The Politics of Dracula

Quincey MorrisDid you know that there’s an American in “Dracula”? This was the book assigned for week 3 of Fantasy and Science Fiction: The Human Mind, Our Modern World, a course I’m taking online. The story is set entirely in Europe and England, but Bram Stoker managed to get in a jibe or two at America nonetheless.

Our homework in this class is to write a short essay (REALLY short: 270 to 300 words) that “aims to enrich the reading of a fellow student who is both intelligent and attentive to the readings and to the course.” This instruction seems aimed at discouraging us from all writing the same essay on the same obvious major themes. Instead, we are to identify some interesting but potentially overlooked aspect of the work and analyze it for the benefit of our classmates—who are the ones doing the grading.

Here is my contribution (warning: spoilers!):

American Aggression Controlled

Quincey Morris stands out as the only American character in the story of Dracula, an otherwise European tale. He is the character we know least well. His name, “Quincey”, means “fifth”, as if filling out the complement of five men might be his main function in the story. He is the author of only one letter in the story, a message suggesting drinks with Arthur Holmwood and John Seward after their proposals to Lucy are rejected and Arthur’s is accepted. He is courageous, sturdy, and good with a Winchester.

However, as the only American, he also stands for America. On meeting him, asylum patient Renfield compliments him on the U.S.’s annexation of Texas, a move that Britain as a nation opposed. Renfield then speculates about further U.S. expansion, to a dramatic future in which “the Pole and the Tropics may hold allegiance to the Stars and the Stripes.” Though couched as approval, the statement issues from a madman. It is likely that this expresses a British fear, and criticism, of such American actions.

Stoker then systematically puts American aggression in its place. Renfield, who approved of those actions, is brutally destroyed. During the ensuing Dracula chase, Quincey the American is the only one of the five men to be injured, and ultimately, he dies as well. His death seems unnecessary and arbitrary from the plot perspective, but it could serve as a not-so-subtle statement about British superiority to America. Quincey is remembered for his dedication and selflessness (an instructional lesson for America?) and memorialized in Jonathan and Mina’s son. Jonathan reports “the secret belief that some of our brave friend’s spirit has passed into [his son].” Perhaps England can benefit from emulating America’s good qualities, once her troubling aggression is under control.

The note about “only one letter” is meaningful because the story is told in epistolary format, so the only way we learn of the characters’ activities is through their diaries, telegrams, newspaper articles, and letters. Quincey remains something of a cipher.

The full quote from the momentarily, and curiously, sane-sounding Renfield is, “Mr. Morris, you should be proud of your great state. Its reception into the Union was a precedent which may have far-reaching effects hereafter, when the Pole and the Tropics may hold allegiance to the Stars and the Stripes. The power of Treaty may yet prove a vast engine of enlargement, when the Monroe doctrine takes its true place as a political fable.” This comment seems to come entirely out of left field, and no one responds or follows up on it. It’s irrelevant to the story, so why did Stoker include it? I posit above that he wanted to make a subtle political statement and made Quincey his device. I cannot read his dead mind, but now I wish there were some way to ask him about it!