- No Clocks in His Castle: The Threat of the Durée in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The vampire hunters of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) exhibit a distinctly British strain of the rational humanism that had begun to pervade Western Europe by the late nineteenth century. In this emergent positivist zeitgeist, intuitive, qualitative experiences of time were repressed by a scientific method that sought to standardize time as a quantitative measurement rather than a metaphysical quality. The debate between quantitative and qualitative understandings of time, so central to the tension apparent between intuition and intellect in the modernizing London of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, was embodied at the turn of the century in the opposing figures of metaphysician Henri Bergson and physicist Albert Einstein. As Jimena Canales has noted, though it is commonly asserted that Bergson “lost” to Einstein in the debate on the meaning of the theory of relative time and its relevance to society—a debate that would crystallize at the Société Française de Philosophie in Paris on 6 April 1922—neither Bergson nor his followers acknowledged defeat, maintaining that Bergson’s position was simply undervalued. In essence, the Paris debate and its public fallout was “a controversy about who could speak for nature and about which of these two disciplines [philosophy or physics] would have the last word” (Canales 1169). Bergson’s difficulty in persuading the academy of the merits of subjective, internally experienced time over Einstein’s positively quantifiable, externally measured time provides insight into the suspicion with which the vampire hunters of Stoker’s novel regard Dracula’s supernatural aspect: there was an overwhelming desire in this period to discredit metaphysical interpretations of the world, interpretations which had only recently been surpassed.
As Pitirim Sorokin maintains, the replacement of socio-cultural time with purely quantitative or measurable time inevitably results in a crisis of spatiotemporal reorientation (qtd. in Schivelbusch 36–37), such as that which the characters of Bram Stoker’s Dracula undergo. The novel was written in the wake of the 1884 International Meridian Conference, at which global spatiotemporal standardization was imposed through the ratification of the Greenwich Prime Meridian as longitude zero (making official the maritime practice of measuring time by longitudinal distance from the Royal Observatory in [End Page 55] Greenwich, England). Like other novels in the imperial Gothic genre, Dracula is seen by critics, including Adam Barrows and Patrick Brantlinger, as projecting nineteenth-century fears of atavism at home in Britain onto spaces and characters unconfined by this process of global temporal standardization. The exotic spaces textually mapped by nineteenth-century adventure novelists are populated with “temporally deviant or discordant inhabitants” (Barrows 76), such as Bram Stoker’s Dracula, H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha, and H.G. Wells’s Morlocks, who represent “a threat that haunted fin-de-siècle England: that of atavism, or reversion” (Auerbach and Skal ix–x). In this socio-historical context of spatiotemporal readjustment and the fear of regression, one can read Dracula’s greatest threat to the vampire hunters as his reintroduction of repressed, subjective modes of experiencing time, memory, and the Other.
The first section of this paper discusses how the vampire hunters of Stoker’s novel reflect an emergent positivism that rejects the authority of human experience in favour of scientific measurement, while simultaneously acknowledging the threat to the supremacy of science posed by subjective modes of experience. The hunters’ privileging of railway time, clock time, and calendar time exemplifies their rejection of perceived experience in favour of scientific measurements, while their terror of Dracula, who experiences time as a Bergsonian durée, reveals the tenuousness of their faith in these new modes of orientation in time and space. The following section turns to the dual destabilizations—by both the character of Dracula and the novel as a whole—of the vampire hunters’ faith in narratives, which they use to avoid reliance on irrational human memory and to reassert their personae as rational beings. The final portion of the work focuses more specifically on the Bergsonian conception of knowledge and understanding as entry into, rather than observation of, the object perceived. Dracula’s introduction of this type of...