Thursday, April 8, 2010

Close Reading Questions for Stoker's Dracula, Chs. I-V (pp.26-83)


(at left: Caspar David Friedrich's Moonrise Over the Sea (1822), a Romantic-Gothic image that captures the Gothic revival tone of Dracula quite well)

1. Why does Stoker call the region of Translyvania an “imaginative whirlpool” (28)? How might this play into British notions of the Orient and Freud’s “uncanny”?

2. Examine the “seduction” scene between Harker and Dracula’s brides in Chapter III: how does he react to their advances (look closely at the language), and how does this either resemble or contrast with Carmilla’s seduction of Laura? Does Stoker mean this passage to be similarly subversive?

3. What reading material does Harker find in Dracula’s library? How might this underline Dracula’s later statement that, “to know her [England] is to love her” (45)?

4. Discuss the effect of Harker’s journals as a narrative strategy in the first few chapters. Why tell the story entirely from this point of view (rather than an omniscient or even normal first-person narrative)? Does this resemble the techniques used by Le Fanu in In a Glass Darkly? Is the technique ever strained beyond belief (or effectiveness)?

7 comments:

  1. 3. What reading material does Harker find in Dracula’s library? How might this underline Dracula’s later statement that, “to know her [England] is to love her” (45)?


    In the library Harker found, “a vast number of English books, whole shelves full of them, and bound volumes of magazines and newspapers. A table in the centre was littered with English magazines and newspapers, though none of them were of very recent date. The books were of the most varied kind, history, geography, politics, political economy, botany, geology, law, all relating to England and English life and customs and manners” (Stoker).

    As to how this relates to Dracula’s statement, “to know her is to love her,” I had two different thoughts. Initially I presumed that it was a statement to express the magnificence of England. If read this way then England is considered a marvelous place. So much so that anyone who learns of it will have no choice but to appreciate its accomplishments.

    But then I began to reassess the statement. To fully understand let me briefly explain the history of the United Kingdom. In 1707 England, Scotland, and Wales joined together to form Great Britain; of which it stayed until after World War I when it was realized Great Britain was not nearly as “Great” as once perceived. Then in 1800 Ireland joined Great Britain to form the United Kingdom.

    Almost immediately after the formation of the United Kingdom, Irish dissenters emerged and advocated Home Rule. The movement was especially strong during the late 1800’s, which happens to coincide with the publishment of Dracula. How this all relates is that Bram Stoker was Irish and possibly shared the same sentiments towards Home Rule. Although admittedly I am not aware if this movement was supported by Stoker, it is however interesting to exam the passage as if it were.

    If read with this context the meaning of the passage changes drastically. In this case Dracula is a monster who lives by stealing the life force of those weaker than him. This parallels England and their treatment of perceived weaker beings. So it really is a condemnation of England that someone so horrid respects, if not admires, their way of life.

    I am somewhat partial to this reading because of the earlier interaction between Harker and an elderly woman where he is given a rosary. In the discussion he mentions how he, as an Englishman was, “taught to regard such things as in some measure idolatrous” (Stoker). Yet it is this rosary that saves his life after he cuts himself shaving. I see this as another attack on English society by showing the righteousness of Catholicism.

    Even if this reading was not intended by Stoker, it is not too far of a stretch to be plausible.

    Stoker, Bram. "Dracula." Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg, 09 05 2008. Web. 10 Apr 2010. .

    Stewart McCoin

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  2. 4. Discuss the effect of Harker’s journals as a narrative strategy in the first few chapters. Why tell the story entirely from this point of view (rather than an omniscient or even normal first-person narrative)? Does this resemble the techniques used by Le Fanu in In a Glass Darkly? Is the technique ever strained beyond belief (or effectiveness)?


    I found the epistolary structure of Dracula intriguing. I found it interesting because, at least to me, it is an unfamiliar narrative device. I can see how using this format can be beneficial. For example, the reader can establish a deeper relationship with the characters; the readers can relate more to the characters by first hand reading their experiences and seeing their fears. In a way it’s like the reader is invading the personal space of the characters and looking at something they were not intended to see which means the characters are not hiding their true selves, at least not when they write in their journals.

    There is some resemblance between Stokers epistolary and Le Fanu’s stories in In a Glass Darkly, most notably in Green Tea. They share common principles in that Green Tea is a recount of Dr. Hesselius’ notes on a peculiar person. So in the same way as Dracula everything happened in the past and we get the description of the events passed through the lens of a firsthand observer.

    While the technique is effective, I do believe that it can be a bit overdone in places. At times the dialogue can take the reader out of the story. What I mean by this is that there are times when the dialogue and descriptions are so detailed I thought to myself that there was no way Harker could remember all this. But this is somewhat relieved when Mina says, “I shall try to do what I see lady journalists do, interviewing and writing descriptions and trying to remember conversations. I am told that, with a little practice, one can remember all that goes on or that one hears said during a day” (Stoker).

    Even so I still can not help but imagine Harker carrying a notepad around with him while constantly interrupting Dracula, asking him to repeat what he said so that he can write it down. I also pictured Harker spending the entire day writing in his journal about how badly he wanted to escape the castle, instead of actually trying to escape the castle.


    Stoker, Bram. "Dracula." Project Gutenberg. Project Gutenberg, 09 05 2008. Web. 10 Apr 2010. .



    Stewart McCoin

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  3. What awesome thoughts Stewart! :)
    I got to thinking about the reading even more after I read what you had here. It sort of led me on a similar "chase" through all the mirrors and "seeming opposites or twins" throughout.

    Going as you did back into history.. it makes the situations both politically and historically just pop out!

    For example--where it mentioned Hampton Court--it was used first by Henry VIII, another important 'mirror' in this as he was branded a heretic by the Roman Catholic Church when he wanted a divorce from Catherine of Aragon and then married the Lady Anne Boleyn in secret.
    Thus, England was split in two: Catholic/Protestant and it was split along a line of the Church (always referred to as 'she' or Mother) and the new church of Henry in which he was the Sovereign and Head of Church and State, as a Father.
    *In the Dracula text--there is the moment in which the Count calls Jonathan, Harker Jonathan according to a patrifocal titling. The Count makes rather a big deal out of his error, which could be seen in the male/female, mother/father treatment of the text.

    Going back into time again--the area of the story is also the seat of yet another famous schism which was when the Roman Empire (and Church) split along a line of East and West the West being faithful to the See of Rome, and the East remaining faithful to the Orthodoxy or to the Byzantine Catholic rite. This schism divided the church in two (not unlike the split between England and Rome)
    *England's split with Rome is here mirrored and it could shine a bit of light as well on the context of the statement "to know her is to love her". We're dealing with the past/present, east/west, mother/father in a dark mirroring.

    Finally, you brought up another most excellent reference that if we take it forward from Stoker (rather than back) we find also the split of the nation of Ireland in the Protestantism/Catholic all the way to the 1990's when the IRA was finally either appeased or went under ground. (I would still not say the jury is back on them!)

    So.. YAH!!!! Wow. Reading closely like that and through your comments--is like an Encyclopedia journey as well!
    Many thanks for giving me the wherewithall to do a bit more 'digging'
    :)

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  4. Bruce, you really outdid yourself...brilliant comments that open up a wide range of topics and approaches. The Irish perspective is very important with Stoker and Le Fanu, since both are Irish and would be hard pressed to whole-heartedly condone the Empire (especially given that both are writing Gothic fiction!). And yes, the fact that Dracula so admires (and loves) England's systems--its trains, maps, and classifications--suggests that he has found a kindred spirit. His uncanny knowledge of England suggests that England is merely reinventing an old order--an older that Dracula represents, and can once more be at home in. It also suggests that an empire is great because of its books, which chart every aspect of the empire and compile its riches. Of course, anyone can read a book, and thus gain mastery of the empire--even from the wilds of Transylvania.

    Excellent work--anxiously await this discussion tomorrow!

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  5. Dr. Grasso--
    I loved that you mentioned the maps as well; it was something that I spent some time with last night in writing my own close reading perspectives for class tomorrow.

    As I dwelled on that, it opened yet another door in this house of mirrors (such as I've dubbed Stoker's Dracula)
    The specificity of choices of place, the circles that were drawn on the maps--seemed nearly a Masonic type of thing as well. Could these have been more than just places on a map but an 'underlife' of the mythic and spiritual within the scientific and social structures??

    Likewise, there is no journey into this that couldn't embrace the house of mirrors that is the East/West and the religious aspects as well. I hesitated on whether or not to put those thoughts here (as they were a journey to be sure!) But, in the end I decided not to muddy up the blog with more of my speculations. I will say however, that as much as the area was the split between Islam/Christian wars; it would become later the split between Byzantine/Orthodoxy and the Roman Papal See. Later it would be the castle split in two of the world of individual (western) freedoms and the communist (eastern) Soviet system as well. The final split, driving many many churches into the underground until the fall of the USSR.

    Indeed.. this is soooo a house of mirrors!

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  6. 2. He reacts to their advances with both fear and wanting. Throughout the entire scene it is made evident that he is terrified beyond belief during this encounter. He tries desperately to not let them know that he is awake and aware. At the same time, he talks about feeling their breath and their lips and how it is like he is being seduced by them.

    This passage is very similar to Carmilla's seduction of Laura because Laura expressed similar feelings of fear and arousal.

    I do think that Stoker meant for it to be this way. After all what's more terrifying than being drawn to what you know will destroy you?

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  7. 3. In Dracula's library Harker finds a large amount of information (mostly economical) on England. "to know her is to love her" shows that Dracula has gotten to know England very well through his studies and now longs to go their. He has fallen in love with "her."

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