Monday, October 06, 2014
First published: 2012
The Blurb: Few books have so seized the public imagination as Bram Stoker's Dracula, even more popular now than when it was first published in 1897. This critical work represents a rereading of the horror classic as a Christian text, one that alchemizes Platonism, Gnosticism, Mariology and Christian resurrection in a tale that explores the grotesque. Of particular interest is the way in which the Dracula narrative emerges from earlier vampire tales, which juxtapose Apollonian and Dionysian impulses. A strong addition to vampire and horror scholarship.
The review: There is no doubt that Noël Montague-Étienne Rarignac is both highly intelligent and well read. Yet there was something about this book – as strongly as it was written – that left a bad taste in the mouth on an intellectual level.
It wasn’t the tying in of Polidori’s the vampyre, along with Nodier and Dumas into a spiritual development of the vampire trope. More it was the concept that this was a conscious choice on behalf of the authors/playwrights.
If Rarignac had suggested that he could see these patterns within, that is one thing, but I believe it to be a step too far to believe that Stoker was writing a book of gnosis. For instance, I was struck by a footnote that suggests a line from Lucy, regarding Desdemona, was not the casual racism that it is accused off but something more profound. Of course the likelihood is that an Othello reference was there because Stoker was employed in the theatre (indeed Irving had played Othello certainly just before their partnership) and the apparent casual racism was what it looked like – Rarignac, however, suggests Stoker is “attempting to clarify more strongly the significance of Quincey Morris—i.e., More is: The man subjecting Desdemona’s ear to a flow of words, Othello, is not a black man; he is a “Moor”. Quincey Moor-is Is-more than Quincey; he is Adam.” I adore Dracula and thus have high regard for the book’s author, but Stoker was not James Joyce and Dracula is not Finnegan’s Wake – I fear Rarignac reads way too much in.
The author also leaves things out. I mentioned the timeline of prose/plays that is used as evidence. Rarignac tells us that pre-Stoker the female characters in vampire tales were, “Passive objects lacking original volition.” One questions whether that is true of, say, Ziska – the ghoul in Dumas’ play that the author uses as a piece of his puzzle. But the author has certainly overlooked, entirely, Carmilla - being the best known of the 19th century vampire stories with strong female characters/female-centric plots and a story which we are fairly sure Stoker was aware of.
However, turning back to Stoker’s novel, not only was the description of Arthur staking Lucy as "wielding Thor’s hammer" very quickly covered, to the point that it felt almost ignored, but the entire devil aspect of the story was ignored. We know Stoker believed Dracula meant devil, we know the Count used the pseudonym Count De Ville and we know he was schooled in the Scholomance by the devil himself. Stoker clearly included these references for a purpose and, whether they fit with the hypothesis put forward here or not, they should be explored due to the direct Christian mythology invoked. Not mentioning this at all undermines, for me, any argument that Stoker was deliberately creating an alchemical or gnostic text – as the author has not addressed the content of Stoker’s text. I also noted that Rarignac uses Un-Dead in the modern sense of the word, however Anthony Hogg did uncover an earlier use of the word, which had a religious connotation that could have built into the author’s argument.
Nevertheless (and despite the bad taste I mentioned) this was a great piece of theoretical writing, I disagree with the conclusion but I enjoyed the journey. 6 out of 10.