On this day in 1897, Bram Stoker’s Dracula was first published. Vampires have always been a problem for me. Call it the caribou problem. As you may remember, the caribou of North America were starving to death because there were no predators to thin the herd. So wolves had to be reintroduced to save the caribou from their success. But imagine if every caribou killed turned into a wolf. Very soon, there would be no caribou and only wolves and then there would be no wolves because they would all starve to death. This is the kind of thing that I think about with regard to Dracula.
I’m also not that keen on the epistolary novel. Even when Stoker wrote it, it was coming to be obsolete. Really: what is the point of it anyway? It is a literary affectation that doesn’t seem to provide much of anything in exchange. But people at the time certainly seemed to like the novel (those who read it anyway). And it is still quite popular, but I think that has more to do with Bela Lugosi than Bram Stoker.
It’s hard for me not to compare Dracula with Frankenstein. And as much as it is possible to discern a theme for the mess of the former, it does not appeal to me. In an important sense, the two novels are opposites. Frankenstein presents a monster created by the society itself. The fault lies with the society that cannot deal with an outsider. Dracula presents a monster as an external contagion; the fault most definitely does not lie with the society for rejecting the outsider.
Thus, even though Dracula appeared three-quarters of a century later, its humanity had regressed. Frankenstein is a liberal — even radical — allegory of our treatment of the “other.” Dracula is a conservative allegory about how we must be fearful of the “other.” It is a story that would be welcomed by Pamela Geller and other bigots both more and less extreme. It would be welcome by them, that is, if they understood it.
Still, Dracula is a good adventure story. And if you love the British Empire and hate Romanian gypsies, well, you can hardly go wrong. That’s especially true if you don’t have anything better to do, like drink… wine?
Happy anniversary Dracula!