- “Covered in Blood and Dirt”:Industrial, Capital, and Cultural Crisis in Red Rock and Dracula
Karl Marx, who was tremendously fond of the vampire as metaphor, famously wrote, “If money, according to [Marie] Augier, ‘comes into the world with a congenital blood-stain on one cheek,’ capital comes dripping from head to foot, from every pore, with blood and dirt” (834). Suggestive of a newly risen corpse, this is, perhaps, a subtle allusion to Marx’s even more often quoted assertion that “capital is dead labour, that, vampire-like, only lives by sucking living labour, and lives the more, the more labour it sucks” (257). Either way, this is probably the only subject on which Marx and Thomas Nelson Page’s Old South planters might agree. For them, capital—especially paper money, whose value can shift independently of the more material values of practical commodities—is a kind of specter. This is especially important to the way we read Dracula and Red Rock. We know that ghosts and monsters—both representive of the gothic past—should be bound in history (real or imagined), but in both novels, the fight against blood-sucking monsters (Dracula and Jonadab Leech, respectively) stands in for another more fundamental anxiety over values: that dangerous ideologies from the past might reconstitute themselves [End Page 21] and, in the process, destabilize the present. In the looming sense that monsters might emerge from the past, this is by necessity and design a discourse of blood and dirt.
It might not seem, at first, that there is much to suggest a comparison between Thomas Nelson Page’s Red Rock (1898) and Braham Stoker’s Dracula (1897), but at their cores, both novels mourn the end of one era while trying to influence the one to come. Page’s reconstruction romance says goodbye to the Old South and attempts to shape—at least within the realm of fiction—the new place a postbellum South will occupy in the national consciousness. Stoker’s novel, similarly, seems to shrug off the final elements of Victorian sensationalism while trying to embrace the technological optimism of the twentieth century. To put it simply, in Dracula, a group of conspicuously modern figures face the specter of their gothic past before they can move into the future; the heroes of Red Rock, carefully negotiating the tight passage between continuity and progress, similarly work to generate a place for the South within the United States. What connects these texts most fundamentally, then, is their parallel response to the cultural crisis that the end of the nineteenth century was generating on either side of the Atlantic.
Although Jerzy Sobieraj contends that Page’s most successful topic was “the Old South and the emergence of the new,” his reading of Red Rock does not simply recount the stock narrative of postbellum regional strife (81). “The fact that, after the Civil War, the traditional agrarian South started being bombarded with the new industrial ideas was due not only to the Northern victors. The social and economic changes that threatened the agrarian South,” he argues, “characterized the whole of late nineteenth-century society” (Sobieraj 81). In this, he echoes the sentiments of Dr. Cary, who warns a group of overconfident young men who cannot believe secession will actually lead to war, asking “No war? We are at war at this time—with the greatest power on earth: the power of universal progress. It is not the North that we shall have to fight, but the whole world” (31). This threat to traditional nineteenth-century southern culture lets Page frame an approach to Reconstruction that might allow readers to focus less on the historical particulars of slavery and secession and more on the discursive structures they reveal. Although Earl Bargainnier’s point that Red Rock is both “a novel of sectional reconciliation” aimed at attracting readers from outside the South as well as an attempt to create “a myth of what [Page] considered a great lost civilization” acknowledges Page’s ambivalence about the [End Page 22] Old South, the key to understanding the novel’s approach to these issues is its treatment of blood and dirt as essential signifiers...