How Anti-Semitic is Dracula?

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by ANDREW JOYCE via Excerpts

One of the clearer explorations of alleged anti-Jewish allegories in Bram Stoker’s Dracula can be found in the work of Sara Libby Robinson, especially her brief essay “Blood will tell: Antisemitism and vampires in British popular culture, 1875–1914.” While I don’t agree with all of Robinson’s conclusions, there are some interesting parallels and relationships in imagery, and I find it interesting in any case to explore Jewish paranoia and sensitivities (Robinson is based at Brandeis and almost certainly Jewish) to certain types of image (that of the gold-seeking dwarf being another that Jews are prone to focus on). For Robinson, Dracula is not like older vampire tales from Eastern Europe because it is fundamentally about a dangerous immigrant arriving in the British Isles:

At the time of publication in 1897, Count Dracula was only one in a long line of fictional vampires. However, Dracula differed from his earlier ancestors in some important ways. As described in Gordon Melton’s encyclopedia of vampires in myth, literature, and film, from Polidori’s Lord Ruthven in 1819, to Rymer’s Varney the Vampire in the 1840s, to Le Fanu’s Carmilla in 1872, whatever their menace, vampires had typically belonged to the social circles they preyed upon; no worse than a local, decadent aristocrat. Varney’s origins in particular are explicitly British. Count Dracula, on the other hand, does not belong to the society he threatens. He is an outsider, specifically an immigrant from Eastern Europe just when large numbers of Eastern European Jews were arriving on England’s shores. … The Jewish population [of Britain] more than doubled in the last quarter of the nineteenth century due to immigration from Eastern Europe. … [I]n taking jobs, money, food, and housing away from native Britons, Jews were not only viewed as competitors, but as parasites, metaphorical vampires who lived by draining away economic opportunities rather than blood.

Count Dracula himself is a kind of faux aristocrat—a member of a decaying race that can only survive by leeching on the vitality of new peoples. He is an elite of sorts, and has some of the trappings of wealth, but he remains fundamentally vile and befouls his surroundings wherever he goes, literally leaving a stench. For Robinson, Dracula is an amalgam of late twentieth-century British views of the Jews. On the one hand, Britons were confronted with an older generation of prominent Jewish oligarchs that had gradually intermarried with the British aristocracy. Like Dracula, these oligarchs sought to mimic their surroundings (Dracula is especially keen to mask his foreign accent, for example), but were essentially regarded as parasitic shape-shifters. In 1891, one newspaper, the Labor Leader, referred to the Rothschilds, a quintessential example of this Anglo-Jewish elite, as “leeches [that] have for years hung on with distended suckers to the body politic of Europe.” On the other hand, Britons were also confronted with a new generation of lower-class Jewish immigrants who brought with them the white slave trade,[8] grass-roots financial exploitation and criminality[9], mass-produced pornography[10] and moral degradation, and political terrorism (both Anarchist and Communist),[11] seen by many as literally befouling the areas they came to inhabit. Dracula, both fake aristocrat and stinking subversive, is argued by Robinson to have encapsulated both experiences.

An especially interesting argument advanced by Robinson, and which had escaped my attention when recently re-reading the novel, is Stoker’s portrayal of Dracula as having an obsession, or special relationship, with money. Robinson writes.

Count Dracula is a faithful embodiment of the caricature of Jews as greedy and parasitic, placing money above all else. Despite his supernatural abilities, Dracula is an essentially commercial character. His first action of the book (while still disguised as a coachman) is to mark the sites of buried treasure. His next is to go over deeds of purchase and other business matters with Harker, in Transylvania representing Dracula’s solicitors in Britain. While dining at Castle Dracula, Harker notes that “the table service is of gold,” an ostentatious show of wealth similar to those which Jewish bankers and nouveaux riches were accused. When Harker explores the castle, he finds a room filled with “a great heap of gold … of all kinds, Roman, and British, and Austrian, and Hungarian, and Greek[,] and Turkish.” Like the modern Jewish financier, Dracula does business and reaps profit from all over the world. The most significant scene, however, comes towards the end of the novel. In it, the heroes have cornered Dracula, and Harker lunges at him with a knife. Not stabbed, “The [knife’s] point just cut the cloth of [Dracula’s] coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out. … The next instant, with a sinuous dive he swept under Harker’s arm … , and, grasping a handful of the money from the floor, dashed across the room.” This demonstration of putting the preservation of one’s money on par with the preservation of one’s life shows that stereotypes regarding Jews and their money were alive and well in the late nineteenth century, and enacted in the fictional character of Dracula, making them seem truly monstrous.

Also interesting are Stoker’s (alleged) insinuations about Jewish loyalties. Robinson points out that Jews have often been accused of seeking after their own tribal interests rather than the interests of the nation they inhabit. She comments,

This nightmare certainly comes true with Stoker’s representation of Dracula as a symbol for supposed Jewish greed and self-interest. Dracula places his loyalty wherever it suits his convenience; speaking both German and English as easily as his native tongue. Dracula has the skills necessary to join forces with Germany, England’s chief rival, if he so wishes. In fact, when fleeing Britain, Dracula enlists the aid of a German Jew named Hildesheim, “a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theater type, with a nose like a sheep” who must naturally be bribed in order to aid Stoker’s heroes. Tellingly, the one overtly Jewish character in the novel is neither British nor on the side of the heroes, reinforcing the anti-Semitic charge that Jews cannot be counted upon to give help solely to aid the national interest, regardless of personal and pecuniary gain.

Like Dracula, Hildesheim’s financial transactions move across Europe, with the money leaving its country of origin, and globalizing capital. Stoker writes that Hildesheim “had been paid for his work by an English pound-note, which had been duly cashed for gold at the Danube International Bank.”

In terms of his physical attributes, Dracula has “a very strong … aquiline [nose], with [a] high bridge and peculiarly arched nostrils.” In Robinson’s view, Dracula’s nose is “labeled constantly throughout the book as hooked or ‘beaky’ [and] is [thus] simultaneously stereotypically Jewish and criminal.” Robinson connects the Count’s “bushy eyebrows, pointed ears, sharp teeth, and ugly fingers” as well as his nose to negative physical attributes commonly ascribed to Jews, as well as to the ideas of the Italian founder of criminal anthropology Cesare Lombroso which posited that the criminal face often bore a nose “like the beak of a bird of prey.”

It’s been pointed out that one of Stoker’s major source materials for Transylvania was Major E.C. Johnson’s travelogue On the Track of the Crescent, with some descriptions and incidents being reproduced so closely as to provoke accusations of plagiarism. Equally interesting, however, are some of Johnson’s descriptions of the physical characteristics of Jews he encountered in his travels, including the following:

Who can mistake them? The oval face; the ‘parroty’ beak, out of all proportion to the other features, the stooping gait and long flowing beard, the furtive glances from under shaggy eyebrows, now cringing, now vindictive. … [A]ll these show unmistakably the Hungarian branch of that race ‘against whom is every man’s hand,’ and who returns the compliment with compound interest.

In Dracula, Bram Stoker appears to have significantly increased the role of Christianity and Christian symbolism as methods of defeating vampires, another cause for Robinson to suspect anti-Semitic subtexts to the novel: “Christian iconography had not been emphasized in vampire fiction earlier in the century. Crucifixes and communion wafers, however, figure prominently in combating Dracula, at a time when a religious community that did not embrace Christianity—the Jews—was on the rise.”

While I find some of these links and allusions quite compelling, or at least entertaining to consider, Robinson stretches too far with her attempt to portray Stoker as a kind of proto-genocidal anti-Semitic eugenicist. The argument goes that Dracula’s opponents are scientifically-minded professionals (two doctors and a lawyer) who are determined to stop Dracula bringing about the degeneration of Britain through the breeding of “a new and ever-widening circle of semi-demons”—in Robinson’s view, a metaphor for miscegenation. From here, in my view, Robinson departs firmly into the deep recesses of Jewish paranoia in which all roads lead to a Spielbergian Auschwitz:

Stoker’s language is very suggestive. His heroes “sterilize” Dracula’s coffins of native soil with communion wafers in order to prevent him from finding refuge during the day. Next, they travel back to Transylvania to destroy Dracula’s castle, the source of the vampire infestation. They do to the Count what Social Darwinists advocated doing to hereditary criminals—sterilization through applied eugenics. All of the evil and danger suggested by fears about alien immigrants, as embodied by Dracula, are chased out of England and destroyed. In the words of one reviewer, Dracula is “exterminated.”

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