|Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften||17. Nr.||April 2010|
|Sektion 6.7.|| The travel: knowledge, communication and / or power
Sektionsleiterin | Section Chair: Carmen Andras („Gheorghe Sincai Institute for Social Sciences and the Humanities, Târgu-Mureş, Romania)
Bram Stoker's Transylvania: between Historical and Mythical Readings
Marius Crişan (West University, Timisoara, Romania) [BIO]
Among the critical interpretations of Bram Stoker's Dracula, one of the most frequent tendencies is to analyse the novel in the frame of the political and economic contexts at the end of the 19th century. The representation of history in the novel has been the subject of several studies which interpret the depiction of Transylvania in the novel as a mirror of the global relationship between Western and Eastern Europe at the period. In this paper, I would like to propose a different perspective: the reading of the novel from a mythical point of view.
The image of Transylvania in Dracula has been discussed in several critical works. There are some books which have special chapters dedicated to this theme, such as Vesna Goldsworthy's Inventing Ruritania..., Carmen Andraş's Romania şi imaginile ei in literatura de călătorie britanică..., Elizabeth Miller's Reflections on Dracula. Some articles are dedicated exclusively to this aspect, for instance Duncan Light's commentary on the representation of the ethnic groups of Transylvania in Dracula. There are also studies which discuss the image of Stoker's Transylvania in the context of the representation of this region in English literature, since the 17th century till contemporary period (for instance Carmen Andraş's article on "The Image of Transylvania in English Literature").
In the studies which approach the novel from a historical point of view, the first tendency of the critics is to notice the contrast between the representation of Transylvania and that of England in Dracula. This contrast is present not only in the novel, but in the whole travel literature which preceded it. British travel literature was a mode of promoting the idea of English economical and political superiority. The travellers are always proud of their nationality and emphasize the way in which the Englishman is respected everywhere he goes. Putting down the Other, showing how poor and backward he is, has been at all times the basis for political, economic or cultural colonialism. The English traveller in Transylvania sees himself as a symbol of evolution and his opinions are often presented as the best solutions for the problems which he is confronted with in the visited region(1). Amanda Gilroy's comments on British travel literature are suitable for the travellers in Transylvania too: "sometimes the circulating discourses of travel secured self-identity and reaffirmed existing convictions of cultural superiority for the authors and readers of travel accounts" (quoted in Andraş). In the article "Romania in British Travel Literature: Discursive Geography and Strategies for Liminal Space", Carmen Andraş shows:
English travel literature in the 18th and 19th centuries, having as settings spaces other than Western ones, was not ... an introspective, but rather a prospective voyage, which stresses the insistence of political power and cultural authority. Almost nothing is spontaneous and innocent in the discursive representation of non-Western spaces. [...] The political, economic and philosophical cartography that was achieved by the Western Enlightenment predicted the European division completed by the Iron Curtain. The Enlightenment philosophical map offered a theoretical support for the political, diplomatic, economic, and military map of Europe, and "real" travellers ("explorers" with authentic diplomatic, religious, and scientific mission or with disguised purposes) came on the spot to experience and confirm European differentiation, which was to be maintained and aggravated in the 19th century.
In the book Dracula, between Tradition and modernism (1998), Carol Senf maintains that "Dracula resembles a battle of opposing cultures in which the Western European characters associate the vampire with dirt, lack of humanity, darkness, the absence of morality, and predation and pledge themselves to destroy all that threatens their beliefs" (37). Senf shows that Stoker's original intention was to focus more specifically on cultural differences. This is why he originally planned to narrate Harker's stay in Munich, a decision which would have weakened the contrast between Transylvania and England. The elimination of Harker's stay in Germany "enabled Stoker to focus on extreme differences between West and East, civilized England and primitive Transylvania, rationalism and superstition, progress and stagnation" (37). In Senf's reading, Harker presents Transylvania in an unfavourable line in order to emphasize the superiority of the English world: "what initially appears exotic quickly becomes suspect and ultimately evil, as Harker changes from tourist to patriot" (36).
In Reflections on Dracula, Elizabeth Miller shows that the representation of Transylvania in contrast to England is inspired from 19th century British condescending attitude often expressed in travel literature. In "The Image of Transylvania in English Literature", Carmen Andraş also notices the contrasting representation of the two spaces.
Stephan Schralfrath sees the representation of Transylvania as part of a whole order versus chaos relationship in Dracula (in the article "Order-versus-Chaos Dichotomy in Bram Stoker's Dracula"). In this reading, "England represents order and Transylvania symbolizes chaos" (108), whereas the Dutch Van Helsing is somewhere in between, as the Netherlands is closer to Transylvania than England. Veronica Hollinger maintains that the eternal battle between Good and Evil is constructed upon specific ideological foundations.
In the book Reading the Vampire, Ken Gelder emphasizes the ideological prejudice which lies at the basis of the contrastive construction of the symbolic geography: "For Professor Van Helsing in Bram Stoker's Dracula, it is necessary to believe in vampires because such belief indicates 'an open mind'; but the ideological project behind his belief is much less 'open'" (p. xi). The effect of such a discriminatory representation of Transylvania has had a universal effect, because today the term denotes besides a geographical space, a literary concept:
'Transylvania' already operates as a transferable sign which carries its meaning to other places - places which, as yet, can only be imagined. In this case, it nominates a region which lies under the shadow of - but is still, for the moment, outside - colonization (Gelder 2).
In a postcolonial reading, the Australian critic compares the English perception of Transylvania as a non-colonised region with the perspective which the colonisers of Australia had on Tasmania. Tasmania was seen as a land "beyond (or, to the other side of) the forest" (2), and the colonial tendency was a to represent the uncolonised Other as backward.
Stephen Arata interprets Dracula as "a narrative of reverse colonization", and argues that "in the marauding, invasive Other, British culture sees its own imperial practices mirrored back in monstrous forms" (623). Vesna Goldsworthy writes about a fictional / narrative colonisation, a "take-over of the intellectual domain, the exploitation of the raw resources of history", which "has provided the industries of the imagination with easy, unchallenged access to raw material" (X). The final defeat of Count Dracula in his own country as a result of the assault of the Western forces is interpreted by Goldsworthy as a reflection of "the attempts in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries by the Western powers to impose peace on the [Balkan] peninsula" (84).
In the line of a political reading, Stoker's Transylvania is an expression of a cultural and economic difference between Western and Eastern Europe. In "The Politics of Dracula", Richard Wasson argues that Dracula "represents those forces in Eastern Europe which seek to overthrow, through violence and subversion, the more progressive democratic civilization of the West" (quoted in Walsh p.229).
Other readings from the political angle see in the representation of Transylvania a reference to the Anglo-German conflict at the end of 19th century and, consequently, the fear of a German invasion. In the essay "For the dead travel fast" Milburn shows that "with the increasing suspicion of the expansionist policies of the new power of a unified Germany came a rise in so-called "invasion" novels after 1870" (and she gives the examples of Chesney's Battle of Dorking published in 1870 and Erskine Childer's The Riddle of the Sands, published in1903). According to Milburn, "Dracula's move from his castle in the Habsburg Empire to England, in order to spread vampirism, may be traced in part to such scare novels" (48). After the Kruger telegram in 1896, in which the Kaizer congratulated the Boers on their victory over the English in South Africa, the position of Germany was constantly regarded as a political threat. Consequently, because of his Austro-Hungarian origin, Dracula personifies the menace of invasion of England by the central Powers of Austria-Hungary and the German Empire.
In other readings, the opposition between England and Transylvania reflects 19th century reserved British position towards the whole Europe. Arata notes the ethnic diversity of Stoker's Transylvania (627), emphasising the linguistic variety of the region. Different families of European languages are spoken in during Harker's stay: Slavic, Romance, Ugric, Gypsy, and Germanic. Although he considers that "there is an element of Chaos in Transylvania's ethnic make-up", Stephan Schralfrath shows that
Transylvania could also be seen as the ethnic (or at least linguistic) navel of Europe since all four of Europe's major language groups are represented here. England, being geographically situated on the fringes of Europe, really could be seen as an outsider, rather than Transylvania. The unity of Britain that is presented by the narrators of Dracula is really just a subjective unity that has been sustained by centuries of brutal force that emanated from the power center of London. 103
Commenting on Stoker's construction of the Transylvanian landscape, Coundouriotis states that "neither like Britain, nor like the tropics, the landscape shows Europe as magically familiar" (p. 148). The polyglot Count Dracula has all the qualities of a typical European, and as Arata puts it, he "is the most Western character in the novel. No one is more rational, more intelligent, more organized, or even more punctual than the Count. No one plans more carefully or researchers more thoroughly. No one is more learned within his own spheres of expertise or more receptive to new knowledge" (637).
The interpretation of the fictional representation of Transylvania as a mirror of Europe opens a debate on the political attitudes of Great Britain towards the position of the European countries which were on the point of achieving their independence from the Ottoman yoke in the 18th and the 19th century. The so called Eastern Question was one of the main preoccupations of the British foreign policy, and according to Coundouriotis (the author of the essay "Dracula and the Idea of Europe") or Gibson (who wrote the book Dracula and the Eastern Question, which was preceded by the article "Bram Stoker and the Treaty of Berlin 1878"), this concern lies at the basis of Dracula.
If several studies build up their interpretation on the opposition between England and Transylvania in Stoker' novel, other critics write about the identity between the "Land Beyond the Forest" and London. According to Leatherdale, "Stoker suggests that Transylvania and Victorian London are both 'wastelands', each desperately needing the vitality of the other to heal its own sterility" (201). In the essay "Dracula: The Gnostic Quest and Victorian Wasteland", Mark M. Hennelly Jr. emphasises "the intimate identity between Transylvania and London" (84), showing that:
Dracula's castle is a schizoid dwelling with upper, fashionable apartments and even a Victorian library but also with lower crypts and vaults while, analogously, Dr. Seward's Victorian mansion conceals a lunatic asylum, complete with fledgling vampire, beneath it. Dracula has three lovers: Lucy has three suitors. Dracula hypnotizes; Van Helsing hypnotizes. Dracula sucks blood; Van Helsing transfuses blood; and once, in fact, Seward "suck[ed]" (p. 124) blood from a gangrenous wound of Van Helsing. (p. 84)
Instead of being a representative of the East or of the West, Dracula synthesises the cultural values of both symbolic spaces: he identifies himself with Eastern history, but at the same time he knows all details of the administrative structure of Great Britain; his library is full with English books, and he always wants to learn more from his English guest. Although he speaks English perfectly, he wants to eliminate any foreign accent in his pronunciation. And it is obvious that English is not the only foreign language he speaks. We are sure that there is at least one more language which he pronounces like a native speaker does, because Harker assures us of Dracula's impeccable German.
In the volume Gothic, Fred Botting emphasises Dracula's relentless border crossing:
returning from the past he tyrannises the present, uncannily straddling the borders between life and death and thereby undoing a fundamental human fact. In crossing the borders between East and West he undoes cultural distinctions between civilization and barbarity, reason and irrationality, home and abroad. Dracula's threat is his polymorphousness, both literally, in the shapes he assumes, and symbolically in terms of the distinctions he upsets. (153)
According to Nur Elmessiri, Dracula's otherness cannot be confined to a certain context. "There is no space for him within the then nascent hegemonic world order, not even as a ghost within its pores or margins, because it is precisely this porosity that must be eradicated" (126).
From another perspective, Jerrold E. Hogle considers Dracula "Stoker's Counterfeit Gothic" (this is also the title of his essay), because the vampire count is "never more than a synthetic image of other images, while any 'essence' sought behind the forms his body takes turns out to be no more than an absence or a constant passing away" (p. 214). If Stoker's cultural representations are rather simulacra than objective representations, how can we build up a political meaning related to a certain historical period? How can we read historical representations in Dracula, when history is one of the most counterfeited elements in the book? If somebody reads Hogle's considerations, he or she needs to reflect a little on them, because they are, in my opinion, at the same time, just and unjust to Stoker's contribution:
All of this comes from an interplay of texts that Stoker read, rather than from any first-hand knowledge of Transylvania. There is no 'essential Dracula' in Stoker's work beyond a combination of second hand simulacra or stories. Stoker's Dracula at any level is always already a recollection of previous deaths in the process of changing from one form to another, since it has never come from anything other than an interaction of forms of the dead.( 214)
After having spent some time of research on Stoker's sources on Transylvania, I agree with Stoker's lack of realism in the representation of Transylvania. The world he represents is a fake one, but this does not decrease the value of the novel at all. On the contrary, I think that one understands Stoker's Transylvania only after one accepts that it is not a realistic representation. However, it is, up to a point, a synthetical representation. Let's think for instance of a today's commercial spot of a few minutes in which a country or a region is promoted. Is this not a simulacrum? Fragments from different places and from different contexts are mixed together with a certain aim. This is very similar to what Stoker did. He took pieces of information from various sources and then mixed them in his work in order to create a synthetical representation of Transylvania, filtered through his own reading and sensibility. The theatre manager whose hobby was writing needed a good scene on which the action which was in his mind to be staged... And it happened to be Transylvania!
This is why the reader of Dracula notices that the character Jonathan Harker, whose diary depicts the discovery of Transylvania, does not enter a realistic world, but a spectacular universe. "It is a world that is all too vivid" (61) writes David Glover. And if we refer to a world in which not the sensible detail, but the essence matters, then we speak about a mythical construction(2).
Stoker's working notes for Dracula show that he was attracted by the historical aspects of Romania and he read the historical accounts about Wallachia and Transylvania carefully. But in his novel, the details are often modified, and it is obvious that we find a manipulation of the past: drawing upon his sources, the Irish novelist actually constructs a fictional history. It is very difficult to find a proper answer to the question of who Stoker's Dracula is from the historical point of view. I am not sure if Stoker himself would have been able to give the answer. The perspective of history is so garbled in the novel, that any interpretation from this point of view may be vulnerable, as history is always undermined by fiction. In the article "Bram Stoker and the Treaty of Berlin (1878)", Mathew Gibson summarises the history of Dracula's kin, as it appears in the Count's monologues:If we examine the lecture on Transylvanian history the Count gives Jonathan, in which he delineates the history of his race, we see that Dracula is a 'Szekely', whose people apparently came down from Iceland to settle in the Carpathian basin to mix with the Huns. Once there they met 'the Magyar, the Lombard, the Avar, the Bulgar and the Turk', each of whom the Szekelys drove back, before Arpad the Magyar came in the ninth century and befriended them, trusting them with the guardianship of the frontier against 'Turkeyland' [...]Stoker took these details [from Johnson], but manipulated them to allow the Szekelys to be the earliest group, who pushed out all the others (except the Huns) before the Magyars arrived. In this Stoker is doubly wrong, although guiltlessly so on one count, since Johnson did not realise that in fact Szekelys are simply those Magyars who were made to settle on the Turkish frontier, and not a separate ethnic group.(240)
As everyone can notice, the most obvious change in the novel is the Szekler origin of Dracula. Stoker knew that Prince Dracula, who is better known in history as Vlad Ţepeş, was the leader of Wallachia, but he chose the name of the Transylvanian count for the sake of the sound and for its meaning in Romanian, rather than for its historical relevance.
As Elizabeth Miller shows, it was not the historical detail that made Stoker pay a special attention to this page of history, but a footnote in Wilkinson's book in which it is explained that "Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. The Wallachians were, at that time, as they are at present, used to give this as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous either by courage, cruel actions, or cunning" (19). This footnote is essential in the writing of the novel, as it determines the change of the main character's name and, probably the change of location from Styria to Transylvania. The statement that the novelist paid a great attention to this footnote is proved by the fact that he copied it into his notes: "DRACULA in Wallachian language means DEVIL" (quoted in Miller 2006, p. 156). If in the original text only the first letter is capital, in Stoker's notes both "Dracula" and "Devil" are written with all letters capitalised. This shows that the two words are essential in the composition of the novel, and that the vampire count is the Devil himself, or a representative of the forces of evil.
Dracula was the pseudonym of the voivode Vlad. If the information from Wilkinson, rendered above, is all that Stoker knew about Dracula, it means that he was not aware of the real name of the prince and neither of his historical nickname Ţepeş (the Impaler). There is no evidence that he knew about Vlad's atrocities or that he read the medieval German pamphlets in which his cruelty was described and exaggerated.
In the important essay "Filing for Divorce: Count Dracula vs Vlad Tepes", (published in the volume Dracula: The Shade and the Shadow), Miller argues that Stoker cannot be accused of representing a page of Romanian history in an erroneous way, because the historical Dracula and the fictional one are completely different characters:
Another consequence of the insistence on connecting the two Draculas is the temptation to criticize Stoker for inaccurate "history." Why, some ask, did he make Dracula a Transylvanian Count rather than a Wallachian Voivode? Why was his castle situated in the Borgo Pass instead of at Poenari? Why is Count Dracula a "boyar," a member of the nobility which Vlad continuously struggled with? Why does Stoker make Dracula a "Szekely," descended from Attila the Hun, when the real Dracula was a Wallachian of the Basarab family? There is a very simple answer to these questions: Vlad Tepes is Vlad Tepes, while Count Dracula is Count Dracula. Considering the preposterous conclusions that the premises behind such questions have generated, a closer look seems warranted.
I think that there is not a national view of history in Stoker's novel, because the historical events are always mixed. Although the vampire count speaks proudly of his Hungarian / Szekler blood, Stoker makes him a transnational character. His historical merits are taken both from Romanian and Hungarian history; he is at the same time a boyar - a title specific to Romanian aristocracy in Wallachia and Moldavia -, and a count - a frequent title among the Hungarian aristocracy in Transylvania. On the other hand, Count Dracula's plurilinguism and ubiquity (in England he is presented once under a French name, Count de Ville) make him a European character(3).
In an approach to mythology from the perspective of history, Roland Barthes defines myth as the process which acts to "transform history into nature" (quoted in Colavincenzo 1). In the highly influential study Mythologies (1957, published in English in 1973) the French critic makes the point that the creation of the myth implies the loss of history. Here is a quotation in which Barthes's point of view is explained:
The important point is this: an historically contingent and determined sign / meaning is robbed of its history and becomes an empty signifier / form which signifies a new concept. It is precisely this loss of history (all that leads to and is behind the sign / meaning) that 'naturalized' (129) the myth which feeds off of it. The consequence of this naturalization, according to Barthes, is that 'the historical quality of things' is lost and 'things lose the memory that they once were made' (142) - history has become nature. This is the guiding principle of myth: it 'gives [things] a natural and eternal justification, it gives them a clarity which is not that of an explanation but that of a statement of fact' (143). This is why, then, 'a myth is at the same time imperfectible and unquestionable; time or knowledge will not make it better or worse' (130). (Colavincenzo 3)
In Stoker's book, the sensational is also created by a strange mixture of various historical accounts about different periods and spaces. In Dracula's speech about history, there are references to a mythical period (see the section on Szeklers in my chapter on Otherness), to the antiquity and the emphasis is on the medieval era. Although Harker enters the 19th century Transylvania, in Dracula's speech the region is seen as a mirror of the Middle Ages. The dissipation of history exoticises and then mythicises the described region.
In the novel, Dracula also speaks about some historical events which are rather vaguely presented. We can see again Stoker's attempt to avoid politics, and to use some historical accounts only in order to give colour to his story. The count narrates how the foes were defeated by the whole community of people, who defended their country by artificial avalanches when the enemies invaded it. The event has vague coordinates, because Dracula speaks only about "patriots" and "invaders". The invaders of Transylvania seem to be the Austrian and the Hungarian, but we are left to guess who the "patriots" are. Probably the Szeklers - if we rely on Stoker's point of view. The Romanians of Transylvania - might be another answer. Or were they the Saxons (the Germans of Transylvania)? But it hardly matters who these "patriots" were when we speak about Stoker's view of Transylvania's history. The narration is important and not the persons. Stoker does not mention any year and not even the historical period when that event took place. The time is legendary and the indication of the period suggests a beginning of a fairy tale: "in the old days". The lack of space indications emphasise this mythical perspective:
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 the 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, and waited their coming on the rocks above the passes, that they might sweep destruction on them with their artificial avalanches. (33)
If the reflection of history in Dracula is always slippery, there is an essential mythical image which lies at the core of the novel: the opposition between the hell and the heaven. A mythical reading would reveal the complexity of Stoker's Transylvania. In this fictionalised region, there is a reflection of hell, but also a mirror of heaven, and these opposed areas are spatially divided in the novel's geography. Jonathan Harker moves between these symbolic spaces and his journey means at the same time initiation in the fight against evil and an evolution of his capacity to understand the Other. In the development of his personality, Transylvania is the place of his spiritual consolidation.
In Dracula, Transylvania is revealed to the reader along with Jonathan Harker's experience, as this English solicitor is the one who lets the reader accompany him in his discoveries. Following his steps, the reader can find two different spaces: first a land which imitates Transylvania's geography (based on what Stoker read about this region in other British travellers' accounts, as he never visited the region), and secondly a mythical land, which reflects heaven and hell, these spaces being well delimited one from the other.
The revelation of Transylvania means for Jonathan Harker a way to himself. In the first Transylvania he will see the strange world before him as a detached spectator; in the mythical land, he will be close to God's place and then to the devil's den. After the latter experiences and after defeating the forces of evil, he will find his meaning in the world.
Harker's revelation of the mythical Transylvania during his first visit goes along with the discovery of the Transylvanian Other and there are several steps in this encounter. Harker's experience starts with doubts and reciprocal hesitations, but his vision changes after (and during) the revelation of heaven and the experience of hell.
Harker will discover the spiritual dimension of the world in a gradual way. The coach trip from Bistriţa to Borgo Pass shows the traveller where the heaven is situated: somewhere near the road from Bistriţa to Borgo Pass; and it also brings him to the vicinity of the labyrinthic hell: an unidentified spot near Borgo Pass. On this allegoric journey, first, the traveller is struck by the beauty of the landscape, which appears as a revelation of an earthly paradise:
I soon lost sight and recollection of ghostly fears in the beauty of the scene as we drove along, although had I known the language, or rather languages, which my fellow passengers were speaking, I might not have been able to throw them off so easily. Before us lay a green sloping land full of forests and woods, with here and there steep hills, crowned with clumps of trees or with farmhouses, the blank gable end to the road. There was everywhere a bewildering mass of fruit blossom - apple, plum, pear, cherry. And as we drove by I could see the green grass under the trees spangled with the fallen petals. In and out amongst these green hills of what they call here the "Mittel Land" ran the road, losing itself as it swept round the grassy curve, or was shut out by the straggling ends of pine woods, which here and there ran down the hillsides like tongues of flame. (15 )
Stoker combines the features described in his sources on Transylvania with elements of an ideal landscape - a creation of his mind, composed in the line of gothic literature (4). He uses the authentic elements from his sources which he finds significant for the scene described, but he adds the gothic thrill: expressions such as "ghostly fears", "bewildering mass of fruit blossom", "the green grass under the trees spangled with the fallen petals" are the mark of Stoker's originality. The comparison of the pine forests with the tongues of flame is original too, and it is placed at the end of the tableau, because it synthesises the whole view of this landscape. All images are used in order to create in the reader the feeling of the sublime suggested by this comparison.
The Transylvanian paradise is described in terms characteristic to Christian imagery, in which heaven is represented in a pastoral way, usually as a wonderful garden. The "imagery of tongues of flame" is also typical for the Christian heaven (Frye 81). The sun is a key element in the representation of heaven, as "the imagery of the fire spirits is derived from the sun" (Frye 81). In the volume Biblical And Classical Myths: The Mythological Framework Of Western Culture, Frye shows that:
Of course, pastoral and garden imagery have overlapped, both in Biblical and secular literature, all trough the history of human imagination. It's easy to see in such things as the 23rd Psalm, 'The Lord is my shepherd', how the pastoral ideal and the paradisal ideal really blend together and form the same thing (50).
As in any gothic text, the landscape has the role to intensify the feelings of the character by depicting impressive scenery, which echoes the emotions of the hero. But beyond this, we can notice that nature is gradually spiritualised. The words of the narrator slip from concrete to abstract, so the expressions suggest a movement from a real landscape to an ideal one: the hills are "crowned" with clumps of trees (the crown is a reference to a supreme quality, the king, or to a transcendental one, God), the mass of fruit in blossom is "bewildering". The metaphor of the road which "loses itself" is significant for this passage from a concrete world to a spiritualised one. The notion of "Mittel Land" is not used only to describe a passage from plains to hills, or from hills to mountains, but rather to signify a passage from the profane to the sacred world. The road loaded with fallen petals brings to the most spiritualised point of the Transylvanian heaven, which is "God's Seat". The comparison of the fir trees with "tongues of flames" also has mythical significance, as it symbolises the purifying fire. The paradisial ambience at the ending of the novel is conditioned by the flames: "Seven years ago we all went through the flames; and the happiness of some of us since then is, we think, well worth the pain we endured" (449).
Stoker's phrases seem to tell that there is something "bewildering" in this landscape, a dimension which "loses itself", and cannot be described in simple words. As Shaw puts it, "whenever experience slips out of conventional understanding, whenever the power of an object or event is such that words fail and points of comparison disappear, then we resort to the feeling of the sublime. As such, the sublime marks the limits of reason and expression together with a sense of what might lie beyond these limits; this may well explain its association with the transcendent" (2). In Shaw's words, this fragment would render "the sensation of cognitive failure in the face of the sublime" (2).
The spirituality of the Transylvanian peasants, depicted in the novel as absorbed in their praying, their hospitality and their kind-heartedness are also emphasised in Dracula. Besides the depiction of Transylvania as a place of horror, Stoker's novel can be read from a perspective which emphasises the qualities of the Romanian land and of its inhabitants. In such a reading, Harker's attitude reflects a "colonial" superiority only at a first level of reading. In such an interpretation, the reader can also notice the evolution of Harker from a superficial materialistic mentality to a spiritual vision of the world.
6.7. The travel: knowledge, communication and / or power
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