the remarkable depth and range of Glover’s erudition and the meticulousness of his scholarship, both worn lightly and wittily throughout and seamlessly integrated into the analytical narrative. Glover’s strong intelligence and deft eye for shifting textual nuance never flag. This is a brilliant book, one of the best of any sort I’ve read in a long time.
Though modernism is not Glover’s subject, this book provides one of the most useful accounts available of the cultural-historical-political-intellectual context out of which modernism evolved: what Glover analyzes as the crisis of liberalism in Britain, but what could also be called the crisis of modernity itself. Glover sees this crisis played out in the contradiction between Stoker’s avowed rationalist, individualistic liberalism and his uncanny narratives of blood, sex, crime, terror, race, and nation: “one can see much of the fear that resides in the [End Page 1014] pages of Dracula as reflecting the underside of the liberalism to which Stoker adhered, a nightmare vision of unruly subjects who are unamenable to its formal democratic calculus. . . . To think of political representation in this bloodless way [subjects viewing themselves as “citizens” or “persons” rather than as members of a particular gender, class, or race] is to be forever haunted by the return of the flesh-and-blood identities that liberalism seeks to neutralize or exclude theoretically.” “The terror inspired by Count Dracula is a terror of biological difference both masked and free floating.” This terror defies the modern forces of reason, science, and technology that Stoker brings to bear against it in his novels, as he constructs a vivid representation of “a modernity still struggling with the powers of the past, even when equipped with phonographs, telegrams, cameras, newspapers, and typewriters.”
The primary components of this “underside of liberalism,” in Glover’s analysis, are race, ethnicity, and nation; blood, family ancestry, crime and physiological criminology, degeneracy and “character,” spiritualism and the occult; and gender, sex, and sexuality. These are the central topics of the book’s three chapters: “‘Dark enough fur any man’: Sexual Ethnology and Irish Nationalism,” “Vampires, Mummies, and Liberals: Questions of Character and Modernity,” and “Sexualitas Aeternitatis.” In “‘Dark enough fur any man,’” Glover analyzes the partial resolution through exogamous marriage of the contradiction in The Snake’s Pass, Dracula, and The Lady of the Shroud between Stoker’s liberal Irish nationalism and his adherence to the late-nineteenth-century scientistic racial hierarchies which denigrated the Irish as an inferior “race.” The second chapter, “Vampires, Mummies, and Liberals,” explores the tension between Stoker’s retention of a belief in the “classic liberal idea of character as individual self-mastery” and the representation of the “assault on the autonomy of the individual subject,” in Dracula and The Jewel of Seven Stars (the mummy novel), by degeneration theory and physiological criminology, shifting constructions of masculinity in imperialism and the emergence of the manly man, related anxieties about feminine sexuality, and the odd convergence of science with the occult in “psychical research.” The “antinomies of freedom and determinism” produced by this tension are not resolved in these works; moreover, as novels of imperialism, they display a [End Page 1015] “deadly hysteria about race and selfhood at the heart of national spectacle and jingoistic camaraderie.” The third chapter focuses centrally on the issues of sex, gender, and sexuality that have been important throughout, showing through analyses of The Man and Lady Athlyne how Stoker...