Sociopolitical Philosophy in the Works of Stoker and Yeats




Sociopolitical Philosophy in the Works of Stoker and Yeats


Around the turn of this century there was widespread fear throughout
Europe, and especially Ireland, of the consequences of the race mixing that was
occurring and the rise of the lower classes over the aristocracies in control.
In Ireland, the Protestants who were in control of the country began to fear the
rise of the Catholics, which threatened their land and political power. Two
Irish authors of the period, Bram Stoker and William Butler Yeats, offer their
views on this “problem” in their works of fiction. These include Stoker\'s
Dracula and Yeats\' On Baile\'s Strand and The Only Jealousy of Emer, and these
works show the authors\' differences in ideas on how to deal with this threat to
civilization. Stoker feels that triumph over this threat can only be achieved
by the defeat of these “demonic” forces through modernity, while Yeats believes
that only by facing the violent and demonic forces and emerging from them could
Ireland return to its ancient and traditional roots and find its place in
society.
The vampire was a common metaphor used by many authors in an attempt to
portray the rising lower class and foreign influence as evil and harmful to
modern civilization. The Irish Protestant author Sheridan Le Fanu uses vampires
to represent the Catholic uprising in Ireland in his story Carmilla. Like much
of gothic fiction, Carmilla is about the mixing of blood and the harm that
results from it. When vampires strike, they are tainting the blood of the pure
and innocent, causing them to degenerate into undead savages who will take over
and colonize until their race makes up the condition of the whole world. This
was the fear the Protestants had of the rising Catholic class. They were seen
as a lowly people and the fear was that they too would colonize and degenerate
Ireland, and perhaps the rest of Europe, back into a primitive land of savages.
This fear of the breakdown of civilization by dark forces is also what Dracula
is about.
In Dracula, Stoker sets up the heroes and victors of the novel as
civilized people, while the foreign villain is ancient and demonic. The book
begins with the journal of Jonathan Harker, a stenographer from London who is
sent to Transylvania to close a land deal with the mysterious Count Dracula.
From what is written in the journal, it is clear that Jonathan is very
civilized, logical and organized. His journal is written in shorthand, which is
a sign of modernity and efficiency. He is a stenographer, which means he is
well versed in the legal system, also a sign of a civilized person. Harker also
mentions that he had visited the British Museum and library in preparation for
his trip to this strange land, once again showing that he is well-organized
resourceful. Stoker makes sure to give the reader this impression of his
protagonist as a rational individual because it is he who will later combat the
savage forces with common sense and logic.
Harker\'s detailed account of his journey into Transylvania shows the
contrast between the West and the East. As he travels farther east, the land
becomes more primitive and wild. As he writes in his journal, “I had to sit in
the carriage for more than an hour before we began to move. It seems to me that
the further East you go the more unpunctual are the trains. What ought they to
be in China?” (9). Here the reader sees that as Jonathan goes east, technology
begins to break down a bit and things are a lot less orderly. Jonathan also
finds that he is beginning to lose command over the language, as he writes, “
They were evidently talking of me, and some of the people who were sitting on
the bench outside the door. . . came and listened, and then looked at me, most
of them pityingly. I could hear a lot of words often repeated, queer words, for
there were many nationalities in the crowd” (13). Harker\'s inability to
understand the language is one of the ways in which he loses control as he
travels east. Back in the modern world of the West, even in foreign countries,
Jonathan can understand what is being spoken and therefore has a sense of
control over his situation. In the East, however, he has lost this control. If
he were able to understand what the people are saying, he might realize the
danger that lay ahead of him in Transylvania before it is