The Blush of Capitalism in Bram Stoker’s Dracula
Friends, colleagues, professor, I am grateful (yes, grateful!) for this blog post assignment as I came across a rather interesting piece on economic themes in Bram Stoker’s 1897 gothic horror Dracula while researching for my final paper that I did not get to use because I changed my topic at the eleventh hour (as I am wont to do). Since I have the opportunity to write a blog post relating to Dracula on a topic of my choosing, I thought that perhaps I would explore the topic here. How fortuitous!
The interesting piece in question is the essay “Demand and Desire in Dracula,” by Deanna K. Kreisel, appearing in the immensely interesting book, Economic Women: Essays on Desire and Dispossession in Nineteenth-Century British Culture, edited by Lana L. Dalley and Jill Rappoport. In the essay, Kreisel argues that blood in Dracula is one of “the only ‘products’ that [is] ‘manufactured’ solely in response to demand” (Kreisel 120). Editors Dalley and Rappoport observe that Kreisel’s argument that “bodily fluids such as blood . . . are cogent emblems of economic operations,” and that “[t]he women of Dracula thus literally embody the spectacular fears attendant upon to neoclassical theory of value that emphasized the necessity of unceasing and ever-expanding consumption” (Dalley, Rappoport 11). Kreisel explores this thoroughly throughout the essay, but it is her emphasis on blushing, in particular, that I want to draw attention to in this post.
“The relationship between indexing and blood,” Kreisel posits, “becomes apparent” in Dracula “upon close reading: Lucy’s cheeks, their pallor or ruddiness, indicate distinctly when she has been fed upon, and when she has been allowed to recover” (Kreisel 116). This creates, Kreisel argues, “a ‘secret’ index of the Count’s comings-and-goings, which is corroborated by the more histrionic index of Renfield’s zoophagus activities and rantings about his master” (116). Kreisel goes on to expertly, and meticulously, review both the “crucial ways in which Lucy’s index intersects with the pervasive economic concerns of the novel,” but I would like to touch on another instances of blushing in Stoker’s epistolary novel in which blushing becomes a sort of social currency, or unspoken confirmation of mutual understanding.
Standing on the arrival platform in Paddington Station and thinking that he may miss his guest, Dr. Seward is just “beginning to feel uneasy . . . when a sweet-faced, dainty-looking girl” approaches him, “and, after a quick glance, [says]: ‘Dr Seward, is it not?’” (204). After confirming Dr. Seward’s identity, Mrs. Harker begins to explain that she “knew [him] from the description of poor dear Lucy,” before “stopp[ing] suddenly . . . a quick blush [spreading over] her face” (204). “The blush that rose from my own cheeks somehow set us both at ease,” Dr. Seward records in this diary, “for it was a tacit answer to her own” (204). Dr. Seward’s blush in response to Mrs. Hawker’s own, in this instance, is a sort of social currency “manufactured” in response to the implicit demand of mutual understanding. If “[t]he blood is the life,” as Renfield “repeat[s] over and over again,” then blushing, though a psychological impulse, is “a tacit answer” to her unspoken question: “can I trust you?” (132; 204).
We, as somewhat boring students—correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe that anyone in our seminar is a vampire hunter—do this as well. We may not communicate via blushing, but we certainly do with smirks, raised eyebrows, and looks of sympathy during presentations, each look carrying a coded message within it: “can you believe that s/he does not like Dickens?!”; “the BBC Sherlock is clearly superior”; “I feel your pain,” and so on. These looks are akin to the “cogent emblems of economic operations” that Dalley and Rappoport observed in Kreisel’s work—each one bearing the manufactured (but nevertheless genuine) answer in response to the quiet demand: “do you understand me?” (Dalley, Rappoport 11).
Dalley, Lana L., and Jill Rappoport. Introduction. Economic Women: Essays on Desire and Dispossession in Nineteenth-century British Culture. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013. 1-21. Print.
Kreisel, Deanna K. “Demand and Desire in Dracula.” Economic Women: Essays on Desire and Dispossession in Nineteenth-century British Culture. By Lana L. Dalley and Jill Rappoport. Columbus: Ohio State UP, 2013. 110-23. Print.
Stoker, Bram, and Roger Luckhurst. Dracula. Oxford UP, 2011. Web.