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24 THE POLITICS OF DRACULA By Richard Wasson (University of Illinois) From the time of its appearance in 1897, Bram Stoker's DRACULA has never been out of print, has been translated into several languages (including Gaelic) and has been transformed into several versions for the theatre and movie-going public.' No doubt numerous psychological and sociological explanations for the novel's popularity might be offered; among these possibilities is a political theme (perhaps "undertone" might be more exact) which would appeal to audiences throughout the series of crises presented by the two world and the cold wars. Count Dracula, if not always in the plays and movies, at least in the novel represents those forces in Eastern Europe which seek to overthrow, through violence and subversion, the more progressive democratic civilization of the West, This claim might seem facetious to those inclined to regard the book as a hack job designed to titilate its audience. But even writers of popular novels have political opinions and Stoker is no exception. When elected to the chief office of the historical society at Trinity College, he attracted widespread attention in the Dublin newspapers by pleading for "a united nations "2 His first published book was on the duties of Irish court clerks and he wrote a pamphlet pleading for home rule for Ireland. In his biography of Henry Irving, whose secretary Stoker was, he tells of his repeated failures to interest the Englishman in that cause.3 In LADY OF THE SHROUD (1909), one of the most entertaining bad novels ever written, he uses the Vampire theme to present a fantastic solution to the Balkan situation. Under the leadership of the heir of an English capitalist, "The Land of the Blue Mountains," a tiny state on the Adriatic, rings itself with cannon and battleships, protects its skies with "aeros," the then ultimate weapon, and leads its neighbors into a confederation of states called "Balka," thus ordering the chaos which tempts the imperialistic ambitions of both the Turkish and the Austro-Hungarian empires. In that book Stoker abandons the vampire-horror techniques about half-way through to write what he undoubtedly thought was a political novel. In DRACULA the political theme is more covert and certainly less urgent; but it is nevertheless there and in the same peculiar way as in LADY OF THE SHROUD. The locale of the novel, near the border of three Balkan territories in the center of Roumania, is suggestive enough. Jonathan Harker, whose journal begins the tale, describes it as a distinctly eastern portion of Europe where the laws and customs of the West do not apply. Harker describes the area as "certainly an imaginative whirlpool of races . . „ where hardly a foot of soil has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots, invaders,"^ While the rest of Europe has been free to develop a culture, this area has been a bloody battle ground. More interesting than the location, is Dracula's ancestry—he is a direct descendent of At i 11 a the Hun: "What devil or what witch was ever so great as Atilla, whose blood flows through these veins," the Count rhetorically asks Harker. "Is it any wonder," he continues in language far too familiar in the twentieth century, "that we were a conquering race?" (p. 27) The Count sees himself as having performed an important political function for the West; through war and diplomacy he and his "race" kept the Turks at bay and finally defeated them: "Who was it crossed the Danube and beat the Turk on his own ground?" (p. 28) He later acts the part of the betrayed and the sacrificed by telling Mina that "hundreds of years before they were born," he had intrigued and "fought" for the very men who were now seeking to destory him (p. 268), a fact which Van Helsing, who, as we shall see in a moment, represents the assorted powers of the West, grudgingly 25 acknowledges (p. 224). But his victory has rendered him historically obsolete and left his people exhausted: "The warlike days are over; blood is a precious thing in these days of dishonorable peace," he continues in language similar to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1559-2715
Print ISSN
0013-8339
Pages
pp. 24-27
Launched on MUSE
2010-05-21
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Will Be Archived 2021
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