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Power in Bram Stoker's Dracula

When Jonathan Harker visits Dracula in Transilvania in chapter III, Dracula tells him (and the reader) about his background. One of the ways in which he defines himself and his family is by saying:

We Szelekys [...] fought [...] for lordship.

Let us make a little experiment with this sentence and replace the word "lordship", which has social connotations, with the word "power", which is less committed in its dimensional allegiance.

On the other hand, generalising in such a way is problematic, for as a kind of ultimate motivation 'power' is meaningless: power always refers us to a further, more basic motivation. Such further motivations can be [1] the necessity of being above others because we do not value ourselves enough, [2] the desire to acquire wealth, [3] to be in the limelight, or [4] uphold a position (barring the first one, the remaining motivations would probably refer us to something else again). In this sense, one can say that 'power' is a kind of empty vessel which needs to be filled with motivation, a motivation which ultimately comes in the guise of one of St Augustine's four dimensions.

Indeed, chapter III in Dracula shows that this is so. If we wrap up this basic "We Szelekys fought for power" in some of its more or less immediate textual context, we get the following (the excerpt runs over three pages, but wrenching together the sentences is not unfaithful to the text as far as content is concerned):

We Szelekys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for power. [...] What devil or what witch was ever so great as Attila, whose blood is in these veins? [...] Is it a wonder that we were a conquering race, that we were proud [...]? [...] That was a Dracula indeed! Woe was it that his own unworthy brother , when he had fallen, sold his people to the Turk and brought the shame of slavery on them! [...] when, after the battle of Mohacs, we threw off the Hungarian yoke, we of the Dracula blood were amongst their leaders, for our spirit would not brook that we were not free. [... Now the] warlike days are over. Blood is too precious a thing in these days of dishonourable peace; and the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told.

In this excerpt, 'power' becomes meaningful to the extent that it is associated to one of the four dimensions:

Natural dimension (see blue emphasis): In this excerpt, the immediate context of power refers us to the natural dimension, for fighting for power is fighting "as the lion fights". Furthermore, fighting for power seems to be a natural consequence of another natural fact, that "in our veins flows the blood of many brave races", the "blood [of] Attila", the blood that makes the Szelekys a "conquering race".

Social & individual dimension (see red emphasis): These natural abilities - Dracula's toughness, on which follows fighting for power and a capacity to conquer - are limited when Dracula's brother "brought the shame of slavery on" his people. Slavery is, of course, the opposite of having power over others, and shows how closely fear and desire coexist. Dracula, however, suggests only the opposition and not the similarity between power and slavery. Power is natural, slavery social, especially because part of the Szelekys' nature is to be free: "our spirit would not brook taht we were not free". The individualism inherent in such freedom is unproblematically grafted on the natural bravery and the ability to conquer. The Szelekys are thus nature and individualism; power is thus crucially linked to nature and individualism, and separated from society. Race functions as a monolithic, naturally endowed I.

Metaphysical dimension (see green emphasis): Dracula yearns for the the days of yore when fighting for power was a natural fact. However, those "warlike days are over" and "the glories of the great races are as a tale that is told". That "tale" is epic, and in our consciousness the epic functions primarily as a a metaphysical genre, referring us to a time beyond, more primitive perhaps but also more heroic than normal contemporary time. Thus fighting for power is situated not only in the natural and individual, but also metaphysical realm.

In general terms, it can be said that the allegiance of 'power' with nature via the danger that the wilderness has representd for human beings, with individualism via the wilfulness which is often atendant on freedom, and with metaphysics via God's omnipotence, is clearly visible in this excerpt.

daniel.candel@uah.es ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann