Cleolinda Jones (cleolinda) wrote,
Cleolinda Jones

Ice cream and lit crit

Bluebell's Triple Chocolate ice cream is the food of the frickin' gods. It's two kinds of chocolate ice cream (Dutch and milk, I think?), a meager swirl of vanilla (just for variety; they're not cheating you out of your chocolate), and a thick vein of sundae sauce. You put a bowl of it in the microwave for twenty seconds, and fnnnaghhhhhhhh.

I just thought you should know.

Reread Dracula over the last couple of days. You know, as much as I love that book--I have the illustrated Greg Hildebrandt hardback, the one I was obsessed with when I was thirteen--I don't know that I've ever read it cover to cover before, without skimming at all (which is how you know my medication's finally adjusting, too--that I can even read again). I think what happens is that the Jonathan Harker chapters at the beginning start off pretty well, but halfway through those Stoker just gets so incredibly bogged down in the physical details of the castle and Harker running around trying to escape, and I start to lose consciousness.

It gets better after that, though--maybe I'm just older now and feel more interest in things that lost me when I was thirteen, like furniture shopping. It's a lot easier to read about the characters, essentially, researching. Actually, I find that fascinating now--I was always struck by the way Stoker essentially wrote a multimedia novel (letters, memoranda, telegrams, newspaper articles, phonograph transcripts) a hundred years before people really started to get into that kind of thing. I mean, it's not just an epistolary novel: he actually takes advantage of (describing) a variety of different technologies and viewpoints, and someday, someone is going to get the bright idea to reissue the novel as a multimedia CD-rom of some kind. I think this must have, in part, inspired the way I did the Black Ribbon website without my even realizing it.

But what really struck me, for the first time consciously, was the way that the book is essentially about research. The actual running-around action parts are buried through a thick layer of "I collated his letters" and "I typed up his diary" and "she transcribed my recordings." And Stoker actually manages to make it interesting, or at least it's interesting to me now that I'm in my late twenties--this idea of people struggling to conquer a mass of documentation.

The other thing that struck me was--well, I don't know if you've read any criticism on Dracula, but even the most cursory Halloween special on A&E will talk about how misogynist some of the imagery is. Women are punished for being penetrated (by fangs) and for any sign of sexual desire. A woman who is assaulted against her will is viewed as hopelessly tainted. The heroine is religious, chaste and pure; the three "brides" are lascivious and obscene. The vampires are destroyed by being re-penetrated "correctly," by the phallic stake of the patriarchy. And so on, etc.

Here's my question: how does that view of the book explain this?
  • A Lucy letter: "Why can't they let a girl marry three men, or as many as want her, and save all this trouble? But this is heresy, and I must not say it."

  • Seward's diary: "When it was all over, we were standing beside Arthur, who, poor fellow, was speaking of his part in the operation where his blood had been transfused to his Lucy's veins. I could see Van Helsing's face grow white and purple by turns. Arthur was saying that he felt since then as if they two had been really married, and that she was his wife in the sight of God. None of us said a word of the other operations, and none of us ever shall." Which is to say, Lucy has received "the blood of four strong men" in the course of her illness.

  • Van Helsing: "For why should I give myself so much labor and so much of sorrow? I have come here from my own land to do what I can of good, at the first to please my friend John, and then to help a sweet young lady, whom too, I come to love."

  • Jonathan Harker: ""Dr. Van Helsing, you love Mina, I know. Oh, do something to save her. It cannot have gone too far yet. Guard her while I look for him!"

  • Van Helsing again: "And oh, Madam Mina, my dear, my dear, may we who love you be there to see, when that red scar, the sign of God's knowledge of what has been, shall pass away, and leave your forehead as pure as the heart we know."
I think the book does separate out carnal desire (the vampires) from chaste love (what the various men feel for Mina, uncomplicated by any desire to marry her. I mean, other than Jonathan). And you can argue that this in and of itself is some kind of sexist madonna/whore complex, or that women are only valued on pedestals, or whatever. But I really do think there is a strong element of respect and esteem for Mina, her courage, her intelligence. Not only that, but she--and while she is alive, Lucy as well--commands the love of multiple men, and while I'm sure this is meant to be a pure and chaste love for many of them, the language is the same as that of romantic love. They manage not to say "I love you" directly to Mina, but they frequently say "we love her," the same as they say "we loved Lucy," and this is from men who wanted to marry Lucy. And this isn't even touching on that polygamist subtext, where a woman could marry "as many as want her," and three different men do say "I love you," and she ends up "married in the sight of God" to four different men. I'm just saying, where female sexuality is thwarted in one direction, it seems to have a surprising, if indirect, expression in another.

To an extent, yes, this female-centric view is dulled by some hidebound Victorian ideas about women: Mina has "man's brain and woman's heart," which is a lovely compliment until you stop and think about it; their need to keep her out of their plans towards the end if only because she is an actual liability now that Dracula can possibly read her mind is combined with a belief earlier in the book that all this fighting the evil undead is just too horrible for a woman to be involved. But time and time again they talk about how wonderful and clever and hard-working she is; she takes the minutes at their meetings, types up journals and transcripts, contributes valuable information through her own diaries, and keeps the train timetables memorized. Towards the end, it's Mina who actually sits down with her diary and logics out by what means Dracula must be making the final leg of his journey, and they praise her for it. She is treated as an invaluable member of the team, and they regret the moment when she has to withdraw because she, by no fault of her own or her sex, has become a liability.

What I'm saying is, you can point to how this is some kind of statement about how the ideal Victorian woman should be chaste and forbearing and religious (there is a whole lot of weepin' and prayin', as the professor I had who taught the Sentimental Novel course would say), but Stoker throws a completely novel element into that mix--the ideal woman in his book is intelligent, capable, brave, and equal (and at times superior!) to the men in her logical abilities. You see the Woman as Moral Superior thing all the time--but how often do you see, in Victorian literature, Woman as Intellectual Equal? And not only that, but the men love her and devote themselves to her for it. The gender dynamic is pretty complex, is what I'm saying, and Stoker's portrayal of Mina in particular has a lot of feminist value.

Anyhoo. I've been going through Literary Gothic, your friend and mine, for all my old Gothic lit links--not because I didn't save a lot of texts to my hard drive (I did), but because I have so many that I can't remember what they're all about, or which ones are worth reading first. So, as I go back through a lot of them, I'm going to post a link or two each day, to ration them out rather than overwhelm y'all with dozens at once.

First of all: particle_person has a new story transcribed at talesfromthefen.

Today's author: Jerome K. Jerome. I love him so much.

"The Dancing Partner." I absolutely love this one.
"The Man of Science." I love the last paragraph, for some reason.
Told After Supper. A longer collection of... basically, four or five ghost story parodies, linked by about four or five bowls of whiskey punch. Choice quotes:

"The Governor suggested palming off some other Emily's grave upon the poor thing, but, as luck would have it, there did not seem to have been an Emily of any sort buried anywhere for miles round. I never came across a neighbourhood so utterly destitute of dead Emilies."

"One night he went to bed. There was nothing very extraordinary about that, I admit. He often did go to bed of a night."

"I do not, however, believe I am doing his memory an injustice in believing that he was not entirely unconnected with the death, and subsequent burial, of a gentleman who used to play the harp with his toes."

"I asked [the ghost] what tobacco he used, and he replied, 'The ghost of cut cavendish, as a rule.' "

"How do you manage when there isn't any cock handy?"


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Tags: book discussion, books, dracula, gothic, halloween, ice cream, lit crit

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