Untitled Essay Research Paper Sociopolitical Philosophy in

Untitled Essay, Research Paper Sociopolitical Philosophy in the Works of Stoker and Yeats Around the turn of this century there was widespread fear throughout Europe, and especially Ireland, of the consequences of the race

Untitled Essay, Research Paper

Sociopolitical Philosophy in the Works of Stoker and Yeats

Around the turn of this century there was widespread fear

throughout Europe, and especially Ireland, of the consequences of the race

mixing that was occurring and the rise of the lower classes over the

aristocracies in control. In Ireland, the Protestants who were in control

of the country began to fear the rise of the Catholics, which threatened

their land and political power. Two Irish authors of the period, Bram Stoker

and William Butler Yeats, offer their views on this “problem” in

their works of fiction. These include Stoker’s Dracula and Yeats’

On Baile’s Strand and The Only Jealousy of Emer, and these works show

the authors’ differences in ideas on how to deal with this threat to

civilization. Stoker feels that triumph over this threat can only be achieved

by the defeat of these “demonic” forces through modernity, while

Yeats believes that only by facing the violent and demonic forces and emerging

from them could Ireland return to its ancient and traditional roots and find

its place in society.

The vampire was a common metaphor used by many authors

in an attempt to portray the rising lower class and foreign influence as

evil and harmful to modern civilization. The Irish Protestant author Sheridan

Le Fanu uses vampires to represent the Catholic uprising in Ireland in his

story Carmilla. Like much of gothic fiction, Carmilla is about the mixing

of blood and the harm that results from it. When vampires strike, they are

tainting the blood of the pure and innocent, causing them to degenerate into

undead savages who will take over and colonize until their race makes up

the condition of the whole world. This was the fear the Protestants had of

the rising Catholic class. They were seen as a lowly people and the fear

was that they too would colonize and degenerate Ireland, and perhaps the

rest of Europe, back into a primitive land of savages. This fear of the breakdown

of civilization by dark forces is also what Dracula is about.

In Dracula, Stoker sets up the heroes and victors of the

novel as civilized people, while the foreign villain is ancient and demonic.

The book begins with the journal of Jonathan Harker, a stenographer from

London who is sent to Transylvania to close a land deal with the mysterious

Count Dracula.

From what is written in the journal, it is clear that

Jonathan is very civilized, logical and organized. His journal is written

in shorthand, which is a sign of modernity and efficiency. He is a stenographer,

which means he is well versed in the legal system, also a sign of a civilized

person. Harker also mentions that he had visited the British Museum and library

in preparation for his trip to this strange land, once again showing that

he is well-organized resourceful. Stoker makes sure to give the reader this

impression of his protagonist as a rational individual because it is he who

will later combat the savage forces with common sense and logic.

Harker’s detailed account of his journey into

Transylvania shows the contrast between the West and the East. As he travels

farther east, the land becomes more primitive and wild. As he writes in his

journal, “I had to sit in the carriage for more than an hour before

we began to move. It seems to me that the further East you go the more unpunctual

are the trains. What ought they to be in China?” (9). Here the reader

sees that as Jonathan goes east, technology begins to break down a bit and

things are a lot less orderly. Jonathan also finds that he is beginning to

lose command over the language, as he writes, “They were evidently talking

of me, and some of the people who were sitting on the bench outside the door.

. . came and listened, and then looked at me, most of them pityingly. I could

hear a lot of words often repeated, queer words, for there were many

nationalities in the crowd” (13). Harker’s inability to understand

the language is one of the ways in which he loses control as he travels east.

Back in the modern world of the West, even in foreign countries, Jonathan

can understand what is being spoken and therefore has a sense of control

over his situation. In the East, however, he has lost this control. If he

were able to understand what the people are saying, he might realize the

danger that lay ahead of him in Transylvania before it is too late, but because

of the Eastern dialect, he is oblivious to the warnings.

When Jonathan reaches his eastern most destination, Count

Dracula’s castle, he soon realizes that he has lost all control of his

situation. He writes, “I am not in heart to describe beauty, for when

I had seen the view I explored further; doors, doors, doors everywhere, and

all locked and bolted. In no place save from the windows in the castle walls

is there an available exit. The castle is a veritable prison, and I am a

prisoner!” (39). As the reader can see, the farther he travels east,

the more broken down civilization becomes and the more control he loses over

his situation. This idea that the uncontrolled savagery of mankind lies in

the East is all part of the philosophy that was shared by many Western Europeans

at the time.

Stoker makes it clear to the reader that the vampire,

or the practice of mixing races, is demonic and anti-Christian. He does this

by offering perversions of Christianity in the novel. The first of these

occurs with the character of Renfield, a fifty-nine year old madman who comes

under the influence of Dracula. The character of Renfield foreshadows the

social disruption and insanity which will accompany Dracula’s descent

upon England, or, in other words, modern civilization. Before most of the

characters experience the wrath of Dracula, Renfield begins to act wild and

speaks of the arrival of his lord. This is one of the perversions of Christianity

that Stoker employs to show the demonic nature of the vampire. Dr. Seward

notes in his diary, “All he would say was:- ‘I don’t want

to talk to you: you don’t count now; the Master is at hand.’ The

attendant thinks it is some sudden form sudden form of religious mania which

has seized him.” (132). It is here that Renfield acts as a demonic form

of John the Baptist. Just as John the Baptist prepared people for the coming

of Christ, Renfield prepares people for the coming of his lord and master,


Another example of a perversion of Christianity is Lucy

Westenra. After her blood has been drained several times by the Count, she

finally dies on September 20th. An article in the Westminster Gazette dated

September 25th reads:

During the past two or three days several cases have occurred of young children

straying from home or neglecting to return from their playing on the Heath.

In all these cases the children were too young to give any properly intelligible

account of themselves, but the consensus of their excuses is that they had

been with a ‘bloofer lady.’. . Some of the children, indeed all

who have been missed at night, have been slightly torn or wounded in the

throat (229).

The newspaper article indicates that the first cases of missing children

were reported around September 22nd or 23rd. The reader can infer that the

‘bloofer lady’ is Lucy Westenra, and this would mean that she rose

three days after death. This is a perversion of the Christian Resurrection,

and it reminds the reader of the evil from the East that is spreading westward

into modern civilization.

The modern, civilized group of people are the only ones

who can stop Dracula from infecting their society. They all have qualities

that show they are participants in the enlightened modern world. Harker is

a rational and well-organized stenographer, Lucy is an assistant schoolmistress,

Seward is a doctor, Morris is from the rapidly growing United States, and

Dr. Van Helsing has an M.D., a Ph.D., and a D. Litt., as well as being an

attorney. All of these civilized characters join together to defeat the demonic

vampire who harks from the primitive lands of the East.

Stoker creates a story that is similar to Le Fanu’s

Carmilla and other gothic fiction in that it uses vampires to represent the

common fear of race-mixing and the uprising of the lower classes throughout

Europe. While Stoker believes that the best solution to this is to suppress

and destroy the violent and demonic energies that many feel threatened by,

Yeats shows a different philosophy in his works.

On Baile’s Strand shows Yeats’ opinion that

the foreign threats should not be simply suppressed or killed by modern society.

In fact, Yeats feels that modern society has its flaws and has the potential

to cause more tragedy than the threats themselves.

There are two characters in the play who represent conflicting

energies. Conchubar is the wise elder and is considered to be superior to

Cuchulain, and he represents obedience, law and enlightenment. Cuchulain

is the ancient war hero who represents the strong, heroic and violent energies

upon which Anglo-Ireland was founded. Cuchulain is a wild individual who

is king over a certain area of land, and Conchubar pays him a visit to try

to convince him to pledge his obedience to his lord and nation. After some

time Cuchulain agrees to recognize Conchubar as his lord and thus subscribes

to the rules of society. One may think that Cuchulain’s pledging allegiance

to Conchubar would be beneficial for him and his lord, as explained by Conchubar

in his attempt to gain Cuchulain’s allegiance. “Will you be bound

into obedience and so make this land safe for them and theirs? You are but

half a king and I but half; I need your might of hand and burning heart,

and you my wisdom” (29). Conchubar’s argument sounds reasonable,

but as the reader finds out, Cuchulain’s pledge leads him into despair.

Unknown to Cuchulain, he has a son whose mother is Aoife,

a fierce warrior and leader of a rival nation. Aoife has trained her son

to kill Cuchulain because she is angry that the boy’s father abandoned

them. The Young Man, Cuchulain’s son, comes to his father and challenges

him. Cuchulain does not want to battle him, because he feels a bond between

them, as he says, “Put up your sword; I am not mocking you. I’d

have you for my friend, but if it’s not because you have a hot heart

and a cold eye, I cannot tell the reason” (34). Despite the Young

Man’s challenge, Cuchulain wants no part of the challenge, at least

not until the boy is older and has more experience. Conchubar, however, reminds

Cuchulain of his pledge, as he says:

He has come hither not in his own name but in Queen Aoife’s, and has

challenged us in challenging the foremost man of us all. . . You think it

does not matter, and that a fancy lighter than the air, a whim of the moment,

has more matter in it. For, having none that shall reign after you, you cannot

think as I do, who would leave a throne too high for insult (35).

Because Conchubar views this challenge as an insult to the kingdom that Cuchulain

has pledged his allegiance to, the heroic warrior is obligated to accept

the challenge and avenge the insult. Even though Cuchulain has a natural

bond with this foreigner, he eventually accepts the challenge and unwittingly

kills his son. He soon learns the identity of the stranger, and as a result

he goes insane and drowns while attacking waves in the ocean. If Cuchulain

had not pledged allegiance to the civilized society, he would have been able

to follow his natural energies and feelings, which would have kept him from

murdering his son and going mad. Through this tragedy Yeats states that by

suppressing or killing the natural instead of facing it or even embracing

it, one can indeed become a member of a civilized society, but this is ultimately

a tragic condition, as the Fool observes while describing Cuchulain’s

death to the Blind Man. “There, he is down! He is up again. He is going

out in the deep water. There is a big wave. It has gone over him. I cannot

see now. He has killed kings and giants, but the waves have mastered him,

the waves have mastered him!” (43).

In The Only Jealousy of Emer, Yeats further expresses

his idea that suppressing or avoiding the demonic is not a way to solve the

problems facing Ireland. He feels that Ireland is trying to lift itself out

of its natural form and create an image of itself as an imaginative modernist

society, but doing so will simply delay the inevitable only lead it into

more despair and violence. Only by facing and experiencing the violent and

demonic forces that threaten it can Ireland emerge triumphantly over such


The play continues from the end of On Baile’s Strand,

and Cuchulain’s body has been retrieved from the water. His wife Emer

and mistress, Eithne Inguba, are sitting at his bedside. Emer is confronted

by the spirit of Bricriu, a demon whom Cuchulain will face in the afterlife.

Bricriu explains that Emer can bring Cuchulain back to life if she renounces

his love forever. At first Emer refuses to do this, but she finally does

renounce his love because she can not bear to let Cuchulain go into the hands

of the demons.

In renouncing his love, Emer loses the only thing she

ever had left, the hope of someday being reunited with her husband. When

Cuchulain is revived, he states that Eithne Inguba is his true love, and

Emer’s life is filled with nothing but sorrow.

If Cuchulain had faced the demons and suffered their wrath,

he would have become a legend that would live on forever, but instead he

is lifted out of the afterlife and lives with false passion toward Eithne

Inguba. Just like this story, Ireland will likewise lose all hope if it avoids

the demonic threats instead of going through and emerging from them. Even

though Cuchulain’s life is restored, he will not become the legend that

he could have, and he will have to face the demons eventually, as Bricriu

says to Emer, “He’ll never sit beside you at the hearth or make

old bones, but die of wounds and toil on some far shore or mountain, a strange

woman beside his mattress” (119). Yeats is saying that Ireland must

eventually face and live through the dark forces that threaten it, and removing

itself from these forces, in addition to simply delaying the inevitable,

will only lead to further tragedy.

The works of these two Irish authors are fine pieces of

fiction that effectively employ the elements of horror and tragedy which

are common in gothic literature, but they also serve as valuable insights

into the philosophies that were shared by many Europeans during these times

of anxiety and change. It is difficult to say which philosophy is superior

to the other. Stoker’s Dracula was published in 1897, while

Yeats’ works were written later, with The Only Jealousy of

Emer written in 1919, giving him the advantage of witnessing the Easter

Rising of 1916. The turmoil of the period was not as simple as modern versus

primitive or good versus evil, and certainly not everyone in Europe shared

their views or anything close to them, thus making it virtually impossible

to judge the superiority of one philosophy over another. While readers may

not agree with either of the authors, these works are still entertaining

and serve as a testament to the power of literature as a platform for social

and political opinion.