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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

Book Reveals Shortcomings in Annotated Editions of Dracula

Anyone interested in Dracula and Dracula studies needs to read Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices by Cristina Artenie. In fact, anyone interested in annotating literary classics would benefit from reading this book.

At this blog, I have previously reviewed Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England and the essay collection she edited Gothic and Racism. I expected Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices would reiterate a lot of what Artenie said in those other works, in which she looked at Dracula from a postcolonial perspective and revealed the lack of true research into Romanian and especially Transylvanian history and culture by Dracula scholars in their attempts to understand and source Stoker’s novel. I was pleased to find that while this book has some repetition, the majority of it covers new ground.

As a scholar and fan of Dracula myself—I admit to being one of those scholars who went to Romania to tour Dracula-associated places and surprised to find it was not a perpetually dark, stormy night in Transylvania—and through my visit to Romania and reading Artenie’s work, I have come to realize just how unfair it is to the Romanian people to have Dracula be regarded as the emblem for their country by the rest of the world. I am completely won over by Artenie’s efforts to redeem her homeland from Gothic stereotypes that make it synonymous with vampires. As Artenie points out, Romania does not even have a vampire tradition—Stoker imposed one on the country—and the country is still trying to live it down—or in some cases, capitalize upon it through tours and tourist sites. Consequently, I found the depth of her discussion in this book only added to my understanding of the injustices committed by Stoker’s novel and its subsequent editors, who while not intending to be harmful or racist, out of oversight have done more harm than good in perpetuating stereotypes of the Romanian people.

Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices is divided into two sections. Part I focuses on Editorial Theory and Part II on Editorial Practices. Even if you are not remotely interested in how Stoker treats Romania in a less than accurate manner, anyone interested in Dracula studies will still find Part I invaluable because Artenie walks readers through a discussion of every annotated edition of Dracula that has been published, explaining the literary theories as well as idiosyncrasies of the various editors and their editions. She discusses the role of an editor, the politics of annotation, and the different types of annotation made. This discussion should be of interest to anyone interested in annotation and the editing of literature. Artenie repeatedly refers to how editors rely upon Stoker’s text, and in most cases, on his notes, as well as the sources he used in his notes. Plus she shows where they sometimes go overboard citing sources Stoker could not have known or they rely on other editors’ works for their own annotations. Most importantly, she reflects how there is an absence of focus upon Romanian sources used in the annotations. In addition, she discusses how the various editors have different agendas, linked to their different theoretical readings of Dracula, such as theological, historical, and psychosexual, but also from their own desire, springing from a love of the text, to bolster it by providing additional information to support the way it creates a Gothic atmosphere complete with Romanian superstition and vampire mythology. For example, Florescu and McNally’s annotations are designed to help bolster their belief that Vlad Tepes is the basis for Count Dracula. Artenie discusses also the extratextual myth of Dracula—created by the countless films, comic books, and other Dracula spin-off materials that make Count Dracula a household name to people who have not even read the book—influence our reading of the novel. Artenie’s voice is important, consequently, because it will make future editors think about how they edit books as mediators between the text and its readers, and it will make people aware of the agendas various editors may be working from.

The second half of the book is largely a close reading of Dracula divided into various topics to show just how lacking Dracula scholarship has been in understanding both Romania and Stoker’s use of it. Artenie goes into detail about Romania’s geography, taking editors to task for not providing maps of the country in their editions or for including outdated maps, or not even bothering to learn anything about Romania’s geography but just quoting from sources that are themselves ill-informed. She discusses both landscapes and cityscapes in the novel, and she goes into great detail about the food eaten in the novel and how editors have annotated it. She also discusses how editors and the sources they have used—never Romanian sources—have misunderstood the Romanian people’s history, mocking their claims to being descended from the Romans because they were not viewed as civilized enough, and she discusses how the editors tend to exoticize and orientalize Romania in a way that supports the Romanian myth created by Stoker’s text rather than look at the reality of Romania.

One prime example of how editors have failed to do their job in relation to understanding Romania and annotating the novel properly that Artenie cites is from when Jonathan Harker is warned of danger by the innkeeper’s wife on St. George’s Day, which is April 23 traditionally. However, the event happens on May 5 in the novel, because May 5 in England is April 23 in Romania, given that England used the Julian calendar while Romania used the Gregorian calendar at the time. The woman gives Harker a crucifix, which suggests she is Catholic, although most Romanians are Eastern Orthodox and do not use crosses—this is likely a mistake Stoker made, but editors have gone overboard trying to explain Stoker’s reasons for this, including suggesting the woman is a Hungarian Catholic. However, if that was the case, she wouldn’t think May 5 is St. George’s Day because Hungarians would use the Julian calendar. (This discussion also makes me realize how the novel focuses upon Catholic symbols like holy water and crucifixes as a means to defend or at least fend-off Dracula. This, in itself, is rather culturally irresponsible since it suggests that Catholicism, not Eastern Orthodoxy, is the religion that can defeat Dracula. Stoker, being Irish, of course associated Christianity predominantly with Catholicism, and the novel can be read as a vindication of Catholicism in the Gothic tradition since earlier Gothic novels mocked Catholicism as a religion of superstition. However, while Stoker was championing Catholicism, he was overlooking Eastern Orthodoxy, which would be the religion of the Romanians. Or perhaps his use of Catholicism was a veiled effort to show once more that the West is superior to the East because only the Western form of Christianity can defeat vampires.) Artenie concludes Part II with discussions of how the editors continually vampirize Transylvania; this discussion includes analyzing the word nosferatu at length and showing it is itself another error in the novel.

In addition to Artenie’s overall purpose of analyzing various editorial practices used for Dracula, I found that she drops many fascinating tidbits of information I had not heard before. For example, she mentions there are similarities between Dracula and The String of Pearls, the penny dreadful that introduced Sweeney Todd to the world. I had not seen The String of Pearls discussed as a Dracula source before. Also interesting is mention that Anne Rice was a student of Leonard Wolf, who composed the first annotated edition of Dracula, and that he read Interview with a Vampire and gave Rice feedback before she published it. Later, Wolf also was a consultant on the screenplay by James V. Hart for Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Also, I did not know Mary Elizabeth Braddon, best known as the author of Lady Audley’s Secret, had written a vampire story named “Good Lady Ducayne.” These are all tidbits worth exploring further. But perhaps the most fascinating to me was that H. P. Lovecraft claimed he knew a woman who had offered to revise Dracula for Stoker and said the manuscript she saw was a fearful mess. I have often wondered, as have other critics, if Stoker had help in writing the novel or at least a very good editor because Dracula is superior to his other works. While the woman Lovecraft mentions apparently did not get the job, it’s suspected Stoker’s good friend Hall Caine may have helped him.

Artenie concludes this insightful study by saying that she hopes her work will make both current and future editors rethink their editorial practices and create new or revised editions of Dracula that take into consideration the Romanian perspective. While I fully support this statement, it’s a bit ironic that Artenie took her own advice and in the same year published Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition—an edition I will review on this blog this autumn.

Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices was published in 2016 by Universitas Press in Canada. In the United States, it’s available at Amazon.

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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 Dracula, Literary Criticism