Monthly Archives: February 2020

Racism in Dracula: The Romanian Perspective

Last September, I went to Romania in search of Dracula’s roots. For the results, see my previous blog post Touring Romania, Land of Dracula. Little did I realize before I went that Romania has no vampire tradition. According to my tour guide, they have fairies and dragons and witches, but no vampires. That is not to say they have not capitalized upon Dracula. Tourists wanted to see the inn where Jonathan Harker stayed, so they built one. Tourists wanted to visit Dracula’s castle, so they declared Bran Castle was his. There are Dracula museums in Bucharest and Sighisoara where Vlad Tepes’ birthplace is a popular restaurant. In short, the Romanians are willing to make tourist dollars off Dracula.

But there is a sadder aspect to the Dracula mania. The Romanian people don’t really get all the fuss over Dracula. Worse, they do not always appreciate their country being associated with vampires, as if it were some giant haunted house/amusement park for tourists to visit. In truth, the Romanians have been belittled by the association of Dracula with their country.

I came away, despite my great love and admiration for Stoker’s novel, feeling sad for the Romanian people. After all, no one likes to be depicted via stereotypes. And so, I was delighted when I discovered Cristina Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England. The book’s title is a bit vague. A better title would have been Dracula from the Romanian Perspective. However, I suspect many Dracula scholars would have ignored such a title. That is too bad because Artenie has written one of the best scholarly works about Dracula I have ever read. As she points out, today there are scholarly editions of Heart of Darkness that discuss Joseph Conrad’s treatment of “the Other”—the Africans in his novel. Therefore, it’s time that scholars address how the Romanians, specifically the Transylvanians, become “the Other” in Dracula. Artenie argues that Dracula, like Heart of Darkness, is a novel about colonization, and although that argument might seem a bit surprising at first, she makes a compelling case.

I will only briefly summarize a few of Artenie’s arguments because I want to encourage people to read the full book for themselves. One of the primary arguments addresses the long-standing question of whether Stoker intentionally modeled Dracula on Vlad Tepes. After reading this book, I am left with little doubt that he did. In the past, scholars have pointed to the vagueness of Dracula’s speech about the history of his family and race, saying it is slightly incoherent and placed in the mouth of a ruthless madman. However, Artenie discusses the historical essence of it and then declares that both Stoker and scholars are “Othering” Romania through the speech itself and their responses to it, thereby creating a pseudo-history of medieval Romania that denies its true history. Other reasons to believe Stoker knew perfectly well he was modeling Dracula on Vlad Tepes include that his brother George was in the Turkish military and fought against Romania in its war for independence. Stoker later helped his brother write his memoirs, which, although he never visited the Balkans, made him well-versed in the region. Furthermore, Mary of Teck married the future George V in 1893, just four years before Dracula was published. The actor Henry Irving, for whom Stoker was business manager, was friends with Princess Mary’s mother so Stoker would have known her. More importantly, Mary of Teck was a descendant of Vlad Tepes. Dracula’s invasion of England, then, in a sense is the invasion of Vlad Tepes’ descendants into England.

The question remains whether the Tecks knew of their descent from Vlad Tepes, or if Stoker knew it. Previously, McNally and Florescu, in their book In Search of Dracula, had explored Vlad Tepes and first promoted the idea that Stoker based Dracula on him. However, they also fudged some of their research, according to Artenie, claiming Romanian sources that did not exist or simply preferring to “orientalise” East Central Europe. A promised follow-up volume to their famous book that would be written in collaboration with Romanian specialists to provide a more accurate history of Dracula, Vlad Tepes, and Romania never happened. One of the errors McNally and Florescu made was to claim Vlad Tepes had no direct descendants but that Mary of Teck was descended from his half-brother (mentioned in their later book Dracula, Prince of Many Faces). Artenie cites the same genealogy as them, but also other genealogies that show the British royal family has more than one link to Vlad Tepes and his other family members (p. 79-82), including a direct descent from Vlad Tepes through Mary of Teck—a claim Prince Charles in recent years popularized when he announced he was descended from Vlad Tepes.

Beyond Dracula, Romania is famous for its painted eggs.

Artenie argues that Stoker depicts Romanians, and Transylvanians in particular, as “the Other” because Romania was practically a colony of Britain at the time. After the Crimean War, England was opposed to the Romanian question of independence, largely because Romania was Britain’s bread-basket—it had a grain-growing economy and its independence threatened Britain financially in terms of importing its grain to England.

Of course, Artenie also discusses how Vlad Tepes is a national hero to the Romanian people. Dracula scholars have relied on the stories of the horrible acts of Vlad Tepes as the inspiration for Stoker’s novel, but they have failed to note that many of these stories came from his enemies, including Russian monks who condemned Vlad because they could not forgive him for converting to Catholicism. In truth, Vlad was an intelligent, perhaps ingenious diplomat, who did whatever he had to do to protect his country from the Turks and internal enemies. His methods may seem cruel today, but they were no worse than those of many others in his time.

Ultimately, Artenie sheds a much-needed light on the disservice Stoker and the entire Dracula industry—from popular films to scholarly literary criticism—have done to Romania. Using Edward Said’s Orientalism as a model, she argues that Romania has succumbed to orientalization or othering by scholars, but then she goes a step further, coining the term “draculism”:

draculism is the discourse that enhances the characteristics of a place or person with the specific aim of linking the object of the discourse to Stoker’s vampire, Dracula. Draculism does not refer to the legends surrounding the historical figure Vlad Tepes, which would have been long dead if not for Stoker, but is instead the direct result of Stoker’s vampirisation of Vlad Tepes and of Transylvania. It is from Stoker’s novel that the West’s understanding of current and past developments in the region is derived. As such, the Other Europe [Eastern Europe] is too often seen as barbarian or retrograde because of its alleged link to the fictional Transylvanian vampire. (p. 164)

View of courtyard at Bran Castle, which falsely claims to be Dracula’s castle.

I am surprised Artenie does not comment upon the flourishing Dracula tourist industry in Romania. However, she does mention that the Cold War and Iron Curtain also helped to keep the Balkans and Eastern Europe relegated to an “Other” position for the West.

Artenie notes that Dracula scholars have completely ignored Romania’s history. Scholarly editions of Dracula fail to criticize Stoker’s depiction of Romanians, yet editions of other Victorian novels depicting colonialism do so. Scholars, to date, have only focused on Stoker himself and the works of other scholars, while ignoring Romania, which has been the invisible elephant in the room through all these decades of Dracula criticism. In the end, one could almost say that Stoker and Dracula scholars have been the true vampires, sucking blood out of Romania to leave it only a stereotypical shell of its true self.

Now that I have been to Romania and experienced for myself what a wonderful country it is and how warm and kind the people are, I feel guilty myself for “othering” Romania by going there in search of Dracula’s roots. Romania deserves far better. So does Dracula criticism. I welcome Artenie’s authentic, original, and Romanian voice to the discussion. I also look forward to reading her other works: her book Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, the essay collection she edited Gothic and Racism¸ and perhaps most notably, Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition, which she served as co-editor for with Dragos Moraru.

Romania is also home to stunning painted monasteries and church’s. Here is one in Bucharest.

Dracula Invades England is available in the United States at Amazon.

__________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

 

7 Comments

Filed under Dracula, Gothic Places, Literary Criticism

Ontario-Set Vampire Novel Draws on Gothic Traditions

Michael Rowe’s debut horror novel, Enter, Night (2011) is a pleasant (though scary) surprise in horror fiction, or Gothic literature—the term I prefer—because it is a novel that feels very modern but draws very intensely upon traditional Gothic elements.

It is impossible not to give away some of the plot to discuss the novel properly, so this is a warning if you haven’t read it yet.

The novel was recommended to me by a friend who follows this blog. Because I live in Marquette, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Superior and Enter, Night takes place on the Canadian side of the lake, only a few hours’ drive from me, he thought I would be interested in it. I was very interested because of the inclusion of Ojibwa themes and history as well as French-Canadian history. These interest me because I am a writer of Upper Michigan history, am descended from seventeenth-century French-Canadian voyageurs who traveled the Great Lakes with the Jesuits, and am writing a biography of Charles Kawbawgam, the local nineteenth-century Ojibwa chief in the Marquette area. Therefore, a book that takes my favorite historical area and combines it with my beloved Gothic is sure to win me over—provided it is done well, and Michael Rowe pulls it off very well.

The novel’s primary modern section takes place in a small town in Ontario in 1972 not far from Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. I will not go into the plot of this section that covers about 340 pages. However, I did like that the young boy in this section is a fan of The Tomb of Dracula comic book series of the early 1970s and also watches the popular vampiric TV soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971), which shows Rowe is well aware that he is writing in a Gothic tradition. In the afterword, Rowe also mentions how his mother gave him his first copy of Dracula when he was ten. Beyond these references, I don’t know how familiar Rowe is with the rest of the Gothic tradition, but the last section of the novel suggests to me he is very familiar with it.

In the novel’s primary section, the town of Parr’s Landing is the victim of a vampire scourge. In the last section, we learn the origins of this scourge through a discovered manuscript written by a Jesuit priest in the seventeenth century.

Discovered manuscripts have been an element of Gothic literature since its beginning. Mrs. Radcliffe has her main character discover one in The Romance of the Forest (1791) and the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764) claims to be a discovered manuscript itself. In Enter, Night, the discovered manuscript reveals ancient shocking horrors. It tells the story of a Jesuit priest who travels to a mission where he has heard that terrible things have happened. The journey to this remote mission across the Great Lakes reminds me of the journey in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) to find Kurtz, who has basically become a madman and been set up like a god over the Natives. Like Conrad’s Marlow, Father Nyon, who narrates, will discover that the true horror is the person he has come to find.

While the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries had the purpose of trying to convert the Native Americans to Christianity, Father Nyon discovers that rather than spreading Christianity, Father de Céligny is spreading terror because he is actually a vampire. Father Nyon has already heard rumors of a possible weetigo (wendigo) in the area—wendigo is an Ojibwa term for a man who becomes a man-eater or cannibal; however, he had no idea that he would find not a cannibal but a true vampire in one of his fellow Jesuits. Father Nyon eventually realizes that Father de Céligny purposely left France to come to the New World so he could practice his vampirism more effectively, thinking himself safer in the New World where he would also have a large, innocent population to feed upon.

Rowe’s decision to make his vampire be a French Jesuit priest is interesting for many reasons. First, Rowe is drawing upon the Gothic theme of secret societies that alter world politics. The Jesuits were one of many such secret societies that the Gothic used. Specifically, in Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1846), the Jesuits are the great villains. For more on Jesuits and conspiracy theories, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesuit_conspiracy_theories.

Rowe does not directly blame the Jesuits, but rather, he shows how this vampire has infiltrated the Society of Jesus to use it as a cover for him to carry out his evil. As the sole Jesuit at his mission, he has the ability to feed off the Native Americans he has come to convert. This is practically an Antichrist role, placing him in the position to do the opposite of what he is intended to do. One can’t help but also wonder whether Rowe has in the back of his mind how many Catholic priests have used their positions to hurt rather than help their flock by engaging in sexual abuse of minors.

The vampire tradition has always played off the tradition of Christ, turning it upside down. In Catholicism, the Eucharistic bread and wine, through the miracle of transubstantiation, are turned into Christ’s actual body and blood. Consequently, when Catholics take communion, they are engaging in what may be termed a form of cannibalism. The vampire tradition draws upon this concept by showing a supernatural being that feeds upon others’ blood, and many Gothic novels quote the Bible, referring to the blood as being the life.

The influence of Dracula on Enter, Night is also present in Father de Céligny being a French aristocrat—actually a count. Similarly, Dracula is a count. Furthermore, the early Gothic novels of the 1790s served as a veiled commentary on the French Revolution, and later, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) would use Gothic elements to openly depict the French Revolution. (See my book The Gothic Wanderer for more on Dickens’ novel and how the Gothic responded to the French Revolution.) Aristocrats were frequent villains in Gothic literature, including in Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest, Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan on the Rhine (1798), and, of course, A Tale of Two Cities.

Another way Dracula influences Rowe’s novel is the spread of vampirism from one country to another. Dracula’s goal is to travel to England where there will be plenty of fresh victims for him. Many critics have discussed how Dracula is planning to invade and colonize England. Similarly, in Rowe’s book, a count plans to invade the New World to satiate his thirst and spread vampirism.

Vampirism has often been seen as a metaphor for the spread of disease, including venereal diseases and more recently AIDS. However, in Rowe’s novel, one can’t help thinking of smallpox and the other diseases Europeans brought to the Native Americans.

Of course, by the manuscript’s end, Father Nyon has managed to defeat Father de Céligny, imprisoning him in a cave, which he will eventually escape from in 1972 to terrorize the town of Parr’s Landing in the more modern part of the novel.

I think Michael Rowe has done a wonderful job of creating a true page-turner while clearly writing within the Gothic tradition and creating new twists on old Gothic themes. He is a modern-day James Fenimore Cooper in taking the Gothic from Europe and transporting it to the forests of North America. He also introduces homosexual characters in the modern section of the novel, another frequent though subtle and underlining theme in early Gothic fiction, especially in vampire novels. Consequently, it isn’t surprising that Rowe is the editor of two Queer Fear anthologies. He is also the author of several other horror novels I may just have to check out.

___________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

1 Comment

Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula