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The Center of the Whirlpool

October 2, 2009

The devil's own seasoning.

The devil's own seasoning.

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.

I love this quote, from Chapter 1. Stoker is basically throwing the kitchen sink at us here: we’re going to be dealing with “every known superstition in the world.” “Heads up,” he seems to be saying, “from here on out anything goes.” Apparently it will be our task, along with Harker’s, to sift out the “reality” from the superstition in the midst of this maelstrom.

Stylistically the chatty imprecision of “some sort of” recalls (presages?) David Foster Wallace’s appropriation of conversational tics into his prose. Throughout this first chapter Harker is constantly hedging his bets and softening his declarations with the type of linguistic filler that we use when we’re not 100% sure what we’re talking about. To wit:

Bistritz, the post town named by Count Dracula, is a fairly well-known place

I shall enter here some of my notes, as they may refresh my memory

my stay may be very interesting

I had all sorts of queer dreams. There was a dog howling all night under my window, which may have had something to do with it

a sort of porridge of maize flour

All day long we seemed to dawdle through a country

They had all full white sleeves of some kind or other

a frightened sort of way


We talk like this when we want to leave open the possibility that the things that appear to us are not exactly as they seem, or that we are somehow characterizing them incorrectly due to ignorance or imprecision. Harker is essentially “reading” the people, places and situations he’s encountering here in Chapter 1, but with these little tics he, or Stoker, is self-consciously letting the specter of misreading come in through the linguistic back door. This ties right back in to the question of superstition vs. reality which, I suspect, will be one of the major themes of the book.

It seems we’re all on unfamiliar ground here: pay close attention, and go easy on the paprika.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 4, 2009 4:38 pm

    I like the imaginative whirlpool bit – I actually managed to scan past that in my reading of the chapter, so I didn’t really even notice it. Even more than *every* superstition, I think we’re dealing with the *idea* of superstition. We’re not just dealing with every superstition rolled up into one; we’re setting the place where superstition seems to emanate from (Transylvania) up in opposition to the place where order prevails (London) to see what that tension is about.

  2. November 16, 2010 4:53 pm

    stainless kitchen sinks serves me better and they are stain resistant too *-;

  3. August 20, 2011 11:23 am

    Hi there , I am making a wiki site and I think your articles would fit the style good. Would you let me copy and paste your website?


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