Imaginary Vampires, Imagined Jews
1897 was a watershed year in Jewish history. The first Zionist Congress convened in a grand hotel in Basel, Switzerland. With much less pomp and circumstance, the Yiddisher Arbeter Bund, the Jewish Labor Movement, was clandestinely founded in a Vilna basement (socialist movements being illegal under Tsarist rule). In New York, Der Forverts, the world's largest-circulation and longest-running Yiddish newspaper, began publication. Meanwhile, in Odessa, the Hebrew-language Ha-Shahar, the first and most influential Zionist journal, was founded under the initial editorship of Ahad Ha'am. And now, thanks to Blood Will Tell, an engaging and insightful new study by Sara Libby Robinson, Jewish historians may consider adding a surprising entry to this list of 1897 events that proved so repercussive in Jewish history: the publication of Bram Stoker's Dracula.
While never explicitly identified as a Jew, the figure of Dracula—and vampires more generally—encompassed an array of anti-Semitic stereotypes: rootless, of East European origin, dark-complected, and lustful for the money and blood of others. Assessing a wide range of themes in which blood and vampirism were evoked in late-19th-century European "scientific" thought (Social Darwinism and criminology in particular), Robinson argues that Stoker's depiction of Dracula exploited widespread anxieties about the dangers posed by the flood (and the blood) of Yiddish-speaking immigrants to Great Britain.
Dracula's features are "stereotypically Jewish . . . [his] nose is hooked, he has bushy eyebrows, pointed ears, and sharp, ugly fingers." As for his behavior, Robinson situates Dracula in the realm of fin-de-siècle national chauvinism, which viewed non-Anglo-Saxons—and Jews in particular—as dangerous interlopers loyal only to their alien tribe. "Like many immigrants, Dracula has made great efforts to acculturate himself to his new country and to blend in with the rest of the population, through studying its language and customs . . . [his] greatest concern is whether his mastery of English and his pronunciation would brand him as a foreigner." Likewise, Stoker mines anxieties over Jewish dual loyalty. "The one identified person whose aid Dracula enlists in escaping Britain is a German Jew named Hildesheim, 'a Hebrew of rather the Adelphi Theatre type, with a nose like a sheep,' who must be bribed in order to aid Stoker's heroes."
Robinson asserts that the purpose of her study is to widen the focus away from Dracula. She calls attention, often brilliantly, to the frequent appearance of vampiric metaphors and blood-related anxieties beginning some two decades before Stoker's work appeared, up through the First World War. She marshals evidence from dozens of German, French, and British authors (many now obscure) for allusions to perceived political and social threats evoking the fear of blood-letting and vampirism. Additionally, she casts a fine eye on some 30 illustrations culled from the satirical journals of the period, such as the German Kladderadatsch, the English Punch, and the American Puck and Harper's Weekly. Nevertheless, Dracula makes an appearance in every chapter, and is cited more often than any other single work of literature. The only author who receives more attention than Stoker is Émile Zola—for good reason, given his work's sharply critical commentaries on the political and social trends of his day.
Robinson's approach to her sources is thematic and synthetic. This is to say that she mines texts for their appropriation of blood and vampire metaphors, engaging neither in literary analysis of her sources nor in biographical studies of their authors. Robinson's wide range shows precisely how malleable—and not infrequently contradictory—the accusation of vampirism had become by the early 20th century. On the economic front, Jews were vilified as frequently for being capitalist blood-suckers as they were for being socialist and anarchist revolutionaries feeding on the social vitality of Old World Europe. The mythology about Jews and blood was protean enough to fit the contours of the political, nationalist-racist, pseudo-scientific, and religious theories of the day. In that last realm, medieval Christian mythology about Jews and blood was most infamously manifest in the notorious blood libel.
The synthetic approach is mostly suited. But its perils are nowhere more evident than in Robinson's references to Max Nordau, and his controversial work Degeneration, in the context of a discussion of Social Darwinist anti-Semitism. Robinson oddly introduces Nordau as a "German intellectual," making him sound much more deracinated than the knowledgeable and committed Jew that he was. Readers unfamiliar with the man called "Herzl's 'rabbi'" will almost certainly come away with the notion that Nordau was some German, anti-Semitic Social Darwinist.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Since his first, stirring address to the Zionist Congress in that momentous year 1897, Nordau was the most influential exponent of practical Zionism until his death in 1923. Robinson never even alludes to Nordau's status as a founding father of Zionism, an omission rendered doubly bizarre given her subsequent extended treatment of the Zionist aim of strengthening the Jewish body. Using Herzl's utopian novel Altneuland as her main source, she ignores Nordau's more salient classic essay, "Muskeljudentum" (Muscular Judaism).
Notwithstanding this certainly inadvertent distortion of Nordau's legacy, Robinson has written a provocative book that will heighten our awareness of the nefariousness of blood-metaphors. As is proper, she reserves her observations about the contemporary relevance of her research to a brief mention, in the book's conclusion, of recent depictions of Jews as vampires. (Most chillingly, one cartoon casts former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon as "Sharoncula," about to sink his canine teeth into the neck of an innocent Arab girl.)
But too many discussions in this fine book eerily echo distressing recent news stories. Most are all too obvious, as anyone following the demonized depiction of Jews in the Arab press well knows. Late last month, UN High Commissioner for the Middle East Richard Falk posted on his website a vile cartoon of a rapacious Jewish dog.
Still, numerous themes examined by Robinson elicit more surprising analogies to events of our own day. I will mention just one: Robinson's fascinating discussion of the link between blood libels and shohtim, Jewish ritual slaughterers. In the 1880's, under the influence of Darwinism, cruelty to animals became a major concern in liberal European circles, and laws were enacted to regulate animal slaughter.
These judicial acts coincided, in Konitz, Germany, with a notorious blood libel directed at two local shohtim, along with rhetoric characterizing Jews as bloodthirsty beasts. This resulted in widespread pressure to forbid any animal slaughter not preceded by electrical stunning. Robinson observes that:
In Germany especially, this campaign veered towards anti-Semitic slander. According to some advocates of stunning, Jews supposedly took pleasure in their method of slaughtering, which strengthened their insensitivity and brutality. Propaganda depicted them as a "blood-drinking people," erroneously positing that Jews drank the blood of their slaughtered animals.
One hears a disturbing echo of this episode in Holland's introduction, two weeks ago, of legislation banning both Jewish and Islamic ritual slaughter. The ostensible motive for this legislation is the "humanitarian" concern for animal rights—a "humanitarianism" greatly clarified by Robinson's study. Just as blood is hidden from sight until the skin is pierced, the metaphors of blood and vampirism examined by Robinson all too often hide deep racial hatreds and fears, unpierced below the skin of polite public discourse.
Allan Nadler is a professor of religious studies and the director of the program in Jewish studies at Drew University.
Stoker's book, published in 1897 as Robinson says, came just a few years at most after Trilby, a novel and best-seller by George DuMaurier. This is not a vampire story but it does have some parallels. The villain is explicitly called a Jew. He is swarthy in contrast to the pure, white maiden whom he mesmerizes and takes psychological control over. He comes from Poland. Trilby requires a thorough study of its symbolism and themes.
Du Maurier was also an illustrator for Punch mentioned above by Nadler. Punch was Judeophobic as indicated above. In one period, a frequent target of contempt was a member of the Sassoon family. They were originally Jews from Baghdad who made a fortune in India and came to live in Britain. One of them [the father of Siegfried Sassoon??] was a very skillful athlete and joined the circle of the Prince of Wales. Sassoon's prowess at the sports that the British thought of as in their own domain provoked much resentment at Punch and among other British Judeophobes. Sassoon's swarthy skin color was certainly a source of resentment.
What's next for Ms. Robinson? Another insightful study suggesting that The Mummy of 1960s horror-film fame was a Jew because his contemporaries helped build the Pyramids?
There is absolutely nothing to do with Jewish people in the Dracula legend and to suggest that Jews inspired the vampire legend is completely ridiculous.
You should pull this ridiculous column.
That is QUITE a stretch.
I'm sure the author can do a better job expressing himself and the content in the article. Reading it has even made me less able to express myself. Too jumbled.
Nevertheless, there is no need to analyze Stoker or who he might have known that may have been an antisemite to discredit Robinson's analysis.
The idea that Dracula is supposed to be Jewish and was portrayed by Stoker as Jewish is absolutely ridiculous. Dracula is clearly based on a real Prince of Wallachia called Vlad Dracula who during the mid-1400s was also known as Vlad the Impaler (even his historical fans do not suggest he was a nice guy).
Nobody has really analzyed the issue of whether he was Jewish for one simple reason-he wasn't.
I am aware that Vlad Tepes, ruler of Wallachia, the historical model for Stoker's Dracula, was not Jewish. Nor does the novel call him Jewish as I recall from when I read it. My point is that in at least some of the Dracula films it was strongly hinted that he was Jewish. I think that having the Dracula character wear a Magen David proves my point. The movies were not trying to be objective histories but to excite and fascinate audiences. Thus they used all sorts of tricks, including that of playing on Judeophobic prejudices and notions that Jews were masters of magic, etc., in order to hold the audience.
I defy you to name the "at least some of the Dracula films where it was strongly hinted that he was Jewish."
Those who know me know that I am deeply sensitive to anti-Semitism. My wife was born and raised in Jerusalem and her father was a Holocaust survivor. But until I read this ridiculous article, I had never heard anything so absurd that Bram Stoker's classic story or the movies it inspired were infused with anti-Semitic imagery. I have no idea how Mr. Stoker felt about Jews in his personal life, but there is no basis in his great Gothic novel to draw a conclusion that he was anti-Semitic.
Where is the Magen David in Bela Lugosi's portrayal of Dracula? I don't see it. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/0/08/Bela_Lugosi_as_Dracula.jpg
Maybe the point that you're trying to make is that over the centuries Jews have been demonized, vampires are demons, therefore vampires are Jews. But the fallacy of that syllogism is illustrated as follows: Corvettes have been painted red, Cadillacs have been painted red, therefore Corvettes are Cadillacs.
The logic isn't there, is it.
BTW, my name is spelled with 2 [two] Ts, not one.
1. The photo I sent you from the 1931 film is when we the audience first "meet" the Count in his castle at the beginning of the story. Other photos of Lugosi playing Dracula you can find on Google Images do not show him wearing this medallion. So it looks like it was restricted to a single scene in a single movie.
2. I am not aware of any other actor, and there have been dozens, ever wearing a six-pointed ornament in any other Dracula movie.
3. We can agree that not every six-pointed ornament or medallion is designed to be a Star of David, any more than the German Iron Cross, a military decoration awarded for bravery, would be worn by a priest as a symbol of his faith.
4. In Bram Stoker's novel which inspired the films, Dracula is never described as wearing even a six-pointed medallion, much less a Magen David or any other ornament associated with Judaism.
(coincidentally, Jewish) is associated with criminality. Antisemites have taken pains to distinguish the Roman or aquiline nose from the stereotypically 'Jewish' hooked, bulbous nose. Dracula is a warrior and nobleman, hardly a 19th c Jewish stereotype. Since the early 19th century Jews of literature have tended to be Old World aristocrats rooted (often literally) in their ancestral soil, again not very much in keeping with the image of rootless Jews who are strangers in Europe.
Have antisemites associated Jews with vampires, a symbol of parasitism? Of course. Antisemites have also associated Jews with the octopus, a symbol of conspiracy. That does not mean that the development of the vampire in popular culture was especially inspired or influenced by antisemitism, any more than the development of the octopus as a symbol of conspiracy was. Many other groups have been associated with vampires and octopi. Groups associated with vampires in cartoons, written propaganda, and other media include capitalists, communists, fascists, Jews, Germans, the French ...
A much stronger case than 'Jews = vampires in the popular imagination' is that the 19th and early 20th c the vampire was associated with young women as seducers, giving rise to 'vamp.' See Kipling's The Vampire and the silent movie A Fool There Was. Oh wait, Theda Bara was Jewish - antisemitism again!
WWII era cartoon of German military as vampire
Aside: Lon Chaney Jr. starred in 1943's Son Of Dracula. (And his character didn't seem Jewish at all.)
Stoker was writing a novel before there were motion pictures. He was not writing a screenplay. He was able to characterize Dracula in words; he did not use visual images. The plots and subplots of the book were far more complex than the movies it inspired, and evidently Stoker did not find it necessary to accessorize Dracula with necklaces for his reading public. Bela Lugosi wearing his ornament was how the film makers in the 1931 film version "imagined" what the literary character looked like.
This entire thesis that Dracula was supposed to be Jewish could be laughed at as absurd except for one thing. I think the idea that Dracula was supposed to be Jewish is the way that anti-Semites would like to spin it. Not even David Duke would have proposed such a ridiculous thesis and now we have a Jewish pub giving credence to this nonsense.
There were in fact other novels in the fin de siecle, turn of the century period in which Jews are made out to be exotic, bearers of strange, occult magical powers, and thereby evil, etc etc. Other novels that did that were Trilby by DuMaurier; and 39 Steps, by John Buchan. And I think that somebody working on the Dracula movie was working in that same vein.
David, aquiline noses if they are thin are not considered Jewish. Further, Eastern Europeans are not typically dark at all. The Jewish villain in Trilby is dark, swarthy, but this trait is seen in the book as Jewish rather than eastern European. Moreover, in those days [ca. 1900] Jews were considered Oriental in northern Europe, that included Jews generally, and of course Ostjuden [Eastern European Jews].
By the way, years ago I purchased the Dell paperback edition of the novel because the cover art looked like the character as Stoker described him, aquiline nose and all. And although the cover artist took some license and gave Dracula an oval amulet to wear, does that look like any Jew you ever met?
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I don't know if this is in Robinson's book, but I learned recently from a wonderful book by the British anthropologist Juliette du Boulay on Greek Orthodox religion in the context of rural Greek village life one source of the vampire myth. The funeral custom (shaped partly by lack of arable land) is to bury the dead for 3-5 years, and then to disinter the remains and place bones willy-nilly into the church or family ossuary. When decomposition does occur after this (one gets a second chance), speculation ensues that brings Balkan memories into play (in du Boulay's account), and vampirism is feared. Hence stake through heart and other morbid features of the legend. The point is that explanations are sought for the behavior of the Loved One that involve all sorts of suspicions: great sins, violator of taboo, selling soul to devil - and certainly the notion that the dead was secretly a Jew or a member of some other unfavored group about whom there is a frisson of the uncanny might form one of these suspicions.
Might not Robinson be mistaking a familiar set stage and narrative convention of how a villain is represented (in the English/European tradition since forever) seized upon by Bram Stoker (who was the longtime stage manager for the great actor Henry Irving, whose depiction of Shylock was legendary)and overreading it as particularly anti-Semitic, ignoring the general rediscovery of folk legends and horror stories in 19th century Europe as a whole. The images cited seem to be of a generalized villain figure from 16th century drama - the Jew of Malta, the malevolent, machiavellian "Italian" figure like Iago, the devils in Marlowe and his predecessors, etc.