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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"The Occidental Tourist"

                Until I read Stephen Arata’s article The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization I never once saw with in Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula many of the underlying ideas that Stephen Arata  brings to light in his literary criticism. On the whole I found the piece very enjoyable, and it gave me almost a sense of an “a ha” moment many times over. Once I read his piece it was easier for me to see his ideas reflected in Bram Stoker’s work.
            The first idea that I found very interesting was how the character Dracula not only portrays a vampire, but also portrays a different race as a whole, and by forming this idea shows that in truth is was Stoker’s way of showing the general apprehension of late Victorian Englishmen. To them Dracula is a threat, one that tries to take over and subdue England, and this idea was very much thought of by many during this time, that England would be overcome by its colonies. Stephen depicts this fear among Englishmen when he states in his piece “This racial context helps account for what critics routinely note about Dracula: that he is by his very nature vigorous, masterful, energetic, robust. Such attributes are conspicuously absent among the novel's British characters, particularly the men.” (Arata, 631).
            To be completely honest until I read this excerpt I never once thought about this idea before. To me Dracula had always just been a gothic novel, and I never really took the time to truly dig into the details of Stoker’s work to consider his underlying ideas. I always knew that Bram Stoker had done a lot of research for this story; however I never realized how much research he really did.
            Another part that I found interesting in Stephen Arata’s work was his ideas of “eastern” and “western” culture. I always knew that though out ancient history there was a discernable difference between these cultures, however I never realized that this idea of differences carried so far into our recent past.  I found it interesting that he discusses how Jonathan Harker’s journal begins as a travel guide, such as many which were written in that time frame. He discusses Harker’s irritation that time seems to not matter to the “easterner” and that the trains are never on time. He also discusses Harker’s observations of the people and customs without so much as a disturbing feeling, because he believes that they are simple and a superstitious group of people. He does not seem them as equal to his own “western” thoughts.
            Then to Harker’s surprise he comes to meet the Count who is in a sense his equal, and quite possibly superior to him, because of his knowledge of the western world. Not only has the Count taken the time to learn their customs, but even perfected their accent. Arata cites a passage from Bram Stoker’s book stating how the Count admits to wanting to be able to blend in with the Englishmen, and has taken great time to make himself truly assimilate with them.
            Once again he compares this to the fears of Englishmen of the time. He discusses how their greatest fear would be for someone “under” them to be able to completely blend in with them, and by doing so have the ability to “take over”. In a sense this is what Dracula tries to do within the story, He makes himself go unnoticed to the English population, and because of this can slowly stalk out his prey without anyone batting a second glance at him.
            Over all Stephen Arata’s piece of literary criticism is very well written, and it truly opened my eyes to some of the underlying events that were actually taking place at the time Bram Stoker wrote this novel. Dracula has always been one of my favorite novels, and now after reading this piece I almost want to reread the novel once again, to see how much I have truly missed out on when I have read this before.
            One thing that I did find interesting was that I have read another book titled Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, and this story is what would be considered a sequel to Dracula had the Count won against Van Helsing. Not only does the story bring other famous vampires of the time into the novel, such as our great Lord Ruthven, but it also depicts the conquering of England itself by the Count, and how the world might have been if he would have gained control. It is a wonderful story, and now after reading this literary criticism I think about if it had been written during the actual time it would have caused quite a stir in the eyes of the Victorian Englishman.

1 comment:

  1. I had much of the same reaction to Arata's excerpt. After reading your blog, and his analysis, Dracula took on a whole new meaning; he was the utmost English Gentleman. Dracula was articulate, punctual, and good looking. He possessed all of the qualities that are associated with a gentleman. Furthermore, Dracula was a charmer. He could talk with anyone about anything and carry on a conversation seamlessly. I also agree with your discussion of English fears of the time. "Once again he compares this to the fears of Englishmen of the time. He discusses how their greatest fear would be for someone “under” them to be able to completely blend in with them, and by doing so have the ability to “take over”. I see Dracula's character as timeless. He has the ability to blend with anyone and thus the ability to strike anyone. It is a terrifying thought when framed like Arata does.