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Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Is Dracula a Jewish stereotype?

Blood Will Tell, a new book by Sara Libby Robinson, gives some interesting evidence that Dracula was meant to evoke anti-semitic stereotypes. From Jewish Ideas Daily:

While never explicitly identified as a Jew, the figure of Dracula—and vampires more generally—encompassed an array of anti-Semitic stereotypes: rootless, of East European origin, dark-complected, and lustful for the money and blood of others. Assessing a wide range of themes in which blood and vampirism were evoked in late-19th-century European "scientific" thought (Social Darwinism and criminology in particular), Robinson argues that Stoker's depiction of Dracula exploited widespread anxieties about the dangers posed by the flood (and the blood) of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to Great Britain.

Dracula's features are "stereotypically Jewish . . . [his] nose is hooked, he has bushy eyebrows, pointed ears, and sharp, ugly fingers." As for his behavior, Robinson situates Dracula in the realm of fin-de-siècle national chauvinism, which viewed non-Anglo-Saxons—and Jews in particular—as dangerous interlopers loyal only to their alien tribe. "Like many immigrants, Dracula has made great efforts to acculturate himself to his new country and to blend in with the rest of the population, through studying its language and customs . . . [his] greatest concern is whether his mastery of English and his pronunciation would brand him as a foreigner." Likewise, Stoker mines anxieties over Jewish dual loyalty. "The one identified person whose aid Dracula enlists in escaping Britain is a German Jew named Hildesheim, 'a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theatre type, with a nose like a sheep,' who must be bribed in order to aid Stoker's heroes."

Robinson asserts that the purpose of her study is to widen the focus away from Dracula. She calls attention, often brilliantly, to the frequent appearance of vampiric metaphors and blood-related anxieties beginning some two decades before Stoker's work appeared, up through the First World War. She marshals evidence from dozens of German, French, and British authors (many now obscure) for allusions to perceived political and social threats evoking the fear of blood-letting and vampirism. Additionally, she casts a fine eye on some 30 illustrations culled from the satirical journals of the period, such as the German Kladderadatsch, the English Punch, and the American Puck and Harper's Weekly.
So what does that make The Count?