‘Bram Stoker’s Dracula: Possessed by the Spirit of the Nation?’ (1998)*

[*This article first appeared in Irish University Review: Journal of Irish Studies, 26, 2 (Autumn/Winter 1999), pp.238-55, and afterwards in a revised version in That Other World: The Supernatural and Fantastic in Irish Literature, ed. Bruce Stewart (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1999), pp.52-83.]

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[Epigraph:] ‘The days of Donnybrook Fair and all it meant, the days of the stage Irishman and the stagey Irish play, of Fenianism and landlordism are rapidly passing away [to be replaced by] a strenuous, industrious spirit, spreading its revivifying influence rapidly over the old country as to be worth more than historical bitterness and sentimental joys.’ (Stoker, ‘The Great White Fair in Dublin’, 1907.)


How far is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) an Irish novel? To this question Irish critics have recently supplied dramatic answers arising from the resemblance between the blood-sucking aristocrat and the economic practices of the Anglo-Irish gentry. What is most peculiar in this context is not so much the brashness of such an allegorical identification as the absence of detailed argument in support of it based on the actual language of the text, in which—in fact—a curious reliance on the phrase ‘plan of campaign’ to describe the offensive conducted by Van Helsing and his companions against the Transylvanian vampire is a somewhat glaring feature from the Irish standpoint.[1] Though a military term of some currency in the late-Victorian period, that coinage was more specifically deployed in an Irish context as the name given to the rent-strike policy devised by Timothy Charles Harrington and adopted by the Land League leadership in 1886 with the grudging assent of Charles Stewart Parnell.[2]

That Stoker’s best-known story is grounded in the social and political conditions of the day goes without saying.[3] That it is grounded in the conditions of the Irish Land War —still raging at the date to which its ‘events’ are generally ascribed[4]—is hardly less likely given Stoker’s proximity to the Anglo-Irish class whose place in Irish society was violently contested in the protracted struggle that supervened between the Famine and the Wyndham’s Land Act of 1903 (in short, throughout his lifetime). Yet, however closely connected with a political context of that kind may be the germinal idea of Dracula, it is by no means certain that its author intended to reflect the events of the Land War as viewed from the standpoint of the victors—that is, the agrarian class which emerged from that struggle as the dominant political force on the island in the late-nineteenth century.  Not only is it unlikely that Count Dracula was inscribed as a portrait of the rapacious landlord of popular memory, it is more probable that the vampiric tendencies of the villain were designed to represent the kind of atavistic violence commonly attributed by members of Stoker’s class to Land League activists and, by implication, to Charles Stewart Parnell—whom they regarded as puppet-master of the agrarian agitators.[5]

So far as Stoker’s own political outlook went, we know that he was strongly predisposed to see the local capitalist (or ‘gombeen man’) as the real blood-sucker in rural Ireland—a fact that William Gladstone noted with satisfaction on finding that social type blamed for Irish disorders in his presentation copy of Stoker’s only overtly Irish novel, The Snake’s Pass (1890).[6] To some, this might seem like another attempt by the Anglo-Irish to exculpate themselves in the classic manner devised by Maria Edgeworth, whose character Nicholas Garraghty in The Absentee (1812) was the first nefarious middle-man of Irish fiction. It nevertheless remains improbable that Stoker (consciously or unconsciously) intended to impale the Protestant land-owners of Ireland on the stake prepared for them by nationalist historians—not least because he had some class affinity with the supposed malefactors, though somewhat loosened in the atmosphere of ‘Home Government’ politics he imbibed from the liberal Protestant intelligentsia of his student days at Trinity College. As to the wider question of his national allegiances, there are strong indications that Stoker was less concerned with loyalty either to Ireland or to England considered as sovereign nations than with ‘modernity’—a place or state which he looked upon as transcending such geo-political distinctions. It was just this conception that governed his thinking in regard to the Dublin Exhibition of 1907, which he saw as a harbinger of modernisation in Ireland and which therefore led him to express the hope that ‘a strenuous, industrious spirit, spreading its revivifying influence so rapidly over the old country’ would put paid to ‘Fenianism and landlordism’, along with traditional slurs associated with ‘Donnybrook Fair’ and ‘stage-Irishism’ that had so often besmirched the reputation of the country.[7] In this outburst of Fenianism and landlordism with the same brush—for seems to have disliked the Land League agitators and the evicting landlords even-handedly as mutually-related manifestations of an anti-modern ethos.

Acknowledgement of this conjunction may be taken as a challenge to construct a postcolonialist reading of the novel that goes beyond the simplistic identification of the vampire with Anglo-Irish landlords, focusing instead upon the author’s underlying concern with a conflict between modernity and atavism in contemporary society. Yet those very epithets are at the centre of a hot debate in Irish cultural studies today. So far from being terms with a fixed and equable meaning, they have recently been made the object of interrogation a wider discourse concerning the role of Anglo-Irish fiction as a palimpsest of the guilty conscience of the colonist on the one hand, and the resort of traditional Irish society to ‘outrages’ as the only means of expressing its profound hurt under the impact of material and psychological subjection on the other. In this article I examine both Dracula and the critical discourse which it has inspired in order to get a compass-bearing on the current situation in Irish literary criticism, and to indicate at least the pitfalls of advancing too far in the direction that a nationalist appetite for justice naturally leads the literary critic.

There are good reasons to be chary about endorsing a vigorously allegorical interpretation of the novel as seen uniquely from a nationalist standpoint: for one thing, such readings are apt to reveal that appetite more obviously than the intentions of the author. This is not to detract from the careful analysis of such terms as ‘land’, ‘earth’, and ‘soil’ in the Irish political lexicon conducted to good effect by Seamus Deane;8] nor to take issue with the vindication of so-called Irish ‘hysteria’ carried out in Luke Gibbons’s exploration of ‘the conflicting claims of modernisation and memory on an economy in crisis’.[9] What it does suggest is that a nationalist interpretation of such a text as Dracula is by its very nature apt to affirm its own convictions, turning the novel into an allegory of the landlord-tenant relations; and this is done without regard to alternative readings of the same text, often involving reference to the same subtending historical experience.

In a remarkable discussion of Stoker’s famous novel, Seamus Deane has written of the central character:

Attached to the soil by day, ‘racy of the soil’ in a perverse rendering of the epigraph of the Nation newspaper, he moves, like an O’Grady version of the Celtic hero, between dusk and dawn.[10]

Here Deane touches on the privileged place of ‘soil’ in Irish literary usage—a note developed elsewhere in Strange Country where he defines the ‘ontological hierarchy’ involved: ‘The nation is the soil; the state is the land … Soil is prior to land.’[11] In The Nation for 24 April 1847 there appeared a celebrated letter by James Fintan Lalor containing minatory observations addressed to Irish landlords: ‘If you persevere in enforcing a clearance of your lands you will force men to weigh your existence, as landowners, against the existence of the Irish people.’[12] A little later, in The Irish Felon (which he conducted for John Martin, then in prison), Lalor penned some words that came to hold a place of prime importance in the thinking of nationalist revolutionaries and politicians in future generations:

Ireland her own—Ireland her own, and all therein, from the sod to the sky. The soil of Ireland for the people of Ireland, to have and hold from God alone who gave it—to have and hold to them and their heirs forever, without suit or service, faith or fealty, rent or render, to any power under heaven.[13]

Shortly after that again, he sketched a broad historical narrative of Ireland in this fashion:

 [T]he English conquest consisted of two parts [...] conquest of our liberties, the conquest of our lands. I saw clearly the re-conquest of our liberties would be incomplete and worthless without the re-conquest of our lands.[14]

—before proceeding to express all of this in terms that might be applied with little alteration to a clique of aristocratic vampires:

Strangers they are in this land they call theirs—strangers here and strangers everywhere, owning no country and owned by none; rejecting Ireland, and rejected by England; tyrants to this land and slaves to another; here they stand hating and hated—their hand forever against us, as ours against them, an outcast and ruffianly horde, a class by themselves. […] Tyrants and traitors they have ever been to us and ours since first they set foot on our soil.[15]

In just this spirit Irish critics have recently argued that bad faith on the part of descendants of the Cromwellian settlers gave rise to the Victorian horror stories of Maturin, Le Fanu and Stoker. As Terry Eagleton puts it:

Protestant Gothic […] is the political unconscious of Irish [sic] society, the place where its fears and fantasies most luridly emerge. […]  For Gothic is the nightmare of the besieged and reviled, most notably of women, but in this case of an ethnic minority marooned with a largely hostile people.[16

 This is to say that Dracula offers a portrait of the Anglo-Irish landlord of the kind he would prefer to keep hidden in the attic while continuing to parade his suaver self in the drawing-room below. Elsewhere, Eagleton has in fact suggested that a postcolonialist interpretation of The Portrait of Dorian Gray should now be undertaken in keeping with the psychoanalytical supposition that ‘Ireland figured as Britain’s unconscious …’.[17] (This may be compared with Siobhán Kilfeather’s assertion that ‘Ireland provided a gothic closet or priest-hole for many colonial skeletons of the English imagination’.)[18] Since Stoker lacks a Speranza in his family album it is necessary to deploy the concept of a political unconscious in order to transform the author of sensational novels into the victim of a Freudian slip revealing the neurotic secrets of the social class to which he belonged—a class whose security and ease was founded on their brutal origins as thieves of Irish soil.

Even admitting the author’s intimate affinity with the Anglo-Irish gentry upon which this remorselessly political form of psychoanalysis depends (and it is not necessary to do so, considering his familial remoteness from any land-holding interest), it is far easier to impress the diametrically opposite construction on his allegorical intentions. Viewed from the terrace of the Anglo-Irish ‘big house’, Count Dracula is obviously a Fenian ‘head centre’ while the tribe of ‘Szgady’ who assist him are patently his Land League henchmen. Yet even this inversion—convenient as it is from a revisionist standpoint—is too crudely partisan to capture the sense of terror involved in the landlord-tenant nexus considered as an inexorable feature of Irish social relations from which atavistic violence endlessly proceeds. It may be best, therefore, to suppose that Dracula represents both the landlord and the forces behind agrarian crime in the Land War era; at least, to see the matter otherwise is to privilege one side against the other—sides traditionally corresponding to Nationalism and Unionism in the framework of Irish political antagonisms. Considering such dangers, it is tempting to join with Christopher Morash in reflecting that ‘we need to pause and resist the temptation to set up Stoker as the favourite straw-man of Irish literary history, the Ascendancy apologist with a bad conscience.’19] We need—what is more—to curb the tendency to regard the middle-class Protestants of modern Ireland, be they Southern Unionists or ‘philosophical Home-rulers’ (as Stoker once described himself)[20] as the victims of ancestral guilt flowing from the sins of their colonising fathers.

Deane’s reflections on the theme of ‘soil’ in Dracula first came to notice in an article for History Ireland (Spring 1994)[21] in which the following passage exemplified the allegorical conception:

Dracula’s dwindling soil and his vampiric appetites consort well enough with the image of the Irish landlord current in the nineteenth century. Running out of soil, this peculiar version of the absentee landlord in London will flee the light of day and be consigned to the only territory left to him, that of legend. Like O’Grady’s and Yeats’s Anglo-Irish, he will be expelled from history to enter the never-never land of myth, demonised more effectively but also more clandestinely than by a Lalor, Mitchel, or Davitt.22]

Enlarging on earlier remarks about ‘soil’ in the reprinted version in Strange Country, Deane is able to conclude: ‘This peculiar version of the native soil is an inversion or perversion of the nationalist version propagated by Lalor.’[23] The sense of Stoker’s participating—albeit perversely—in the discourse of Irish land-politics as defined by Lalor is further enhanced by proximity with Deane’s striking commentary on kindred usages in the writings of Standish James O’Grady who accuses the Anglo-Irishmen of his own class of degenerating to the state of mere ‘clay’ and ‘earth’ (a condition ontologically inferior  to ‘soil’).24] Drawing out a strand from O’Grady’s critique of the Irish obsession with what he calls ‘the worship of phantoms’, Deane deftly soutures adjacent chapter-sections with a closing reference to ‘a spectre haunting Europe’.25] This might be supposed to stand for Land League revolutionaries and Deane certainly takes the part of the natural owners of the soil ( à la Fintan Lalor) in declaring that ‘spectral presences were attempting to take possession of the land’. However, his concluding comment effects a peripeteia in urging that ‘the most famous of these was himself a landlord’.[26] If this is a reference to Charles Stewart Parnell there is nothing in the context to support it; accordingly, it reads as an allusion to Dracula, who dominates the ensuing chapter-section.

By the time that Deane’s History Ireland article had appeared, Terry Eagleton had already ventilated the notion of Dracula as an Anglo-Irish landlord in a paper on ‘Form and Ideology in the Anglo-Irish Novel’ given at the 1993 IASIL Conference in Cairo. This was printed soon after in the first issue of Bullán 1994,[27] before appearing in a revised form in Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (1995),[28] and—finally—in its original form in the proceedings of the IASIL Conference.29] Eagleton’s rendition of Dracula chiefly differs from that of Deane in its adherence to the Marxian terminology of ‘material base’ and ‘superstructure’:

Like them [i.e., the Anglo-Irish landlords], Dracula is literally running out of land; by the end of the novel he is being hotly pursued around Europe, furnished only with the crates of Transylvanian soil he needs to bed down in for the night. His material base, like that of his author’s, is rapidly dwindling, and once deprived of his earth he will die [italics mine].[30]

We may never know in whose teeming brain Dracula’s stolen Irish soil first ‘dwindled’, yet the respective reviews of each critic’s work by the other reveal theoretical positions by no means as close as such a glaring verbal similarity suggests. Here the chief point of divergence consists in Deane’s reservations about the either/or involved in Eagleton’s view of the Irish historical experience (viz., ‘accepting colonialism as a boon or as an irretrievable disaster and behaving accordingly’),[31] and Eagleton’s demur about Deane’s tendency to regard ‘national character’ as a ‘discursive formation’ rather than a materially-determined actuality.32] Eagleton further reproaches Deane for not dwelling long enough on Davis, Lalor, and John Mitchel but nevertheless commends his reading of Dracula in these fraternal terms: ‘There is, however, a tenacious commentary on Dracula, a text for modish postmodernists if ever there was one, which succeeds for once in being properly unfashionable about the novel’[33] — ‘fashion’ being a recurrent term of abuse in his intellectual vocabulary.

Deane’s commentary works so well because he has done his ground-work amid the territorial epithets of the period. It is all the more surprising, therefore, that he pays scant attention to the incidence of the words ‘land’, ‘soil’, and ‘earth’ in the novel Dracula itself; indeed, his treatment of that text is so peremptory that it might be thought the actual usages unnerve him, running strongly counter to his reading of the semiotics of Irish land-politics as they do. The word ‘soil’ occurs a mere three times in the twenty-seven chapters of Dracula while ‘earth’ and its various cognates (‘earthly’, ‘on earth’, &c.) occur fifty-seven times—most often in the second half as ‘earth-boxes’ with phrasal variants such as ‘earth chests’ and ‘boxes of earth’.[34] Significantly or otherwise, it is Count Dracula alone who explicitly adverts to ‘soil’ in the novel; and this he does when he boasts to Harker that 

‘[…] there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders.’ (D33).

That might be taken as revealing the raw colonial roots of Dracula, yet what is notable is the idea that the territory in question has been fertilised by native and by alien blood equally—an idea distinct from the patriotic notion of fructification exclusively by the blood of natives shed at the hands of the conqueror, thereby sanctifying the nationalist cause by virtue of martyrs’ blood. Since Dracula’s version of blood-sacrifice is so markedly at odds with that, it might be suspected that he has stolen the term ‘soil’ just as he has stolen the actual substance from the peasant-patriots of Transylvania  in his capacity as ‘robber baron’ (as all aristocrats at bottom are). In this, perhaps, he is very like the Anglo-Irish landlord and their literary surrogates Lady Gregory and W. B. Yeats, who co-opted Irish soil as  a romantic grounding for their literary revival: ‘All that we did […] must come from contact with the soil’.[35] Yet the force of Stoker’s expository account of Dracula in the novel overwhelmingly suggests that the character is a native of his region rather than an invader—indeed, a brutal native chieftain with unimpeachably autochtonous credentials who serves in his character as ‘the Voivode’ to defend the whole of Christian Europe against the invading armies of Islam then streaming across the Hellespont. In this character he is less like Protestant conquisadores of Ireland than Archbishops Cullen and McHale resisting evangelical proselytisers of the Kildare Place Society pouring into Catholic parishes into upon conversions and good works.

Elsewhere in Strange Country, Seamus Deane makes good use of Isaac Butt’s insistence that ‘it is our misfortune that English phrases are applied to relations that bear no resemblance to the things which the words describe in the English tongue’—Butt’s examples being precisely the terms ‘landlord’ and ‘tenant’.[36] In Ireland, as Deane implies, these terms translate into predatory colonist and helpless victim, a conjunction that seems to assign the Irish landowner neatly to the role of vampire in the Dracula scenario. Markedly to the contrary of this piece of allegorical type-casting, Chris Morash has raised the question whether the charismatic Count, with his strong appeal to women, his well-dressed taciturnity and his aristocratic passe-partout in English society, might not have been intended as a portrait of Charles Stewart Parnell, the Home Rule leader and master of the Land League.[37] About this new identification there is a suggestion of creative ambiguity lacking in the other in as much as Parnell, in his capacity as generalissimo of Irish separatism and a Protestant landowner, managed to comprehend both Fenianism and landlordism in one person.

Viewed in this light, Count Dracula begins to look less like an Irish counterpart of Jack the Ripper (aristocratic and obscenely violent) than a nightmarish version of the eponymous subject of ‘Parnellism and Crime’. Those libellous articles published in The Times in 1887 linked Parnell with the Phoenix Park assassinations of 1882 and agrarian crime in Ireland in the period. From the same perspective, moreover, the anomalous character Renfield—whose insanity takes the form of manic loyalty to Dracula—can be seen as a counterpart of John Mandeville, the Land League leader imprisoned after the Mitchelstown Massacre of October 1887 who occupied his cell in utter nakedness and died within a year of his release in consequence.[38] Indeed, if Dracula is an allegory of Irish historical events it is surely more likely to be based on a reaction to the climate of terror engendered by Land League agitation than to the legacy of resentments caused by colonial dispossession—though perhaps both of these are necessary ingredients in its uniquely successful amalgam of loathing and desire.

Independently of Morash, Michael Moses has recently illustrated in some detail the strong similarity between Count Dracula and Parnell in a postcolonialist essay treating the latter as an ‘overdetermined figure onto whom are cathected many of the most formidable political and social issues of nineteenth-century Ireland.’[39] Moses goes on to characterise the novel as an expression of its author’s alarm at the ‘prospect that he [Parnell] might bring into existence a whole new people, a nation of free Irish citizens under his leadership’, thereby precipitating the collapse of the British Empire in the new century as anti-colonial movements ‘metastasised’ around the globe[40]. Taking Stoker’s novel to be a palimpsest of colonial anxieties rather than an anti-colonial allegory, Moses further identifies the ‘flyman’ Renfield as a ‘surrogate’ Land Leaguer answering the unseen commands of his leader, Dracula/Parnell: ‘More than any other figure in Dracula the character of Renfield serves as a stand-in for the Irish adherents of Parnell and the nationalist cause.’[41] On this basis he constructs a critique of the illegal procedures adopted by Dr. Seward and Dr. Patrick Hennessey—seen respectively as Scottish and Irish servants of the British Union—in the course of managing Renfield’s incarceration in the lunatic asylum. That these procedures culminate in a judicial cover-up of the circumstances of Renfield’s death enduces Moses to reflect on their resemblance to the circumstances in which the ANC leader Steven Biko died in our own time;[42] and this leads on directly to an ideologically-gratifying proposition:

In political terms, the most insidious threat that the infectious spread of vampirism poses is that even Liberal England, with its commitment to freedom, justice, peace, and the rule of law, will, like the subjugated island across the Irish Sea, become a land of darkness and misrule.43]

This is doubtless well said, especially as underscoring the fact (also noted by Moses) that the vampire-hunters evince a marked indifference to legality in pursuit of their quarry—house-breaking provides the recurrent instance—thereby breaching the civic codes they are supposed to be defending. While this is true of Dracula and many another Victorian novel, it is not in fact the case that Renfield dies at the hands of his gaolers, being a victim of Dracula’s violent conception of subservience instead. So far from lending support to the idea that the Land Leaguers were victims of state violence in a sense analogous with the ANC leader, Stoker seems to muster a critique of the uncivil ways of Irish agrarian agitators and implies—as Moses avers—that these were subject to the remote control of a sinister aristocratic leader.

As it happens, Richard Pigott’s suicide following cross-examination by Sir Charles Russell—an Irish Catholic from Newry who was Gladstone’s Attorney General in 1886 and 1892—established incontestably that the documents upon which ‘Parnellism and Crime’ was purportedly founded had indeed been forgeries, exonerating the leader from any demonstrable connection with agrarian outrages. Notwithstanding, ‘Parnellism’ continued in use as a term for slightly constitutional dalliance 1with physical force extremism, and for good reason. In 1888 Parnell told an American journalist, ‘a true revolutionary movement in Ireland should, in my opinion, partake of both a constitutional and an illegal character.’[44] As George Boyce puts it, this policy ‘carried Parnell to power and near-success’, after which he ‘disentangled himself from Parnellism with relief, and committed all to the Liberal alliance’.[45] No wonder Stoker was confused about the Irish leader’s political motives (as others have been in comparable circumstances nearer our own times).46]

That the novel Dracula participates in widespread Victorian anxiety about racial degeneracy is well-known, though Irish critics have been inclined to overlook this aspect in spite—or perhaps because of—its relation to the question of agrarian crime in contemporary Ireland.47] In this connection, Stoker draws in particular on the writings of Cesare Lombroso (1836-1909), a contemporary Italian psychiatrist whose theory of criminal degeneracy is explicitly evoked in Van Helsing’s account of Dracula’s moral and mental character:

The Count is a criminal and of criminal type. Nordau and Lombroso would so classify him, and qua criminal he is of imperfectly formed mind. (D406.)

According to Lombroso (as retaled by the chief vampire hunter), criminals display a ‘constant peculiarity’ in that they are ‘cunning and resourceful’ but lacking in ‘man-stature as to brain’ (D405); and in this reduced condition they are naturally condemned to enact behaviour patterns involving the mindless repetition of futile crimes. Although widely accepted in continental Europe, this theory was repugnant to the British establishment and finally disproved by Dr. Charles Goring in his book The English Convict (1913), where he showed by means of statistical research conducted in British prisons that inmates ‘differ more widely among themselves than they do from the community outside and that the latter show the same stigmata of criminality that criminals possess.’[48] That put paid to ‘congenital recidivism’ and the ‘criminal mind’ for the purposes of English jurisprudence. Yet, flawed though it be, Stoker chose to build Lombroso’s theory into the plot of Dracula as something like its main intellectual armature:

Ah! there I have hope that our man-brains that have been of man so long and that have not lost the grace of God, will come higher than his child-brain that lie in his tomb for centuries, that grow not yet to our stature, and that do only work selfish and therefore small. (D404).

Needless to say, it is Dracula’s inability to learn from past experience that ensures a repetition of his earlier flight after defeat in Turkey back to his mountain eyrie, with the result that his pursuers are able to waylay him at his most vulnerable as the Szgady transport his body homeward.

Stoker makes a good deal of the stages by which Van Helsing reaches these conclusions with the indispensable assistance of Mina Harker, whose special attributes include her share in the vampire bacillus (and therefore a share in vampire telepathy), but also a brain-power that bridges the lower and the higher orders in her character as a woman. As Van Helsing puts it,

we want all her great brain which is trained like man’s brain, but is of sweet woman and have a special power which the Count give her, and which he may not take away altogether—though he think not so. (D404.)

Indeed, the dawning realisation that a specialised kind of brain-power with a deficiency on one side equal to its excess on the other is the key to Dracula’s condition constitutes the suspense-element in the second half of the novel, making it a tale of cerebration akin to stories by Conan Doyle. Not surprisingly, for readers exclusively interested in the psycho-sexual dimension of Stoker’s tale, that second half is indeed ‘rather tedious’—as Christopher Smart has called it.49]

In good measure Stoker’s interest in Lombroso derives from that practitioner’s doctrine that the criminal predisposition is due ‘partly to degeneration, partly to atavism’, and accordingly, that the ‘criminal is a special type, midway between the lunatic and the savage.’[50] It is perhaps remarkable that an Anglo-Irish writer should endorse a theory of this calibre which the British intelligentsia at large repudiated; but then the British intelligentsia were not living face-to-face with forms of social violence that threatened to disrupt the even tenor of civic existence in a constituent part of the British Union.

Good historical reasons can be sought for the persistence of historical passions and their violent consequences in Ireland. These have recently been supplied by Luke Gibbons in an essay addressing the theme of ‘hysterica passio’ as it is to be met with in the poetry and criticism of W. B. Yeats and elsewhere in Anglo-Irish literature. Gibbons draws heavily upon the clinical account of the hysterical reaction in Irish victims of colonial dispossession supplied by George Sigerson in works written at the juncture between Irish land relations and the principles of neurological science that he acquired from Charcot during his training at La Salpêtrièrie in Paris.51] (The rediscovery of Sigerson was one of the notable effects of The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing.) By comparison with Sigerson’s humane and scientific understanding, Dr. Lombroso’s ideas are as groundless as they are hateful to democratic feeling. Faced with the contemporary prospect of Irish peasants houghing cattle and shooting landlords, they evidently had a strong appeal for Stoker.

It is probable that Van Helsing’s fear that the world will be taken over by ‘a new order of beings, whose road leads through Death’ (D360), corresponds to Stoker’s personal alarm at the outrages perpetrated by tenant farmers in contemporary Ireland. For that apparently zombie-like form of conduct he found a fictional exponent (if not an explanation) in the doctrine of ‘criminal degeneracy’. Such a reading goes a little way towards mitigating the air of racism attendant on his application of Lombroso’s proto-fascist theory without diminishing the likelihood that the discerning eye of a Victorian theatre-manager (as Stoker was for many years) perceived in it the stuff of popular melodrama. In part, of course, it is the very foreignness of Lombroso’s notion that rendered it amenable to inclusion in an English horror-story of that period. At the same time, a residue of local truth must have attached to it in connection with the ‘atavistic’ violence of a moment when agrarian crime was apt to be construed as the character-stamp of a whole class of Irishmen. So it was treated in Emily Lawless’s Hurrish (1886) which was taken by William Gladstone for a primer on the subject.52] For him that novel, together with Stoker’s The Snake’s Pass, sufficiently explained what he called the ‘estrangement of the people of Ireland from the law’, and Lawless in particular was cordially hated by Irish nationalists on account of it.[53]

Viewed from such a standpoint, Dracula seems to turn upon the helpless atavism that transforms Irish agrarian tenants—or ‘peasants farmers’, as George Moore called them[54]—into lunatics and savages in the eyes of the metropolitan community. It matters not from the literary standpoint that this conception is patently unjust; what matters is that it informs the psychological portrayal of Count Dracula in Stoker’s novel. This being so, Count Dracula is hardly reducible to the simulacra of an Anglo-Irish landlord—not least because he is related to a prominent figure of a very different character in Stoker’s only Irish novel: Black Murdock, the ‘gombeen man’ in The Snake’s Pass. For a sketch of that hateful personage we may turn to the account given by another character:

“A gombeen man, is it? Well, I’ll tell ye”, said an old, shrewd-looking man at the other side of the hearth. “He’s a man that linds you a few shillings or a few pounds whin ye want it bad, and thin niver laves ye till he has tuk all he’ve got—yer land an’ yer shanty an’ yer holding an‘ yer money an’ yer craps; an’ he would take the blood out of yer body if he could sell it or use it anyhow!” [Italics mine.][55]

In short, a gombeen man is the very model of a vampire, if we are truly seeking one. Marxian critics will tend to see him as a surrogate of the capitalist class (and hence the landlords); yet in Stoker’s view he is clearly a peasant who has made such a success of usury that he could prey upon that economically-troubled grouping as well as any other,

“[…] if he chose an’ settle in Galway … or in Dublin … and lind money to big min—landlords an’ the like—instead iv playin’ wid poor min here an swallyin’ them up, wan by wan.”[56]

The bad eminence of Black Murdock is sufficient to elicit from the speaker a postively Miltonic grade of demonisation when he pronounces, ‘it’s him that’d do little for God’s sake if the devil was dead!’[57] If no arch-fiend existed it would be unnecessary to invent one, given the behaviour of the Irish gombeen man.

Terry Eagleton is the chief proponent of an Irish-Marxian interpretation of Count Dracula as a capitalist devil, depicting him in terms that compel one to enquire how far anti-semitic stereotypes are part of Stoker’s recipe also:

Dracula is a material ghoul, much preoccupied with leases and tide deeds, and has summoned the narrator Jonathan Harker to his Gothic fastness less to bite him in the neck than to discuss his legal affairs. When he is slashed with a knife, it is banknotes and gold coins rather than blood which cascade from his breast. But Dracula, like the Ascendancy, is running out of land […][58]

The well-known passage upon which this paraphrase is founded tells of Jonathan Harker’s attempt to kill Dracula with a blow of a Kukri knife. It includes these sentences in the author’s characteristically prosy manner:

A second less and the trenchant blade had shorn through his heart. As it was, the point just cut the cloth of his coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out. … The next instant, with a sinuous dive he swept under Harker’s arm, ere his  blow could fall, and, grasping a handful of the money from the floor … threw himself at the window. … Through the sound of the shivering glass I could hear the “ting” of the gold, as some of the sovereigns fell on the flagging. (D364-65.)

How should those insistent allusions to lucre be construed? Eagleton would have us take it as shorthand for a whole set of political relations regarding the mode of exploitation employed in Ireland: ‘gold’ is thus a symbol for economic imperialism and the political hegemony of the metropolitan centre. In such a reading, the monied party is naturally identified as the Anglo-Irish landlord—notwithstanding the economic bankruptcy of that class at the close of the Land War. By contrast Trollope’s last Irish novel, The Landleaguers (1883), harps upon the funding of Irish agrarian terror from America, while a recent essay on ‘Catholic Church and Fenianism’ by Oliver Rafferty goes some way towards suggesting that the identification of superfluous cash with the revolutionary faction rather than the landed gentry was reasonably common in the period.

When in 1870 Disestablishment failed to bring an end to agrarian crime, a sharp exchange of letters occurred between Gladstone and Archbishop Paul Cullen in which the former called upon the latter to use his influence to prevent a ‘contest’ between the two countries. The Liberal Prime Minister further claimed that it a sinister force ‘having for its object perpetual war between England and Ireland’ was attempting to defy ‘reasonable legislation’ in order to compel the government to suppress ‘constitutional freedoms’—with consequent dividends for the physical force revolutionaries.59] Cullen was of course an unshakeable opponent of physical-force Fenianism, which he identified with anti-clerical radicalism on the continent. Incensed by the attempt to make his Church responsible for the popularity of that movement, he thus responded:

Nothing good can be effected for Ireland, until something shall have been done to prevent the ravages of an infidel and revolutionary [organisation] subsidised, and maintained to a great extent by foreign gold.60]

The organisation in question was, of course, the Fenian Brotherhood established by John O’Mahoney and James Stephens in 1858. More pointedly, the foreign gold to which Cullen referred was the American dollars that began to trickle into Ireland after the first sum of $400 was raised by Stephens in New York. From the standpoint of the impoverished Anglo-Irish landlords between Disestablishment and the first Land Acts, the unassailable fecundity of Irish-American capital represented a profound threat to their already-shrunken revenues. If, therefore, the Vampire Count represents a threat by virtue of his fiscal power, it is of the kind that funds subversive organisations aimed at undermining the social order. Deeply reactionary though this representation may be, it is the only political interpretation of the lucre element in Dracula consistent with the general character of the text and the mental landscape fo the period. it ought not go unnoticed, moreover, that the Irish revolutionaries were to Archbishop Cullen what Turkish power was to Don John of Austria (hence the epithet infidel).

From the standpoint of the Gothic tradition it is no anomaly to find that Van Helsing and, by implication, Count Dracula are Roman Catholics. From the standpoint of an allegorical interpretation based on the agrarian premisses of Irish nationalism, this represents something more of a problem since it presupposes an authorial suspension of the ordinary disdain for Catholicism evinced by Anglo-Irish writers. Yet Roman Catholicism, in Dracula, bears the freight of a distinctly double valuation in so far as it is at once subversive and corrective. In its subversive role, it is nowhere better represented than in the lucre scene in which our heroes raid Count Dracula’s ‘earth-bank’ underneath his Piccadilly residence. Here the chord struck has less to do with the ill-gotten colonial gains of the Irish landlord class (as Eagleton and Deane variously suggest) than with the memory of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot of 5 November, 1605 when certain Irishmen in league with English Catholics attempted to wreck the chief institution of civic government in England. In this trope of imported casks come to threaten the safety of the metropolis, it is political rather than sectarian motives that are highlighted. That Van Helsing is himself a Catholic bears witness in some degree to Stoker’s ecumenism, no less than to his adroit recruitment of ‘gothic’ elements associated with Catholicism for the purposes of sensational fiction.

As in so much Gothic fiction, the paraphenalia of sacerdotalism—traditionally anathema to ‘low-church’ Irish Protestants—provides a repertoire of highly dramatic props connected with the arts of exorcism. Consider, for instance, Van Helsing’s remark that he has ‘an Indulgence’ to deploy ‘the Host’ against the vampire (D252), and the growing credulity evinced by Harker and the others in the face of such procedures as when the coffins in Dracula’s ‘earth-lair’ are sealed with eucharistic bread inside (D355)—all of which transpires in the somewhat ambiguous zone of religious tolerance exemplified by Harker’s reactions at the outset when confronted with the inn-keeper’s wife’s ‘hysterical’ insistence that he don a crucifix before his first encounter with the Count:

I did not know what to do, for, as an English Churchman, I have been taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous, and yet it seemed so ungracious to refuse an old lady meaning so well and in such a state of mind. (D13)

Yet, if Van Helsing makes pâté of the eucharist in one place and uses sacerdotal methods of exorcism in several others, the language with which he accuses the vampire of striving to introduce a ‘new order of beings, whose road must lead through Death’ (D360) is conspicuously Protestant in tone being reminiscent of the ‘valley of the shadow of death’ in the Old Testament and the ‘wages of sin’ in the New.61] Nor is this the chief biblical allusion in Dracula since the vampire’s prime failing consists in an inability to leave moral infantilism behind, a task that Paul enjoined upon all Christians: ‘When I was a child I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things’ (1 Cor. 13:11).  Dracula’s ‘child-brain’ (D404) is the physiological embodiment of this ethical failure. In as much as this neglected strand in the novel—which no contemporary reader could easily have missed—has any particular bearing on Irish experience, it surely relates to the behaviour of Land Leaguers whose agrarian outrages seemed to proceed from what Stoker regarded as a fatal immaturity in the face of historical facts no less than inattention to the burden of St. Paul first epistle to the Corinthians.

In recent Irish critical commentaries on Dracula there has been a vigorous element of renewed animus against the erstwhile Protestant ascendancy in Ireland finding expression in the notion that—as Terry Eagleton puts it—the novel ought to be read as ‘a palpable Gothic allegory of the decline of the Anglo-Irish gentry […] written at the time of the Land Acts which stripped the landlords of their power.’[62] Within this shared conception, he and Seamus Deane have opted for an interpretation according to which Stoker’s aristocratic vampire is unequivocally identified with the despised Irish landlords, thus turning the novel into a covert political confession on the part of that ascendancy. In so doing, they have co-opted the story to serve ideological purposes remote from Stoker’s original intentions or the context in which it was created. Viewed in this light, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the version Bram Stoker and his famous novel offered by such readings is very like Count Dracula’s reflection in Jonathan Harker’s shaving mirror: the original is strangely absent.


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[1] Viz., ‘We went at once into our Plan of Campaign.’ (p.385);, ‘We must proceed to lay out our campaign’ (p.288); ‘Plan of attack’ (p.363). All references to Dracula (London: Penguin 1994), henceforth cited as D followed by page number.
[2] The Plan consisted in offering a ‘fair rent’ to the landlord agreed by the League, to be added to a League fund should he refuse to accept it. See Laurence M. Geary, The Plan of Campaign, 1886-1891 (Cork UP 1986), p.145, and R. V. Comerford, ‘The Parnell Era, 1883-91’ [Chap. III], in W. E. Vaughan, ed., A New History of Ireland, V: Ireland Under the Union, II: 1870-1921 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1996), pp.53-80.
[3] Essays in this vein by Phyllis Roth, Franco Moretti, Christopher Craft, Bram Dijkstra, Stephen Arata and Talia Schaffer are reprinted in The Norton Critical Edition of Dracula (NY: Norton 1997), together with Stoker’s working papers and other source materials.
[4] See Peter Haining, The Dracula Scrapbook (London: Chancellor Press 1987), pp.29-30.
[5] See Michael Valdez Moses, ‘Dracula, Parnell, and the Troubled Dreams of Nationhood’, in Journal X: A Journal in Culture and Criticism, Vol. 2, No. 1 (Autumn 1997), pp.66-112; espec. 68f.
[6] See Barbara Belford, Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula (NY: Knopf 1996), p.230.
[7] ‘The Great White Fair in Dublin [… &c.]’’ (1907), cited in William Hughes, ‘“For Ireland’s Good”: The Reconstruction of Rural Ireland in Bram Stoker’s The Snake’s Pass’, in Irish Studies Review (Autumn 1995), pp.17‑21; p.21.
[8] Strange Country: Modernity and Nationhood in Irish Writing Since 1790 (Oxford: Clarendon Press 1997), p.76ff.
[9] ‘“Some Hysterical Hatred”: History, Hysteria and the Literary Revival’, Irish University Review, Spring/Summer 1997, pp.7-23.
[10] Strange Country, p.90.
[11] ibid., p.76.
[12] ‘A New Nation, Proposal for an Agricultural Association between the Landowners and Occupiers’, 17 April 1847; rep. in Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (1991), Vol. II,  pp.165-72; p.171.  See also Strange Country, p.75.
[13]The Irish Felon (24 June, 1848), reprinted in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. II, p.172; Strange Country, p.76f. Eamon de Valera quoted the above verbatim at Bodenstown, 25 June 1925. His speech is reprinted in The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, pp.746-47.
[14] ‘The Faith of a Felon’ (Irish Felon, 8 July 1848), quoted in Justin McCarthy, ed., Irish Literature (Washington 1904), under ‘Lalor’.
[15] The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing, p.174.
[16] Terry Eagleton, ‘Form and Ideology in the Anglo-Irish Novel’, in Mary Massoud, ed., Literary Relations: Ireland, Egypt and the Far East (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1996), pp.135-46, p.140.
[17] Heathcliff and the Great Hunger: Studies in Irish Culture (London: Verso 1995), p.9.
[18] ‘Origins of Female Gothic’, Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, 1, 2 (Autumn 1994), pp.35-45; p.42.
[19] ‘Ever Under Some Unnatural Condition: Bram Stoker and the Colonial Fantastic’, in Brian Cosgrove, ed., Literature and the Supernatural (1995), 95-118; p.111.
[20] Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving2 vols.] (London: Heinemann 1906), Vol. 2, p.31; see also Belford, p.230.
[21] ‘Land and Soil: A Territorial Rhetoric’, in History Ireland, 2, 1 (Spring 1994), pp.31-34.
[22] Quoted from ‘Land and Soil’, reprinted as ‘Landlord and Soil: Dracula’, in ‘National Character and the Character of Nations’, in Strange Country, pp.89-94; p.90.
[23] ibid., p.89-90.
[24] ibid., p.87.
[25] ibid., p.89.
[26] idem.
[27] ‘Form and Ideology in the Anglo-Irish Novel’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 1994), pp.17-26.
[28] Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (London: Verso 1995), Chap. V, pp.145-225.
[29] ‘Form and Ideology in the Anglo-Irish Novel’, in Mary Massoud, ed., Literary Relations: Ireland, Egypt and the Far East (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1996), pp.135-46.
[30] Massoud (1996), p.141, and Eagleton (1995), p.215. Compare Eagleton’s remarks on Maturin Melmoth the Wanderer (1820): ‘Yet Melmoth is also running out of time, like the social class he represents, and by the end of the novel the hour of his damnation will have struck’ (ibid., p.190).
[31] Review of Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (1995) in Notes & Queries, Vol. 240, No.42 (Sept. 1995), pp.178-79.
[32] ‘Rewriting Ireland’ [review essay], in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1 (Spring 1994), pp.129-38; p.135.
[33] ‘Rewriting Ireland’, in Bullán (Spring 1994), p.135.
[34] The count is made on an electronic copy of Dracula.
[35] See “The Municipal Gallery Revisited”, in Collected Poems (London: Macmillan 1955), p.369.
[36] Strange Country, p.70.
[37] Morash, p.111.
[38] Given Renfield’s ‘zoophagous’ inclinations it is intriguing to find that another Irish Mandeville issued Zoologica Medicinalis Hibernica in 1744.
[39] Moses, p.69.
[40] ibid., , p.83, 103.
[41]ibid.,  p.84.
[42] ibid., p.99.
[43] ibid., p.100.
[44] Nationalism in Ireland rev. edn.] (London: Routledge 1991), pp.332-33.
[45] Ibid., 223.
[46] At the time of writing, the question of paramilitary ‘decommissioning’ was at the centre of Northern Ireland politics.
[47] See Daniel Pick, ‘“Terrors of the Night”: Dracula and “Degeneration” in the Late Nineteenth Century’, in Critical Quar­terly, 30, 4 (Winter 1988), pp.72-87, and Ludmilla Kostova, ‘(En)gendering a European Periphery: Images of the Balkans in Nineteenth-Century British Fiction’, in The European English Messenger (Autumn 1997), pp.52-58.
[48] Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago 1949), Vol. 6, ‘Criminology’; p.720.
[49] ‘“Kiss Me with Those Red Lips”, Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker’s Dracula’, in Elaine Showalter, ed., Speaking of Gender (London & NY: Routledge 1989), pp.216-42; p.231.
[50] Encyclopaedia Britannica (Chicago 1949), Vol. 14, ‘Cesare Lombroso’; p.345.
[51] ‘“Some Hysterical Hatred” […&.]’, Irish University Review, 27, 1 (Spring/Summer 1997), espec. pp.18-20.
[52] Stephen Brown, S.J., Ireland in Fiction: A Guide to Irish Novels, Tales, Romances and Folklore (Dublin: Maunsel 1919), ‘Emily Lawless’.
[53] Idem.
[54] Parnell and His Island (London: Swan Sonnenschein, Lowrey & Co. 1887), pp.48-49. Significantly, Moore’s book characterises the ‘aboriginal’ people of Ireland as ‘a degenerate race’ (ibid., p. 234).
[55] The Snake’s Pass1890] (Dingle: Brandon Press 1990), p.26.
[56] ibid., p.27.
[57] idem; vide Paradise Lost, Bk. II, l.1-6.
[58] Heathcliff and the Great Hunger (1995), p.215.
[59] ‘The Catholic Church and Fenianism, 1861-1870: Some Irish and American Perspectives’, in Bullán: An Irish Studies Journal (Winter 1997/Spring 1998), pp.47-69; p.57.
[60] idem; quoting Cullen to Gladsone, 12/3/1870, Gladstone Papers, BL, Add MS 44421, f.150.
[61] See Psalm 23 and Romans 6: 23.
[62] ‘Form and Ideology in the Anglo-Irish Novel’, in Massoud, ed., Literary Relations&c.] (1996), p.141.

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