"I Would Be Master Still": Dracula as the Aftermath of the Wilde Trials and Irish Land League Policies
Tanya Olson

Bram Stoker's Dracula has never gone out of print since it was first published in 1897, and beginning with the rise of psychoanalytic theory in the 1950s, seemingly every subsequent branch of literary theory has eventually turned its eye to the novel. Dracula's critical popularity may be due, at least partially, to the ease with which any critic can see his or her agenda reflected in the novel's ambitious discussions of sex, race, and class. It follows, then, that most criticism of Dracula has focused on either the psychoanalytic or the cultural aspects of the novel. Lately, the prevalence of queer theory has brought the novel's intersections of sex, gender, and power into popular focus again.

Cultural criticism of Dracula typically focuses on the novel's introduction of a a secure modern culture and its potential degradation. In this sense, the novel is read as a reaction of fear, an argument for a dying ascendancy to rally against the dangers of a rising and backward peasantry. As shown in the samples of criticism that follow, Dracula is traditionally read as a novel of duelling binaries. It is each critic's area of interest that defines what they believe the binaries to be and which side of the pairing they think should, or believe does, ultimately triumph.

William Hughes has written extensively on Dracula and in his 2000 book, Beyond Dracula, he offers a reading of the novel that looks beyond previously noted allegorical and metaphorical meanings of blood in the novel. Instead, Hughes focuses on the presentation of symptoms and the misdiagnosis of abnormal medical states in the novel. Each victim, Hughes argues, is presented as having the symptomology of a specific disease (hysteria, somnambulism, hypnotism) and is misdiagnosed by a scientific professional who overlooks the occult symptoms of vampirism. Reading Dracula in this manner, Hughes emphasizes Victorian cultural concerns about the physiological aspects of blood, what Hughes calls a "sanguine economy" (114). In this battle between the scientific and the traditional, Hughes sees the influence of English concerns about a transitional period as influential to the basic life force of the novel.

Declan Kiberd also identifies concerns about transitions in Dracula. However, in a chapter from his 2001 book Irish Classics, "Undead in the Nineties: Bram Stoker and Dracula," he locates Ireland, Stoker's homeland, as the site of transition that is discussed in the novel. Kiberd's concern is the interplay in the novel between the dead,the living, and a third category, the undead. He suggests the time in which Dracula was written determines these three groups, for 1897 was the end of a decade that marked many endings for England. It was Queen Victoria's jubilee year, and it marked the transition of and the end to male power with the emergence of the New Woman. It was also the year that the degeneration of the aristocracy became painfully apparent. At the same time, 1897 also marked new beginnings for Ireland. The Irish language was undergoing a period of renewal,the Irish Literary Theatre was underway, and the fifty-year anniversary of the Great Famine all suggested a new life for Ireland. It is the struggle between these three groups, the remembrance of the dead,and the triumph of the living that marks Dracula as a particularly Irish novel for Kiberd.

In his 1997 book Alien Nation: Nineteenth Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality, Cannon Schmitt defines gothic as a genre that includes Dracula. One constant he identifies in the gothic novel is a preoccupation "with opposing binaries: inside/outside, sadistic male/victimised female, and doubled characters who despise and torment one another" (13). This is the traditional way to read Dracula, as a novel that clearly values one side of these dichotomies over the other. Schmitt suggests that Dracula reflects English concerns with defining its nation and people in a tumultuous time. A divided nation is reflected in a divided book, with one group monstrous, the other triumphant.

Christopher Craft was one of the first critics to discuss Dracula's homoerotic elements in his 1989 article "'Kiss Me with Those Red Lips': Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker's Dracula." Craft reads Dracula as a book fraught with concerns about gender fluidity. While Craft suggests these concerns are not unusual for a book written at the end of the Victorian era in England, he also posits that Dracula deals with these gender concerns as a means of hiding the novel's homoeroticism. Craft argues that this gender inversion actually disguises the homoeroticism the book is truly concerned with, allowing all male interactions to pass through a woman, thus heterosexualizing them. Underneath this facade of a stable heterosexuality though, numerous cracks and fissures appear, and ultimately, Craft suggests that Dracula problematizes the very gender rigidity and compulsory heterosexuality it apparently wants to enforce and embrace.

Each of these three readings traps Dracula into a simple binary duel between the English and the Irish, the rational and the emotional,the future and the past, or the gentry and the peasantry. Even Kiberd's article that identifies a third group fails to define it in any concrete, meaningful way. In this article, I would argue for a reading of Dracula that still sees the novel as a reflection of both the era in which it was produced, but also as a product of its author's particular situation. Specifically, I would like to highlight the ways in which Stoker's own tenuous sexuality and the discourse around the Oscar Wilde trials are used to produce a novel that also works as a commentary on the specifically contemporary Irish issue of land use and ownership.

Bringing together queer theory, Irish studies, and a postcolonial perspective lends both Stoker and his novel a contemporary and a historical importance. It also allows an understanding of Dracula as a novel that does not just support existing political structures, but instead proposes imaginative new categories. In turn, this supports a post-colonial reading that emphasizes its historical production. Dracula becomes not just a Gothic exercise or a psychoanalytic nightmare of anxiety, but also a specific remark upon the dangers of embracing national or racial identities in a colonial country.It does so by suggesting the necessity of hybridity to any successful identity. Dracula then becomes not just a richer example of an Irish Gothic tale, but also a commentary on the Irish construction of a cultural nationalism in the 1890's.

This necessary third comes into play in the novel through the foreign characters in the Crew of Light, the vampire hunters. Stoker also had a personal relationship to several third identities. As an Anglo-Irishman, he often proved to be too Irish to be truly English, yet too English to be merely Irish. This lack of an easy national identity is mirrored, as we shall see, in Stoker's own sexuality. It is difficult to label him as simply heterosexual or homosexual; at the very least, Stoker, like Harker, can be said to participate in a homoerotic lifestyle. Finally, and perhaps most influentially, Stoker saw a new definition of homosexuality based around the idea of a thirdspace become popular in the aftermath of his friend Oscar Wilde's trial and conviction in 1895.

Christopher Craft also locates contemporary theories of homosexuality in Dracula, particularly in the character of Jonathan Harker. For Craft, the world of the vampire is a place where gender distinctions collapse, especially those distinctions related to sexuality. Vampirism makes women sexually aggressive, while at the same time makes men nurturing. For example, the female vampires bite their male victims, while Dracula lets his female victims feed off him to keep them alive. Therefore, who is penetrated and who does the penetrating shifts for vampires.

Transylvania is also a site of gender inversion for Harker. Throughout his stay at the castle Harker is feminized. Dracula takes Harker's possessions from him, doling out food, money, and correspondence as he determines Harker needs it. Dracula also controls Harker's movements around the grounds and his access to the entrances and exits of the castle. Harker also notes his feminisation in his journal. He notices that he writes his journal, "sitting at a little old oak table where in old times possibly some fair lady sat to pen" (36), and sleeps "where of old ladies had sat and sung and lived sweet lives whilst their gentle breasts were sad for their menfolk away in the midst of remorseless wars" (37).

This feminisation of Harker is in line with one kind of prevalent belief about homosexuality at that time, primarily that of John Addington Symonds, who talked of male homosexuality as an inversion. For Symonds, male homosexuals were men with an internal spirit of women, male biological bodies with the emotions and essence of a female (100). As Craft writes, inversion still worked on the model of heterosexuality and "never relinquished the idea of a misalignment between inside and outside, between desire and the body, between the hidden truth of sex and the false sign of anatomical gender" (222). The female vampires are then the conduits for the male homosexual moments between Harker and Dracula. What the two men are unable to do together, they achieve through the medium of the women. However, Harker's feminization need not be based on Symond's understanding of homosexuality as an inversion. Harker's actions and self-analysis can also be encompassed by the naturalization theory of homosexuality that became popular during the Oscar Wilde trials.

In 1895, a judge found Oscar Wilde guilty of "committing acts of gross indecency with other male persons" and he was sentenced to the maximum penalty of two years in jail with hard labour (Aldington and Weintraub 47). The public, helped in part by the intensive coverage provided by London papers, closely followed Wilde's trial. Because of this popular forum, Wilde's trial and sentencing also came to mark a shift in the way homosexuality was thought and spoken of by the public. The judge imprisoned Wilde because he thought him to be a corrupting influence, fearing Wilde would lure other impressionable youth into homosexual activity. Wilde's defence was that homosexuality was a sacred tradition found throughout history and that there was nothing illegal about a young man coming of age under the tutelage of an older man (Foldy 117). This naturalization of homosexuality was a popular argument and was reflected in some contemporary theories of sexuality, particularly those of Edward Carpenter.

Edward Carpenter was an English homosexual man who wrote essays on the subject of homosexuality between 1894 and 1899. Carpenter suggested that homosexuals were not a separate third sex, but instead were an intermediate sex. For Carpenter, male and female were two poles of the human condition and homosexuals were part of the middle spectrum:

Nature, it might appear, in mixing the elements which go to compose each individual, does not always keep her two groups of ingredients-which represent the two sexes-properly apart, but often throws them crosswise in a somewhat baffling manner, now this way and now that; yet wisely, we must think-or if a severe distinction of elements were always maintained the two sexes would soon drift into far latitudes and absolutely cease to understand each other. As it is, there are some remarkable and (we think) indispensable types of character in whom there is such a union or balance of the feminine and masculine qualities that these people become to a great extent the interpreters of men and women to each other. (117)

According to Carpenter then, homosexuals not only contained the blended qualities of masculinity and femininity, but were also crucial to the continuation of peaceful relations between the sexes. Without individuals who had mixed masculine and feminine attributes, men and women would be unable to understand each other. Because they were in the middle, situated in both male and female worlds, homosexuals could explain each side to the other. While theorists such as Symonds argued for a strict binary definition of sexuality, Carpenter came to propose a spectrum of sexuality.

Wilde's trial not only had an impact on the public perception of homosexuality, it was also an important personal event for Bram Stoker. Wilde and Stoker had crossed paths in Dublin for years and continued to move in the same social circles in London. Both Stoker and Wilde attended Trinity, and Stoker ended up marrying Francis Balcombe, a Dublin woman Wilde had previously been in love with and to whom he had proposed. Stoker and his brothers frequently visited the Wilde home in Ireland, and Stoker himself was particularly close to Wilde's mother, Lady Esperanza (Farson 85). While Stoker was sympathetic to Wilde's legal difficulties, seldom was there any love lost between the two men. Not only did Wilde feel betrayed by Balcombe's marrying Stoker, Stoker and Wilde were also two very different types of men. As much as Wilde was a decadent aesthete, Stoker was a proper Victorian gentleman. Stoker was as reserved and dignified as Wilde was outrageous and public. Stoker and Wilde may have had more in common though than the love of the same woman and the last few years have brought about a great deal of speculation about Stoker's sexuality.

Stoker followed an almost stereotypical Anglo-Irish path. Raised in Dublin, Stoker attended Trinity and took a clerk's position at Dublin Castle soon after graduating. He attended the theatre regularly, sometimes reviewing plays. Struck by the acting in a production he saw, Stoker arranged a meeting with the lead actor, Henry Irving. The two became friends and eventually, Stoker moved from Dublin to London in 1878 in order to become the manager for Irving's Lyceum Theatre. Irving specifically requested Stoker for the job. From then until 1905, when Irving died, Irving and Stoker never spent much time apart. Stoker devoted his life to managing Irving's theatre and career and travelled with him everywhere. The women of Irving's theatre company soon began to refer to Bram as "Mama Stoker."[1] He and Balcombe did have a son together, but it is now generally believed the two were never physically intimate after his birth (Farson 127). Stoker was also a fervent admirer of Walt Whitman and became a regular correspondent of the poet. (Being a fan of Whitman's poetry was often a code for being homosexual.) Stoker once wrote a letter to Whitman where he discussed the keeping of secrets:

I would like to call you Comrade and to talk to you as men who are not poets do not often talk. . . . I know I would not be long ashamed to be natural with you. . . You have shaken off the shackles and your wings are free. I have the shackles on my shoulders still-but I have no wings. If you are going to read this letter any further I should tell you that I am not prepared to 'give up all else' so far as words go. (qtd in Schaffer, 383)

Whitman and Stoker met in New Jersey on one of Irving's tours of America and immediately became friends.

While nothing in this collection of facts points indisputably to Stoker's being homosexual, there are many echoes between the situations of Stoker and his character, Harker. Beyond the similarities in their names and tenuous sexualities, both Harker and Stoker are asked to leave their homes to travel to foreign countries in order to attend to the needs of an older, aristocratic gentleman. Like Harker, Stoker primarily has relationships with other men and little intimacy with his wife, whom he marries quickly and under adverse circumstances. As with Harker, women working for his aristocratic employer feminize Stoker. Clearly, Dracula is not primarily an autobiographical novel, but Harker does reflect some aspects of Stoker's experience.

Dracula itself is organized as a novel of thirds. The first section tells of Harker's travels to and adventures in Transylvania, the second section depicts the Count's arrival and actions in London,and the third section describes the Crew of Light's pursuit of Dracula back to Transylvania. It is outside the Count's castle that they finally catch and destroy the vampire, freeing Mina from his curse. In many ways, this third section of Dracula seems almost superfluous. Dracula's hold on Mina weakens the farther apart they are and the Count's threat of colonizing London with vampirism has been successfully rebuked.

Nonetheless, the journey back to Transylvania is crucial to understanding Dracula as a political novel, for it is there that the third group proves their worth and ultimately triumphs. Luke Gibbons writes of such journeys in his 1996 book, Transformations in Irish Culture:

The need to address the other, and the route of the diaspora, is inevitably presented as a passage from the margins to the metropolitan centre, but the reverse journey is rarely greeted with much enthusiasm. In fact, those who go in the opposite direction are invariably derided as 'going native,' as slumming it when they should really be getting on with the business of persuading the natives to adopt their master's voice. Yet it is only when hybridity becomes reciprocal rather than hierarchical that the encounter with the culture of the colonizer ceases to be detrimental to one's development. (180)

In fact, it is on the one-year anniversary of Dracula's death that Mina gives birth to the true hybrid, her son, who is named after each of the men from the Crew of Light, although called Quincey after the American. It is the boy, Van Helsing suggests, who will be best able to read and understand the adventures his parents and their friends have undergone.

In Dracula, it is the foreigners and women in the Crew of Light who define the strengths of the third. Without their intervention, the technologically advanced natives would have been unable to comprehend the dangers or defeat the powers of the invading force. Bringing together the best of the past and the present, the outsiders in Dracula (Van Helsing, Quincey Morris, Mina, and Renfield) allow the two sides to comprehend each other. They also enable the group oriented towards the future, the English, to defeat Dracula, the force that threatens progress.

This is why, then, Dracula must not only be driven from England, but also killed. While England cannot immediately repel Dracula's invasion, Dracula's real threat to England lies in his ability to connect with the past. He has remembered what he once was and has learned from that. Using this skill, he wishes to drag England back to its past as well. England, on the other hand, has become so alienated from tradition and history and so focused on the future, that its citizens are vulnerable to Dracula's invasion. Occupying a third position separate from these two situations, only the outsiders are able to understand both the past and the present.

The 1880s and 1890s were marked in Ireland by issues revolving around Home Rule and land ownership.[2] Questions concerning if and how Ireland should be independent were inexorably connected with ideas of who should own Irish land and how the island should be governed. Several political groups in Ireland, as well as certain factions in England, were making calls for Home Rule. At the same time, the Land League, in its demands for farmers to be able to buy the land that they farmed was a particularly powerful force in Ireland.

Both land and government issues were of particular interest to the Anglo-Irish. Members of the Anglo-Irish community traditionally worked either in Dublin for the government (as Stoker did) or they were landlords in the Irish countryside. Therefore, the lives of the Anglo-Irish would be changed if Ireland was granted Home Rule or if the Irish were allowed to own the land they farmed. The Anglo-Irish investment in both of these issues was very high.

A common question among the English and the Irish was what role the Anglo-Irish should play in each of these issues. The English thought the Anglo-Irish identified too much with the native Irish, while the Irish continued to see the Anglo-Irish as English visitors, even if they had been born in Ireland. What Stoker seems to be suggesting in Dracula is the need for the Anglo-Irish in the reconciling of these colonial conflicts. Stoker posits a middle position of power for the Anglo-Irish, which would allow them to negotiate between the two sides. Stoker suggests that the Anglo-Irish would be especially useful in this role because they can bring the best of both sides together, using what is pertinent from both their English and Irish backgrounds.

Stoker suggests that the strongest position belongs to those who are able to function in both the worlds of the coloniser and the colonized. Stoker seems to suggest that neither a strictly English nor a strictly Irish victory would be much of a victory at all. In a parallel move, Stoker shows in Dracula how the past can be remembered and transcended, while the future can be embraced and used responsibly.

The specific political solutions suggested by this third position theory are numerous, but the emphasis on the importance of outsiders suggests a unique vision on Stoker's part. In Dracula, the outsiders are capable of using the past to shape the present while simultaneously destroying the forces of stagnation so progress can continue. Stoker suggests that the Anglo-Irish can play a similar role in the Irish situation. By providing a bridge between two opposing forces, the Anglo-Irish may be able to find a way for both sides to succeed. Stoker recognizes that as long as these two groups stay locked into their expectations and biased understandings of the other, no real solution or progress is possible. It is only the third, marginalized group of outsiders that has enough perspective to offer a working solution.

At a time when other Anglo-Irish authors like Somerville and Ross were writing novels that explored tensions and struggles between the ascendancy and the peasantry, Stoker writes a novel which illustrates the need each of these groups has for the other if a peaceful, progressive solution is to be found. It is only when the two groups work together and rely on the strengths of the other that the threat of colonization is defeated, a somewhat post-colonial solution to an essential colonial struggle. As this essay suggests, it is perhaps Stoker's own sexuality and personal relationship with Oscar Wilde that shapes this unusual cultural solution to Ireland's political struggle over land and power.

In his discussion of Richard Sheridan, Declan Kiberd notes the trend in many innovative Irish writers (Swift, Sheridan, Yeats, Synge) to believe "that all truly vibrant cultures are Janus-faced, capable of looking backward and forward at the same time. In their different ways, they refused to see past and future as zones of opposition, celebrating instead the exponents of paradox who undid such oppositions" (158). Perhaps emphasizing the connections in Dracula between queerness and politics will allow Stoker, in the future, to join a such a list of innovators.

 

Notes

1 All biographical information on Bram Stoker is taken from Daniel Farson's biography. For a more detailed exploration of Bram Stoker's life see Farson. back

2 See R.F. Foster's Modern Ireland 1600-1972 (New York: Penguin, 1988) or J.C. Beckett's The Making of Modern Ireland 1606-1923 (London: Faber and Faber, 1981) for a broad historical overview of this period of Irish history. back

 

Works Cited

Aldington, Richard and Stanley Weintraub. "Introduction." The Portable Oscar Wilde. By Oscar Wilde. New York: Penguin, 1988. 1-47.

Beckett, J.C. The Making of Modern Ireland 1606-1923. London: Faber and Faber, 1981.

Carpenter, Edward. "The Intermediate Sex." [1894]. We Are Everywhere: A Historical Sourcebook of Gay and Lesbian Politics. Eds. Mark Blasius and Shane Phelan. New York: Routledge, 1997. 114-131.

Craft, Christopher. "'Kiss Me with Those Red Lips': Gender and Inversion in Bram Stoker's Dracula." Speaking of Gender. Ed. Elaine Showalter. New York: Routledge, 1989. 216- 242.

Farson, Daniel. The Man Who Wrote Dracula: A Biography of Bram Stoker. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1976.

Foldy, Michael. The Trials of Oscar Wilde. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

Gibbons, Luke. Transformations in Irish Culture. Cork, Ireland: Cork University Press, 1996.

Hughes, William. Beyond Dracula: Bram Stoker's Fiction and its Cultural Context. New York: Palgrave Publishers, 2000.

Kiberd, Declan. Irish Classics. Boston: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Schaffer, Talia. "'A Wilde Desire Took Me': The Homoerotic History of Dracula." ELH 61 (1994): 381-425.

Schmitt, Cannon. Alien Nation: Nineteenth-Century Gothic Fictions and English Nationality. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1997.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. [1897]. Introduction and Notes by Maud Ellmann.Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.

Symonds, John Addington. "A Problem of Ethics." [1891]. We Are Everywhere: A Historical Sourcebook of Gay and Lesbian Politics. Eds. Mark Blasius and Shane Phelan. New York: Routledge, 1997. 114-131.

Wasson, Richard. "The Politics of Dracula." Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics. Ed. Margaret Carter. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press, 1988. 19-23.




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