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Samia Ounoughi, ed., Telegraph for Garlic. Analysis and Literary Criticism – Dracula by Bram Stoker

London, Red Rattle Books, 2013. 180 p. ISBN 978 1909086081
Mélanie Joseph-Vilain
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Samia Ounoughi, ed., Telegraph for Garlic. Analysis and Literary Criticism – Dracula by Bram Stoker, London, Red Rattle Books, 2013. 180 p. ISBN 978 1909086081

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Dracula, Stoker (Bram)

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Dracula, Stoker (Bram)
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1Telegraph for Garlic is meant as a tribute to Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is a collection divided into three sections. The first one includes an unsigned general introduction which explains the nature of the project: the book is in fact part of a ‘mini series’ aiming at reappraising Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Bram Stoker’s Dracula, ‘the two novels that dominate English Gothic horror’ and that both have ‘classic status’ (5). The introduction compares them, arguing that their dates of publication as well as the different sensibilities of a male and female writers account for a number of differences between the two novels, and, in particular, the fact that Frankenstein depicts a pessimistic future while Dracula shows a terrible past haunting a modernity which is perceived as positive, as suggested by the title of the volume: ‘telegraph for garlic’ alludes to an episode when Van Helsing uses a modern means of communication, the telegraph, to find garlic to help Lucy Westenra to defend herself against vampirism. Part of the introduction reminds us that the various film adaptations of Frankenstein and Dracula have altered the novels’ status and contributed to turning them into myths. Telegraph for Garlic precisely tries to identify the roots of these myths and to interrogate the reasons for the persistence of Dracula and of the vampire figure in popular culture.

2The second part of the volume, ‘Dracula and the Academics’, is a collection of essays exploring various facets of Stoker’s novel. Marion Sones-Marceau’s short text, ‘Dracula: the Gothic resurrected’, briefly retraces the history of Gothic literature and situates Dracula in this history, arguing that after a relative eclipse between 1818 and the 1880s, Gothic was revived due to growing uncertainty in the political and cultural spheres. The figure of the vampire appears as the physical incarnation of cultural anxieties, which partly explains the success of Dracula when it was published, in 1897.

3Helena Ifill’s ‘“Sweeter and Lovelier than Ever”. Re-reading Lucy’ convincingly revisits critical interpretations of the figure of Lucy Westenra as a ‘New Woman’ whose metamorphosis into a vampire and final death express Victorian disapproval of sexuality in general, and female sexuality in particular. Reading Lucy’s behaviour against the backdrop of Victorian manuals about wives and mothers, Ifill argues that Lucy’s famous words about the possibility to marry three men at a time could be said to express not licentiousness but, instead, the young woman’s lack of knowledge about the physical implications of marriage, and the anxiety generated by the pressure exerted on young women by Victorian conventions and expectations. She reads Lucy’s vampiric afterlife as a continuation of what she was before dying, and locates Lucy’s horrific dimension in ‘the fears of a society which both idolized the wife and mother but also worried that she was vulnerable, corruptible and that her degeneration (physical, mental or moral) would destroy the entire family’ (39).

4Claire Bazin’s contribution to the volume also analyses Lucy’s figure, but in a more ‘classic’ way, focusing on its sexual dimension, particularly in the staking scene. ‘Religion, Superstition and Madness in Dracula’ is made up of two distinct parts respectively entitled ‘Religion and Superstition’ and ‘The Sanest Man I Ever Saw’. The first one examines the place of religion and the opposition between good/God and evil/the Devil in Dracula, arguing that in the novel, ‘religion appears as a reactionary ideology against foreigners, women, the oppressed’ (49), and suggesting that Stoker’s ‘protean’ text may not be as politically correct as it seems and can be subjected to various types of interpretations (political, ideological, feminist…). The second section focuses on the figure of Renfield, Dr Seward’s patient, and on his relationship with Dracula, arguing that the presence of this character makes Dracula ‘a study in madness’ (57). Bazin’s two texts are connected by their common attempt at showing the multi-faceted dimension of Dracula.

5Dracula and Politics’, Jean-Jacques Lecercle’s essay, reads Dracula as a reactionary novel, applying Alain Badiou’s theory of the event to both Frankenstein and Stoker’s novel. Lecercle’s illuminating reading also uses Remo Bodei’s theory of delirium to interpret the vampire as a ‘psychic mine’, and convincingly assimilates the horde of vampire hunters to the primitive sons joining to kill the mythical father described in Freud’s Totem and Taboo, an interpretation which echoes Bazin’s ‘Religion and Superstition’. Dracula is therefore read as the incarnation of the terrifying return of the archaic father into the polis. The novel also expresses hatred or fear of women and of the other. Such exploration of a psychic mine through the figure of the vampire explains the novel’s immediate, and continuing, success: ‘the mine does blow up but at a safe distance from our hull’ (71). Lecercle argues that this interpretation of the vampire as a ‘psychic mine’ also usefully helps to distinguish between two types of fantastic literature: ‘the fantastic of the event where anxiety towards the radically new is expressed as in Frankenstein and the fantastic of the psychic mine where our constitutive fear of and adherence to the archaic is expressed as in Dracula’ (71).

6Both Samia Ounoughi and R. J. E. Riley’s contributions explore the metaphorical networks created in Dracula. Ounoughi draws a parallel between blood circulation and text circulation in the novel, arguing that Dracula’s demise is linked to social evolutions: medical progress on the one hand, and the increase in literacy, which deprives him of one of his major weapons, ‘the privilege’ of literature (80), on the other hand. Ounoughi focuses on the figure of Mina as an editor, arguing that her editing activity is the key to the vampire hunters’ success in defeating Dracula. Ounoughi’s article offers interesting insights into the metaphor of blood and the difference between blood circulation within a living body and a vampire’s body. Riley’s ‘“A Wonderful Machine”. Phonography, Technology and Recording in Bram Stoker’s Dracula’ focuses on another major progress used by Stoker in his novel: the phonograph. He draws a parallel with Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, in which Louis de Pointe du Lac’s voice is recorded for posterity, thus reversing the vampiric process through archival appropriation, and he re-examines Stoker’s novel in the light of this parallel. Using Jakobson’s famous distinction between metonymy and metaphor, Riley revisits previous readings of the use of technology in Dracula, showing their limits and analysing vampirism in terms of replication. This, Riley argues, can be described mostly as a metonymic, and not a metaphoric, process. Such a reading enables Riley to see the supernatural and technological dimensions not as ‘opposed conceptual spheres’, but as connected by ‘a consistent emphasis on the notion of reproduction’, which works on horizontal terms, by contiguity, through ‘the ontology of the copy that forms the foundation of the novel’ (105).

7The third section of Telegraph for Garlic includes rather sparse excerpts from Dracula meant to illustrate some of the points made in the essays in the ‘academic’ section, and a short story written by Stoker, ‘Dracula’s Guest’, which taps on the myth of the vampire and is probably a passage removed from Dracula by Stoker in the course of the editing process. Between the excerpts from Dracula and the short story, the reader can find two texts by Howard Jackson, one about the myth of the vampire in I Am Legend, which points to the similarities between Matheson’s novel and Robinson Crusoe, and the other about the vampire movie Fright Night. Although these texts are not uninteresting and offer convincing readings of these offshoots of the vampire myth, their presence in a volume devoted to Dracula may seem rather artificial, because no explicit connection is made between these texts and Stoker’s novel.

8Even if Telegraph for Garlic is meant both for the lay reader and for academics, as shown by its structure, and offers a variety of angles which help understand the persistence of Dracula in contemporary culture, the diversity of the volume seems to constitute both its strength and its weakness: while the lay reader may feel frustrated by the sparseness of the excerpts provided, which is rather surprising since Frankenstein Galvanized, its counterpart at Red Rattle, includes Mary Shelley’s novel’s full text, the academic reader, on the other hand, may have wanted to read more essays and to find a general bibliography at the end of the volume.

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Mélanie Joseph-Vilain, « Samia Ounoughi, ed., Telegraph for Garlic. Analysis and Literary Criticism – Dracula by Bram Stoker », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 80 Automne | 2014, mis en ligne le 15 janvier 2015, consulté le 30 avril 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/1619

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Mélanie Joseph-Vilain

Université de Bourgogne, Centre Interlangues Textes Images Langages, EA 4182

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Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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