- Dracula & the Eastern Question
Although we have seen a stunning amount of scholarship in the last two decades devoted to vampire narratives—and to Bram Stoker’s Dracula in particular—no literary theorist has taken on a full and extended study of vampire tales within the historic context of their actual location: the Near East. Prior to Matthew Gibson’s Dracula and the Eastern Question, gothic scholars have examined vampire narratives through various lenses such as psychoanalysis, postcolonial/imperial theory, queer theory, and with Stoker and Le Fanu in particular, theorists have pinpointed anxiety over the Irish Question as the raison d’être for their stories.
Past and current scholarship on vampire narratives has been rich and diverse, and the attention paid to reclaiming these stories as worthy [End Page 340] of serious study has been incredibly important in helping to establish gothic studies as a serious academic field. Gibson’s beautifully researched and historically grounded text adds another complex voice to the discourse about gothic literature in general and vampire narratives in particular.
In his introduction, Gibson seamlessly sets up the theoretical and historical framework for Dracula and the Eastern Question by first taking issue with Edward Said’s generalizations about Orientalism as a hegemonic discourse, which became a justification for rule and imperialism. After critiquing Said’s construction of binaries between Occident and Orient, Gibson then turns to Maria Todorova’s “understanding of Balkanism as being a Western means of representing South Eastern Europe” as perhaps a definition that is too narrow—one that does not allow room for the multiple cultural, historic, and social complexities taking place in the region at the end of the Ottoman Empire. Gibson argues, instead, that “in post-Napoleonic Europe, British and French policy towards the Near East and attitudes to the Eastern Question, are in constant flux.… One must observe Britain’s and France’s relations with the Near East in terms of their material and wider economic interest, rather than fall into the trap of hegemony….”
Gibson’s methodology is clear and concise. He claims that his text will deal “with how vampire stories set in the Old Near East actually confront the Eastern Question” and that he will explore “the literature in light of genuine political events, balancing sections of literary analysis, biography, and detailed historical context.” This complex and interdisciplinary approach is exactly what Gibson does so well in Dracula and the Eastern Question.
He sets up the history of vampire tales and their interpretations as a response to recent events that actually took place in the Balkans rather than reading them within larger theoretical discourses. This historic and local specificity is a large part of what makes Gibson’s text so unique and such an important contribution to the field. This study is excellent in defining and narrowing the scope to focus only on Near Eastern Europe as it relates to itself, which is a new and refreshing approach to many overdetermined theories of vampire narratives.
In his first chapter entitled “The Dangers of Philhellenism to Italian Liberation” Gibson embarks on a much-needed exploration of Polidori’s dense and difficult narrative, The Vampyre. He explores Polidori within the context of his contestatory relationship with Lord Byron, and ultimately makes the claim that Polidori’s vampire story is the only way [End Page 341] the author feels he can explore his own points of view (in direct opposition to Byron’s) of the Ottoman Empire and his concerns about Greece in the new political landscape. Perhaps what resonates as the strongest point of this chapter, and which is repeated throughout, is that not only does Gibson do an excellent job of looking at specific historic contexts surrounding the vampire stories, but he also makes the claim that for many of the authors discussed in his study, the vampire narrative might have been one of the few ways they were able to write about their own politically unpopular views of the Near East Question.
For many gothic studies scholars...