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