The genesis of Bram Stoker’s Dracula is sometimes traced to the 15th Century – specifically, to 1462, when Vlad Drăculea, Voivode (Warlord) of Wallachia seized a Saxon town called Târgoviște and murdered the entire populace in the most gruesome manner imaginable. This, however, is a mistake: other than his name and his potent cocktail of aristocracy and cruelty, Drăculea lent very little to Dracula. The real genesis of Stoker’s masterpiece can perhaps be traced to the earliest German “best sellers,” many of which contained legendary accounts of Vlad’s sadism – and those accounts no doubt influenced Stoker when he was researching Dracula between 1890 and 1897 (although Stoker first heard the Vlad Drăculea legend in 1881).
Though Stoker was Irish, he lived and worked in London throughout much of the last part of the 19th Century. He always had a soft spot for an English tow n called Whitby. He often went there during his summers, and in 1890 the combination of Romanian legend, Whitby’s atmosphere (including the ruins of Whitby Abbey), and Stoker’s interest in Eastern European history began to meld. By 1897, something new – Dracula – was forged.
When discussing Stoker’s creation, I think it is helpful to separate “Dracula,” cultural phenomenon and pillar of monsterdom, from Dracula, the 1897 novel. In the case of the former, Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 adaptation is as close to the text as we’re likely to get. Other adaptations have taken significant enough liberties with the story that they are at best cousins to the text; some of them are little more than sad imitations of imitations. What Hollywood Dracula took from his Wallachian inspiration and Stoker’s book is interesting enough: the thirst for blood, the suite of mysterious powers, the undead lifestyle (more about that in a moment), and, of course, the accent.
What Hollywood Dracula leaves behind is, perhaps, even more interesting. I recently re-read Dracula (as Madness Heart’s resident Draculonomist I needed to renew my self-certification). I was quite surprised to realize that Stoker’s Count Dracula is, in his own way, a proto- Nicolae Ceaușescu, a ruthless Eastern European totalitarian, part of a long and storied tradition. However, where Ceaușescu was a Communist in the tradition of Kim Il-Sung or Joseph Stalin, Stoker’s Count Dracula was built on a framework that is in its own way even more troubling than brute-force class warfare. Not to put too fine a point on it (ha ha): Count Dracula was a fascist ethno-nationalist, a child of both darkness and Aleksander Dugin born before his time.
For example, there is the Count’s relationship to the literal soil of his home country. He is unable to travel without physically carrying it with him. In fact, the Count’s shipping and storage of large crates full of Wallachian earth constitute a large part of the plot of Dracula. And what is it specifically that is so valuable about this soil? Its magical qualities are explained in a passage from Jonathan Harker’s journal in which he describes his initial journey to Count Dracula’s castle. Harker sees rings of blue flame in the wilderness around him, and asks Dracula to explain the phenomenon. The Count explains how on a particular night of the year (the night of Harker’s arrival) blue flames appear over hidden treasure.
“That treasure has been hidden,” he went on, “in the region through which you came last night, there can be but little doubt; for it was the ground fought over for centuries by the Wallachian, the Saxon, and the Turk. Why, there is hardly a foot of soil in all this region that has not been enriched by the blood of men, patriots or invaders. In old days there were stirring times, when the Austrian and the Hungarian came up in hordes, and the patriots went out to meet them—men and women, the aged and the children too… When the invader was triumphant he found but little, for whatever there was had been sheltered in the friendly soil.”
Blood and soil: or, as one particularly odious Austrian would one day put it, Blut und Boden. The root of Dracula’s malignant power – the source to which he must return for rest – is the blood-drenched dirt of his homeland, a potent prediction of the cancerous madness that would sweep Europe a few short decades later.
Dracula’s fixation on blood is not confined to the kind that is absorbed by the thirsty Carpathian loam, either. Here is the Count reflecting on the supposed greatness of his “race and nation”:
“We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship. Here, in the whirlpool of European races, the Ugric tribe bore down from Iceland the fighting spirit which Thor and Wodin gave them, which their Berserkers displayed to such fell intent on the seaboards of Europe, ay, and of Asia and Africa too, till the peoples thought that the were-wolves themselves had come. Here, too, when they came, they found the Huns, whose warlike fury had swept the earth like a living flame, till the dying peoples held that in their veins ran the blood of those old witches, who, expelled from Scythia had mated with the devils in the desert. Fools, fools! What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins?”
Dracula also rants about the past defeat and “shame of his nation,” which transpired during a (quite real) conflict with the Ottoman Empire:
“Who more gladly than we throughout the Four Nations received the ‘bloody sword,’ or at its warlike call flocked quicker to the standard of the King? When was redeemed that great shame of my nation, the shame of Cassova, when the flags of the Wallach and the Magyar went down beneath the Crescent?”
All of the signature elements of fascism are present. Count Dracula articulates a mythic, Romantic sense of a “homeland” and an ethnos. A fixation on decline, decadence, and “national shame.” And, let’s not forget, the cult of action so characteristic of fascist movements:
“The warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.”
While some very good friends of mine refuse, on principle, to re-read books, I stand by my decision to occasionally reflect on texts that have deeply influenced me, the better to understand the subtleties (or, in this case, not-so-subtleties) that I might have missed the first few times around. My new perspective on Bram Stoker’s Dracula is only one example.
A Baptism for the Dead
Historical horror set in the mountainous West, in a landscape of death and madness.