Jonathan needs to get out more

During Jonathan’s trip to Transylvania, he is fascinated by the way the locals look. In some of the towns he passed through, “[t]he women looked pretty, except when you got near them…” and of course, “[t]he strangest figures we saw were the Slovaks, who are more barbarian than the rest…” (9). He doesn’t even think of them as people. Regarding the Slovaks, he was told that they were “…very harmless and rather wanting in natural self-assertion,” which just goes to show how ignorant he is of cultures outside of England (9). While racism and xenophobia do play a role in this, I think class does too. Jonathan is very dismissive of the peasants’ superstitions and concern for him. When his landlady pleads with him to not go to the Count’s castle on St. George’s Day, he calls it “…very ridiculous…” but he does feel uneasy (11). While this could just be a shortcoming of Jonathan’s character, I think Bram Stoker means it as commentary on the ‘dignified English society’, because part of the reason Jonathan is so skeptical of the locals is that they use crucifixes and idols, which “English Churchm[e]n” look down on (11). However, he does not refuse the crucifix his landlady offers him, because it would be rude, which I think begins to hint at the role of class in the novel (11). 

After his harrowing ride with the superstitious peasants and wolves to the Count’s castle, the Count’s civilized “…courteous welcome seemed to have dissipated all [Jonathan’s] doubts and fears” (23). I think it’s funny that Jonathan can pinpoint what it is about the peasants that makes him feel uneasy: they are funny looking, superstitious, and worship idols, but he can’t with Dracula. When “the Count leaned over [him] and his hands touched [him, he] could not repress a shudder. It may have been that his breath was rank…” (25). And this comes after Jonathan describes Dracula’s as having fangs, claws, and hair growing out of his palms (24-25). Because Dracula has thus far acted respectable and courteous toward Jonathan and is a count who knows a lot about England and can speak English, he sees no reason to see any of these features and doubt Dracula’s humanity like he did with the Slovaks. It made me wonder if Jonathan had ever seen a Romanian or if he thought all Romanians were as alarming looking as Dracula. This also plays into Stoker’s possible commentary on English society during the fin de siècle because Jonathan’s obviously an educated person since he passed his solicitor examination before leaving London (22). It says a lot about English society that an educated person knows so little about people outside of England, especially because with new technology like the trains Jonathan takes to get to Romania, it is not difficult to travel anymore.  

I feel like Stoker could be pointing out the irony of a person from a country that prided itself on being scientific and advanced and superior to other countries being completely out of place in another country that’s considered inferior. And he doesn’t stand out because he’s better than everyone else, he’s just ill-equipped. He doesn’t speak the language the peasants speak (he has to pull out his polyglot dictionary to figure out that the locals are talking about witches and hell [12]). He doesn’t take their superstitions seriously and ends up being kidnapped by a creature the scientifically minded British don’t believe exist, and he doesn’t understand paprika. One would think that someone who lives in a country that had colonized almost half the world would know a little bit more about people and cultures outside of their small English bubble. 

2 thoughts on “Jonathan needs to get out more”

  1. I think your interpretation of Jonathan Harker’s actions through the lens of critical race theory as well as analyzing it through a classist perspective is super interesting! I would just add that Jonathan is made uncomfortable by the foreign common folk, yes, but he is also made uncomfortable by the Count as well. The key difference is that Jonathan has a better understanding of who the Count is as a person, because he comes from England and is born to at least some privilege and has an understanding of nobility and feels comfortable around what he knows. This most certainly comes from a place of ignorance, and is what also fuels his xenophobic tendencies.

  2. The moment I read this I instantly started thinking about the illness and poverty issues we discussed in class during the fin de siècle. The poor people, whose neighborhoods mostly carried the diseases, were avoided by the higher class; instead of using the identified areas on the map as a guide on who to help, it was used to mark places and people to avoid. The unwillingness of Jonathan to take the people’s warnings seriously because of how he viewed them led him to suffer at Count Dracula’s hands. While he could’ve used their knowledge and warnings as a guide, much like the map we discussed in class, he chose to avoid and ignore them.

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