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Setting Bairns and Dizzy Women A-Belderin’

October 6, 2009

Saint Mary's graveyard, Whitby, by Flickr user Tasa M used under a Creative Commons license

Let’s compare Mina’s visits to crazy ol’ Mr. Swales with J-Hark’s experiences with the Transylvanian locals. Both Mina and Jonathan play the role of the sophisticated tourist out among the quaint but somewhat benighted peasant-folk. What’s interesting, though, is that Stoker places Jonathan’s Transylvanians and Mina’s Yorkshire residents at opposite ends of the belief/skepticism spectrum. We’ve seen that “every known superstition in the world” can be found among the Transylvanians, whereas old Mr. Swales delivers a downright blasphemous takedown of Christian burial rituals and the beliefs associated therewith.

Swales’ “sermons”* center largely around the fact that many of the graves in the churchyard are actually empty. Thus the phrase “here lies the body” is often a downright lie. Among other things, Stoker appears to be setting up a dichotomy between “empty” and “full” graves. But Dracula, and vampires in general, disrupt the dichotomy since they sleep in graves. If you’ve got a vampire in your grave, “here lies the body” may be true on some occasions and untrue on others — the line between truth and lies becomes blurry. A more accurate epitaph would read “here lies the body… sometimes.” It seems that Stoker isn’t content to set up the simple inversion between rationalism and superstition that I mentioned in a previous post — perhaps he’s inverting them and then muddying them up to further disorient the reader, an act of deliberate obfuscation that anticipates later acts of post-modern trickery.

I think there’s something similar going on at the end of Chapt. VI when Swales talkes about life and death:

For life be, after all, only a waitin’ for somethin’ else than what we’re doin’; and death be all that we can rightly depend on.

On the surface this seems pretty straightforward: You’ve got life on the one hand, and death on the other, and never shall the twain meet. Except that vampires, again, blur this distinction — they’re neither properly living nor dead. Consider the vampiric state and suddenly the phrase “somethin’ else than what we’re doin'” acquires a whole new creepy resonance.

Finally: I love the part where Lucy gets the fantods about sitting over the grave of a suicide, and Swales comically assures her by saying that “poor Geordie” would be happy to have “so trim a lass sittin’ on his lap.” Lucy’s such a hussy that she even sits on the laps of dead guys!

* I can’t say I found Swales’ dialect completely convincing, btw — it seemed like Stoker couldn’t quite capture the entire range of Yorkshire speech and had Swales speaking an odd mash-up that was half regular English and half Yorkshire, rather than a smooth blend between the two. For example, one of Swales’ lines starts with the very proper-sounding “And, as to hopes of a glorious resurrection,” and ends Yorkshire jive-style with “an’ he didn’t want to addle where she was.”

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 6, 2009 1:55 pm

    Interesting point. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out.

    BTW, isn’t “sure and certain hope of the Resurrection” part of the Anglican liturgy? I read it as Swales irreverently riffing on a familiar line from church, fitting in with his general irreverence.

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