It has been a about three months since my first published novel, Vampsov 1938, made it out of the pre-publication darkness and into the light (OK, the Amazon warehouse, if you can call that light). This period has been a rather hectic one for me, seeing as I had been moving around quite a bit and have ended up working in Germany. Germany? I’m sure Ludmilla my main character, would not approve. But hey, different times and places and all that.
So I sits here, nursing my Franziskaner Weissbier and twiddling a pretzel between my fingers as Oktoberfest goes on all around me and I reflect on what has been happening to my infant book during its first months out in public. Hasn’t won a Booker yet or outsold Stephen King even. But hey, early days and all that.
In all seriousness, I have been told that it takes time for the gears to crank up and sales and critical opinion to begin to make their mark. Perhaps I am to blame for this neglect in some way because I feel that Vampsov is a bit of an orphan at the minute. The book was launched far away in the US, I wrote it in the UK, yet am now living in a non-English speaking market so I can’t very well promote the book other than through the web and all. Poor ickle thing must feel abandoned. Keep promising it a big launch party, press releases, bookshop signings, events etc. And I can’t do any of that here. Still, the money for all that has to come from somewhere and how else am I going to earn it?
Despite all this disruption I am still very much a happy camper. For a start here is the (perhaps childish) thrill of knowing I’ve done it. I’ve got a book out! Woohooheehaaaa! On a more balanced note, I have had a lot of feedback that has given me reason to smile. A lot of the people who have read my book get it: the drama at the heart of the story, the family struggle mirrored in the political savagery. The dark humour borne of hopelessness. The vampire and the Stalinist toe to toe… a real monster facing an imaginary one. I’ve even given a snazzy interview to the force of nature that is the amazing Johnny Worthen.
And even the criticisms so far have been fair, given me pause for thought, pointed towards things I can improve on. Because I want to improve, grow, become better at this fascinating and exasperating craft. Dammit, next time you will find it harder to find fault, any fault!
So here is what I’m going to do to help out my little orphan Vampsov. A UK launch event will happen sometime next year, I’m thinking of a launch and birthday party combo with Borscht and balloons. My little orphan will be getting a little brother or sister too. I am writing the sequel to this volume (Vampsov 1940), and I hope to have a polished draft sorted soon.
Finally, I will try not to think out loud when surrounded by chaps in lederhosen. Some of them are giving me funny looks, I tell you. Nothing to see here guys, just sippin ma beer and twiddlin me pretzel… Blimey, I must be the only person wearing proper trousers this side of Holland.
Dracula, the novel that catapulted Bram Stoker into the realm of the immortals, is a spiteful, racist political hatchet-job on one of Britain’s greatest Prime Ministers; Benjamin Disraeli. Now there’s a claim and a half! Read on and you might even half-believe it.
Stoker’s relationship with Benjamin Disraeli’s politics is, to be fair, a mixed bag (he voices support for BD’s policy on the Berlin Treaty of 1878, both in the Dracula novel itself and in family correspondence), it is, however, his antipathy to Tory politics and the anti-semitic character of his spiritual dalliances that are the most fundamental influence on him. And on his famous literary creature.
Abraham Stoker (1847-1912) was a fop. A typical 19th Century Dublin gentrified intellectual. His greatest claim to fame, prior to writing Dracula, is that he married Florence Balcome, Oscar Wilde’s chief fag-hag. He also flirted with all manner of occultist nonsense, a weakness common to a number of progressive, Irish landowner’s sons. This ranged from the mild interest in Ouija boards and Madame Blavatsky’s Theosophy, popular in most fashionable drawing-rooms, to the extreme cases (of which Stoker was rumoured to be among), who followed more radical forms. Among these is the ultimate chinless wonder’s attempt at occult wisdom; Aleister Crowley’s Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.
Such obscurantism was a common foible of the Irish upper classes who found their own people’s Catholicism as not only repressive and arbitrary, but also incredibly uncouth. Occultism was cleverer than Catholicism because it used all kind of symbols, chants and pentagrams that run-of-the-mill Catholics couldn’t fathom. This was a Good Thing. Particularly for members of the elite, like Stoker, as it gave them even more reason to look down upon the plebs.
A bizarre common cause emerged between the occult and the ideals of Liberalism. A disdain for traditional forms of religion was a key feature both of the liberal mindset, with its scientific, rationalist credentials and of the new Spiritualist/Occultist movements. That these two creeds are almost wholly incompatible was glossed over in the pursuit of common enemies. This seems to have been the case for Bram Stoker, the liberal occultist.
Liberalism was, according to his biographers, a consuming interest throughout Stoker’s life. And 19th Century Liberals had one particular enemy in their sights: Conservatism. This was true particularly in national politics where both camps held very different attitude to the ‘problem’ of Irish governance.
In this instance it can be argued that old Bram was swayed by a legitimate national interest. The Liberals, under the indomitable leadership of William Ewart Gladstone, were the champions of Irish Home Rule. A cause that Stoker passionately believed in. Gladstone’s main opponent in the national debate (on Ireland and many other issues) was Benjamin Disraeli. Disraeli was everything Gladstone was not: tall, swarthy, good looking, dapper, effortlessly charming and to cap it all, born a Jew of uncertain European extraction. He was also Queen Victoria’s favourite. Disraeli, as the press cartoons of the time indicate, became a popular hate-figure for Liberals. In their defence, it was not they who cast the first stone.
Disraeli’s political career, like Geoffrey Archer’s a century later, combined politics and literature with a great deal of success. Disraeli was, however, a diehard polemicist (unlike Archer). From his first novel, Vivian Gray (a thinly-veiled attack on a Tory corruption scandal), he used books to go after his political enemies. None of his contemporaries would read a Disraeli novel without expecting to find an attack on rivals within the Conservative party or, more likely, their Liberal opponents. Is it possible that Bram Stoker turned the tables on Disraeli, hoisting him on his own petard?
So let us examine the evidence present in Dracula, that classic of Gothic literature. Stoker takes a medieval bogey-man popular in previous centuries (Vampire novels by Polidari, Prost, Maupassant, Le Fanu are obvious antecedents) and turns him into… well. Some people claim that Henry Irving is the model. I am not so sure. Could it be Queen Vic’s favourite, old Disraeli himself?
Here we have a monstruous villain who is tall, swarthy, good looking, dapper, effortlessly charming and of uncertain European extraction. So far so good in terms of an Anti-Disraeli polemic (It was first published 7 years after Disraeli’s death, but was probably written, at least in part during his lifetime). These physical similarities are intriguing, but not in themselves convincing. Other elements, however, add weight to my thesis.
If you look at the fanged Count through the optic of 19th century antisemitism, the novel becomes considerably more disturbing. For starters, Count Dracula is repelled by Christian symbols. The common belief that Jews are anti-Christian is a common thread through the hate literature of the time (and, sadly, the present). This is buttressed in a rather disturbing fashion by Dracula’s dietary requirements: Blood. The use of blood in antisemitic propaganda has a long and distinguished tradition. It is often Christian blood that is the object of (supposed) desire and contention. In The Merchant of Venice, for instance, Shylock is foiled by Shakespeare when the court denies him this particular fluid. The blood libel, which is entirely germane in this case, accused Jews of killing Christian babies to use their blood to bake their bread. Many medieval anti-Jewish riots and pogroms were fuelled by these pernicious myths. Dracula merely introduces a new twist to this ancient race-hate; the pointy fang.
Another aspect of the antisemitic undertone in Bram Stoker’s novel is the issue of wealth and class. Dracula lives in a castle and oppresses the poor of Transylvania through his tyrannical rule. He plays with the prejudice that all Jewish wealth and power is obtained through illegitimate means. This is a pop by Stoker, an old-money landed gent, at a parvenu Disraeli –whose family made their fortune through the dastardly method of trade. Dracula’s character is created from a coded ‘Jewishness’ based upon common prejudice. (Blood drinking, oppression of the poor, usury, foreignness).
So there you have it. Another stick to beat the sparkly vampire fans with: Modern vampires are the product a racist, distorted caricature of a dead politician. Paradoxically, Stoker sets out to destroy an old political enemy and brings him new life from beyond the grave (in monster form). Dracula’s main message could be this: that Disraeli and his Tory ilk must never rise again to terrorize the land.
Far fetched? Maybe. But the idea of Tories as evil fiends is a good one. We should grab a pitchfork and a stake, my friends, get ourselves down to David Cameron’s and kill some monsters!.
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