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Dracula and Whitmania: "the pass-word primeval" David Thiele Seattle University IN 1897, BRAM STOKER was asked to comment on the moral teaching of Dracula. "I suppose that every book of the kind must contain some lesson," he replied, "but I prefer that readers should find it out for themselves."1 An avalanche of detective work has answered this mild suggestion, primarily over the last thirty years. The essays that seek to place Dracula in a socio-political context have tended to look somewhat alike. Their arguments are typically consumed with assigning the characters various roles in various allegories of British Imperialism. The notion that Stoker's novel encodes the dark conscience or subconscious of the Empire has been revisited many times, and over the past several years—"the decade of the Irish Dracula"2—the Protestant Irish Stoker's Count Dracula has been identified as a despotic Ascendancy landlord, a monstrous Gaelic noble, demonized Catholic atavism personified, and more. There is a good reason for the diffuseness of insightful criticism on Dracula. The critic is drawn irresistibly into a trope which Jonathan Harker describes on seeing the inside of Dracula's rented house in London : "a sort of orderly disorder."3 In his much-needed 1996 study of Stoker, David Glover characterizes this novel's resistance to simple allegorical readings as a function of its "generalized sense of social and psychic terror."4 Nonetheless, Glover's desire for unity is evident in his portrait of the complex and mysterious Stoker as an astoundingly textbook Liberal. Similarly, Michael Valdez Moses concedes that the power of the gothic form "depends upon the polyvalent significance and indeterminate identity of its monstrous protagonists,"5 yet he presents an essay which struggles resolutely to stay focused on a unified reading of Count Dracula as an insidious, subversive incarnation of Irish Home Rule advocate Charles Stuart Parnell. More recently, Joseph Valente 188 THIELE : STOKER has offered a Joyceanly pluralistic-yet-Irish template based on Stoker's "metrocolonial conditions of production,"6 emphasizing, again, the novel's resistance to unified interpretation. In this case, the twist is that Valente will speak, for example, of resonances between Hungarian separatism , Irish Home Rule schemes, and the depiction of Transylvania in Dracula as "Stoker's allegory," yet assert that this "allegory" conveys "the positive unanswerability of the Irish Question generally within the reigning framework of binary opposition."7 Of course, even in scholarship that celebrates plurality and complexity , the critic's search for a template of interpretation that will bring coherence to a fragmented, heterogeneous narrative is similar to the work Mina Harker does, constructing what we know as Dracula from a variety of voices, diary entries, shipping orders, letters, and wax recording cylinders. As the narrator of Stoker's The Jewel of the Seven Stars puts it, "This is the merit of entire, or collected, narrative. Isolated facts, doubts, suspicions, conjectures, give way to a homogeneity which is convincing ."8 A temptingly "orderly disorder" of available clues and vast gaps in our knowledge of Stoker seem to ensure that Dracula and Dracula will live on as monsters of socio-political (as well as psycho-sexual) multiple association, monsters that lure with hints that somewhere there is an allegorical stake to be driven to the heart of a "naturally secretive " author's meaning.9 Putting the desire for this unlikely, unifying key to Dracula aside, nineteenth-century Irish history does seem to be a likely field in which to find subtexts for Stoker's novel; but the inquiry should extend beyond the nineteenth-century boundaries of the British Empire, as wide as these were. Stoker was, in fact, a man of even wider experience and sympathies . Among these experiences and sympathies his longstanding love for the work and company of an American "postcolonial," Walt Whitman, stands out.10 It is fitting that "orderly disorder" could double as a description of Whitman's trademark poetic style, as well as his semi-utopian vision of the future. It was he who famously wrote, "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes)."11 But the point is not to assert, as others have, that...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 188-205
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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