Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"He Is English and Therefore Adventurous": Politics, Decadence, and 'Dracula.'

Academic journal article Studies in the Novel

"He Is English and Therefore Adventurous": Politics, Decadence, and 'Dracula.'

Article excerpt

In the second paragraph of Dracula, Jonathan Harker records in his diary: "I had for dinner, or rather supper, a chicken done up some way with red pepper, which was very good but thirsty. (Mem., get recipe for Mina.)"(1) This unobtrusive memorandum signals a powerful Victorian discourse in which concepts of progress reinforce and are reinforced by concepts of sexual difference. Such discourse associates progress achieved through human reason primarily with a masculine realm in which men promote scientific, technological, industrial, and commercial advances by acting forcefully in highly respected professions; this discourse in turn posits a feminine realm in which women promote spiritual values and domestic order so as to support men's activities. Harker the solicitor travels to Transylvania, furthers the commercial progress of his British firm, keeps an orderly record of his experiences, and documents recipes for his wife. Mina, a locus of domestic stability (he refers to her as the preparer of food, for example), waits patiently at home in England for his return. However, Stoker does not present progress and sexual difference unself-consciously: as the vampiric hero-villain himself says of the vulnerable Harker in "Dracula's Guest" (which Stoker originally wrote as the first chapter of Dracula), "He is English and therefore adventurous."(2) The vampire, like the novel that bears his name, regards with profound irony conceptions of England as a nation whose progressive adventures cooperate with an ideal of "Woman."

Yet readings of the politics of Dracula tend to see it as an attempt to criticize concepts of progress and sexual difference that finally reinscribes them. Thus Rosemary Jann interprets the novel as apparently reacting against but finally endorsing materialist science and its rationalist authority; although discussions of sexual difference in the novel, like those of Anne Cranny-Francis and Nina Auerbach, reach more varied conclusions, they tend to view it as either reinscribing or radically revising dominant values--and both claims in part neutralize the text's useful representation of Victorian ideas of sexual difference.(3) Such readings claim that Stoker's novel, in Fredric Jameson's term, "reifies" ideological structures, and these readings elide how such a text is constructed by and constructs the values that inform social experience; what is needed is an analysis of how Dracula offers what Jameson calls a "Utopian or transcendent potential ... which remains implicitly, and no matter how faintly, negative and critical of the social order from which, as a product and a commodity, it springs."(4) A recognition of how, as Raymond Williams stresses, literary texts "mediate" rather than "reflect" dominant values and thus can criticize them is crucial to understanding supernatural fictions: as Pierre Macherey argues, the extremely playful nature of the fantasies they create is particularly powerful in setting "illusion in motion by penetrating its insufficiency, by transforming our relation to ideology."(5)

A few recent discussions emphasize how Dracula thus mediates and refigures powerful political ideas; in particular, Christopher Craft's "|Kiss Me with Those Red Lips': Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker's Dracula" demonstrates how, even as it apparently focuses on heterosexual exchanges, the novel subtly alters definitions of sexual difference.(6) Yet it is crucial to examine how the novel's representation of the supernatural--its formal structure as a vampire narrative--affects its representation of sexual difference and progress. Stoker's text takes up opposing political positions so as to represent and scrutinize their power, and the use of vampirism challenges the authority of established cultural ideas. Vampirism transforms people into more bestial versions of themselves by erasing human identity (vampires cannot see their reflections in mirrors) and spreads like a disease, always threatening to undermine a culture that believes too uncritically in its progress. …

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