Dear Luver,

Trapped in Castle Dracula, Jonathan Harker writes in his journal: “Here I am, sitting at a little oak table where in old times possibly some fair lady sat to pen, with much thought and many blushes, her ill-spelt love letter, and writing in my diary in shorthand all that has happened since I closed it last. It is nineteenth-century up-to-date with a vengeance. And yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill” (Stoker 43). This moment comes after Jonathan has witnessed Dracula’s lizard-like descent down the castle walls, which marks a tonal shift from mere eeriness to something decidedly sinister. With this journal entry, Jonathan reflects on the relationship between modernity and ancient times within the castle, considering an imagined “fair lady” who may have sat at the very same desk centuries before. This fictional woman is the paragon of innocence and poses no threat to Jonathan; she is simply writing a love letter, wholly guided by her feminine emotions. In fact, with the inclusion of her letter being “ill-spelt,” Jonathan frames this lady as his inferior. While she was just some silly woman, blushing and scribbling out a love letter (which she can’t even spell correctly), he is using the modern invention of shorthand to record a journal of his experiences. He is professional, scientific, and formal – clearly far more advanced than this ancient woman. This comparison emphasizes the idea that the modern Victorian man is superior to the people of the past, a belief which has carried Jonathan confidently through the events of the novel thus far. Jonathan’s explicit reference to the time period – “It is nineteenth century up-to-date with a vengeance” – stresses this point.

However, this fundamental belief is subverted with the final line of the entry, signaled by the words, “And yet.” Jonathan cannot deny that the very things which he is recording in his modern journal with his modern shorthand expose the threat of the ancient world that he is beginning to uncover. He writes, “unless my senses deceive me,” which invokes the conflict between what knowledge science necessitates and what one sees with his own eyes. With the following line, Jonathan admits that “the old centuries” are much more than the “fair lady” composing a sloppy love. History is not all quite so benign.

Thus launches Jonathan’s inner turmoil: he is grappling with the realization that modernity does not carry all the answers. Jonathan is the hallmark of the modern Victorian man – he is educated and sophisticated; he is training in a respected career; he is engaged to a proper, devoted woman – and yet all this does not grant him security. All throughout his journey to Castle Dracula, he was met with warnings and signs of danger which he ignored because he thought himself untouchable. In his eyes, his modernity placed him far above the peasants of Transylvania and would thus keep him safe.

In fact, I think the country of Transylvania as a whole represents this idea of the “old world” within the novel. Despite its noted eerie features, Jonathan never felt truly threatened because he came from London, the century of technology and science, the most advanced society in the world (in his mind). Why should an Englishman fear any part of the primitive, heathen country of Transylvania? Jonathan even saw himself as Dracula’s savior, tutoring him to be a proper Englishman and helping him to emigrate from an inferior nation. Although Dracula is a high-ranking individual, Jonathan sees the entire Transylvanian social hierarchy as beneath the Englishman.

To return to the journal entry, I argue that this moment marks when Jonathan begins to question his confidence in modernity, and not just modernity but in Britain as an empire. What he has witnessed in Castle Dracula causes him to doubt his assumed superiority and, more imminently, his untouchability. Not only is he realizing that his education, his technology, and his social heritage do not make him superior – they also do not make him safe. With the line “The old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere ‘modernity’ cannot kill,” Jonathan admits the immediate threat of the ancient world. The specific wording of “had, and have” invokes the Victorian fear that the barbarism of the past which society has strived to rise above can still tarnish the world of the present. The word “kill” makes these “powers” real, tangible threats, something that must be physically stopped. And, of course, that threat is made physical in the form of Dracula.

2 thoughts on “Dear Luver,”

  1. This is very interesting, I like what you wrote! I think its interesting that you point out that this technology does not make him necessarily “safe.” It reminds me of how England is falling into a decomposing state during this time. Even though they have technology, they are still falling apart and are no longer this superpower. I wonder what Mina would have to say about all of it, she seemed very keen on technology.

  2. Your idea of modernity keeping Jonathan safe made me think of a line that made me laugh when Van Helsing is trying to convince Dr. Seward that vampires exist, and Seward says “’Do you mean to tell me that …such a thing is here in London in the nineteenth century?’” (205). Like you mentioned Jonathan questioning his confidence in modernity, I think the same thing happens to Seward around this part of the book and he’s a “man of science” so he should be hardest to convince that superstitions are real, which I think conveys how dire the situation is.

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