Postcolonial Edition of Dracula Fills in Gaps and Dispels Myths About Eastern Europe

Universitas Press’ publication of Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition, edited by Cristina Artenie and Dragos Moraru, is one of the most significant editions of Dracula ever produced.

I have previously discussed on this blog three of Artenie’s other books, most notably Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, which discusses the shortcomings of various past editors and editions of Dracula. Artenie, consequently, along with Moraru, created her own postcolonial edition of the novel.

The term “postcolonial” might seem surprising in relation to Dracula, but it is based on the fact that Romania, although never technically a colony, was usually treated like one by the British and other European powers. The British saw the Balkans as the breadbasket of Europe, and their interests in it resulted in some questionable politics ranging from the Crimean War to power plays with the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Ottoman Empire, and Russia. Consequently, Romania was treated as if it were a colony, and arguments have been made by scholars that the novel reflects a fear of reverse colonialism if too many people from the Balkans come to England. Dracula’s vampirism is, thus, like a plague from Eastern Europe that must be prevented by the characters.

The entire text of Dracula is presented in the postcolonial edition. The book contains 528 footnotes illuminating the text. Many of the notes shed light on details of Victorian England, as well as technology, and the novel’s continual efforts to show Western civilization as technologically advanced and, therefore, superior to Eastern Europe and the Eastern or “Oriental” countries.

The book also points out and corrects several errors in earlier editions of Dracula that have often unknowingly been perpetuated as well as false information that other editors have provided. Overall, the main purpose has been to “avoid any justification or enhancement of Stoker’s ‘Othering’ of Romania and Transylvania” (Introduction, p. xxvii).

To me, the greatest strength of this edition is the simple history lesson it provides into Romania and what it really was like in the 1890s. Photographs are provided showing hotels in Romania at the time that were up to par with other fine European hotels. Much of the technology in the novel is treated as if it solely belongs to the West, ranging from shorthand to photography, yet the editors of this edition show that photography in Romania had been prominent and advanced decades earlier and shorthand was regularly used.

The editors also reveal that Stoker intentionally has Harker travel through the countryside during the day and only arrive at cities at night, thus he is unable to describe the cities, thereby removing any sign of their being just as civilized as the West. Harker stays in Bistritz where the innkeeper warns him not to go on to Dracula’s castle. The innkeeper is depicted as a superstitious peasant, yet Bistritz was a modern, flourishing town at the time. Because Harker travels through cities mostly at night, he would never get to see pleasant daytime scenes like the café scene depicted on the front cover of this edition of Bistritz at the turn of the century.

Another stereotype exposed in this edition, as part of the “othering” of Romanians that Stoker creates, is the superstition of the local people. The Romanian and Transylvanian characters are continually depicted as superstitious compared to the English main characters. However, the novel can easily be deconstructed to show perhaps that the peasants are wiser than the English characters. After all, in Stoker’s world, vampires are real and the peasants have had dealings with them, so they are intelligent enough to be cautious of vampires. As the editors point out later in the novel when the characters are pursuing Dracula—and particularly when Mina is herself becoming a vampire—Mina thinks nothing of commenting on how superstitious the people are. As the editors state in note 515, “Few sentences in the novel are as ridiculous as ‘They are very, very superstitious’ coming from someone turning into a vampire.”

The novel can be deconstructed around this dismissal of superstition since the vampires are real in the novel; consequently, the West is not wise but foolish to dismiss such beliefs. Furthermore, for all the focus on science and technology in the novel, it is only superstitious practices—using Catholic crosses, holy water, Eucharistic wafers—that are able to defeat Dracula along with old-fashioned violence. Quincey Morris, who commits the final murder of Dracula, is himself a hero of the Wild West, and thus, he goes to Romania like it is an exotic, uncivilized land where violence is necessary like in the Wild West to maintain law and order.

Another interesting aspect of this edition is that it reveals how Stoker not only argues for Western and especially British superiority but also the superiority of the upper classes. The editors point out that the English lower class characters are just as superstitious as the Romanians. Furthermore, the lower classes, like the Romanians, and even a Jewish character, continually must be bribed so the main characters can make progress in discovering Dracula’s whereabouts. By comparison, an English gentleman, the consulate clerk, whom the main characters encounter at Galatz, willingly helps them.

Altogether, I think anyone interested in Romania and what Stoker actually knew about it, as well as how he used his research to create fiction, will find this an extremely valuable edition. Stoker’s reading and sources are continually referenced and discussed. Information is provided on everything from Romanian and Transylvanian recipes and hotels to train schedules. The notes are especially thorough and fascinating in the opening chapter of Harker’s journey.

My only criticism of this edition is a lack of maps to show us Jonathan Harker’s journey and later the characters’ pursuit of Dracula across the Balkans. Such maps can be found online, one of the better ones being: https://infocult.typepad.com/dracula/2009/05/harker-travels-east-via-google-maps.html. However, people not familiar with Romania’s geography could have benefited from one in the front of the book so they could have easily followed along with the characters.

Overall, Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition is a long-overdue book that dispels many myths about the Romanian people and the levels of technology that existed in Eastern Europe at the time Stoker published the novel. I know I will return to it time and time again for illumination about the text. It will not only bring new understanding to Stoker’s novel and his writing process but is a vindication for the Romanian people and will hopefully encourage readers to discover the beauty and culture of Romania as it exists outside the pages of Dracula. Having visited Romania myself, I can testify that there is much more there worth seeing and experiencing than just a vampire legend that is not even native to the land. The difference between Stoker’s fictional world and the real Romania is like night and day as anyone will discover who visits that beautiful land.

Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition, as well as other works by Cristina Artenie and Dragos Moraru, is available at www.UniversitasPress.com.

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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, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula

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