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.
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)
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.
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.