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.

‘Stoker’s Dracula does not simply recapitulate the life of Charles Stewart Parnell in a straightforward allegorical fashion [...]. But while acknowledging tht there is no single source [...] I shall nonetheless suggest that Parnell serves as a model’ [68) [Note that Moses later cites the tearing off of the door of Parnell’s carriage after the divorce, presum. as parallel to the destruction and death of Dracula. [68]

‘the vampire as national liberator [...] a protean capability to assume whatever shape or image his audience found most deeply (and even illicitly) appealing [68]; He was not the only Irish leader to lie his existence as a kind of symbol, converting his Anglo-Irish aloofness into a blankness in which others could find themselves conveniently reflected. (Terry Eagleton, Heathcliff and the Great Hunger, p.143.) By reading Stoker’s gothic romance in the context of Parnell’s turbulant political career, with particular emphasis on the revlutionary struggles of the Irish leader for land reform and Home Rule, I aim to suggest how Dracula functions as an overdetermined figure onto who are cathected many of the most formidable poltical and social issues of nineteenth-century Ireland. [69]

Quotes Tim Healy: ‘We created Parnell [...] and Parnell created us. We seized very early in the movement the idea of this man with his superb silences, his historic name, his determination, his self-control, his aloofness - we seized that as the canvas of a great national hero.’ (C. C. O’Brien, Parnell and His Party, p.10; cited in Foster, Modern Ireland, p.401); Further, ‘I suddenly came upon Parnell’s figure emerging from the gloom in a guise so strange and with a face so ghastly that the effect could scarcely have been more startling if it was his ghost I met wandering in the eternal shades. He wore a [..] costume that could not well have looked more bizarre in a dreary London park if the object had been to attract attention.’ (Quoted in John O’Beirne Ranelagh, A Short History of Ireland, Cambridge UP 1983.) [75]

Although Dracula has most frequently been understood by critics to pose chiefly a psychosexual or sociocultural threat to Victorian England, Stoker places great empahsis upon the political stature of the count and insists on the larger historical significance ofhis attempted invasion of Britain. [76] Dracula’s personal and genealogical history also associates him with a group to which Parnell was linked by familial and class affiliation, but to which the progressive and even revolutionary political objectives of the Irish leader were opposed; the traditional Anglo-Irish Ascendancy in its conservative, imperialists,and politically repressive historical role. [...] Dracula functions as a “trace” or “margin” [vide Derrida, and ftn. ‘pharmakon], the site at which fundamental historical and cultural differences are at once generated and dissolved, a kind of symbolic hinge through which conflicting religious ideologies and political animosities may move, converge and diverge. [77]

David Glover’s recent work [...] argues for geographial and ethnographic similarities between nineteenth-century Ireland and the imaginary representation of Transylvania and the Balkans in Stoker’s fiction. (See David Glover, Vampires, Mummies, and Liberals: Bram Stoker and the Politics of Popular Fiction, Duke UP 1996,pp.32-43, 73.) [77] If my thesis is correct, the obscurities and anomalies of Dracula’s ancestry are partly explicable as the analogue of the peculiarly complex and tangled history of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy that produced an Irish nationalist and revolutionary such as Parnell. [78]

Stoker’s depiction of the count’s predatory abuse of the local Transylvania peasantry could well echo the kind of Fenian denunciation of Ascendancy landlords as “cormorant vampires” and “coronetted ghouls” made popular by associate Michael Davitt or his sister Fanny Parnell (see Foster, Modern Ireland, p.375; Glover, op. cit., p.51; Moses p.79)

Quotes Terry Eagleton’s remarks that the extended subplot literalises the conventional political insight of the period, according to which the Ascendancy cannot survive without their landed property. Moses continues, ‘from this vantage point, Dracula seems to represent the conservative Ascendancy landlord rather than Parnell, whose detractors often attacked him as “a social radical totally lacking in respect for the rights of property”’ (Bew, op. cit, p.136; Moses, p.80); Dracula learns to pass as a Victorian gentleman in London itself. (Arata, p.632, 634-41.)

Quotes Dracula: “My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side” (p.394), and remarks: ‘We catch here a hit of the unbridgeable divide beween the revolutionary nobleman and the representatives of the Victorian imperial order. [83]; If the ultimate horror of Dracula’s campaign against the English nation is not the deaths of a handful of middle-class Londoners but rather the creation of a “new order of beings” who might come into existence at the very heart of the British imperium, then Parnell’s greatest threat was not the violent murder of British subjects but the prospect that he might bring into existence a whole new people, a nation of free Irish citizens under his leadership. [83]; Stoker’s theoretical commitment to Home Rule and his backing of Irish nationalism was qualified by his disapproval of violent Fenianism and many of Parnell’s tactics, and it was surely in tension with his enthusiasm for the glory of the British Empire. [82; ftn. 28 cites Stoker’s endorsement of Henry Morton Stanley’s idea of beneficent colonialism, in Stoker Personal Reminiscences, 1, p.366.)

The specific Irish backdrop of Parnell’s quest for Home Rule darkens Stoker’s gothic fable; the action of the novel takes palce in the wider context of a conquered people’s struggle for political self-determination and against an empire that calimed to grant full liberties and protection under the law to all its subjects. On at least one occasion, Dracula assumes the metaphoric guise of a would-be liberator of an enslaved people [Ref. to ‘the pillar of cloud’, Exodus, 13, 21-22]. [84]; 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. [...] under direct British supervision [Dr. Seward] ... monitored by an Irish doctor named Patrick Hennessy ... provides fertile ground for allegorical reading. [84]

Moses compares Renfield’s attack on the doctor with a knife to the Phoenix Park murders [does not mention Burke as Irishman]; emphasises his demand for freedom and his complaint that he “cannot think freely when my body is confined” [85]; Arata reads Quincey as new American imperialism threatening British hegemony, and therefore secretly allied with Dracula (Stephen D. Arata, ‘The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization’, in Victorian Studies, 33, 1990, pp.621-45). [86]

Like [Kitty] O’Shea, Mina becomes the morally compromised but nonetheless powerful female medium at the centre of the political crisis that is international in scope [87]; Parnell shares with Dracula a fatal destiny in which an English woman (O’Shea, Mina) who is the object of the hero / The villain’s obsessive attentions proves to be the instrument of his undoing. [88]; Like Anna Parnell, Lucy and the female vampires at Castle Dracula are infected by the violent spirit of the man they follow and to whom they are related by blood [89]

Dracula’s vampirism [... ] may be viewed as a distorted image of Ascendancy Protestantism as it appears to a Catholic peasantry who regard the religious beliefs of the ruling class as a corruption of their own true and originary form of Christianity [...] it proves to be powers, offices, rituals of the Catholic church that play a critical role in the ultimate destruction of vampire and the uncrowned king alike. [referring to the role of the Church in the fate of Parnell; 92]; Dracula’s vampirism in fact functions as a symbolic hinge between the most purified versions of Anglo-Protestantism and the most orthodox forms of Irish Catholicism. [93]; Moses discusses the blod-sucking tableau vivant [otherwise fellatio] in terms of the iconography of the crucifixion. [93]

Stoker’s associations linking Fenian violence, agrarian outrage, and fold Catholicism boscure the fact that the Land League was an ostensibly nonsectarian organisation [...] [94]; One of the underlying paradoxes of Stoker’s novel is that by combating the threat of “vampirism”, his Protestant and quasi-secular characters borrow heavily from the medieval Catholic tradition that in part constitutes the “historical real” lurking behind the gothic persona of the vampire Dracula. [95]

The language that Seward and Van Helsing sometimes use to describe thir own actions - “outrages”, a “plan of campaign” - is fraught with political connotations that directly associate their conduct with the political violence that characterised the relationship between England and Ireland during the career of Parnell. [96]

Stoker’s odd reversal in applying these highly volatile political phrases to those who appear to embody a progressive ideal of English liberalism seems intended to draw attentin to the profound contradictions - some would say the hypocrsiy - of may English liberals when it came to political rule in Ireland. [97]

[A] buried sense of disenchantment with the failure of English liberalism to honour its political ideals with respect to Ireland colours Stoker’s protrait of his protagonists. For while it might be implausible to suggest that Van Helsing is intended as a kind of stand-in for the “Old Man” Gladstone, the vampire killers as a group are nonetheless cast in the role of liberal progressives and imperial crusaders. [98]; While the narrative context of Stoker’s novel insures that “freedom” and “peace” carry theological and romantic connotations, these words nonetheless retain much of their specific political significance. [...] their postive rhetorical charge is reversed or negated if they are understood to be issued withint the context of political relations betweeen England and Ireland. [99]

Renfield [...] meets a ghastly end. [...] (For the reader of Dracula today, the similarities between the suspicious circumstances of Renfield’s death and those of Steven Biko are striking.) Given Renfield’s symbolic status as violent agitiator, religious maniac, and homicidal follower of a foreign lord and master, the casual cover-up of his murder might provide the basis for a subversive interpretation of the British imperial rule. [99]; In political terms, the most insidious threat tht the infctious spreak 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. [100]

A portrait of the oneiric landscape of the political unconscious of modern nationalism, Dracula returns obsessively to many of the primitive and irrational bases on which the nation founds itself. Prominent among these are blood and soil. [...] As “father” of a new order, Dracula [...] join[s] his adherents in a family whose kinship ties are more comprehensive and binding than those of any tribe. [101]

Dracula’s religion, whether it be understood as a demonic form of Ascendancy Protestantism or a satanic parody of Irish Catholicism, is an inverted and heterodox form of Christianity. [...] Dracula must meticulously observe the doctrines, traditions, and practices of the vampiric faith. [101]

[...] what matters I s that the vampiric nation claims a hsitory that is at once heroic and traumatic, one that defines the Undead as a distinct and embattled race and that thereby legitimates new acts of rebellion, war, and conquest [102]; .. Dracula seems eager to adapt the modern ways of his adversarise to his own ends. [103]

As both supporter of Home Rule and champion of the British Empire, Stoker no doubt responded to the appeal and the threat of emergent nationalism. [...] Just as vampirism is infectious, so too the contagion of anti-imperial nationalism, once it claims even a single untreated victim, threatens to spread to the far corners of the realm, until the vampiric kingdom of darkness suipplants the whole of the British Empire. As it turned out, Stoker’s fear that anti-imperial nationalism, once established in countries such as Ireland, would metastasize proved well-founded. [103]

Ill. 1 shows National League as vampire with Parnell’s face over swooning body of Ireland, female with harp. [Dracula] ‘owed much of its mythopoeic power to the uncanny ability of its central character to call forth a diverse and eve mutually contradictory set of symbolic associations’ [68];

[ back ]
 
[ top ]