Friday, October 28, 2011

Adventure classics -- Was Dracula Irish?


Dracula

by Bram Stoker

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With apologies to Vlad the Impaler, there’s a good chance Irish author Bram Stoker’s Dracula was, in fact, an Irishman. Before Romanian readers grab their wooden stakes, let me say I was at first skeptical. In his introduction to the classic novel, scholar Joseph Valente pushes past the story’s horror and now-obvious sexual implications to argue for a reading of anti-colonialism. In particular, a reading heavily critical of the treatment of the Irish by the British Empire.

I know -- Irish partisans credit their country with so many things, you’d think they’d not only kissed the Blarney Stone but had heavy make-out sessions with it. Irish-American historian Thomas Cahill even wrote a book titled, How the Irish Saved Civilization.

But Valente goes beyond suggesting that “Dracula” is a pun on the Gaelic phrase droch fhola (pronounced “drok-ola,” according to Bandubh Books blog, http://drochshuil.com), meaning “bad blood.”

“Although Dracula hails from Transylvania,” writes Valente, a professor of English at Illinois University, “(the) description of the landscape, the people, and the history all echo either facts or legends about Irish life. . . ”

There’s more, of course. Valente also wrote an entire book, Dracula’s Crypt: Bram Stoker, Irishness, and the Question of Blood, to argue his point.

I’d also add a consideration from the standpoint of a writer. It’s sometimes safer to make political criticism from a distance, as another Irish writer, Jonathan Swift, did in his criticisms of the fictional kingdoms of Lilliput and Brobdingnag. And Stoker had a lot to lose by criticizing the British Empire in the late nineteenth century in which he wrote Dracula. Although a believer in home rule for Ireland, for much of Stoker’s career he lived in London, working for actor Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre. Through his association with Irving, he mingled with London’s high society, who might have attended his theater less if they thought he considered them, well, blood-suckers.

It’s also possible that Stoker simply sympathized with two small countries on the western and eastern extremities of Europe whose struggles for freedom had gone unrealized for so many centuries.

Want to learn more about the Irishness of Dracula? See Valente’s book or Peter Haining and Peter Tremayne’s The Undead: The Legend of Bram Stoker and Dracula, both available at www.amazon.com/ As far as I know, Cahill’s book did not credit (or discredit) the Irish with inventing vampirism.

(Next Friday, Adventure classics begins a month-long look at fantasy, starting with J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit, and a preview of Peter Jackson’s movie version about the little people.)


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More tales of horror: Dallas Storytelling Guild spins ghost stories at the White Rock Lake Bath House, 521 E. Lawther Dr., Friday and Saturday, October 28-29, from 7 to 9 p.m. Not for the faint of heart or pre-teens. Admission is $5 at the door. See www.dallasstorytelling.org/ for more details.

5 comments:

  1. Magical realism in the old sense of the word. I never thought of it that way, never. Took the tale at face value and hid under the covers while watching all the B movies it engendered. I'll have to give it another look with a different eye.

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  2. Thanks Juli & Robin. As writers, don't we wish our works could be so multilayered?

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  3. Wow, I was lucky to find this site after i wanted some info on Bing! Continue the truly amazing work!
    hillwalking in killarney

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    1. Thanks, Alina. And if you like classic Irish writers, stay tuned later this year for an offering from Lord Dunsany.

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