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The Economics of Immortality: The Demi-Immortal Oriental, Enlightenment Vitalism, and Political Economy in Dracula

J. Jeffrey Franklin
p. 127-148

Résumé

Dracula has fulfilled the ambition of Dracula: it has colonized and enthralled the industrial and post-industrial Western world, achieved the integration into modern free-market capitalism that its namesake was unable to achieve. The outpouring of Dracula scholarship in the past twenty years likewise testifies to the vampire’s cultural and economic success. Intending to add a new interpretation to this long list, the current essay argues, first, that Dracula belongs to a character-type that I will define as the “demi-immortal Oriental.” This character type began appearing with increasing frequency in the early nineteenth century for a range of specific historical reasons stemming from the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and Romanticism, but I will focus, secondly, on one specific historical precedent, namely “Enlightenment vitalism” and its subsequent expression as Mesmeric vitalism. Third, I will argue that in the character of the demi-immortal Oriental vitalism came to signify a type of eternal life in competition with the traditional Judeo-Christian afterlife, which rendered it necessarily damnable. The essay then draws out a parallel within Dracula between this demi-immortality and a specific economic model for which Dracula also is a figure. In Halberstam’s terms, two of the monsters that late-Victorian ideologies wanted to disavow were any form of immortality other than the traditional Christian one and any form of economics other than Adam Smith’s naturally free circulation and exchange. Two monstrous alternatives—demi-immortality and an archaic economy of gold and land—are wedded in/as Dracula. Finally, I will delineate a counter-argument, both to my own preceding argument and to that most common among criticisms of the novel, that Dracula, far from being the anti-capitalist anti-Christ, is at once both more spiritual and truer to laissez-faire economics than the vampire slayers who purportedly defend those very values.

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  • 1 The vampire-novel series to which I refer include: P. C. Cast’s “House of Night” series, Melissa De (...)
  • 2 Prior to Halberstam, Franco Moretti made a similar point: “The central characters of this literatur (...)

1What Dracula claimed—“Your girls that you all love are mine already”—has come true, as millions of twenty-first-century girls go to bed night after night with the latest vampire-romance-series blockbuster (Dracula 306).1 Dracula has fulfilled the ambition of Dracula: it has colonized and enthralled the industrial and post-industrial Western world, achieved the integration into modern free-market capitalism that its namesake was unable to achieve. The outpouring of Dracula scholarship in the past twenty years likewise testifies to the vampire’s cultural and economic success. This success can be attributed in part to what Judith Halberstam calls the “thrifty metaphoricity” of the Gothic: “A Gothic economy may be described in terms of a thrifty metaphoricity, one which, rather than simply scapegoating, constructs a monster out of the traits which ideologies of race, class, gender, sexuality, and capital want to disavow” (Halberstam 102).2 This figurative multivalence of the Gothic in general and vampirism in particular has invited interpretations of Dracula as “a figure for perversion, menstruation, venereal disease, female sexuality, male homosexuality, feudal aristocracy, monopoly capitalism, the proletariat, the Jew, the primal father, the Antichrist, and the typewriter,” among many others (Ellmann xxviii). Intending to add a new interpretation to this long list, the current essay argues, first, that Dracula belongs to a character-type that I will define as the “demi-immortal Oriental.” This character type began appearing with increasing frequency in the early nineteenth century for a range of specific historical reasons stemming from the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and Romanticism, but I will focus, secondly, on one specific historical precedent, namely “Enlightenment vitalism” and its subsequent expression as Mesmeric vitalism (Reill 365). Third, I will argue that in the character of the demi-immortal Oriental vitalism came to signify a type of eternal life in competition with the traditional Judeo-Christian afterlife, which rendered it necessarily damnable. The essay then draws out a parallel within Dracula between this demi-immortality and a specific economic model for which Dracula also is a figure. In Halberstam’s terms, two of the monsters that late-Victorian ideologies wanted to disavow were any form of immortality other than the traditional Christian one and any form of economics other than Adam Smith’s naturally free circulation and exchange. Two monstrous alternatives—demi-immortality and an archaic economy of gold and land—are wedded in/as Dracula. Finally, I will delineate a counter-argument, both to my own preceding argument and to that most common among criticisms of the novel, that Dracula, far from being the anti-capitalist anti-Christ, is at once both more spiritual and truer to laissez-faire economics than the vampire slayers who purportedly defend those very values.

The Demi-Immortal Oriental and Enlightenment Vitalism

  • 3 For a fuller analysis of Bulwer-Lytton’s “metaphysical” novels, as he called them, see J. Jeffrey F (...)
  • 4 On the demi-immortal Oriental in Corelli’s novels, see J. Jeffrey Franklin, “The Counter-Invasion o (...)

2The demi-immortal oriental is a character type predominantly within romance and Gothic fiction. It may have been prefigured in both Faustian and Wandering Jew mythologies. It began to become a more common literary figure in the first half of the nineteenth century. For example, Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novels Zanoni (1842) and A Strange Story (1862) portray characters who possess, through a combination of occult spiritualism and alchemy, “earthly immortality,” living as young men indefinitely, which in the case of Zanoni has meant for 5,000 years (Zanoni 175).3 They have mastered an ancient “art” that “recruits animal vigour and arrests the progress of decay,” scientifically isolated the “primordial principle of life,” which endows them with preternatural vitality and the clairvoyant power to read the minds and control the wills of others (215). Margrave in A Strange Story has stolen the “elixir of life,” “the great Principle of Animal Life,” from an ancient adept, “Haroun of Aleppo,” while traveling in “the East” (Strange 230, 463). The majority of subsequent characters of this type likewise have origins in the Orient, as very loosely defined by nineteenth-century Europeans. Thus on the first page of Dracula Jonathan Harker has the impression that in crossing into Transylvania he is “leaving the West and entering the East” (Dracula 1). But, demi-immortality always comes with a price, if not a curse. Margrave embodies animality; he has become “the image of sensuous, soulless Nature, such as the Materialist had conceived it” (Strange, “Preface” 9). A precursor to Dracula, he is “devoid of a soul,” and so states: “I count on no life beyond the grave. I would defy the grave, and live on” (Strange 241, 349). A central moral of these novels is that one must either resist or surrender the magnetic powers of demi-immortality in order to merit the more genuine because soul-based eternal life-after-death promised by Christianity. This, too, is the moral of subsequent demi-immortal-Oriental novels, including Marie Corelli’s A Romance of Two Worlds (1886) and The Life Everlasting (1911).4 Prior to the endings of all of these novels, however, living perpetually as a beautiful and vigorous youth cannot but appear to have undeniable attractions. Convincing readers that doing so is undesirable is a tough sell, requiring no small amount of logical and theological contortion to recuperate sufficiently Christian endings.

  • 5 For example, after mid century phrases like “the laws governing spiritual progress,” “Progressive e (...)
  • 6 On the anti-progressive spiritualism of Haggard’s Ayesha, see John D. Coates, “The ‘Spiritual Quest (...)
  • 7 I allude to Nietzsche’s concept of the “eternal recurrence of the same,” as for instance in Thus Sp (...)
  • 8 The Victorian concept of spiritual de-evolution, derived in part from various understandings of kar (...)

3But more than Western soul-theory was at stake in the figure of the demi-immortal Oriental. Precisely because bodily immortality is an easier sell than is bodily death, novels with demi-immortal characters must marshal additional arguments against it. One of those is the violent immorality of demi-immortals. Margrave, like Dracula and like Dorian Gray, has scant regard for harm done to others or for the sanctity of human life (though Dracula might be said to observe a vampire’s moral and religious code). Their sociopathic and homicidal tendencies pose a threat to social order and make a point about the undesirability of their powers. Additionally, because demi-immortality often takes its origin from an ancient as well as an Eastern source, it was tied to a conception of the past as archaic, tradition-ridden, aristocratic, and decadent. Demi-immortality is anti-progressive, both in a secular sense and in a spiritual sense. In the secular sense, demi-immortals generally are tied to a prior age and are reactionary in relationship to the progress associated with science, technology, and market growth. In the spiritual sense, demi-immortality is by its nature contrary to the idea of spiritual progression, which became a common theme as the Spiritualism movement of the 1840s-1870s encountered Darwinian evolutionary theory and then fed into the formation of hybrid religions such as Theosophy.5 Most demi-immortal characters find themselves athwart one or both of these types of progress, secular and/or spiritual. For example, Ayesha, the title character in H. Rider Haggard’s “She” series of novels, is emotionally and spiritually fixated on a period 2,000 years previous when she concurrently achieved demi-immortality and, in a fit of passion, murdered her soul-mate.6 Hers is a demi-immortal’s dilemma: while her beautiful body does not age, her wretched soul is stuck in a perpetual feedback loop, not unlike the “eternal recurrence of the same”.7 In similar situations, Margrave and Dorian Gray are happily stalled in perpetual, adolescent decadence. And then, most victimized by the technologies of progress, there is Dracula, who, despite his careful preparations, cannot adapt quickly enough to modern progress to avoid being defeated by its acolytes and whose spiritual condition suggests not merely a lack of progress but the far worse prospect of spiritual devolution.8 Thus the figure of the demi-immortal Oriental not only threatened the Christian soul but also a belief that in the nineteenth century had become equally as crucial to the dominant social order, namely progressive ideology. Even demi-immortal powers cannot halt progress, and this message may have been a consoling feature of such characters.

4One reason that demi-immortal Oriental characters began to appear with greater frequency after the eighteen century is because they were derived in part from Enlightenment vitalism. One common debate among natural philosophers in the eighteenth century was between the vitalists and the mechanists. Hans Driesch’s History and Theory of Vitalism (1914) traces the roots of Enlightenment vitalism to Aristotle’s De Generatione Animalium and De Anima. Aristotle focused on explaining what takes place at conception or at that moment when the union of gametes in the “germ” becomes infused with life (Driesch 17). Why, when, and how does matter become more than matter? What is the spark or force of life? The word used by Aristotle was “soul,” which, significantly, is not identical to the more dualistic conception of the Judeo-Christian soul/body. Rather, spirit and matter find complete union or “entelechy,” and “the question whether soul and body are one has as little sense as in the case of wax and its form” (Driesch 18). Enlightenment natural philosophers such as Georg Ernest Stahl (1660–1734), Caspar Friedrich Wolff (1733–1794), Charles Bonnet (1720–1793), and Lorenz Oken (1779–1851) defended a “dynamic teleology” that recognized the “autonomy of vital processes” from mechanical or deterministic systems (Driesch 6). Mechanists, among whom Driesch includes Descartes (1596–1650) and Leibnitz (1646–1716), defended a “static teleology” according to which “Nature as a whole, including the physical processes of life in the broadest sense, is . . . a mechanical system, [if still] arranged by God” (Driesch 23). As Peter Hanns Reill summarizes the debate: “Enlightenment vitalists sought to dissolve this dichotomy [between mind and matter, God and nature] . . . by positing the existence in living matter of active or self-activating forces, which had a teleological character. Living matter was seen as containing an immanent principle of self-movement whose sources lay in the active powers which resided in matter itself” (Reill 365). Vitalistic natural philosophers therefore set about “vitalizing the world with living forces such as elective affinities, vital principles, sympathies and formative drives” (Reill 365). Driesch’s history follows this debate into the second half of the nineteenth century when Darwinian evolutionary theory has become the primary nemesis of vitalism. The mechanical randomness of “natural selection” appeared to remove from the universe the orderly purposiveness of divine oversight, which is precisely what the vitalists were working to preserve. The vitalist-mechanist debate was the expression largely within the scientific community of a broader, culture-wide dialectic between spiritualism and materialism in which the continuing existence of God was at issue.

5Demi-immortal characters arose in part as an expression of the vitalism side of this debate. They embody and channel vitalism, expressed variously as “force,” “power,” “magnetism,” “electricity,” and “influence.” In Bulwer-Lytton’s A Strange Story, for example, Dr Fenwick, the protagonist, whose own book manuscript is titled The Vital Principle; its Waste and Supply, practices vitalistic medicine, according to which the body possesses its own natural healing powers that often are hindered by medication (Strange 103). However, he also denies the existence of the type of magical “vital power” exercised by the demi-immortal Margrave (Strange 371). The novel clearly is struggling to reconcile mechanist science with spiritualist vitalism. In Marie Corelli’s A Romance of Two Worlds, the female protagonist is healed by even more explicitly vitalistic medicine that works by stimulating natural “human electricity” (Romance 72). The novel makes it clear that individual physical vitality is contingent upon the health of the “electric Germ of the Soul,” understood as an atom of the divine, universal life-force (249). Corelli’s name for that force is the “Law of Love,” to which she opposes the Darwinian “Law of Universal Necessity,” reenacting with those two terms the vitalist-mechanist debate (31). Haggard’s vitalism is more mundane than celestial. Ayesha gained her demi-immortality by finding and stepping into the vital fire that flows from the planet’s subterranean womb, Mother Earth’s “Spirit—the Eternal Thing that doth beget all life” (which points back to Mary Shelley’s “Modern Prometheus,” bearing the gods’ fire to humankind) (She 284). It is significant that demi-immortal characters proliferated during the half century in which mechanist science became the more dominant or orthodox paradigm. Vitalism required demi-immortal champions to defend the ideal of a nurturing divine universe centered on humankind against the specter of a godless and mechanically random universe. But here also is the contradiction in the figure of the demi-immortal Oriental, at least in the nineteenth century: while representing the vital principle and, therefore, spiritualism against materialism, demi-immortals typically are spiritually alienated. Their souls are at jeopardy. The tie to the body that is the origin of their natural, organic vitalism is at the same time the form of the materialism that prevents spiritual realization. This fact produces the contradiction, to which I will return, by which Dracula can be at once a numinous figure and utterly evil.

  • 9 “Mesmeric mania” comes from the title of John Hughes Bennett’s 1851 book. My sources on Mesmerism i (...)
  • 10 To give two examples out of many, in Zanoni, the demi-immoral Mejnour cites the “all-pervading and (...)

6Enlightenment vitalism was a primary source from which the Mesmerism movement emerged, and that movement also had a direct influence on the formation of demi-immortal Oriental characters. Launched in Vienna and Paris in the 1770s by Franz Anton Mesmer (1734–1815), the movement’s new science of “animal magnetism” or “electro-biology” hit London in the 1830s, became a subject of intense public and scientific interest in the 1840s, and peaked in the “mesmeric mania” of the 1850s.9 John Elliotson, “the single Englishman most responsible for the spread of mesmerism in England,” launched a medical journal, The Zoist, in 1843 and the London Mesmeric Infirmary in 1849 (Kaplan 696). Mesmerism both fed into the subsequent Spiritualism movement and led to the theorization of hypnosis, which later was incorporated by Jean-Martin Charcot and Sigmund Freud into the repertoire of scientifically sanctioned psychoanalytic techniques. At least until that time, however, mesmeric phenomena were attributed to “an imponderable fluid permeating the universe,” a “vital fluid” or “life force,” variously theorized as ethereal, magnetic, electrical, or atomic (Tatar 4; Fulford 62). Bulwer-Lytton investigated Mesmerism first hand, recommended it as a medical treatment to Harriett Martineau (who testified to its benefits in Letters on Mesmerism in 1845), and utilized it heavily in his metaphysical novels in a way that “reflects medical discourses that were widely current in the first half of the nineteenth century” (Budge 41).10 While Corelli disclaimed “hypnotism, which is merely animal magnetism called by a new name,” some of her characters obviously practice mesmeric medicine, and her “Electric creed offers a Mesmer-like cosmology” (Corelli Romance xx; Siebers 184). Mesmerism was the new vitalism, and, along with its various scientific and medical applications, it always bore with it an occult spiritual aura. It is this understanding of mesmeric vitalism that fueled demi-immortal Oriental characters. They are able to direct the vital fluid by force of will in order to heal others, read the minds of others, control the thoughts of others from a distance, hypnotize, physically overpower without touch, or even shape-shift or transport themselves.

7As for Dracula, “the mesmeric and hypnotic world of Charcot is an open intertext of the novel” (Wicke 485). The cliché of Dracula saying, in a heavy Béla Lagosi accent, “Look into my eyes” is grounded in Mesmerism. But then his opponent, Professor van Helsing, also uses hypnosis. One might argue that Dracula’s much more potent powers are tied to an archaic occultism while van Helsing’s is a modern scientific technique, but van Helsing himself collapses this distinction as he strives to convince his fellow scientist, Dr Seward, that vampirism exists: “Ah, it is the fault of our science that it wants to explain all; and if it explains not, then it says there is nothing to explain. But yet we see around us every day the growth of new beliefs, which think themselves new; and which are yet but old, which pretend to be young—like the fine ladies at the opera. I suppose now you do not believe in corporeal transference. No? Nor in materialization. No? Nor in astral bodies. No? Nor in the reading of thought. No. Nor in hypnotism—” (Dracula 191). After then praising Charcot’s work on hypnosis, van Helsing continues: “Then tell me—for I am student of the brain—how you accept the hypnotism and reject the thought-reading. Let me tell you, my friend, that there are things done to-day in electrical science which would have been deemed unholy by the very men who discovered electricity—who would themselves not so long before have been burned as wizards” (191). Here van Helsing straddles the very divide between mechanism and vitalism, materialism and spiritualism, that Bulwer-Lytton, along with thousands of others of his time, did in thinking, “If electricity and telegraphy had recently come within the notice of science, perhaps telepathy and mesmerism would be next” (Mitchell 140). After all, “the electric telegraphy, invented in 1837, started the spread of metal nerves to transport thought electrically from one part of the country to another,” and this appeared little less magical than mesmeric thought-transference (Winter 17). As Anthony Enns, among others, has observed, “By illustrating the dream of pure communication between minds across vast distances, the merging of consciousness and electric machines, and the questioning of individual autonomy, mesmerism was clearly engaged in a radical reconfiguration of the divisions between mind and body, human and machine, and materiality and immateriality” (Enns 64). For this very reason, Jennifer Wicke has argued, “vampirisim [was] a stand-in for the uncanny procedures of modern life”; Dracula’s occult and vitalistic mesmeric powers in part mirror the modern, mechanistic powers of telegraphy, typewriting, and the phonograph that are instrumental in defeating him (Wicke 473). But a crucial difference remains, which will require further analysis: Dracula’s power is vitalistic and so spiritually infused, while that of his Christian opponents is, in specific ways, mechanically soulless.

  • 11 I would argue that the martial-arts Buddhism subgenre, which is far from true either to canonical o (...)

8The figure of the demi-immortal Oriental arose in part out of the vitalism-mechanism debate of the eighteenth century and, in particular, as a spin-off of mesmeric vitalism. It appeared with greater frequency as mechanistic science came to predominate and then as part of the Decadent and then Modernist critiques of bourgeois culture’s promise of unbounded progress and prosperity. Other novels that might be included in this tradition are Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1891), Guy Boothby’s Dr Nikola (1896), Richard Marsh’s The Beetle (1897), and James Hilton’s Lost Horizons (1933), among others. The advent of motion pictures only multiplied the spread. First came horror cinema in the early twentieth century, then superhero movies and the subgenre I call martial-arts-Buddhism.11 Most recent is the current epidemic of eternally youthful and animally magnetic vampires. As long as vitalism continues to do battle against mechanism, demi-immortal characters will be required.

The Economics of Immortality in Dracula

  • 12 See for example Stefan Andriopoulos, “The Invisible Hand: Supernatural Agency in Political Economy (...)

9What are the sources of Dracula’s evilness? Though many others could and have been mentioned, at base there are two, one spiritual and one economic. Thus, as Franco Moretti argues, “other things are needed” besides modern, Western individualism to defeat Dracula, “in effect two: money and religion” (Moretti 93). A good deal has been written about Dracula and economics, vampirism as consumption, and the circulation of blood and money, often drawing upon Adam Smith’s “invisible hand” as itself a Gothic figure and Karl Marx’s use of vampire metaphors in describing the extraction of surplus capital from labor.12 Many have observed that Dracula is tied to—and tied down by—an archaic, aristocratic economy based on landed wealth, as signified by his incursion into the English homeland with fifty “great earth chests” of sanctified Transylvanian soil, and based on gold, as signified by the “great heap of gold” in his castle and the “‘ting’ of the gold” that has fallen from his slashed coat (Dracula 251, 47, 306). Dracula is “a true monopolist: solitary and despotic, he will not brook competition”; he is “gold brought to life and animated within monopoly capitalism” (Moretti 92; Halberstam 103). In contrast, his pursuers depend upon the fungibility and portability of paper money. As Mina Harker writes: “And, too, it made me think of the wonderful power of money! What can it not do when it is properly applied; and what might it do when basely used! I felt so thankful that Lord Godalming is rich, and that both he and Mr Morris, who also has plenty of money, are willing to spend it freely” (356). Rather than hoarding, which many have argued is Dracula’s signature relationship to wealth, they put it back into circulation by spending and consuming. While he is an invasive foreign monopoly, they, especially the middle-class professionals among them, stand for the British free-market system. Dracula is “an image of monstrous anticapitalism” because he is a hoarder, and hoarding is evil to the extent that it signifies an older model of political economy that is antithetical to the free-market economics that was perceived as the especially British model and the primary source of present and future national prosperity (Halberstam 102).

10Wealth is of course not the only thing that vampires hoard. They hoard life-force, vitalism, the pervasiveness of which in this novel signals Bram Stoker’s debt to Mesmerism and to Enlightenment vitalism. Renfield, Dr Seward’s mental patient, as he begins to fall under Dracula’s influence, becomes a “zoophagous (life-eating) maniac” (70). In one of his lucid moments, he says, “The doctor here will bear me out that on one occasion I tried to kill him for the purpose of strengthening my vital power by the assimilation with my own body of his life through the medium of his blood—relying, of course, upon the Scriptural phrase, ‘For the blood is the life’” (234). He reveals a literalist naivety about what it would mean to be a vampire, although later, when he begs Dr Seward to remove him from the hospital where Dracula knows to find him, he has come to understand that what is at stake is his soul. Seward unknowingly touches on this point about the soul when, earlier, the band of men are preparing to liberate Lucy from her vampiric state by driving a stake through her heart and he remarks about her tomb that it “conveyed irresistibly the idea that life—animal life—was not the only thing which could pass away” (197). In truth, the body, “animal life,” does not pass away in vampirism; rather, it is endowed with demi-immortality, while it is the soul that in some unspecified manner passes away, or rather goes into unholy suspension. Dracula feeds on “animal magnetism” without exactly killing either the body or the soul of those who will become vampires. He hoards the vitalism of his victims, removing both life and, in a sense, eternal afterlife from progression. As a result, he is supercharged with magnetism. The vampire hunters realize, for instance, that “he can even grow younger; that his vital faculties grow strenuous, and seem as though they refresh themselves when his special pabulum is plenty” (239). Later, in trying to explain to his cohort how Dracula got to be as powerful as he is, Professor van Helsing uses a mesmeric explanation: “Doubtless, there is something magnetic or electric in some of these combinations of occult forces which work for physical life in strange way. . . . In him some vital principle have in strange way found their utmost” (319–20). Dracula is a vitalist, in the eighteenth-century sense, while his human pursuers are mechanists.

11Dracula’s vitalism also is the sign of his status as a numinous figure. Though it may be perverse to put it this way, he is the most deeply religious figure in the novel. His very being is tied to the history of Christian symbology—crucifixes, the Host, holy water, sanctified ground. His existence motivates his human opponents, the majority of whom appear to be Broad Church Anglicans, into archaic and largely Catholic behaviors and expressions. Van Helsing, who the text intimates is Catholic, recognizes Dracula’s numinous status when he remarks, “For it is not the least of its terrors that this evil thing is rooted deep in all good; in soil barren of holy memories it cannot rest” (241). Thus Dracula invokes the Eucharist when he says to Mina, before forcing her to drink blood (Lucy’s and her own, perhaps) from an incision he has made in his chest, “And you, their best beloved one, are now to me flesh of my flesh; blood of my blood” (288). This is the “terrible baptism of blood” that creates a mesmeric connection by which she is “free to go to him in spirit” and he is able to read her thoughts from afar (343). Dracula, like Satan, is an evil indissolubly part of Christianity.

12The second half of Dracula becomes increasingly religious. A pivotal speech by van Helsing ends in this way: “Thus we are ministers of God’s own wish: that the world, and men for whom His Son die, will not be given over to monsters, whose very existence would defame Him. He have allowed us to redeem one soul already [Lucy’s], and we go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more” (320). The contest has become at once a Darwinian race between competing species and a trial between two forms of immortality: the vampire’s vitalistic demi-immortality and the Christian death-and-rebirth. Van Helsing becomes impassioned enough to make the above speech by the fact that Mina, who is “infected” by vampirism, might live to old age in her own “sweet way” and find, upon death, which is “God’s sanction,” that she is not reborn in the Christian sense but rather rises from the grave as one of the undead (320). Vampirism observes traditional Western soul-theory, according to which death is the trigger for the separation of body and soul, though which of the two will partake of immortality is the question. And even vampires are not utterly damned; they still possess souls that might be redeemed. After Lucy has been staked, her betrothed, Arthur Holmwood, Lord Goldalming, says to van Helsing, “God bless you that you have given my dear one her soul again” (217). One might ask in what location and in what state of limbo has it been residing, outside of her body and outside of the gates of either heaven or hell? The Spiritualism movement perhaps had furnished an alternative location, the Spirit World. Mina says to her husband Jonathan, trying to convince him that he should have Christian compassion even for Dracula, “Just think what will be his joy when he too is destroyed in his worser part that his better part may have spiritual immortality” (308). Indeed, as the stake is being driven through his heart, Dracula smiles beatifically. Until that moment, however, he has been the fierce disseminator and defender of demi-immortality, which, as a rival to Christian “spiritual immortality,” could be nothing other than evil incarnate.

13There is a parallel between the evil that Dracula represents in the economic realm and the evil that he represents in the spiritual realm. In both, he is a hoarder, whether of wealth or of vitalism. In both, he prevents a free circulation, prevents continued currency and progression, since either capital or spiritual capital, the soul, is held hostage. This suggests that the two evils are in fact one: Dracula’s threat to spirituality is his threat to political economy, and vice versa. In classical economic terms, Dracula represents use value over exchange value. Whether in relationship to the continuous exchange of spending and consuming, which by the late nineteenth century had become a primary engine of prosperity, or whether in relationship to the exchange of mortal life for eternal spiritual life, Dracula represents the stasis of non-exchange. He is consumption without spending, withdrawal without depositing, which only depletes the market and violates its first, self-regulating principle of free exchange. As Gordon Bigelow observes in this regard, discussing John Stuart Mill’s defense of individual-centered capitalism, the “point is that the progress from the feudal society described here to the wage labor system of industrial capital will obliterate the Count Draculas of every country, abolishing the tyrannical rule enabled by concentrated wealth and securing the power of all individuals to hold and increase their property” (Bigelow 50). Indeed, progress toward securing the power of all individuals to hold and increase property may be what is at stake ultimately, since in both the economic and the spiritual realms Dracula represents the demi-immortal’s anti-progressivism, while his opponents might be said to stand for modern Western progress toward common human—as opposed to vampire—prosperity.

14It follows from the above that there is a corresponding parallel between the two goods that the vampire hunters seek to preserve, the free-market system and the Christian soul—a point familiar at least since Max Weber. What is it, one must ask, that the band of vampire hunters most stands for and defends? There is, of course, no singular answer, but determining which answer takes precedence has important implications in relationship to the novel’s religious message. One answer made obvious by the heightened religious discourse in the latter part of the novel is that they are defending Christianity against an unholy alternative, which undeniably is true. Having acknowledged that, I now argue that this in fact is not their foremost motivation. I agree with Judith Halberstam that the “monster itself is an economic form in that it condenses various racial and secular threats to nation, capital, and the bourgeoisie in one body” (Halberstam 3). Responding in kind, the vampires hunters’ primary concerns are first racial or species-based, saving the human race from a competing one; then national, protecting Dracula’s “dear new country of England” from his invasion of it; then economic and social, protecting a British middle-class way of life (25). Thus Jonathan comments to himself in horror: “This was the being I was helping to transfer to London, where, perhaps for centuries to come, he might, amongst its teeming millions, satiate his lust for blood, and create a new and ever widening circle of semi-demons to batten on the helpless. The very thought drove me mad. A terrible desire came upon me to rid the world of such a monster” (51). The first obligation is to staunch the spread of the economy of vampirism. The “unselfish” duty for which Dr Seward hungers, the “solemn duty” sworn between Mina and Jonathan, the “grave duty” of van Helsing to violate Lucy’s grave, and even the “men’s duty” pledged to Mina to kill her should she turn vampire have more to do with these secular values than with sacred ones, though I do not mean thereby to deny the spiritual imperative as well (61, 104, 206, 331).

15The conjunction of these secular motivations appears especially in the form of (British) masculinity protecting (British) womanhood. All of the above concerns converge into these two figures, the union of which of course signifies British middle-class society and its values of marriage, progress, and prosperity, as well as the future propagation of the species. Mina in particular becomes the idealized figure into which all other motivations are condensed, and that is why protecting her becomes the paramount objective for the men. They make their most solemn vow kneeling around her: “Then without a word we all knelt down together, and, all holding hands, swore to be true to each other. We pledge ourselves to raise the veil of sorrow from the head of her whom, each in his own way, we loved; and we prayed for help and guidance in the terrible task” (297). With this in mind, it is interesting to note that as the climactic finale approaches both the technological innovations that have so preoccupied the novel as the signs of progress and the religious fervor that had seemed so important at certain earlier points fade from view, giving way to a domestic ending. Seven years after the defeat of Dracula, Jonathan focuses on Mina and their son: “His mother holds, I know, the secret belief that some of our brave friend’s spirit has passed into him. His bundle of names links all our little band of men together; but we call him Quincey,” the one of the men who died in the fray (378). Mina’s belief in spirit is vitalistic or occult or spiritualist, not Christian. The male child, who signifies the triumph of human reproduction over the vampiric economy, has become the repository for all the men’s vitality. This parallels the previous union of the men in one woman when they all become “bigamists” by joining with Lucy through collective transfusion to her (176). Dracula’s blood at first defeated their collective blood, but in the end their blood wins out in Mina. The novel suggests that “the test of history’s progress, or regress, . . . is the vitality of a masculine essence, expressed through the capacity for violence” (Bigelow 47). The men have saved human progress finally neither through technological sophistication nor through free-market economic principles nor even through Christian righteousness but rather through the animal vitality of violence. Dracula may be well-and-truly dead, but his vitality lives on in the men. Dracula’s vitalism has served as a necessary transfusion for British masculinity.

16What is more, Dracula also has been a transfusion of vitality in the two spheres in which he appeared to pose the greatest threat, free-market capitalism and Christian faith. Countering my own previous argument and that most common among economic criticisms of Dracula, I now contend that Dracula may be the truest capitalist and most independent businessman in the novel. He demonstrates how astute he is in business in his early questioning about the practices in England of employing multiple solicitors in different locations in order to ensure that one’s operations remain unknown to any one other individual and entirely under one’s own control. He comments: “I could be at liberty to direct myself. Is it not so?” (31). He is sophisticated in the way in which multiple times he arranges the delivery and offloading of his cargo—one might say “product”—and manages to purchase houses—one might say “franchises”—in strategically dispersed locations throughout London. Jonathan, the solicitor, later remarks, “Everything had been carefully thought out, and done systematically and with precision” (226). This reading of Dracula derives support from Catherine Packham’s history of the derivation of Adam Smith’s economic theory in The Wealth of Nations (1776). Packham demonstrates that Smith was influenced by “the new physiological theories of his scientific contemporaries,” namely “vitalist physiology” (Packham 466–67). Smith thus theorized the economy as an organically unified natural system impelled by its own internal principle—the “invisible hand”—according to which “such actions, of adjustment and response to economic reality, operate like the self-regulatory efforts of the vitalist’s animal economy” (Packham 476). Recalling, then, that the humans in the novel are the mechanists and that Dracula is the vitalist, perhaps the true representative of Adam Smith’s “system of natural liberty” and individual competition in the novel is Dracula. Perhaps his human opponents condemn his economics less because they are aristocratic or monopolistic than because they are foreign and too fiercely competitive. The vampire hunters’ economics are in this sense protectionist, the corn-law of immortality. They would not and cannot compete with Dracula head-to-head, as Franco Moretti notes: “Yet so long as the conflict is one between human ‘individualism’ and vampirical ‘totalization,’ things do not go at all well for the humans. Just as a system of perfect competition cannot do other than give way to monopoly, so a handful of isolated individuals cannot oppose the concentrated force of the vampire” (Moretti 97). It is the humans who must be corporatist, and perhaps the novel predicts not a future of laissez-fair economic individualism but rather what was in fact the coming dominant order of monopolistic corporate-state capitalism. If Dracula’s humans in effect preach the free-market economics that indeed was being heralded as the true British form of political economy, they practice the monopoly capitalism for which they scapegoat Dracula. Dracula thus serves a dual function: as a vital stimulant to the masculine competitive forces of British free-market economy and as a straw-man for the monopoly capitalism that always is blamed upon foreign markets while remaining unacknowledged as a domestic practice.

17Dracula similarly serves as both a vital stimulant to Christian faith and as a scapegoat for its failure of spirituality. In the novel’s first half, the faith of the human characters in the technologies of modern progress, the telegraph and the phonograph, supersedes their faith in the numinous, as represented within the discourses of the time by the spiritual corollaries to the telegraph and the phonograph, namely “spirit communications” and the human-to-human “communication without embodiment” of Mesmerism (Owen 121; Peters 94). In order that the humans may come to believe that such vital forms of communication might still exist, they require Dracula. They require faith in the occult spiritual phenomena that Dracula embodies in order to see beyond their mechanist worldview. The first job of van Helsing (the Catholic among Protestants) is to convince his colleagues—and the reader—of the reality of vampirism. He says to Dr Seward, the most skeptical because most scientific, “I want you to believe,” and then defines “faith” as “‘that which enables us to believe things which we know to be untrue’” (Dracula 193). Truly untrue, Dracula is the vehicle for faith in the novel. As Beth E. McDonald puts the point, as they “confront the numinousness of Dracula, they must also confront their apathetic faith in God”; “the dread that the forces of the sacred feel at the numinous experience of the vampires reaffirms their need for faith in a spiritual existence” (McDonald 90,127). Thus it is after coming to believe in Dracula that the characters explicitly re-embrace their Christian faith.

18As I have argued, however, they invoke Christianity most often in self defense and in conjunction with secular interests, and the novel concludes by reinforcing its secular more than its spiritual values. The vampire hunters learn to be “a force of the sacred” only in response to Dracula, but then they “create their own brand of sacredness based on social, economic, and political values and draw on the occult only to reestablish that world in the face of the vampire’s threat to their society and to themselves” (McDonald 119,127). Not only is Dracula more concerned with belief in vampires than with belief in God, but even that belief also must succumb in the end to materialist concerns about the species, the nation, and the economy. Thus the presence of Dracula functions like an antibody: it stimulates society’s body’s own vital healing power of Christian spiritualism, but once the virus of vampirism is defeated that spiritual immune system once again recedes into the taken-for-granted background of the day-to-day economy of living. In the 1890s to 1910s, when church attendance “had fallen dramatically to 27 per cent” of the population and the “general consciousness of religious crisis” had become widespread and undeniable, British Christianity may have needed whatever revitalizing scare it might receive from occult spirituality (McLeod 172, 222). Vampirism provided that stimulus while at the same time serving as a scapegoat on which to blame the anemic state of Christian spiritualism. It functioned as a straw-figure drawing attention away from the fact that it is modern society’s own mechanistic progress and materialistic prosperity that has drained the spiritual vitality from the corporate body.

  • 13 Concerning the humanistic as opposed to divine understructure of Smith’s economics, Catherine Packh (...)

19At one level, then, the high-stakes drama in Dracula has nothing to do with vampirism. Rather, it concerns the relationship within modern Western society between Christianity and capitalism. Christianity appears to be given precedence, but closer analysis reveals the ideology of the preeminence of Christian faith as it rolls like a masking but semi-transparent screen in front of the actual preeminence of mechanistic science, secular progressivism, and an economics based more on consumption than production. Spiritualism is made to justify materialism precisely by appearing to take precedence over it. Meanwhile, in the foreground, the dramatics of vampirism claim our attention like the magician’s hands, or mesmerizes us like the hypnotist’s hands. Through Dracula, the vampire becomes essential to Western modernity, serving manifold, contradictory ideological functions. It appears to threaten both of the two primary sources of value, while what it really does is enact the incompatibility that exists between Christianity and capitalism, spiritualism and materialism. It simultaneously throws into question and reaffirms both Christian faith and corporate-state capitalism. It expresses a shared human longing for a vital universe that is ecologically unified by a divine spirit, and, at the same moment, it expresses the feared truth that such a universe has been at least in part replaced by a humanistic rather than a sacred vitalistic system, that of Smithian free-market economics.13 What vampirism ultimately reflects back to its readers is the justified and inevitable necessity of middle-class, post-Christian, progressive, postindustrial, consumption-based society. As Gordon Bigelow argues in this regard: “If vampirism is a way of thinking about life in an emerging market society, then it encodes the pleasure and terrors of this new market. For if a consumer economy seems to offer the satisfaction of self-expression through endless purchasing, to offer commodities with which to adorn the times and spaces of life, it also brings the risk of confinement and constraint in the workplace, the limitation of life’s time and space” (Bigelow 57). Perhaps, then, the clichés suggested by the upsurge in consumption of vampire-series novels and films in the past twenty years are true: we have become soulless consumers, vampires of vampirism. Perhaps it is true, as is suggested in recent characterizations of vampires by the decline in concern with the condition of their souls, that the vital and the spiritual truly have been overshadowed by a mechanistic and material world that promises endless consumption and artificially eternal youth.

  • 14 Anthony Enns make a analogous point about Mesmerism: “In other words, rather than conceiving of con (...)

20Perhaps, but I would rather end with the observation that it is the vitalism of the demi-immortal Oriental that gives vampirism its multivalent power and its attractiveness. At once more vitally numinous than modern Christianity and more vitally animalistic than the human body, the vampire continuously oscillates between being numinous and materialistic, spiritual and evil. The figure of the demi-immortal Oriental, rather than being either/or, is both/and.14 It thus always threatens to dismantle the foundational metaphysics of body/soul, which, though immensely disruptive to certain established beliefs, might also, or therefore, be desirable. Embodied soul and spiritualized body, vitalism is what we crave. This is why vampiric vitalism continues to live with demi-immortal longevity among both the humans within Dracula and the humans who read Dracula. Modern Western culture still hungers for that vitalism, whether it be the vitalism of demi-immortality or the vitalism underlying Adam Smith’s individualistic economic freedom. Dracula is the figure of vitalism in both realms, spiritual and economic. No wonder so many twenty-first-century teenagers think they want to be vampires. Their hunger contradicts the ostensible moral of Dracula: that Christian spiritual immortality and supposed free-market economics must win out in the end over demi-immortality and supposed monopolistic economics. They have not won out. If recent sales of vampire novels and films is any indication, demi-immortality might yet attract more followers than Christianity, but, then, as I have tried to show, the two are indissoluble linked. Monopolistic corporate-state capitalism continues to use the ideology of the “naturalness” of free-market economics to mask its domination. Its vampirism, not that for which Dracula actually stands, has consumed us and attempted to turn us into insatiable consumers. If, as the analysis here could suggest, the human heroes of Dracula stand for a Christianity that has lost its spiritual vitalism and for a corporate-state capitalism that robs individuals of their self-determination, and if it is Dracula who stands for a living rather than a mechanistic universe and for individual freedom in the exchange of life energies, then I am with the teenagers and the vampires.

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Notes

1 The vampire-novel series to which I refer include: P. C. Cast’s “House of Night” series, Melissa De La Cruz’s “Blue Blood” series, Laurell K. Hamilton’s “Anita Blake Vampire Hunters” series, Charlaine Harris’s “Sookie Stackhouse” series, Stephanie Meyer’s “Twilight” series, and, of course, Anne Rice’s “Vampire Chronicles” series. My seventeen-year-old daughter, Emma, is included in the number of those enthralled.

2 Prior to Halberstam, Franco Moretti made a similar point: “The central characters of this literature—the monster, the vampire—are metaphors, rhetorical figures built on the analogy between different semantic fields. Wishing to incarnate Fear as such, they must of necessity combine fears that have different causes: economic, ideological, psychical, sexual (and others should be added, beginning with religious fear)” (Moretti 105). The current essay focuses on that religious fear. Kelly Hurley similarly writes: “Thus the Gothic can serve as a sort of historical or sociological index: if the genre serves to manage a culture’s disturbances and traumatic changes, its thematic preoccupations will allow us to track social anxieties at one remove, in the register of the supernatural” (Hurley 197).

3 For a fuller analysis of Bulwer-Lytton’s “metaphysical” novels, as he called them, see J. Jeffrey Franklin, “The Evolution of Occult Spirituality in Victorian England and the Representative Case of Edward Bulwer-Lytton.”

4 On the demi-immortal Oriental in Corelli’s novels, see J. Jeffrey Franklin, “The Counter-Invasion of Britain by Buddhism in Marie Corelli’s A Romance of Two Worlds and H. Rider Haggard’s Ayesha: The Return of She.”

5 For example, after mid century phrases like “the laws governing spiritual progress,” “Progressive evolution,” and the “Eternal progress open to every soul” became common among spiritualists and Theosophists (Sinnett, Early Days 31; Tuttle 14; Doyle 260). For more background on spiritual progressivism and the formation of late-Victorian hybrid religions, see J. Jeffrey Franklin, The Lotus and the Lion.

6 On the anti-progressive spiritualism of Haggard’s Ayesha, see John D. Coates, “The ‘Spiritual Quest’ in Rider Haggard’s She and Ayesha,” and J. Jeffrey Franklin, “Memory as the Nexus of Identity, Empire, and Evolution in George Eliot’s Middlemarch and H. Rider Haggard’s She.”

7 I allude to Nietzsche’s concept of the “eternal recurrence of the same,” as for instance in Thus Spoke Zarathustra.

8 The Victorian concept of spiritual de-evolution, derived in part from various understandings of karma and reincarnation, appears in the principle texts of Theosophy as well as in late-Victorian romance novels. Corelli writes for example about “Retrogression of the Soul” or “Eternal Retrogression” (Corelli, Romance x, 249). Though few critics have focused on Dracula’s spiritual devolution, many have commented upon the related topic of his association either to the Decadent Movement or to degeneration theory. See for example Monika Tomaszewsha, “Vampirism and the Degeneration of the Imperial Race,” or David Glover, “‘Our Enemy is Not Merely Spiritual’: Degeneration and Modernity in Bram Stoker’s Dracula.”

9 “Mesmeric mania” comes from the title of John Hughes Bennett’s 1851 book. My sources on Mesmerism include Fred Kaplan, “The mesmeric mania”; John Warne Monroe, Laboratories of Faith; Maria M. Tatar, Spellbound: Studies on Mesmerism and Literature; Martin Willis, Mesmerists, Monsters, & Machines; and Alison Winter, Mesmerized: Powers of Mind in Victorian Britain.

10 To give two examples out of many, in Zanoni, the demi-immoral Mejnour cites the “all-pervading and invisible fluid resembling electricity” (228) and A Strange Story includes several debates about Mesmerism between the characters, as on pages 176–77.

11 I would argue that the martial-arts Buddhism subgenre, which is far from true either to canonical or practiced Buddhism, includes not only films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon (2000) but also highly Westernized adaptations like Star Wars (1977) and The Matrix (1999).

12 See for example Stefan Andriopoulos, “The Invisible Hand: Supernatural Agency in Political Economy and the Gothic Novel”; Sukanya Banerjee, “Political Economy, Gothic, and the Question of Imperial Citizenship”; Gordon Bigelow, “Dracula and Economic History”; Fred Botting, Gothic Romanced; Richard M. Coe, “It Takes Capital to Defeat Dracula”; and, most importantly, Judith Halberstam, Skin Shows, and Franco Moretti, Signs Taken for Wonders.

13 Concerning the humanistic as opposed to divine understructure of Smith’s economics, Catherine Packham concludes that “Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ initially seems to suggest a role for a Newtonian divine force sustaining the operation of his economy; yet far from indicating the presence of an external controlling power, the hand expresses the actions of ‘natural forces internal to man’ (Packham 480).

14 Anthony Enns make a analogous point about Mesmerism: “In other words, rather than conceiving of consciousness and the body in terms of the Cartesian mind/body split, mesmerism introduced a new conception of materiality, which suggested that the body and consciousness were both bound together and material. Mesmerism provides an ideal starting point for understanding the emergence of a strange new kind of embodiment in the electric age” (Enns 64).

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Pour citer cet article

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J. Jeffrey Franklin, « The Economics of Immortality: The Demi-Immortal Oriental, Enlightenment Vitalism, and Political Economy in Dracula », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, 76 Automne | 2012, 127-148.

Référence électronique

J. Jeffrey Franklin, « The Economics of Immortality: The Demi-Immortal Oriental, Enlightenment Vitalism, and Political Economy in Dracula », Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens [En ligne], 76 Automne | 2012, mis en ligne le 01 octobre 2013, consulté le 23 août 2017. URL : http://cve.revues.org/530 ; DOI : 10.4000/cve.530

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Auteur

J. Jeffrey Franklin

University of Colorado at Denver, USA
Jeff Franklin is Professor of English at the University of Colorado Denver. He has authored three books, most recently The Lotus and the Lion: Buddhism and the British Empire (Cornell, 2008). His essays have appeared in Cahiers victoriens et édouardiens, ELH, Nineteenth-Century Literature, Victorian Literature and Culture, and, most recently, in Literature Compass, Religion and Literature, Victorian Review, and The Ashgate Companion to Spiritualism and the Occult in the Nineteenth Century.

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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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