Dracula: Whose testimony is missing and why? Sec. Eng. Lit.

“We were struck with the fact that in all the mass of material of which the record is composed, there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of typewriting, except the later notebooks of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum. We could hardly ask anyone, even did we wish to, to accept these as proofs of so wild a story.” (Dracula: 444–5)

“Dracula is more than a Gothic villain, however, more than the mercenary and mundane bandit that they too often turn out to be. As the sublime synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors of Gothic writing, he is both villain and ghostly diabolical agent whose magic and power cannot be reduced to mere tricks or effects of overindulgent, superstitious imagination: more than rational, he serves to elicit rather than dispel superstitious beliefs, demanding, not a return to reason and morality, but a reawakening of spiritual energies and sacred awe.” (Fred Botting: Gothic (The New Critical Idiom) Routledge, 1999 95)

LITERARY analysis has given varying interpretations of the vampire Count over the time since the novel’s appearance in 1897: symbol of evil, incarnation of nightmares, and most especially representation of sexual degeneracy among others. However, as Hughes has pointed out:

Modern criticism’s preoccupation with sexuality dominates – and indeed inhibits the development of – the debate on vampirism…This recourse to sexuality, however, arguably represents – for both fictional character and commentating critic – the edge of an epistemological problem. Quite simply, the vampire may not be as sexual as the preoccupations of the perceiving discourses suggest it ought to be. (Fictional Vampires in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries in in A New Companion to the Gothic,199)

How, then can we avoid such a preoccupation when it seems to be in almost every literary essay or book dealing with vampires and most especially Dracula?

Twitchell (1996) gives us, as readers, a different aspect to examine:

“Ironically, Dracula, the greatest vampire novel, is the work of literature that takes the vampire out of fiction and returns him to folklore”  (132)

The tale is recounted in a variety of extracts – letters, transcriptions of phonographic records, diary entries, newspaper article references. They are produced at the hands of Jonathan Harker, Mina Harker, John Seward and Abraham Van Helsing – they contain remembered conversations, descriptions of areas, buildings and events, all recalled later, as Harker points out in the first quote. We are guided by their words and the story which is built around them as the main raconteurs of the events – yet the one character whose written point of view that is missing is that of Dracula himself. His words and actions are only passed to us through these recollections of all that happened – his written contributions consists of a few notes and letters addressed to Harker as the latter travels to Castle Dracula the outset of the novel. Why, of all the characters in the book, is the cultured, well read eponymous anti-hero the only one of the major protagonists whose thoughts and outlook are NOT presented to the reader? Simply to state that it is because he is the ‘baddy’ and the rest are ‘goodies’ or that, as Churchill pointed out, history (even invented literary history) is written by the victors, is a much too simplistic answer. How far is the tale of folkloric legends and superstitions, and how far does it run deeper than this? Can we, by examining a literary “what if”, look at the possible deeper meaning of the novel? The “what if” – “what if Dracula had put forward his point of view and interpretation of the events?”

Two caveats – first – I am not looking to become a Dracula apologist, turning him into a hero in the mould of the “Daywalker” of the Blade films, the warrior of Underworld or most particularly, the brooding, spoilt teenage used for a vampire in Twilight. Dracula is and must remain Dracula and the deeds he carries out unquestioned – the motives may be the telling part. Second,

Any reading raises suspicions “that we pretended was the author’s meaning was in fact only our own”  (106-7). This is the delusional possibility that lurks within every act of criticism: analysts/interpreters may “see things” in texts that are the product of their own desires, fantasies and delusions. (Scott Brewster, “Seeing Things: Gothic and the Madness of Interpretation” in A New Companion to the Gothic 485)

Simply to over interpret any literary text leads very possibly to the imposition of our own ideas rather than understanding the work in the way the author intended (though it could equally be argued that such an understanding via our own experiences is that which must be, as we can understand it in no other way!)

Perhaps the first question to ask would be why Dracula, wielder of power, a feudal lord who had complete dominion over those in his lands, would choose to leave this and head to London where he will be unknown? As the centre of the Empire and the largest conurbation in the world at the time, London was a cosmopolitan centre, a centre of economic, scientific and military power. It was, however, a city divided. The huge wealth of the West End was in striking contrast when juxtaposed with the abject poverty and horror of life in the East End. Dracula, published in 1897, was only nine years after the terror of the Whitechapel killings by the apparently self-named Jack the Ripper. This would surely be the obvious place for Dracula’s new regime. Here, he might be anonymous among the teeming, multi-national throngs of the London populace, but also where he could use that anonymity to his own perfidious ends. In a city where violence is nothing unusual, where a multiple killer has escaped the noose for his crimes a mere decade prior to the Count’s arrival, this would surely be the evident locus to begin whatever plan he wishes to carry through. In transferring his physical situation to the West (London) from the East (Transylvania), is he a latter day symbol of the barbarism and superstition which had been made incarnate in the Huns and their leader Attila in the latter days of the Western Roman Empire? Is he the one who will succeed where Attila failed? Dracula links himself in his ancestry to the nomadic, warrior tribes who swept in from the North and the East, linking his familial origins to such by ties of honour and blood, and above all, violence. Indeed, Wasson (“The Politics of Dracula”, 1966, 24-7) went so far as to posit that Stoker, recognising the rise of the ideals of fascism in Central and Eastern Europe, made these incarnate in Dracula’s person, battling the Western values which are represented in the community of allies who face up to him (eg Law in Harker, Science in Seward, Christianity in Van Helsing et al), though this, I feel, is perhaps taking the interpretation one step too far, for the reasons cited in Brewster above.

In this move to London, however, there is no rejection of the standard Gothic setting. Though he has migrated to the metropolis of modernity and scientific advancement, Dracula’s home is still to be the old, decaying house, Carfax, where he can still be wrapped in the trappings of all that he would find familiar. In this, Dracula is painted to be:

…the sublime synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors of Gothic writing, he is both villain and ghostly diabolical agent whose magic and power cannot be reduced to mere tricks or effects of overindulgent, superstitious imagination: more than rational, he serves to elicit rather than dispel superstitious beliefs, demanding, not a return to reason and morality, but a reawakening of spiritual energies and sacred awe. (Fred Botting, “Gothic (The New Critical Idiom)” 103

In such a representation, can we begin to view anything from Dracula’s point of view? Indeed, is he merely a symbol of evil, superstition and primitivism, something which has no real character to analyse? Is this the reason that, after his continual presence in the first half of the novel, he more or less disappears as a physical character in the most part of the latter half, only becoming a physical presence again in the denouement where he his presence is requisite only to be extinguished at the hands of the modernists represented in the other protagonists? Early in the novel, Dracula explains why he wishes to remove himself to London – he wishes to be:

…a stranger in a strange land…men know him not – and to know not is to care not for. I am content if I am like the rest, so that no man stops if he sees me, or pause in his speaking if he hears my words, to say ‘Ha, ha! a stranger!’ I have been so long a master that I would be master still – or at least that none other should be master of me.’ (20)

In this, is Dracula, as the personification of the ‘synthesis of the human and supernatural terrors’, stating that he is the power which will, while remaining hidden from view, fight and vanquish the modern which is represented in the Western protagonists? He will not be a stranger, but as the atavistic vampire, he will use the powers at his disposal to remain as much master in London as he is in Transylvania? He is the epitome of Freud’s Unheimliche – Uncanny – he is the terror, the power of the unknown, but equally as part of the familiar by fitting into the social structure of Victorian London without being the stranger, no longer the ‘other’.

Why did we not get part at least of Dracula’s testimony? Partially, the social mores of the later Victorian England. Dracula is not just a representation of pure evil. He is also licentiousness, unfettered sexual depravity and perhaps most shockingly for the time, the corrupter of the innocent represented in Lucy Westenra and Mina Murray (ie prior to her marriage when her sexual innocence would be at an end through the consummation of the marriage). As Hughes states:

Sexuality functions as the key to the uncanny, the “real” meaning behind the unease associated with the supernatural. (Hughes in A New Companion to the Gothic, 212)

His successful despoiling of Lucy and turning her to a vampire is one of the most shocking episodes, and something which per se would deny the possibility of there being any testimony from the direct words of the Count. What there is of his attitude is only that which can be reported by the others in the novel, that which must be not an apology for the vampire (how can one be an apologist for pure evil?), but the parts which show him simply for what he is – this also demonstrated in the (even more shocking for the contemporary audience) overt sexual predatoriness demonstrated first by the vampiresses in Dracula’s castle and then in the reanimated, undead Lucy. Unlike Anne Rices’ LeStat, who does put forward a vampire’s point of view, Dracula cannot. The evolution of the mores from Late Victorian to modern times allow for a sympathetic view, somewhat ignoring the truth of the vampire (as in the Twilight series of books where the brooding teen vampire is rendered the hero) or in allowing the succumbing to the need for something as “beautiful and as devastating as my kill” (Vampire Chronicles, 1977, 36), both of which being attitudes which would be unconscionable to a Victorian audience. The lust and misuse of innocence, the abandoning of the food, the “banquet” which means no more to him than a plate of soup would to a human, the idea that a pure maiden might be simply a meal which remains as much in the vampire’s memory as a side of beef would to a human, despite the use of the most primitive of sexual instincts to win access to that food, is the horror. In this, we are, as Freud’s Uncanny demand, made to face something of ourselves in the vampire, though it is carried to the absolute extreme, the hyperbole of overt carnality and degeneracy and the consumption of the life force in the drinking of the blood, and therefore enough beyond what we are to allow us to distance ourselves from its being a true representation of ourselves. A vampire could only become acceptable, and therefore have the right to be represented in his own testimony if he were to recant these practices, and he would ergo no longer be a valid participant as he would no longer be a vampire. As Dracula is THE archetypal vampire, the greatest of them all, the controller of the supernatural powers and nature as demonstrated in his control over the “children of the night”, that is something he could by definition NOT leave as it is his very being, his purest essence. To allow Dracula to speak in his own words would be to deny his reality, deny that which he is and must ever be. For Dracula to be Dracula, he must remain silent other than in the words of others in later documents written by his destroyers.

Gothic Literature – A Reflection of Social Change – 1 Religion Part 2 Vampyres, Vampires, Vampiri – Polidori’s Vampyre

ASK anyone to name a Gothic monster, the chances are that the first mentioned will be the Vampire. Will everyone have the same image? Certainly not! Research the listed standard images, all from tales of the vampiric – which would be the archetype you would choose? 

Vanrney the Vampire             Carmilla                                        Nosferatu

Bela Lugosi  Dracula               Christopher Lee Dracula         Louis Jourdan Dracula

Leslie Nielsen Dracula           Gary OldmanDracula                Kate Beckinsale Underworld

Robert Pattinson (Twilight)

Each of these depictions covers the representation of a vampire at various times in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The main vampire among the pictures is, inevitably, Count Dracula, though never truly twice the same! In these, however, can we see any noticeable changes in attitude, and are these reflected in the social constructs of the era they were produced?

The concept of vampirism is, as far as we can tell, as old as civilisation – there were fiends which fed from human blood in the tales of Mesopotamia, China, Greece, Rome… While not necessarily the vampire which we would automatically recognise today, they were, nevertheless creatures of nightmare which consumed the life force of their victims through draining them of blood.

The idea of the modern (perhaps better termed European) vampire, was mainly prevalent in the areas we now know as Romania, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and into Eastern German and Hungary – what is generalised a Central Europe, though also in Greece, the Balkans and Turkey as well. It is, however, through Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula that the standard association with the area of Transylvania with the homeland of vampires was born.

“For, let me tell you, he (the vampire) is known everywhere that men have been. In old Greece, in old Rome; he flourish in Germany all over, in France, in India even in the Chersones; and in China…the wake of the Berserker Icelander, the devil-begotten Hun, the Slav, the Saxon, the Magyar.” (Dracula 239)

Interestingly, the great imperial power, Britain, is apparently free of resident vampires…

How might we interpret this as a reflection of the ideas of the time?

What was Britain’s role on the wider world stage?

Why does this make Dracula’s determination to move to England, and more specifically London, all the more significant?

Why was this the chosen area? Primarily, the link is to the fifteenth century Voivode of Wallachia, Vlad Ţepeș or Vlad Dracul (also known, for fairly self evident reasons, as Vlad the Impaler). Unlike Stoker’s creation, however, this Dracula was an historical figure, and one who is still regarded as a hero and freedom fighter, defender of Christendom from the Ottoman Empire when it was under threat. The only portrait of Vlad III dates from the very early sixteenth century and hangs in Schloß Ambras in Innsbruck, Austria:


The portrait here, when compared with the Count of the novel, is  most certainly not the vampire lord, bearing no real resemblance to Stoker’s creation, though van Helsing does intimate a link:

“I have asked my friend Armenius, of Buda-Pesth University, to make is record…The Draculas were, says Armenius, a great and noble race, though now and again were scions who were held by the coevals to have had dealings with the Evil One.” (240)

Why, then, would Transylvania be chosen as the key area in the first part of the tome? An explanation is offered at the start of the novel:

“I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps of the library regarding Transylvania; it had struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance in dealing with a noble of that country. I find that the district he named is in the extreme east of the country, just on the borders of three states, Transylvania, Moldavia and Bukovina, in the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wilds and least known portions of Europe.” (Dracula, 1)

It is the strangeness, the otherness, the idea that it verges on the edge of civilisation, still feudal in nature and riddled with superstition that makes it so attractive as its setting.

This is something which we find in many of the nineteenth century vampire tales. The standardly accepted first, Polidori’s The Vampyre, while starting in England, has Ruthven and Aubrey travel to the continent, first to Italy and then on to Greece, travelling eastward, and therefore, by definition, away from the rational West and to the superstitious Orthodox East, via Catholic Italy. Is this unusual for the time? Hardly! This is the standard route for the Grand Tour which involved taking in the homes of Classical civilisation, the civilisations upon which the rationality of Western Europe was grounded. Indeed, it is highly likely that Aubrey and Ruthven’s trip is based on that of Lord Byron’s creation (Byron was Polidori’s patient, and cited as ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know) of a young narrator and Augustus Darvell, someone of whom the narrator was in awe, though in The Vampyre, Ruthven is most certainly Byron! Aubrey parts company with Ruthven in Rome after finding out the latter had seduced the daughter of a mutual acquaintance, heading out to Greece where he falls in love with the innocent figure of the peasant girl Ianthe who is continually distracting Aubrey from his drawings of the classical ruins with legends of vampires. The key hint of the inevitable conclusion to the sojourn in Greece:

“She detailed to him the traditional appearance of these monsters, and its horror was increased, by hearing a pretty accurate description of Lord Ruthven; he, however, still persisted in persuading her, that there could be no truth in her fears, though at the same time he wondered at the many coincidences which had all tended to excite a belief in the supernatural power of Lord Ruthven.”

In this association, we see the standard Gothic trope of das Unheimliche of Freud (1919) – the frightening supernatural brings us back to that with which we are familiar – in recognising Ruthven in the descriptions of the ‘vampyre’, Aubrey has an insight of highest importance, though he does not act to save Ianthe, and is unable to save either his sister or himself after the return to London due to an oath of silences he swears to the dying Ruthven after they are ambushed by bandits. The resurrected (or rather reanimated) vampire, Ruthven, is able, due to Aubrey’s holding to his oath until it is too late, becomes the dominant power of the tale as the oath is extracted BEFORE the ‘death’.

The role of religion in The Vampyre is minimal, though, according to O’Malley (2006):

“…this fascination with Ruthven mirrors the Gothic fascination with Catholicism as unredeemable alien, deadly and yet irresistibly seductive.” (147)

While this is debatable (the fascination could equally be with Byron and his reputation after Lady Caroline Lamb’s 1816 novel, Glenarvon, and the image of him left in the public mind), there could easily be an element of truth to the mirroring of the emotions evinced by the portrayal of the Church of Rome in the Gothic in general. Equally one can see that the Catholic would be relatively difficult to introduce as the protagonists in Aubrey and Ruthven are both English, and therefore, despite much of the supernatural taking place in Catholic/Orthodox countries, not part of the “Papal Aggression” which caused such fear among the evangelical clergy and the conservatively Protestant populace of the British mainland. Unlike later vampires, though, Ruthven does not, by his bite, infect those upon whom he feeds, turning them into the Undead as later vampire fiction will intimate.  The vampire here is part of the establishment as well, not simply part of the populace. It could perhaps be argued that he mirrors the growing influence and fear from the Oxford Movement which was to reach its heights two decades later, where the Catholic ritualism was adopted by a sector of the established church and was to develop into the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, where the infiltrator was not a foreigner, was not a stranger, but was a corrupted limb of the established social hierarchy, a canker which might fester, grow and infect the entire body of the church and state, sucking the pure Protestant faith dry: as Henry Morley (cited in O’Malley) stated in 1852:

“To ‘an honest ghost’ one has no objection; but an animated corpse which goes about in Christian attire, and although never known to eat, or drink, or shake hands, is allowed to sit at good men’s feasts; which renews its odious life every hundred years by sucking a young lady’s blood, after fascinating her by motions which resemble mesmerism burlesqued…passes all bounds of toleration.” (149)

(This is evidently based upon the early description of Ruthven:

“…it was caused by their fearing the observation of one, who by his colourless cheek, which never gained a warmer tint from the blush of conscious shame or from any powerful emotion, appeared to be above human feelings and sympathies, the fashionable names for frailties and sins. His peculiarities caused him to be invited to every house.” (33))

The infiltration here can easily be twisted to associate with the perceived heartlessness, superstition and corruption of the Catholic Church in the eyes of the more rabid Protestant critics, (eg the “motions which resemble mesmerism burlesqued” might be exaggerated to refer to the liturgical movements and genuflections et al of the Mass, the “animated corpse…in Christian attire” a reference to the again deemed spiritually dead Catholicism which exists though only covered in the thinnest veneer of Christianity – such heavily biased and anti Catholic ideas were commonplace at the time, as we have seen), it could be equally argued that this is most certainly a step too far, and that the corruption incarnate in Ruthven is in fact a moral corruption rather than any religious connotation whatsoever, particularly when the association of the the two nobles, Ruthven and Byron.

Sec. School – Gothic Literature – A Reflection of Social Change – 1 Religion

GOTHIC literature has experienced its major times of popularity at times of great change and uncertainty in society. Its birth in the Castle of Otranto (Walpole, 1764) and The Monk (Lewis, 1796) both released at the times when some of the most violent and rapid social changes were occurring – the start of the Industrial Revolution and the concomitant changes in the social structure and population distribution, and the American Revolution and the French Revolution – the former a radical break from a colonial power and new ideas and structures (though based supposedly heavily on Ancient Athens and Republican Rome), the latter one of the bloodiest episodes in European history since the Albigensian Crusades, culminating in regicide and the Terror under Robespierre et al and the removal of the Ancien Régime.

Changes were not, however, confined to these three episodes alone. The great population movements from the agriculturally based economies of earlier times were giving way to the new mechanisation of many if not most industries with such inventions as the ‘Spinning Jenny’ by James Hargreaves in Stanhill, Oswaldtwistle, in Lancashire in 1764, coinciding with the first publication of Walpole’s first Gothic tale. As work became harder to find in the rural areas, jobs were sought in the growing urban areas, principally the major metropolises: London, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Sheffield inter alia. Such population migrations led to very rapid growth in these cities throughout the very end of the eighteenth and the whole of the nineteenth centuries as the traditional agrarian culture collapsed and the heavy industries sucked in more and more labourers, resulting in massive expansion in the slum areas and workhouses of all these cities and others. At the other end of the social pyramid, the aristocracy was in many ways obliged to surrender, even if extremely reluctantly, certain of its privileges as the nineteenth century progressed, there being the ever present memory of 1789 in France and the effects of the Year of Revolution, 1848. It is, however, on the symbolism of religious life and how these changes are reflected in the Gothic literature until the appearance of the vampire as the supernatural being that I shall concentrate in this, principally looking at the works of Walpole and Lewis.

1829 saw the passing of “An Act for the Relief of His Majesty’s Roman Catholic Subjects.” This Catholic Emancipation Act removed many of the heavy restrictions which had been placed on UK subjects who adhered to the faith of the Church of Rome – the Act of Union with Ireland of 1800 and the Irish agitation led by Daniel O’Connell (1775–1847), particularly in 1828-29 meant that for the first time since the Reformation nearly three centuries before (with short lived exceptions such as under the reign of Mary Tudor), Roman Catholic clergy were to be seen in the streets of the cities, freely setting up mission churches and celebrating the Mass, particularly in the poor urban areas due to the oft times large Irish populations. This conflicted greatly with the innate anti-Papist ideals of the Protestant clergy and the members of the evangelical churches. The culmination on this front came in the form of the Oxford Movement of the 1840s which saw a small, but majorly influential and intellectually powerful, group of clergy in the established Anglican Church begin to introduce “Papist practices” into their own churches. A tract of 1874 (Ritualism: A Sermon) states:

“Jesuits (the most powerful and influential Roman Catholic Monastic order), spreading their nets to catch the unwary, would, if they could, bring back the days of popery, and set up in God’s place the old harlot of Rome. This evil spirit comes to us in the garb and under the name of Ritualism – a mild form of Romanism – seeking to attract us to its service by a gorgeous ceremonial and a dazzling spectacle.” (My italics)

So what? What has this to do with Gothic literature?

From the earliest works of literature which are classed as Gothic, many have a strong element tied to the beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism – either, as demonstrated above, vehemently anti-Catholic (such as Lewis’ “The Monk”), or, as can be argued from certain works, at least an acceptance of the importance of Catholicism in the fight against the evil beings, most especially vampires, through symbols and practices or otherwise (such as in Stoker’s “Dracula”). Such allusions in the negative views are scarcely surprising given the innate hatred of all things Popish among the evangelicals – in 1840, Stowell (an Anglican clergyman) associated the growing Oxford Movement with Roman Catholicism and the barbaric practices of the Mediaeval Inquisition, though writing in terms fitting of any Gothic novel:

“Let the sad change of opinion respecting her (ie Catholic Emancipation, the allowance of Roman Catholic Clergy and the Oxford Movement), which has already so deeply betrayed us, concede to Popery her ancient ascendency, and the fires of Smithfield will blaze anew (reference to the 282 Protestants claimed burned at the stake in the reign of Mary Tudor), the dark dungeons of the Inquisition will again gape for their victims, and fatally and fearfully will the mother of abominations (reference to the Whore of Babylon in Revelations, taken by evangelicals even now to be the Roman Catholic Church) will evince her infallibility (this was passed as Papal Infallibility during the First Vatican Council of 1869-70 where the Pope was declared infallible when speaking ex cathedra (on matters of faith alone)) by again becoming ‘drunken with the blood of the Saints.’”

These anti Catholic ideas were far from new. There was a mistrust of those who followed the ‘old Faith’ and the perceived dangers and ‘foreigness’ of the Catholic practices under the tyranny of an evil and corrupt dictator in Rome, a sensual and degenerate, wanton and perverse, dragging the pure innocents of evangelical Protestantism down into the anterooms of Hell,

“She is both the ‘dog [that] returneth to his vomit’ and an upstart woman defying the authority of the masculine John Bull in her ravenous attempt to feed upon England.” (O’Malley, 132)

Catholicism appears in the opening paragraph of the preface to Castle of Otranto (First Ed.)

“The following work was found in the library of an ancient Catholic family in the north of England.”

That this manuscript is printed in 1529 in Naples and that a translation of an earlier manuscript  which dates from the Crusader period (ie some point between 1095 and 1243, though no more is said for definite) places the tale both in Italy, the corrupt home of Catholicism, and in the distant, violent past, in a time before the Reformation, and as such when even England was the “Dowry of Mary”. Why do this?

“Miracles, visions, necromancy, dreams, and other preternatural events, are exploded now even from romances. That was not the case when the author wrote, much less when the sort itself is supposed to have happened.”

In removing the setting from the era in which he lives and setting it so far back, Walpole can justify his introduction of the superstitious, the otherworldly, the ‘uncanny’ (Freud defined this as the class of frightening things that leads us back to what is known and familiar.) It is via the superstitious, the preternatural and the exposing of the degenerate nature of those in power, both noble and clerical, that the reader will be brought back to the real and the familiar, having learned to reject the corrupt Mediaeval dominated by Catholicism in the Inquisition (though it is worth noting that in “On the Psychology of the Uncanny” (1906): Ernst Jentsch came to the following conclusions: 1) Uncanny = fear of the unfamiliar; 2) Uncanny = based on intellectual uncertainty.)  This bringing of the supernatural is thus to be treated as a literary technique and the use of such is placed squarely at the feet of the original author:

“Terror, the author’s principal engine, prevents the story from ever languishing; and it is so often contrasted by pity, that the mind is kept in a constant vicissitude of interesting passions.”

Placing the tale in the far past and the use of the horrific with the author of the original tale, it becomes acceptable in the Age of Reason whilst also appeasing the anti-Catholic sentiments of the time:

“It is not unlikely that an artful priest might endeavour to turn their own arms on the innovators (ie. those who were the Reformers against Catholicism), and might avail himself of his abilities as an author to confirm the populace in their ancient errors and superstitions.” (My italics).

While Walpole’s work carries an anti-Catholic message, it is tame in comparison to the rabid anti-Catholicism in Lewis’ The Monk first edition 1796. From its opening scene, the standard trope of Gothic anti-Romanism are present:

“Scarcely had the Abbey Bell tolled for five minutes, and already was the Church of the Capuchins thronged with Auditors. Do not encourage the idea that the Crowd was assembled either from motives of piety or thirst of information. But very few were influenced by those reasons; and in a city where such despotic sway as in Madrid to seek for true devotion would be a fruitless attempt…The women came to show themselves, the Men to see the Women.”

The setting is the Continent – Madrid, capital of the country which was home to the Inquisition. The Crowd are there either through hypocrisy, sloth (“no better means of employing their time till the play began”), coquettishness on the part of the Women and pure lust on the part of the Men, not through true “piety or thirst of information”, both of which, it might be intuited, would be the motives of a true Protestant believer – the use of both in comparison with the Catholics in Madrid implies that such would be the norm for attending Church services among the readers. Those who are there “truly anxious to hear the Preacher were a few antiquated devotees, and half a dozen rival Orators, determined to find fault with and ridicule the discourse.” Again, the insinuation that only the elderly and those who would attend to attack and mock for hypocritical reasons are there for any practical purpose rather than showing off and lasciviousness – these are what the Reader is to expect in the clutches of Roman Catholicism.

Perhaps unusual for the time in our minds (though remember that Tom Jones had been published in 1749, and the infinitely more shocking Fanny Hill: Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure in 1748) is the theme of sexuality and lasciviousness as well as themes of cross dressing, pseudo-homosexuality and sexual obsession which are central to the plot in the form of Ambrosio’s desire for Matilda (though while cross dressing, believed by Ambrosio to be a young monk, Rosario):

“(Ambrosio) could not help sometimes in indulging a desire secretly to see the face of his Pupil.”

Even after he discovers the truth of Matilda’s gender half way through the tale, Ambrosio’s desire, it is hinted, is not for the powerful and domineering Matilda, but for the gentle Rosario, the one who was in awe of his mentor:

“Every moment convinced him of the astonishing powers of her mind: But what She gained in the opinion of the Man, She lost with interest in the affection of the Lover. He regretted Rosario, the fond, the gentle, the submissive: He grieved that Matilda preferred the virtues of his sex to those of her own.”

This again is a theme which is frequent in the Gothic – the rejection and overpowering of traditional gender roles assigned by the society of the time – these can be seen again and again (the dominant Carmilla, the dominant character of the unDead Lucy Westenra in Dracula,  and the passivity of Harker under the dominance of the three female vampires in Dracula’s castle inter alia). Matilda becomes the incarnation of all that Lewis sees as perverted in his perceived superstitions of Catholicism, its hypocrisy, its lasciviousness, sexual confusion and inability to protect its believers – she disguises herself as he; she parallels Ambrosio’s relationship to the Virgin Mary in the name she uses as the monk (Rosario – the rosary) she is innocent on the surface, and yet corrupt just beneath that surface, a hypocrite par excellence where all that is gentle and good is but for show to get her own way and bring down the man seen to be a “Saint” by the naive Catholics. When she casts off the male surface, she becomes a sexual succubus, casting an illusion of the Lord of Hell to extend her power over Ambrosio, but not through fear – through homosexual lust:

“He beheld a Figure more beautiful, than Fancy’s pencil ever drew. It was a Youth…form and face unparalleled and unrivalled. He was perfectly naked”

The culmination lies in the revealing of the trans-gender Rosario/Matilda as a genderless daemon sent to drag Ambrosio down to Hell after his final rejection of Salvation.

The danger here was, however, something which the Protestant English could look on with shock, early Gothic tales backed every prejudice which they held against the Church of Rome, as in the eighteenth century it was distant and something done by ‘foreigners’ – with the Catholic Emancipation Act in 1829 and the Puseyite and Oxford Movements, introducing the spectre (as seen by the Evangelical Protestants) of the Church of Rome, the “Great Whore” of the Book of Revelation, the superstition and perceived tyranny of Papal power now transferred to mainland United Kingdom – the ‘real threat’ of the ‘Real Presence’. From this point, as far as the religious trope of the Gothic is concerned, that the vampire first makes its appearance in the mainstream, starting with the form of Lord Ruthven in Polidori’s Vampyre. It is with the seductive power of these atavistic anthropomorphic forms or evil in literature of the nineteenth century that I shall deal with next.

Part 2 Lucy as UnDead – a Significant Episode?

How does Stoker bring the men who loved Lucy to the point where they willingly are complicit in her ultimate demise? That she had been torn, arguably flirting (to use a modern idea) with the three men, though in reality in a state of confusion as to which of them was to be her husband is evident from her correspondence with Mina. Again and again, van Helsing, the hardened warrior against the evil which is incarnate in the Count – he has, for example, brought the Consecrated Host from Amsterdam as he has an indulgence so to do and to use it in waging war against evil – refers to her in terms of almost paternal gentleness. It is when they are waiting for her return to her tomb after a night’s hunting,

“we could see that the lips were crimson with fresh blood, and that the stream had trickled over her chin and stained the purity of her lawn death-robe.”

Her purity of life, symbolised in the white shroud has been stained and corrupted by her feeding, the traces of death on her face and breast being her source of undead existence.

It is this horror which is the cause of even van Helsing’s “iron nerve” failing. This again gives us the juxtaposition of purity and corruption which is a leitmotiv of the oeuvre. As with the three female vampires, it is the absolute rejection of all that would have been seen as being womanly and fitting of her gender which brings the vampire hunters to that point where they can destroy her: her “eyes unclean and full of hell fire instead of the gentle orbs we knew.” It is a common proverb that the eyes are the window to the soul; in this, Stoker emphasises the corruption and damnation which the Count releases in all those whom he touches and turns. Again,

“her eyes blazed with unholy light, and the face became wreathed with a voluptuous smile.”

The sexualising of innocence and her using it as a weapon is something which we, as the readers, experiencing the whole episode through Jack Seward’s eyes and his description, are to find equally disturbing and repulsive. For us, however, it is the rejection of the symbolic motherhood which elicits the first response from Arthur, her beloved:

“With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast, growling over it as a dog growls over a bone.”

In this , we can again turn to the iconography of Roman Catholicism – the image of the Virgin Mary clutching the Infant Christ to her breast, the Holy Mother, nourishing and protecting the Child in the symbol of pure motherhood. Here, Lucy, in daemonic, unDead form, rejects the child, throwing it down and then being prepared to feed on that child rather than nourishing it. The love of the maternal instinct is replaced by “a cold-bloodedness in the act”. As she advances to Arthur, using the sexualised weapon of seduction which she now wields freely as the unDead, it is van Helsing who intervenes with his Crucifix, again Catholic weapons wielded by the only Catholic among the main combatants. It is evident, however, that this, while effective and therefore pure, is still not quite acceptable to the Protestantism of the Victorian era as it, as well as the Consecrated Host, are brought from abroad and are wielded by a foreigner, and alien in the society in which he fights, though, coming from the Netherlands, less strange, exotic and foreign than the Count. Moreover, he will not act of his own volition in the killing of Lucy – this can only come from Arthur – husband, and Englishman:

“Van Helsing broke the silence by asking Arthur, “Answer me, oh my friend! Am I to proceed in my work?”

“Do as you will, friend. Do as you will. There can be no horror like this ever any more.” And he groaned in spirit.”

Despite there being no alternative – how could Holmwood say no with the inevitable consequences of such, as she would turn each child on which she fed bit by bit to nosferatu? – van Helsing must nevertheless ask and receive permission, and it is Arthur who must hammer the stake home to grant his beloved the release and peace which she needs as van Helsing reads the requisite prayers and psalms from the Missal (note , the prayer book of the Roman Catholic Church and at that time in Latin). In the destruction of the evil and the driving out of the UnDead, Lucy is released and, in death, “…with her face of unequalled sweetness and purity.” This is the last image which Arthur and Quincey have – it is the two medics who complete the gory end which is necessary that she be not again summoned to UnDead by the Count.

The significance of the long episode of the horror and liberation of Lucy’s soul is made clear only at the end of the whole process – van Helsing:

“Shall you not all help me? We have learned to believe, all of us, is it not so? And since so, do we not see our duty? Yes! And do we not promise to go on to the bitter end?”

Each in turn, we took his hand, and the promise was made.”

It is the episode of Lucy’s death which seals the fellowship that will seek out and rid the the world of the evil which has come from the exotic East of Europe to corrupt and feed in the metropolis of London.

Some points to think about:

  • Why is Harker, the Western protagonist of the first part of the novel, the one human male who is NOT present in this episode? What is the significance (other than that he is busy in the legal practice)? Why is he NOT involved in the fight against the evil which he as been instrumental in unleashing on the capital? Is this an incongruity in the gender expected roles of the late nineteenth century?
  • How does the reliance on Catholic symbolism and ritual enhance the exotic and strangeness of the episode?
  • To what extent do you think this would have been an effective literary and metaphorical device at the time of publication (1897)?
  • In the same year as Dracula was published, Walter Walsh (The Secret History of the Oxford Movement) wrote: “The ‘woman drunken with the blood of the saints’ (Rev. xvii.6) has not lost her cruel nature…Her persecuting laws are still the same as when in the Dark Ages her infernal Inquisition performed, unhindered, its bloodthirsty work.” Taking that the ‘woman’ and the ‘she’ is the Whore of Babylon (taken as representing the Roman Catholic Church by evangelical Protestants), how does this contemporary view of Catholicism help us to understand the impact of the use of Catholicism to fight the ancient evil incarnate in Dracula himself?

Secondary School English Literature: Dracula – Bram Stoker – An Introduction Part 1 to the Death of Lucy Westenra

FOR those encountering the Gothic as a genre in their studies of English literature, there can be few, if any, better places to start than with Bram Stoker’s oeuvre of 1897. The novel Dracula has played a major role in the modern day Gothic and its inception into the modern era. It contains a tightly constructed plot, uses a wide variety of narrative techniques, though principally relying on letters and diary extracts as the main narration, and draws the reader into the darkest recesses of the human psyche besides being an excellent tale. It does, however, go deeper than this.

First questions for the school reader:

  • Why does the book begin with the young solicitor’s clerk, Harker, travelling from the West to the East? What can we infer from the quote: “I read that every known superstition in the world is gathered into the horseshoe of the Carpathians, as if it were the centre of some sort of imaginative whirlpool; if so my stay may be very interesting.”?
  • What is the atmosphere created by Stoker’s use of language as Harker leaves behind Germany and heads through the Eastern countries, travelling towards Romania and the province of Transylvania?
  • How does Stoker use imagery to pull the reader into Harker’s sense of confusion and feeling lost as he travels East – why is the use of travelling by train important? (Remember – 1897!) What significance is there in the train lines ending and the carriages and carts as he travels through Bohemia?
  • How does Stoker contrast the rationality of Harker’s own background and the Britain he has left behind with the superstition and apparent primitivism of the people he encounters as he travels to Castle Dracula?

After his arrival at Castle Dracula, we find a very marked juxtaposition of the old (the castle building, the use of candlelight rather than gas lighting etc) and the modern (the wide variety of modern magazines, journals, books et al in the library). Dracula is constantly questioning Harker about England, and especially London; there are frequent mentions of ideas and technology which are modern to the nineteenth century (eg Harker’s writing of his journal in shorthand, a system developed by Isaac Pitman, and first presented in 1837) – as the struggles against Dracula’s atavistic vampire progress, we encounter the use of typewriters, telephones, the telegraph system, phonographs and Kodak photographic equipment used against the ancient evil which the Count embodies – where he is able, in primitive Transylvania, to dominate and control through fear and the horror he brings (if we consider it in clear terms, Dracula and his female entourage would account for fewer deaths in the area than the average outbreak of any of the viral illnesses which frequented the pre antibiotic era) the Count must face the modern ideas and technologies which counter his supernatural abilities. Van Helsing, doctor and professor, can travel from Amsterdam to Whitby and London very quickly using the modern steam ship crossings, yet he also manipulates and effectively wields the traditional weapons against the vampire lord – especially the Crucifix and garlic to drive the vampires back, and the use of the Consecrated Host and Holy Water to cleanse and injure the undead. It is noticeable also that the religious symbolism, used here in a Gothic tale of horror, is based on the symbols and rites of the Roman Catholic Church, despite the innate anti-Catholicism of much of Victorian England outside of the Irish ghettoes and the old Catholic areas such as Lancaster in the North West.

Dracula himself is an unusual anti hero – his presence, after being fairly continuous in the first part of the novel in Romania, is often not corporeal in the rest of the book, but rather a dark and brooding fear that permeates the whole of the novel, just out of eyesight, but haunting the whole structure. His ability to transmute from human form to animal (bat or wolf) makes him a bridge between the civilised human (the cultured aristocrat) and the feral being which instils fear; he bridges the feudal world of his Transylvania homeland and the modern world hub of London, the largest city in the world and mistress of the largest Empire; feeding on the blood of the living rejuvenates him and changes him from the old of the East to the young and vibrant of the new; and, perhaps most significantly for the Gothic genre, as the Undead, he bridges the widest gulf, that between the living and the dead: though belonging truly to neither, he has a level of control over both, particularly in Lucy and then Mina. As readers, we are no more able than the human protagonists to put a concrete identity on the Count and this is a large part in his fascination and attraction to each of us.

In being an incarnation of the feral – the base parts of human nature – the Count, and indeed his female underlings, are the bringers of lasciviousness and the areas of the human psyche which would bring shock to the Victorians – the scene where the female vampires attempt to seduce Harker in Castle Dracula would have been rather shocking to a Victorian audience – even in today’s world, it has a level of sensuality: ‘a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips’, yet the being of the seducers, the vampire women, combines the sensual with the repulsive, particularly as they then go on to feed on the baby in a full rejection of the maternal instinct and motherly role which would have been the expected norm of the the gender identity of the time. Here again the juxtaposition of lust as an uncontrolled desire with the pure love which Jonathan and Mina feel for each other and the sadness in the corruption of the confused love which Lucy has for her suitors and eventually true love for Arthur Holmwood brought by the vampire’s turning her to the undead. 

Thinking points:

– What is the significance of the quote:

Oh, the terrible struggle that I have had against sleep so often of late; the pain of the sleeplessness, or the pain of the fear of sleep, and with such unknown horror as it has for me! How blessed are some people, whose lives have no fears, no dreads; to whom sleep is a blessing that comes nightly, and brings nothing but sweet dreams.

  • The modern is used, as said above, to counter the Vampire Lord. What, however, can we intuit from the failure of medical science to save Lucy and the need for van Helsing to turn to the superstitious cures to give her ultimate release?
  • Up until the death of Lucy Westenra, how are the traditional social roles of the genders in Victorian society challenged? Is the reaction to this portrayed in a positive or a negative way? How can this be supported from the text?


“Common sense likes to believe not only that politics or the political have fallen from the sky, on one beautiful day in ‘classical’ Athens, in the miraculous and certified form of the democracy, but also that it is evident that a divinely linear history guides us by its hand from the American Revolution and then the ‘French Revolution’ towards our Western societies, which are happily convinced that their mission is to convert all peoples to the true religion of democracy.”

(Marcel Detienne, Les Grecs et nous. Paris, 2009, 146.)

DEMOCRACY is presented as the true way, the only fair system of government, the system which allows all to have their say and to be represented in the ‘way of all things’ which affect their lives. The standard is that it was invented (apparently out of the blue) in Athens under the auspices of the lawgiver Solon in the sixth century BC and developed quite cheerily and by logical processes (including a tyrant who followed the laws and the democratic institutions) into the system which made Athens the Queen of the Aegean, hegemon of the Delian League and dominant power in the Athenian Empire. Equally, later, the democratic electoral rights belonged to every Roman citizen, all of whom were entitled to express their voice by voting for the magistrati from the lowest (the Quaestors) to the highest (the Consuls) each and every year. The poorest were guaranteed protection under the auspices of the ten Tribunes (one for each tribe) and the laws, based on these democratic principles, meant that all had their say and their rights to be participants. The reforms of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries AD meant that the western societies, led by the examples of the French Revolution and the American Constitution, the Year of Revolution, 1848, the era of “democratic revolution” (Palmer, The Age of the Democratic Revolution: A Political History of Europe and America, 1760-1800, I, The Challenge, Princeton, 1959), meant that there was a gradual, but certain expansion of rights and freedoms granted to all in these newly industrialised societies, where the subjects of any given Crown were to become the citizens of a now constitutional monarchy or a republic that was instigated often by war or extreme violence.  According to John Stuart Mill, “the Athenian experience of democracy allowed one to argue that a democratic polity could entail the flourishing of personal liberties and provide for social dynamics in the arts and commerce as well…Though not a model to emulate, ancient Athenian democracy here became a forerunner to “modern” liberal democracy.” (Wagner, P, in Greek Polis and Invention of Democracy, Wiley, 2013, 53-54) Countries which clung to the theory of absolutism were those which lived on borrowed time and were seen as backward, primitive and ripe for revolution, such as Russia or China. Those which moved to modernisation, industrialisation and freedom were those which were to be the great, the successful, the leaders. Granted, there were exceptions such as Japan which remained a society which was strictly hierarchical and with very limited freedoms, but she had at least abandoned the Mediaeval feudalism of the Tokugawa Bakufu, the caged Emperor, absolute isolationism (though at the point of a cannon) and the warrior élite, the Samurai, ruled directly by their local Daimyō. By modernising under the Meiji Emperor, adopting Western ideas and processes, Japan was able to metamorphose from a militaristic society which honoured the sword and the bow above all else in 1867 to having a modern army and extreme organisation which soundly thrashed the (believed) superpower of Imperial Russia by 1905. After the two World Wars, (the first of which more or less ended the age of the great Imperial powers and the second which was waged to destroy the lunacy of ultra extremism unfettered by an effective legal system), saw the development and instigation of an international organisation which was in theory to be able effectively to control said extremism (the United Nations), and the idea that the democracies were the way to advance and progress in an open, free and egalitarian social structure, one which was the only way to confront the ‘Axes of Evil’ of Communist dictatorships under the aegis of the USSR or Maoist China in the post WWII era termed the Cold War, (powers which were brought in to the United Nations) or, later, the theocratic and terrorist pseudo-states which are dictated by a tiny group of ultra violent and uncontrollable extremists, ruling by fear, cruelty and an unquestioning acceptance of their group’s leader’s teachings, became dominant in Western political thought and ideology.

The evident question we must ask is how true any of this is. Was the ancient democracy the pinnacle of equality and freedom? Did all have an equal level of opportunity? Was democracy the result of a positive societal evolution which began in the Renaissance, ran through the Industrial Revolution and the political and social revolutions of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to reach its (apparent?) apogee in the Western democratic societies we see today, with the USA as the true and deserving hegemon of the Free World? Were the systems of the Roman Republic as great as the founding fathers of the United States deemed them to be, they being the example upon which the American democracy is claimed to be based? And equally important in the troubled world we have today, is Democracy the only true way? What if a society refutes the democratic structure in favour of its traditional, autocratic system? Do the democratic powers have the moral right to overthrow the systems in place and to impose a system more pleasing to them? This is a question which was as important in Classical Athens as it is today, as in Thucydides “since you know as well as we do that right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.” (5.89) The imposition of democratic systems on those who do not want them or who wish to leave the power base controlled by the democracies must be ready to face the consequences unless they are equal in power. What happens where the “decision of the people” is used by politicians to enforce decisions which were never properly explained or understood in the first place among the voters? When does the “vox populi”, the voice of the people, become the “phonos okhlou”, the voice of the baying mob? What happens when demagoguery is used in order for a dictator to impose his (or her in the modern world) will and be used to remove those who refuse to kowtow to that which they know to be popular but wrong, and consequently are turned into the “enemies of the people”? Indeed, can we truly ever allow the uninstructed, poorly informed mass of people, to which the majority belong, to have a full and unfettered right to make the decisions? After all, one of the most basic questions for those in power in any democracy, ever since the earliest of democratic times, has been “How much can ‘THEY” (the people) be told? How far can they be trusted to make a sensible, rational and informed decision if they are themselves uninformed? Who decides what the people are allowed to know, and from which viewpoint can they be instructed? What do we tell hoi polloi? Is it in fact safer to tell them only what ‘we’ (ie the ruling class), feel they need to know in order to guarantee our policies?” These seem questions hardly befitting of a free and democratic state, but they are nevertheless questions which have always been there and always will be for as long as democracy exists. Indeed, especially with the immense populations in real terms most countries have, is a true democracy even a viable system of government today? Is a representative democracy truly a democracy? Most governments take power with less than 40% of the votes cast, but with the right to claim the mandate as no other party achieved a matching level – are then the 60% who are without an effective voice ergo expected simply to toe the government line and ‘get on with it’? Levels of voter turnout, while higher in general elections than any other election, are pitifully low in most democratic countries – such the some countries (eg Australia) have made it an offence under law not to vote without an exceptionally good excuse. In systems where there is proportional representation, are the struggles regularly encountered in forming coalition governments, often with tiny, extreme parties holding the balance of power (such as in Israel where minority ultra Orthodox parties frequently play this role) or where a minority third party can be in an influential position in government, such as the UK Liberal Party in the coalition government under David Cameron or the FDP in Germany which was in power almost without break for half a century as the coalition partner to the SPD or CDU/CSU minority governments, are these huge complications truly worth the problems to form an effective government? Referenda are an even more complex question, returning to the ‘vox populi’ versus the ‘phonos okhlou’ point.

Where, then did the idea of a system run by all, the rule of the people, truly begin? There is a likelihood that when the earliest settlements were growing, there may well have been some where the individuals were granted a say in the running of their community in some form of general assembly (although it is just as likely that a dominant individual (matriarch or patriarch) or a small elite group with physical prowess or intellectual acuity would dominate the settlement and its inhabitants) and indeed, there is little or no evidence for either in the archaeological record, especially when the dominant requirement was survival and the society was pre-literate. When settlements became more organised, however, the evidence suggests changes:

“Social power was created in the process by which a society became horizontally segmentated and thus entails a consideration of numbers of people and population growth. Such segmentation can be ascertained from material and historic records, for example of Mesopotamian ethnic groups, barrios at Teotihuacan, neighborhoods at Wari and Harappa, and so forth. Leaders of these groups formed elites, sometimes becoming officers of states but also maintaining sets of local powers that lay outside states. These local leaders were community elders and could constitute assemblies with powers of decision-making that kings and the court found it in their interest not to penetrate.” (Yoffee, Myths of the Archaic State, CUP, 2004, 36)

These localised systems, where the influence and power of the assemblies under the hegemony of a local elder or group of elders were granted a large part in the running of their area, was something acceptable to the nobility and the royal court while conducted on a localised level, be that an area or a smaller settlement external to the main urban centres, though when it came to the major decisions on a wider level, the influence of the assemblies would be of little or no significance whatsoever. Nevertheless, that such corporate forms of government existed is a key development when looking at the gradual evolution towards democracy and is an area deserving of deeper study: Blanton:

“It should be, but unfortunately has not been, of considerable theoretical interest to anthropological archaeology that Mesopotamian social formations appear to have emphasized corporate forms of government from an early period, including forms of assembly government that evidently had developed by the Uruk period.” (Beyond Centralization: Steps Toward a Theory of Egalitarian Behavior in Archaic States, 1998,155)

The mythology of the divine from the earliest periods is based around the council of the gods, and the work of Jacobsen (Primitive Democracy in Ancient Mesopotamia, JNES 2: 159–72) examines this:

“Like so much of Jacobsen’s work, this synthesis was brilliantly drawn, and the organization of the gods into a council, without a simple king, remains difficult to explain from the political systems of the states that bequeathed us their texts. The best-known “creation” text, called Enuma eliš, presents the kingship of the Babylonian god Marduk as a new achievement rather than as an ancient inheritance.” (Fleming, Democracy’s Ancient Ancestors, CUP, 2004, 16)

The evidence is, however, questionable – does the existence of a council of divinities necessarily demand the acceptance of such a system being reflected in the socio-political structure of the society from which it stems? Evidently not – if we look at today’s societies, a number of western democracies still class themselves as Christian, a theology under a highly benevolent and loving absolute monarch who is unquestioned and who cast down the only enemy who challenged that authority, if examined in a purely political context. This divine autocracy scarcely reflects the idea of a democratic social structure. Can it be argued then, that it is rather a reflection of a much earlier system, stemming from the earliest days of the settlements, where all participated in a council and an assembly as transmitted in the form of a mythology in the social memory? This is a possiblity, though again, pure hypothesis and one which can in no way be simply accepted where there is no definite archaeological, epigraphic or physical evidence to support such a thesis. Furthermore, would this idea of a ruling council necessarily fall under the classically accepted definition of a democratic structure (ie that of Athens)? Again, evidently not. Democracy in the classical sense would imply that the council members were in some way elected by the gathered citizenry, and that the assembly of said citizens would have a say in the decisions of the council either in ratifying them or cancelling them. Is this democracy? Classicists tend to argue not (cf Raaflaub, in Dēmokratia: A Conversation on Democracies, Ancient and Modern, 1996, 140, 149 – where he argues that democracy did not truly exist before the Athenian Democracy). For a wider discussion of the actuality of a primitive, proto – democratic system centred around the city of Mari in Mesopotamia, see Fleming, 2004.

The earliest hints of a form of rights to speak out in the Hellenic context come in the Homeric epics. Raaflaub (Political Thought, Civic Responsibility and the Greek Polis in Agon, Logos, Polis: The Greek Achievement and its Aftermath, Stuttgart, 2001, 72-117) posits that there exists a level below the major protagonists in the form of the kings and heroes, one where the frequent reference to the massed troops fighting together as a unit, whichever social stratum they came from (‘…there is a joint valour of men, even very poor ones…’ Iliad XIII. 237). There is no expectation that the warriors are all great fighters, nor in any way equal in any way militarily or socially, but:

‘…each man counts and is taken seriously; each feels responsible for the success of the whole group and acts accordingly.’  (Raaflaub, Ober and Wallace, Origins of Democracy in Ancient Greece, UCP, 2007, 26)

Whilst the poems themselves are questionable as historical sources, and there is no true democratic process in them, there can be seen the elements which would eventually develop into the basis of a series of democratic ideas and rights, if not the institutions themselves. What is key, however, is, as Kõiv has posited:

‘…as long as the main force in the battlefield was cavalry, the full citizenship was limited to the few rich (that was the time of the kings and early aristocracies); but when the cities grew and the hoplites became stronger, more people were admitted to the politeia and the states developed in the direction of democracy…’ (Democratisation of Greek Society During the Archaic Era?, Studia Humaniora Tartuensia, 3.A.2, 2002, 2 cf Pol, 1285b, 1289b, 1297b)

The intricacies of the development of Athenian democracy are fully described in other books and articles. The idea of a democracy, however, DOES require that one other point be examined – who composed the Demos? The basic answer – the citizen body, as in modern democracies. However, remember that the concept of citizenship today is VERY different to that of the Classical period at Athens. First, only males, over eighteen who qualified by being accepted by their demesmen were citizens allowed to participate in the political life of the polis – excluded were women, slaves and the resident foreigners (metikoi). Despite this, the metics were expected to pay taxes and in time of war fight in the phalanx for their adopted city. The Romans in the Early Republic had a very similar situation with the citizens (male, over 18 etc) being allowed to vote and the civitās sine suffragio granted to the allies with the expectation of all the duties of citizenship, though with none of the political rights. Exclusion was something which was to be a main point through the whole of the Hellenic history on the level of citizenship and until the period post the Social Wars in Roman history.

Who, then, were the wielders of power? Were they the same as those today? Humans being humans, we seem to follow the repeating patterns. Perikles dominated politics at Athens for decades, being elected again and again, demagogues were often main players on the political scenes of both Athens and Rome, dynastic politics was a common occurrence in the domination of the consulships at Rome by a small number of families from the nobiles. The rarity of the novus homo in the Senate shows the power of the ruling élite families. The idea of political corruption and buying up huge numbers of votes was commonplace at Rome, the Peisistratid tyrants at Athens may have continued with the democratic processes, but on the proviso that the archontes were from their political allies and not any who would challenge. So, were the democratic ideas of Athens and Rome very far removed from whet we understand? We may like to think that they were and that we are today far in advance of our forerunners, but are we? In India, the Nehru Gandhi dynasty dominated Indian politics and the Congress Party for decades. How many American Senators or Presidents grew up in the poor quarters (or even middle class quarters) of a major metropolis or were low income agricultural families? The power mongers at Athens and Rome were obliged to address the people either in the Ekklesia or from the Rostra in the Forum Romanum. At Athens, every citizen had the right to address the Ekklesia and to question those in power – eunomia and isegoria were absolutely key in the functioning of the democratic processes. The Comitiae at Rome in voting may have been massively skewed in favour of the wealthy and powerful, and the Senate may generally have been able to carry through its wishes, but the reality is that the Populus ultimately carried the authority and their say was absolute. The Tribunes, representatives of the plebeians, were sacrosanct while in office, and, as was shown by Tiberius Gracchus, were able to paralyse all commercial and political life at Rome (remember it required assassination to remove him and later his brother). Demagogues such as Julius Caesar were able to bypass the Senate and use their persuasive skills on the people to carry through their plans. (Again, it required assassination to remove the threat of Caesar – the question of whether he was preparing to seize full power permanently as Emperor or was trying to save the Res Publica from the oligarchs or the violent insurgents such as Lucius Sergius Catalina is beyond the scope here). Are there such examples in modern democracies? Perhaps not quite as obviously due to the layers upon layers of bureaucracy which wreathe the modern governments, but political scandals and evidence of political corruption are easy to find simply by examining the media. The question of exactly what the gathered populace should be told finds examples galore in both the Classical examples; today, though the question is slightly different through the concepts of purportedly biased media which supports a certain political viewpoint and whether certain things said by politicians and the media are mistakes, misinterpretations, manipulation, downright lies or the new all encompassing phrase of “Alternative Facts” remains a major point of contention in the modern democracies, particularly in the UK, France and the USA at the moment.

Can any of the democracies be trusted and truly held up as examples of fair government? This is a question each individual must examine by weighing up the evidence from history and the examples seen today. Everything must be questioned to see whether it stands up to close scrutiny. What must be accepted is that NOTHING be simply taken at face value. In Classical Athens, the refusal to participate in the political life was regarded as among the most shameful of failings. Not playing one’s role was to reject the democracy and where the Demos did fall back and ignore their political rights arguably opened the way to the oligarchs and the tyrannies. There were faults in the democracy (cf Old Oligarch and his critique), and on occasions, the demagogues such as Kleon seemed more intent on unleashing the power of the okhlos (the mob) than in limiting the power of the people, especially where they had not been informed of all the truth. The fickleness of the Ekklesia is highlighted by Thucydides in the Melian massacre (V, 84–116) extent to which power is abused by the emotionally charged assembled populace. Such an emotional campaign was arguably conducted by both sides in the UK Brexit referendum, the effects of which, be they negative or positive, are yet to be seen. Perhaps the best way to end this is in citing Churchill’s speech to the Commons on 11th November 1947:

“No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed, it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Secondary School History: Causation and Interpretation in Historiography

“Do causes exist objectively in the world, or are they just a category our mind uses to order sensory inputs, in which case causation is subjective.” (Aviezer Tucker, 2009, 98)

For younger students, CAUSATION is usually the most complex of the historical skills to master, yet arguably the most important in some ways in that the historical narrative loses coherence without there being a series of causes to the consequences which constitute the history. On the surface at least. As Tucker points out here, the problem lies in the difficulty of distinguishing whether the causations and their interpretation as causes can truly be objective or whether they must, by definition, be subjective, coloured by the point of view and the cultural biases of the individual. Furthermore, to what extent is a cause an indisputable cause such as in a Universalist interpretation? Or must there be a refuting of this due to the total unpredictability of human nature, and the option of free will in reactions, meaning that the understanding of causality in a scientific sense cannot be applied to the historical narrative? Interpretation of the causes in historiography and realising this then recognising it is a problematic area in helping students in schools to become effective in their critical view of historical events and the ways in which they are interpreted by various historians in secondary and witnesses in primary sources, leading to a better understanding of academic history. Is it possible to state categorically that Historian A is correct in her interpretation while Historian B is wrong in his and remain objective in the examination of both? In doing so, are the students falling into the trap:
“Humans studying and describing other humans risk imposing their own ideas and sensibilities on the others. Considering that the people in the past lived in cultures somewhat different from present ones, describing them in terms and concepts appropriate to our own time may be at least inaccurate. Describing the past in ways that make sense to us may amount to just describing ourselves in different circumstances. But subjectivity might be unavoidable, since we have to describe the past in ways that make sense to us and on our terms.” (Kosso, P, 2009, 8)

This broadens the question in many ways – we are not just separated from the understanding of the causality and its place in time, but in understanding societal and cultural norms which were so totally different from our own. An obvious example is slavery – until the early to mid 19th century, depending on where we examine, the idea of a socio-economic structure which was not underpinned by the unpaid labour of an underclass in society, an underclass which had no rights, only duties, which was owned, not employed, would have seemed a ridiculous and naïve idea. The admiration of the Romans in this period can be seen to be based on the interpretation of the societal structure described above reached its zenith in the slave based structure of the Romans. Yet today, in our modern understanding of such things, we view the concept of one human owning another as, in general terms, pure anathema when examining it from the Western outlook. Are we by definition correct in our interpretation of the institution of slavery? Or are we simply imposing our 21st century outlook on something which was an important part, an integral cause, in the success of the Classical world, its growth in ideas and mores and something which underpins the society in which we live today – the society which teaches us that slavery is anathema…? Without the institution of slavery as a key part in the growth of the economic power and the freeing of the citizens from drudgery to serve in the hoplite phalanx and the legions, would our western world have experienced the series of events and growth and collapse of empires which has led us to the society in which we live, whether we agree with it or not? Can we objectively look at the role the institution of slavery played in the Classical, Mediaeval and Renaissance worlds as well as the loosening of the power of the slave owners and the need for indentured labour through the Industrial Revolution? Can we objectively condemn and curse the institution which, on a level of causation could be interpreted as being among the catalysts which allowed out society to develop, or is our condemnation of slavery a purely subjective one based on our ability to survive as a society without the said institution? Might a future society which again relies on slavery, but has solid ecologically sound societal practices and belief not look back on us as primitive idiots who put individual liberty above the survival of the planet and the sane use of its resources, burning huge amounts of the limited raw materials we have and polluting the air we breathe rather than using the forced labour of an underclass to carry out tasks which are now done by machines driven by fossil fuels? If they were to view the survival of the planet at the expense of a small number of oppressed as being the correct view, how would their historians view the ‘advances’ of the last two centuries in causation of the destruction of the environment? Granted, this is a very simplistic example, and one which we can never answer as none of us will be alive when such could occur, but the role of subjectivism and “intellectual colonialism” in our interpretations cannot be ignored, and particularly in our understanding of causation on the historical narrative. An area which will give you a better idea might be to compare the European Christian, Middle Eastern Islamic and Jewish accounts of the Crusades – how do the different accounts interpret the causes, the processes and the outcomes of these?

In your examination of the sources, the narratives and the whole historiography of a period you are studying, always question where the bias lies, where the imposition of contemporary social ideas are imposed anachronistically, and whether these can actually be avoided? After all, who, with any sense of human values and liberties in the modern sense, would be able to justify objectively the case for slavery being reintroduced?

Remember, always question the interpretation, compare with as many interpretations as you can and look at whether one interpretation can be better trusted in the understanding of causation over short periods in the historical timeframe as well as over a wider scope.

KS3 – Mesopotamian Seals

Today we have a huge number of ways of identifying one another and of proving our identity to others, especially the authorities. We have passports, driving licences, fingerprinting, DNA analysis and so many others. Many of these, however, have only been over the last few decades or even years, yet we have always had the need to prove who we are to others and to prove our identities on legal documents. This has been a problem for as long as we have lived in communities bigger than those which consist of our families and our immediate neighbours who have been our partners in growing up. For the Mesopotamians, nations who traded over large distances and kept records on almost as many aspects of life as we do today, this was a pressing problem. Writing, where it was available to the individual Mesopotamian, was either easily forged or more likely was carried out by a priest scribe on behalf of the citizen. Where signatures are not an option and the fingerprint is not a viable option, how does a merchant, a noble, a member of the governing castes, manage to prove his identity to those who require proof? The answer came in the form of seals, usually as a small pillar which was intricately carved with images that were specific in identifying the individual and were easily recognisable as associating with the owner, the record being held in the temples of the gods or goddesses as proof of the identity of the owner. These seals were small and were attached to either a chain or a thick leather strap and worn around the neck of the owner, or might be carried in a small leather holder which would be worn on the person of the individual to whom it belonged or the overseer who had the permission to serve as the representative of his master in any specific and defined business. The symbolism of the images and the written messages would be intricate and hold specific associations with certain divinities or areas of the land and tasks. The understanding of the main points of such seals and magical sigils which make up many of the carvings is key to our wider comprehension of the individuals who composed the social hierarchies of the Mesopotamian cities.

The earliest attested seals date to some 3,500 BCE

fig 1 – Vorderasiatisches Museum – VA 13624

This dates from the Period Uruk V 3500-3350 BCE. The inscription is termed ‘protocuneiform’. This means that it is the inscription form which precedes cuneiform writing proper in its alphabetic/phonetic/logographic forms of the later languages. Due to this, we cannot say for certain which language it is in, though likely a form of early Sumerian. A line drawing of the inscription is shown in figure 2.

fig 2:

On the seal, we can see a variety of animals, some of which were to become familiar leitmotivs in the iconography of seals through until the Persian period. The most obvious is the lion (?) which is attacking another animal with a curling tail. On the far left are a bird of prey (talons) and what may be an ass. Between the two animal representations are jars or amphorae, though there are no hints of the contents of the jars. The interesting symbol is the one above the predator animal. This might be interpreted as a crown or an very early representation of the winged sun which, again, was to remain a standard part of Assyrian and Persian iconographic representations on the seals.

fig. 3: Assyrian winged sun.

Figure 4 is another Period V seal, again classed a protocuneiform. It shows a more detailed inscription of the animals which were presumably to be found in the area of Uruk in the period. It is believed to be administrative and the line drawing (fig. 5) shows the animals clearly:

fig. 4 VA 13630

fig. 5

The line drawing here clearly shows a mountain goat or an ibex from the horns. There is also a bull and what may be a monkey. The other animals are indistinct.

Many other of these early seals are to be found on the site. The pictures here are from Robert K. Engelund ATU 1994. The are allowed for fair non commercial use.


A further post on the later seals will be published in the coming weeks.


“But revision is SOO boring!”….. “Oh, Sir, I wish I’d revised better”

If I had a pie for every time I’ve heard both of these, I’d be the size of a whale and arteries filled with slow cooked steak.

If your idea of revision is sitting in a darkened room, desk lamp on and piles of books and notes in front of you for endless hours the week before an exam, then yes, it is mind numbingly boring – and frankly, for most people, a complete waste of time (either that or you have been arrested by the KGB). Revision for the human brain is not like programming a computer – basically, your brain does not want to learn things – it is a struggle to learn new stuff. You need, quite literally, to engrave it in your brain in the form of what are called engrams, and this takes time and patience. The people who tell you “Well, I only ever revised the night before and I passed!” are probably either:

  1. people who had spent hours and hours over the course of the exam learning everything as they went along or
  2. probably not being totally honest with themselves (or you).

Have a guess which is the best of those two for  learning….


Do not leave revision until just before the exam – the easiest thing in the world is to put things off to the last minute (tax forms, writing reports, Christmas shopping etc…) and by ‘just before’, I mean weeks! You should really be starting your revision for the May/June exams NOW!


Not really helpful – you need to find out some important bits of information if you do not already know:

  1. The exam board – AQA? OCR? EDEXCEL? IGCSE?
  2. The code – Most of the exams have a variety of options at this level e.g. History can be A or B for AQA.
  3. Find the correct syllabus online – ask you teacher or exam sec. at school for the codes for the syllabi. Download the content that you need to know for your examination, but at the moment only that. Syllabi are often over 100 pages long, and only a few are relevant to you as the student.
  4. Make sure you are totally clear on which parts you are studying – if your syllabus has “The First World War” as an option and you are not studying it, don’t have a meltdown – look through the options in that section – you’ll find the part you are studying. If you’re really not sure, ask your teacher to highlight the parts you need to know. If they highlight an area you have not studied, don’t panic – you’ve probably not reached that part yet! It’s key you are clear with this – in the pressure of an exam, you may well end up answering questions on the wrong part in a panic – yes, every year people do this, and no, they are not stupid, just stressed.
  5. When you have all this, get three highlighters:

(i) Yellow – highlight the bits you are REALLY unsure on;

(ii) Orange – highlight the parts you are fairly secure on;

(iii) Blue/Purple – highlight the parts you know really well and are secure in.

These colours are best, as the orange will cover the yellow as you begin to master the content and the purple will likewise cover the orange and yellow.


Yeah, okay – not quite Shakespeare, but these are really important in effective revision.

There is little so easy as having all your books and papers all over the bedroom and going from pile to pile, shifting books around, organising your notes according to the pen in which you wrote them on a wet weekend in March…. At the end of the evening you have spent hours in this, are absolutely shattered and have achieved nothing. Equally galling…

“Right – Pythagoras and triangles…” (opens book) “Oh, but what about the Perfect of irregular Latin verbs?” (closes maths book, opens Latin verb tables) “Ah no, the Rise of the Nazi Party!! Must do that!”…. by the end of the evening’s session… “So, the sum of the two perfect verbs is vici, fui on January 30th 1933 – oh hang on….”

This is why we all need revision timetables!! There are plenty of examples online – find one which suits you and use it. Word of warning – you need one for the term time revision and one for the holiday/study leave periods. ( gives a link to a download of really good revision timetables)

When you have this done – you need to stick to it. That means even when you don’t want to do so. Think about it this way – how well would Andy Murray play tennis or Jessica Ennis Hill have done in the pentathlon had they looked outside and though “Naah – can’t be bothered today” when it came to training? The exam is your place in the final event – how well you train will determine where you finish!! Give your parents or guardians a copy of the timetable – and DO NOT MOAN AT THEM WHEN THEY MAKE YOU FOLLOW IT!!! YOU are the one who is going to benefit!

So, finally you are there with your timetable, the books and notes for that session in front of you – what do you do.

“Oh, let’s colour code everything!” – Okay, IF that serves a purpose – just making your notes and diagrams into works of graffiti art achieves NOTHING on its own! Don’t waste the time, and don’t kid yourself – there really is no-one easier to kid than yourself!!!

You MUST take regular breaks – at least 10 mins an hour or 5 mins per half hour. Go downstairs, get a breath of air at the back door – you need oxygen for your brain. Drink water and eat something like a banana that give slow release energy. Energy drinks, sweets, caffeine only give very short bursts of energy and then often act as suppressants, not stimulants!! Some research suggests chewing a piece of chewing gum may help by getting oxygen to the brain. Stretch and give your eyes a good rest of you’ve been at the computer screen all the time.


Post its – use them by the thousands!!! Stick them everywhere and explain why so nobody removes them. Put related pieces of post-it revision together – Quadratic equations on the ceiling above your bed (everyone needs a good nightmare or two…), French irregular verbs on the back of the toilet door (what better way to use the time sitting there?), History dates all over the fridge – make your own breakfast and learn at the same time (Mummy will be pleased…) etc. It works!!


Read things out loud! Not super fast mumbling, but slowly and deliberately. And NOT just once!! Do warn the family, though – either you’ll be told off for chatting on the phone or your siblings will fold you into a straight jacket (though they might do that anyway…)


Pen and paper!! Do not type everything. It has been proven time and again that you learn things better if you physically write them down and say them as you do so. Simply reading things through and making them pretty in fluorescent pink 18pt Comic Sans achieves…well, zilch, really other than another lost evening!!


Find where you learn best. It may be your bedroom, but often not. There are too many distractions – lads painting their nails, anything to put off the dread moment!! Loud music, TVs etc are rarely any help – gentle classical music if you have tinnitus or silence really are best – you will be talking to yourself anyway!!! Find out if you can use the school library out of hours, too.


For certain things, revising in a pair or a group is a much better idea, but ONLY if you are going to revise – again, be honest!!!


You MUST take time out. Over revision can be as dangerous as anything else. You must carry on with your hobbies, see your friends, get exercise and down time. And you are human – that requires sleep… You really are unlikely to learn anything new at 2.30 am on a school night.


If you are unsure of things, you will hopefully have given yourself time to cover them. If you are totally lost, politely ask your teacher to go over it again, or a friend who does get it.


Believe it or not, the best way to make sure you have mastered something is to teach it!! Subject granny to Plate Tectonics, make the neighbour learn the Preterite in Spanish and all its uses or whatever needs be!

Step 12: MAKE IT FUN

Revision is only boring if you make it that way – play games, Skype each other, do the work in a way that is meaningful to YOU – not your friends, parents or the goldfish!!!

Try these and see how it goes, and GOOD LUCK in your revision! And the saying goes <ÜBUNG MACHT DEN MEISTER!!> (Practice makes the expert!!!)