Hey, Harker! What’s the Time?

“Left Munich at 8:35 P.M.”  This record of time, from the journal of Jonathan Harker, constitutes the first sentence of Dracula.  It is the first of sixteen such records, specific not only as to the hour but even to the minute.  Among the remaining fifteen, the presence of “6:46,” “3:34,” and “10:18” – all signifying times of train departures or arrivals – indicates attention to precision.  Compared with the complete lack of reference to such specific times in Mary Barton and Daniel Deronda (there is not a single reference to the specific minute of any hour in either text), sixteen is striking.  Of what significance is the regard for time which is apparent throughout Dracula?

In a lecture entitled “The Victorians: Time and Space,” Professor Richard Evans makes clear the connection between Victorians’ sense of time and technological progress: “The railway, the steamship, the telegraph and the telephone not only speeded up communications on several different levels, they also completely transformed people’s perceptions and experience of time, indeed they transformed the nature of time itself.”  Evans describes the process of the standardization of time in connection with the above technological developments, as well as the effects of that standardization on European individuals and culture.  In addition to influencing notions of time, Evans observes that “mechanization and industrialization” “[advertised] the power and wealth of [a] nation.”  Competitions of shipping speed, for example, “soon became a symbol for the prowess of… countries.”

In light of Evans’ explanations, I would like to suggest that the English characters’ regard for the precision of time in Dracula (for all sixteen of the time records come from English characters’ journal or diary entries) represents these characters’ sense of the technological and, consequently, cultural superiority of England in comparison to that of Central Europe.  When Jonathan writes an account of his initial trip to Transylvania, for example, he notes, “The train started a little before eight, or rather it ought to have done so, for after rushing to the station at 7:30 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?”  His judgment regarding punctuality corresponds with his judgment of culture.  In the same journal entry, Jonathan uses the adjectives “strange,” “barbarian,” “picturesque,” and “harmless,” as well as the phrase “wanting in self-assertion,” to describe, for example, the Slovaks he sees in “the midst of the Carpathian mountains; one of the wildest and least known portions of Europe.” While “picturesque” and “harmless” are not necessarily negative qualities, coming from an Englishman describing another culture, it is hard not to take “harmless” as “inferior in terms of defense” or “easily subjugated.”

Despite the English characters’ sense of technological and cultural superiority, however, the events of Dracula and the role of Dr. Van Helsing, who is Dutch, suggest that the technological development that prompts the English sense of superiority is not without its drawbacks.  First, Count Dracula’s use of technology for his own evil ends (for example, his strategic use of modern modes of transportation) presents a reminder that villains and criminals can make use of new technologies just as much as those whose aims are noble.  Technology, therefore, cannot in itself be a sure cure for all varieties of cultural ills.  Second, the scientific, naturalist thinking that accompanied English technological advancement results in the main characters’ initial blindness to the real nature of the situation, for at the beginning of Dracula, the English characters all consider tales of and precautions against vampires as mere superstition.  If not for the Dutch Van Helsing, it does not seem likely that the other characters would have figured out (or accepted their conclusions about) what really killed Lucy and threatened their own lives.

Works Cited

Evans, Richard. “The Victorians: Time and Space.” Gresham College.  Museum of
London, London. 13 Sept. 2010. Lecture.

Stoker, Bram. Dracula. projectgutenberg.org. The Project Gutenberg, 2013.
Web. 21 Feb. 2013.

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