Book Review:

Dracula: An International Perspective, edited by Marius-Mircea Crisan

Reviewed by Deborah M. Fratz

Deborah M. Fratz

Review of Marius-Mircea Crişan's (ed.) Dracula: An International Perspective, Palgrave Gothic, 2017.

Like Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula: An International Perspective consists of several voices, reflecting an international fascination with the mysterious count who commands the lives of thousands across historical and national boundaries. This collection reads like conference proceedings on Dracula and its influences, as the essays are clearly in conversation with one another; yet it embraces a wide range of scholars and subjects appealing to both specialized and general readerships. Two inquiries dominate the conversation: the centrality of Transylvania in Gothic and vampire narratives, and the evolution of the Gothic, branching from Stoker’s work. The essays fall broadly into categories addressing the Irish Gothic, locations in Dracula and other vampire fictions, tourism in these locales, and new developments in vampire narratives in the last fifty years. The focus on location actually limits the international perspective: the essays exclusively examine the novel’s settings--mainly Eastern Europe and Great Britain--and narratives of British, European, and American origin. The difficulty of reviewing a collection like this is acknowledging the claims of all fourteen essays, which leads me to select a few that may interest scholars.

In “The Casework Relationship: Le Fanu, Stoker and the Rhetorical Contexts of Irish Gothic,” William Hughes shows how the use of professional rhetorics, such as medical and legal discourses, “functions as a type of authority gesture … through which the supernatural may be presented to a modern world obsessed with, and structured through, secular explanations and scientific rigour” (27). The “case work structures” present evidence and analysis in language ideally suited for investigating the supernatural in the Victorian era, and Hughes’s approach corrects the tendency to put science and the occult into opposition instead of conversation.

Donatella Abbate Badin notes that imagological approaches explore how the literary imagination has reconstructed our perceptions of locations associated with Dracula. Through analyzing Icelandic journalist Vladimir Asmundsson’s version of Dracula, Clive Bloom pursues “a connection between Dracula and [Jack] the Ripper in journalist and fictional representation” in “Dracula and the Psychic World of the East End of London” (121). A web of allusions and similarities emerge in novels contemporary with Dracula, film adaptations such as Universal’s 1931 Dracula, and television series such as Penny Dreadful. Less invested in how much Stoker directly contributed to Asmundsson’s outrageous adaptation, Bloom’s focus is, like other chapters, imagological, and concludes that the East End, like Transylvania, acts as an imagined location of exoticism, criminality, and perversion.

Several scholars make Transylvania their subject, but none so meticulously as Hans Corneel de Roos in “Count Dracula’s Address and Lifetime Identity.” De Roos uses calculations, cartography, geography, history, digital enhancement of Stoker’s handwritten notes, and every clue the novel offers to establish two major claims: Dracula was less likely inspired by Vlad Tepes, but rather his descendent Vlad III, and his castle was located on Kelemen Isvorul. These claims support a valuable argument: “Stoker’s vagueness does not stem from a lack of knowledge … [he] needed to provide a convincing backdrop to prop up his claim of veracity,” established through methodical presentation of first-hand accounts of sensational evidence (110). Marius-Mircea Crişan also addresses the count’s home in “Castle Hunedoara and the Dracula Myth: Connection or Speculation?” Castle Hunedoara (also known as Hunyadi or Corvin Castle) has been associated with Dracula through popular films and tourism promotion, and through slight historical connections between Vlad III and Hunedoara. This essay illustrates the power of the imagological on public perceptions of a place like Transylvania and paves the way for those chapters examining tourism, vampire fictions, and fandoms beyond Dracula.

Kristin L. Bone’s “Location and the Vampire: The Impact of Fictional Stories upon Associated Locations” describes the impact of tourism on locations found in Anne Rice’s vampire epic, Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, and Stoker’s Dracula, as well as the influence those same places have on recent authors of vampire and Gothic fiction. Fans “abandon imagination and bring these sights into reality,” such as the man who legally changes his name to Lestat De Lioncourt, Anne Rice’s famous vampire, and the Forks, Washington family that voluntarily represents their house as Bella Swan’s (181). Packed with fascinating details, Bone’s lively chapter would improve with more analysis. Since vampire narratives powerfully affect so many readers, to the extent of creating social phenomena, theorizing the effect of crossing imaginative boundaries that Bone identifies has potential to explain the culture that produces vampire stories and the subcultures that want to actualize them.

Several of the essays trace the evolution of the Gothic through television and film, as does Dorota Babilas’s essay, “Papa Dracula: Vampires for Family Values?” This fresh inquiry connects the cultural contexts of the eras that produce narratives figuring Dracula as a parent, asking “why the post-modern Dracula has started to enjoy, and endorse, child-centered family life” (243). From Dracula’s Daughter (1936) to Hotel Transylvania (2012), a common thread surfaces in vampire narratives: an inclination to understand vampires in terms of the “families” they create. I hope Babilas will continue and broaden this exploration on why vampire families manifest so frequently in popular culture, including role-playing games, fandoms, and subcultures.

Another collection will have to address the influence of Dracula on the vampire fantasies of Asia and South and Central America. The contributions in this collection show readers that scholarly interest in Dracula seemingly will never die.

-2 April 2019