Foreigners, Shmoreigners: The Count and the Moonstone

During my academic hiatus I read to suit my pleasure, which meant I wasn’t reading much along the lines of Victorian literature, unless you count Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Which I do. Sort of. (Let me insert an addendum here that I have appreciated the last two readings for this class, despite the difficulty I had reading Deronda; my respect for Victorian prose is ever-rising, never fear!) I thoroughly enjoy a detective mystery thriller, and came across a quote of T.S. Eliot’s in which he called Wilkie Collins’ novel The Moonstone the finest mystery he’d ever read. He must not have read much Agatha Christie, was my first reaction, but my interest was piqued and I always relish expanding my literary palate, so I picked it up and read it. An immensely enjoyable read, and far different from the modern style of mystery novels. Very Victorian in the slow build-up, the rich detail lavished upon the narrative, and (for me) the somewhat unpredictable solution. I am not the sort who tries to guess whodunit during a novel, and consequently am terrible when I try. Regardless, the eponymous item is stolen and a death occurs in conjunction with the theft, and so the mystery begins. The moonstone was originally taken from an Indian temple in, well, India naturally enough, and brought back to England, and there are shadowy foreigners who lurk about the edges of the narrative, an omnipresent threat connected to the supposed curse upon the gemstone.  It’s a fairly typical story we’re all familiar with, though that novel might have introduced the literary motif in Victorian literature. I shan’t tell you how it ends (the butler may or may not have done it) so you can enjoy reading it; well worth your while. The point is that both the nefarious deeds and the ominous foreigners are caused by the transplantation of alienness into England.

The reason I bring this up as it relates to the readings and to Dracula derives from the Brantlinger section on “‘Mimicry’ vs. ‘Going Native’” which Phooey CK and I read. In it Brantlinger mentions that one of the dangers Victorians noted about the interaction between colonizers and natives was the transference of elements of heathen culture back to England. She quotes “free trader and anti-imperialist Richard Cobden” saying “‘Is it not just possible that we may become corrupted at home by the reaction of arbitrary political maxims in the East upon our domestic politics, just as Greece and Rome were demoralized by their contact with Asia?’ (quoted in Armitage 2000:11)” (86). In his case, he seems to be arguing that political, social, economic, and possibly religious ideas might taint the purity of Britain. In the case of The Moonstone and Dracula, the contamination is more direct, in the form of objects or persons that bring with them elements of their foreign lands that menace civilized England.

So let’s just look at some explicit material from the text. Hmm, maybe I should rephrase that. Oh, well, too late now, it’s not like there’s an edit function with these new-fangled computers. Oh, wait, there totally is! Duh! Um, what was I saying? Right-o. Dracula. The two elements of Dracula’s incursion into England are his actual presence, and its effect upon other people. (Spoiler alert! If you haven’t done the reading yet!) The Count is conveyed to Albion’s fair shores on a Russian vessel, and once he’s there, having purchased a spooky mansion to convert into a nice comfy lair, all sorts of mayhem starts. He has an unfortunate effect upon Renfeld the lunatic; the wolf escapes to terrorize the countryside; and of course Dracula is now present to begin his predations upon Victorian society, which leads to the second aspect of the foreign contamination. Poor Lucy gets bitten in her fugue state, eventually turning into a vampire herself, and begins to prey upon children before her timely un-demise. If we wanted to express these two infections of foreignness, we might categorize them as on the societal level and the personal level, and of course the corruption of women would resonate strongly with the men of that period. And of course the most chilling aspect of it would be that with the infection of women, the successive generations are also at risk to be contaminated by the same foreign blemish.

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