The Devil Lies in Plain Sight – The Significance of Dracula on England in the Late 19th Century

By Jelson Mendoza

 

Vampirism, specifically found in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” in the 19th century among other contemporary horrors represented a complex fear among the British public of invasion, violence that could occur at any moment and racial and sexual impurity. It then becomes no surprise that the notion of Vampires and the Dracula mythos exist parallel to the gruesome story of Vlad the Impaler, Prince of Wallachia.

The Man behind the Myth –

To give a shortened description of how Vlad became the  origin of the Vampire legend, one would first have to look to his father, Vlad II and his background with the Order of the Dragon. The Order of the Dragon were a group of Christian rulers who vowed to fight against the Ottoman Empire and its incursions into the Christian world in areas such as Wallachia and Serbia in the 15th century. When the Ottoman Empire betrayed a peace maintained by Vlad II, his son Vlad III (whose last name was Dracul meaning “Son of the Dragon) rebelled against the Ottomans in vicious and bloody conflict. Eventually, Vlad III gained a reputation for the horrifying practice of impaling his opponents on stakes and leaving their corpses out to dry. Rumors were also spread that Vlad the Impaler drank blood and indulged himself in cannibalistic tendencies. Lastly, in discussing the context and history of Vlad the Impaler it is important to recognize Transylvania’s position as ethnically diverse and stepped in a history of conflict between those groups and foreign invasions,

“The ancestors of the Romanians first appeared in the high mountains of South-Transylvania towards the end of the eleventh century. They were shepherds who migrated in from Wallachia and lived in scattered settlements in the mountains. They were distinguished from the Roman Catholic Hungarians and Saxons by belonging to the Greek Orthodox religion. Towards the end of the fifteenth century, Transylvania had a population of about 800,000, of whom 65% were Hungarians, the rest split evenly between Saxons and Romanians.” (Benda)

England and The Vampire – 

In the context of the late 19th century, England found itself like many other European nations on the precipice of war with the German Empire. In fact, Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula” emerges in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War which occurred in 1870 and demonstrated the rise of a unified German state able to rival that of France. Therefore, the notion of the vampire is innately tied to the fear of an invasion similar to the Prussian (or German) takeover of areas such as the Alsace-Lorraine and the loss of their “blood heritage” as French. By the 1890s, although the European powers could not have envisioned the scope of the First World War, tensions had steadily risen to the point that many contemporaries saw war as inevitable,

“No one can look carefully into the present state of Europe without feeling firmly convinced that it cannot continue long in its present condition. Every country is maintaining an armed force out of all proportion to its resources and population….The nations of Europe are, in fact, all living in a state of constant preparation for instant war….This war of giants will have Russia and France on the one side; Germany, Austria, and Italy on the other.” (Alison 755-756)

Within this atmosphere of military preparation, no other monster could be as appropriate as one that strikes in the night as Dracula had towards the people of England. In particular, the victims of Dracula in the novel (for the most part) were women and by extension a source of life that could be corrupted and made impure by him.

“There was a deliberate voluptuousness that was both thrilling and repulsive.
And as she arched her neck she actually licked her lips like an animal till I could see in the moonlight the moisture
Then lapped the white, sharp teeth.
Lower and lower went her head. I closed my eyes in a languorous ecstasy and waited. ” (Stoker)

This notion of impurity as Stoker described to be, “both thrilling and repulsive” ties with the emerging concept of race and sexuality that took place in the 19th century as a whole and across the globe. Readers in England for example would be privy to stories from America and the Caribbean of slave revolts and moral degradation in places like the Five Points and in some way be prone to imagine a sense of escalating danger that cannot be actively seen or fought.

England also served as an interesting birthplace for the modern vampire as its history is intricately tied to Christianity and fears regarding witches. Explicitly, as Christianity rose in prominence, the notion of sin and the night (i.e witchcraft) became synonymous with the religiously motivated desire to hunt down supposed witches and heretics with the intent to kill them. At the crossroads of these two ideas, the immortal vampire provides the response to the fear of seduction that comes in the night to turn God fearing individuals into pawns and cannot be killed by simple torches and other tools used by mobs such as the one that formed in Salem, Massachusetts in 1693.

Dracula

Women are essential to the legend of Vampires as their murder demonstrates a loss of identity and purity that can be drawn in parallel to the Christian notion of sexual purity and race in the context of countries like America. (Source – http://www.playbuzz.com/jonb10/how-well-do-you-know-dracula) 

In conclusion, the image of the vampire as it emerged from England at the end of the 19th century demonstrated a culmination of the racialized and sexual fears and anxieties of society in the shape of a monster that comes at the night and leaves death in its wake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography –

Alison, Archibald . “The Online Books Page.” Blackwood’s Edinburgh Magazine archives. 1893. Accessed December 16, 2017. http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/serial?id=blackwoods.

Benda, Dr. Kálmán. “A SHORT HISTORY OF TRANSYLVANIA.” A SHORT HISTORY OF TRANSYLVANIA. 1988. Accessed December 16, 2017. http://www.hungarianhistory.com/lib/faf/toc02.htm.

Stoker, Bram, and Tudor Humphries. Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Place of publication not identified: Dorling Kindersley, 1997.

 

 

Far From Numbers – The Civil War and How It Can Still Teach Americans Today

 

By Jelson Mendoza

In the complex history of the United States the thread of war has always been interwoven, intimately placed as a means of defending notions of democracy and republic. However, approximately one hundred and fifty years ago the Civil War threatened to tear apart the United States from within. For four long years, brothers, fathers, sons and neighbors marched into opposite sides of vicious combat the likes of which could not be anticipated. Yet, even today the conflict is reborn as debates flare up on the nature of Confederate statues and how, if at all, reverence should be given to such men who took up arms against the Union. To that end, individuals on both sides of the political debate seem to forget the scale of the conflict and the sheer loss of life choosing rather to look solely at the divergent reasoning of the politicians who sent men to the battlefield to labor, toil and fight. Likewise, the conversation continues to be bogged down in that political whirlpool of allegories, ideologies and political posturing instead of truly reflecting the time that has passed since the end of the Civil War and how we as Americans should have grown past the division that had marked it.

In order to start such a renewed conversation on the topic, I believe it’s important to look at Drew Gilpin Faust’s book This Republic of Suffering and in particular the chapter on killing as she states,

“As the intensity of this war and the size of its death tolls mounted in the months and years that followed, vengeance came to play an ever more important role, joining principles of duty and self-defense in legitimating violence.” (Faust 35)

Immediately, the notion of legitimate violence is itself a “gift” (that is to say, a curse) passed down from the Civil War to modern day America. Primarily, both sides of the political spectrum in approaching Confederate statues act in the same way as their forebears had in believing their cause to be truth and remain unyielding to change even going so far as to embrace violence. Explicitly, one would not have to look further then the tragedy at Charlottesville for an example of failure to take a step back and recognize we are all human beings and all legitimate Americans. The major difference is that in the context of the Civil War, this very same notion of legitimacy led to the horrors of Antietam (where 23,000 soldiers overall were killed or went missing) and Gettysburg. Even today, we as modern day Americans, fail to heed the lessons of avoiding such dehumanization as America faces groups like ISIS and in some individual cases proceed to generalize and dehumanize all Muslims.  The largest instance of “vengeance” as Faust had illustrated it, in modern times would most be the months and years following 9/11 as racist imagery and wrongly placed anger (which in some cases took on physical violence) were launched against innocent Muslim Americans and Muslims abroad.

“Many soldiers found that society’s powerful inhibitions against murder were all too easily overcome.” (Faust 38)

Faust again reminds us of the notion that in war, murder as it were becomes state sanctioned and when that occurs all bets are off. In contrast to that time period, there is a certain notion of bloodlust in today’s America that is not restricted to times of war or in the army alone, in fact the passion of belief is so strong that both anti-fascist organizations and the alt-right possess no inhibitions when it comes to a brutal fight.

arlington-cemetery1865

Yet another example of both the scope of conflict and its entrenched notions of difference past the Civil War itself can initially be seen in the case of Arlington National Cemetery where Confederate soldiers were buried with the same headstones as civilians and therefore not considered military veterans as their Union counterparts were. Yet, in death, the rows upon rows of headstones from both sides illustrates just how grave the war had been and how many had paid the ultimate sacrifice.

In the end, as I look back at the time period and pour over the human cost of a conflict such as the Civil War, it becomes even more difficult to see continued division on my television screen and sprawled all over the Internet. In some way, the answer to the question of what must be done with the statues lies in plain sight, meaning that as Americans we must finally separate their creation and continued existence as means to intimidate minorities and the real men on both sides who fought, bled and died regardless of their reasons. Similarly, learning about both sides equally as far from simply numbers and casualties and as  names it becomes apparent that no one can take away what had occurred (as many alt-right individuals believe and testify to as their casus belli for violence against democrats) whether in  the physical sense of battlefields all across the country or in its cultural memory and present. In that respect the conversation on Confederate statues is both necessary and can be renewed as a reexamination of the past and its human cost versus its current form as a push and pull of political agendas. Once that is done and only then, can the United States truly learn and grow from the violence of the Civil War and finally begin the process of truly healing and becoming stronger for it.

Ambrose Bierce and the New American Death

By Jelson Mendoza

From the very beginning of “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” by Ambrose Bierce there is a sense of hopelessness in face of the raw strength of nature over man.

“A man stood upon a railroad bridge in Northern Alabama, looking down into the swift water twenty feet below.” (Bierce 1)

In the same manner, the American Civil War prompted a new growth in the endless struggle of man against man in which society itself found itself in awe of its own destructive potential. Simply put, there is good reason for many historians to consider the Civil War to be the first modern war in its context of total war, new rifling techniques, ironclad ships and repeater rifles.

owl1

A relatively modern day photograph of the type of railroad bridge depicted in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” taken by David M. Owens. The support beams below the actual bridge shows complete and utter negligence, a clear parallel to the unwanted and nameless nature of death on the battlefield during the American Civil War, essentially showing that even structures such as this one cannot be given an ideal “burial” or retirement. The scars of time like any veteran who returned home after the carnage of battles such as Antietam or Vicksburg, are extremely clear by the rust and graffiti.  

One of the mainstays of discussions regarding “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” is the nature of death in the story and how unceremoniously the main character, Peyton Fahrquhar’s body is left hanging on the bridge itself. This reflects other real life stories of unceremonious burials and lack of veneration towards enemy dead on both sides of the conflict. The lead up to his death also seems to indicate a level of mockery in that Bierce himself appears to hold no respect for a dead Confederate guerilla as Professor Loren P.Q Baybrook states, ” The strange “whispers” he had been hearing were, in the clinical perspective of asphyxiation, the gasps emanating from that same tongue. Farquhar is literally choking on his own tale.” (Baybrook).

“Peyton Fahrquhar was dead; his body, with a broken neck, swung gently from side to side beneath the timbers of Owl Creek bridge.” (Bierce 6)

However, in the same vein as the gross finality and lack of veneration towards his death, Bierce describes the motion of his corpse as “gentle” and in some ways demonstrates a desire for a simpler time when warfare was seen as a “gentleman’s game”. However by the time of the Civil War, there was no going back to romanticism of warfare as David Faust points out,

“A focus of wonder and horror, battle sites in fact became crowded with civilians immediately after the cessation of hostilities: besides relatives in search of kin, there were scavengers seeking to rob the dead, entrepreneurial coffin makers and embalmers…” (Faust 85)

Surely, previous wars going so far back as that of the Roman Empire were privy to battlefield looters and other abuses of the dead, but in the very specific scope of 19th century America, the nature of death had changed. In the end, with modern war came modern means of coping with the effects such as the Red Cross and nurses who in the stead of mothers would see to it that each soldier would have a “peaceful” death. In the end, this notion of a peaceful death even in face of trauma was a response to changing and malleable definitions of how one can die “honorably” (and in some way mockery and predatory practices such as coffin makers appearing in the aftermath of a battle) if such a condition ever existed in the first place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bibliography

Faust, Drew Gilpin. This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2012.

Baybrook, Loren P.Q. “DANCING DRIFTWOOD IN “AN OCCURRENCE AT OWL CREEK BRIDGE”.” Loren P. Q. Baybrook on “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. 2005. Accessed November 06, 2017. http://www.ambrosebierce.org/journal1baybrook.html.

Crossdressing and Freedom From Slavery by Jelson Mendoza

Freedom from the vile bonds of slavery was the goal for many slaves and in some cases ingenuity and luck gave way to that goal. In the case of the Crafts (both William and Ellen) there was no way they would remain slaves and to Williams credit, his idea would pave the hard road ahead for freedom.

As the case would be, William’s plan was to have his wife, Ellen who “passed” as white with her fair complexion masquerade as a white slaveholder and himself as her slave. This idea quickly brings up how slaves may have viewed “mulatos” or those of mixed race, as being more white and thus less associated with themselves. In reality, mulatos suffered just as much if not more than their fellow slaves and drew scorn from their mistresses who saw them as inferior and somewhat akin to illegitimate children. In another vein, the concept of mixed race people calls into question the whole practice of slavery as those who believed in it scrambled to ascertain that mulattoes were still inferior by virtue of their “blackness” and parentage even if they are white enough to “pass”. Returning to the notion of mistresses, William points out the hypocrisy of many Southern Christian women by saying,

“It is still more surprising to see virtuous ladies looking with patience upon, and remaining indifferent to, the existence of a system that exposes nearly two millions of their own sex in the manner I have mentioned, and that too in a professedly free and Christian country. There is, however, great consolation in knowing that God is just, and will not let the oppressor of the weak, and the spoiler of the virtuous, escape unpunished here and hereafter.”

To that extent, William’s invokes the idea that the system of slavery is so pervasive as to undercut ordinarily virtuous women and make them ignorant to the plight of their fellow women just because of their skin color. Likewise, by invoking damnation Williams connects with other slave narratives in the sense that he must grapple with the existence of a system as morally bankrupt as slavery and uses Christianity as a means of escaping the brutality in some fashion. Just as Christianity was a means for William to mentally give justice to himself and those who suffered as slaves, his plan relied on fraud and a removal of his and his wife’s identities completely, Tocqueville similarly remarked on the status of African Americans during his time in the United States, “The Negro has lost all property in his own person, and he cannot dispose of his existence without committing a sort of fraud.” (Tocqueville 18)

craftfp

“Ellen Craft in her disguise circa. 1848”

TITLE

“The title page of the Craft biography, including a quotation that touches on a distinct lack of slavery in England, where the Craft’s would settle for some time before returning to America.

Upon arrival in Liverpool, England and thus freedom from the clutches of any slaveholder in the United States, William remarked,

We raised our thankful hearts to Heaven, and could have knelt down, like the Neapolitan exiles, and kissed the soil; for we felt that from slavery

   “Heaven sure had kept this spot of earth uncurs’d,
      To show how all things were created first.”

  In a few days after we landed, the Rev. Francis Bishop and his lady came and invited us to be their guests; to whose unlimited kindness and watchful care my wife owes, in a great degree, her restoration to health.

In the end, the story of the Craft’s showcases a clear determination for freedom and willingness to do just about anything to be the owner of one’s destiny and present.