Saturday, November 12, 2011

Dracula: Letters Between Friends

Part four of our visit with Bram Stoker's novel Dracula (1897)

Still stands the unaddressed question: what brings these people together, and what is the nature of their bond? They are done, in my opinion, so well as to make the otherwise exciting invasion of surreal details at first a bit unwelcome to the reader enjoying their relationships, so free of petty bickering and neurosis as to play perhaps a bit too lofty and ideal to be recognizable.

While I occasionally had some fun with the formality that might seem stuffy to modern (especially American) eyes, and sent a few silly texts with overlong parody sign-offs one day while reading, I identify with what emerges from Stoker’s text as a sort of devotion fantasy. In this aspect, I find perhaps more interest in them than those whose fascination rests chiefly with Dracula’s baffling abilities, actions, and company. Their ennobling language charms me.

Power of the written word to convey depth

I believe strongly in the power of love to energize and deepen the appreciation we might develop for one another. Myself: willing to convey the possibility of a lifelong level of friendly conversation rather quickly, and enjoy people without much expectation of them best I may until it becomes apparently ill-advised to my discernment. When we live so far apart we communicate more and more with symbols rather than actions. One of my richest friendships (which became, happily, two) is conducted largely via texts, so I write as a believer in the substance of semiotic qualities ---when the meaning is not, at least consciously, contradicted and inconsistent.

Invasion stories

As we might expect from its narrative strategies, Dracula is an extremely conservative text, one that valorizes human reason and privileges human over "alien" life. The inhabitants of its narrative world are neatly divided into "us" and "them."

Veronica Hollinger

Now the vampire portrays morals; that; would; be; familiar; identifiable form of evil according to the scheme of social norms in Victorian England.

Otherness of the Dutch doctor/lawyer,Van Helsing, stands out to my mind; note the distinctions in his verbal patterns, which identify his voice more readily than that of all other vampire hunters. He is a dynamic resource of knowledge of bodies of professional, intellectual knowledge, perhaps driven to these studies by the loneliness that has come of his wife going insane after the death of their son. My grandfather remained married to my own grandmother long after she had lost her mind. They lived across the driveway from me for ten years, as my parents bought an acre of land and their mobile homes through my grandfather, who appreciate their help after Grandma went down. I thought of their white house, with its columned front porch, as I read about the battle at Carfax Abbey between Dracula and the humans. A man in Van Helsing's position reads all he can, believe me.

While he is richly learned, his word choice, his use of tense, reflects another culture besides that of the native English. It’s not an accident, then, that this person who is next to Dracula removed from English culture, plays a sort of intermediary role. He is the one who brings the non-rational behaviors in the form of his diabolical-seeming solutions. It occurred to me en route the inherent farce, were O. Henry to smile on a post-modern arrangement of facts that leaves Van Helsing himself the sole prime candidate for Seward’s sanitarium!

As it stands, the reality of the malignancy, the unusual blood disease, the problem beyond Western diagnostic prowess aligns him unquestionably as the post-physical prime hero, throwing himself, by reason of relative greater weakness as an elderly man, into even more danger. (Dracula’s powers, however, clearly out-class those of anything short of an army, and when they actually confront him, the day they seek out his English lairs, the hunters are terrifyingly vulnerable as any big game hunter e’er was!)

Spoiler alert: it’s also the sole American of the bunch who…no, just read it: sorry!
But there’s another of the party who is driven even more to the fringe of otherness: Mina Murray Harker. Bear in mind, they attempt to protect her from physical confrontation several times, and so ostracize her in their efforts. It’s not unreasonable, in the context, as she is physically unprepared for confrontation, by the merits of a life at one point described by Dr. Seward as “untouched by crime.”

Today’s popular fiction brings an endless array of super-capable, physical heroines, to the point where any one of them, it is acknowledged, could choose a life of training and become superbly capable in her own defense. If anything, her peril is actually more of a “Nightmare On Elm Street: Don’t Go To Sleep” sort, as Dracula chooses surreptitious circumlocutions, rather than rely on brute power, which he occasionally demonstrates out of utility, but not in the sort of visceral mode of combat one might rather expect (and certainly dread). It’s been noted only women, and not men, become Dracula’s victims, save for the Slovakian henchmen who receives his coffin (he actually seems shipped about in boxes of soil, according to the mercantile ledgers of the boats in which his body’s conveyed, for secrecy and protection from daytime lethargy).

The first part of the story, Harker’s time in Castle Dracula, is palpable horror, and his professed love, in his hidden notes in his jacket, makes us care for him as a character, if anything will. By the time the book becomes about the love between Mina and Lucy, I no longer notice how long it will take me to finish reading it, restoring my book-reading habits happily. A book of correspondence between friends and their diaries, their sleepless notes in the darkness: such a personal thing. My correspondences and my journal, my notes written in the sleepless night, are everything to me, along with my private musings. The epistolary nature gives us very personal declarations of beliefs, taking us emotionally along to engage mysteries of death and sickness with rationality in the night.

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