Sunday, February 03, 2002

Dracula-Bram Stoker

When I first began reading this exerpt from Dracula (incidentally, another novel I now have to sign out of the library and finish), I was struck by the distinctions that Stoker, in the guise of Jonathan Harker, makes between London and the unknown Eastern Europe. Turkey, Czechoslovakia and parts of the former Soviet Union are portrayed as strange, different and less civilized. Jonathan remarks upon the unpunctuality of the trains, the coarseness of the women and the barbaric features of the Slovaks. We are instantly made aware of the peculiarity of this region and its removedness from the civilization of London. The God-fearing, idol worshipping people of these lands are simple, compared to the sophisticated, good Christians of the west. This is a distinction that is not new, by any means and harkens back to the days of the split within the Christian church to form Western Christianity and the Eastern Orthodox Christianity, which we hear so little about. Eastern Orthodox Christianity does indeed have certain characteristics which distinguish it from the practices of the West; idols, rituals, architecture and art all bear trademark signs. Pictures were always painted with a golden halo surrounding the figure. Figures themselves were not painted in the realistic image of humans and came to resemble idols, more than anything else. The crucifix is an especially important part of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Even their churches are dark, subdued and less ostentatious than the churches typically seen in Rome. Stoker makes good use of this knowledge to construe both the landscape and its deeply religious people into something supernatural. I also found it interesting that Stoker makes use of the imagery of passing from light to dark (end of page 3) since Easter, a major Eastern Orthodox holiday, is symbolized by the literal passing of celebrants from light to dark over the course of Good Friday. I also noticed the authors references to snakes and serpents (snake-like vertebra, tongues of flame, serpentine way). What is the significance of this? In a way, his dark, mocking portrayal of the Eastern Orthodox ways serves his purpose in setting Dracula in this kind of an atmosphere. Everything about Dracula is dark, evil, sinister, black and supernatural. One other note I would like to mention here has to do with his decription of the wilderness beyond Count Dracula's castle. The wilderness is both treated as beautiful, good and pure as well as dark, mysterious and imprisioning. Jonathan talks both about yearning to explore the wilderness and his fear of it when attempting to escape the castle. My question about ths reading is this: Was the portrayal of Eastern Orthodox Christianity a deliberate attempt to contrast it with Western Christianity? If so, does he mean to vilify Eastern Orthodox Christianity?

On a literary note, I really appreciated the way that Stoker wound his story around the reader, drawing people in and tightening the noose before we even realized it. Suddenly, we are aware, with Jonathan, that he has become a prisoner who may not make it to see the light of another day. A good read on a dark, chilly evening.