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To think utopically is to imagine how that insatiable being known as the modern individual might acquire the means to perfect and gratify him- or herself. A conceptual countermove always accompanies such utopian imaginings, as we must almost immediately devise measures to check the selfish excesses of that individual, lest they encroach on the rights of others. Isn't this the dilemma we confront, for example, in advocating free speech? No sooner do we imagine the possibility of free self-expression, than we also feel compelled to curb speech at the point where it turns into hate speech, permits telemarketers to violate the sanctity of our dinner hour, or puts salacious material in the tremulous hands of children. Economic theory observes the same paradox when it insists that capitalism be left to work according to its own laws but then hastens to define those laws as either "self-regulating" or in need of controls to bring supply in line with demand. Arguments for free sexual expression similarly limit the scope of their application with such qualifiers as "in the privacy of the home" and "between consenting adults." I am interested in the question of when and by what cultural means people came to he soft-wired with this compulsion to imagine utopia in terms of expanding possibilities for individual fulfillment, only, it would seem, so that those same people would feel conversely compelled to limit those utopian possibilities.
I will identify this pervasive cultural paradox with a change in the novel form that occurred during the Victorian period and fostered great expectations. This body of fiction invites us to imagine better worlds, however, only to turn those wishes so sour that we come to prefer the present world, fraught as it is with social inequities. Indeed, my favorite novels turn fantasies of unlimited inclusion and human perfectibility into scenes of dashed hopes and monstrous forms of self-gratification with a regularity that tells me that this is precisely the point. Victorian fiction is out to convince us that partial gratification is preferable to a social alternative that indulges what is presumed to be man's unlimited appetite for more. But like most definitions of realism, the model I have just offered is both too loose in logic and too close in terminology to the very paradox it seeks to describe.
In order to provide some sense of the curious turn of cultural thought this paradox actually performed for Victorian readers and the rhetorical power that it still exercises on us as a result, I will pursue two critical tactics. First, I want to approach this paradox by way of the form it took and what it did and did not accomplish as recent feminist theory appropriated certain narrative strategies from Victorian fiction and used them to argue for new reading procedures and a more inclusionary literary canon. Presumably, readings informed by feminist theory sought to make it easier for educated people to imagine both a more diverse faculty and a more democratic social world. Naomi Schor reminds us that feminism's interrogation of power in the academy expressed a "perhaps utopian longing for a different university, a university of differences" ("The Righting" 72). Victorian fiction provides the occasion and material for mounting this argument, I believe, because recent feminist criticism sought much the same objective as Victorian novelists once did. Given that feminism's success in the literary disciplines has not made it any easier than Victorian fiction did to imagine expanding the means for self-expression without simultaneously limiting those possibilities, it should be instructive to find out why both fiction and feminism failed to get beyond this paradox. We stand to learn how this feature of Victorian culture continues to inflect our political thinking. After pointing out what feminism shares in this respect with the Victorian novel, I will then try to reverse the critical undertow that accompanies modern utopian thought and consider where a reading of Dracula might lead us politically were we to identify with the vampire in rejecting the limits of a realism designed to maintain the autonomy of nation, family, and individual.
What Women Lack
Until the 1980s, when feminism emerged as a major force in novel studies, scholars and critics by and large read novels novelistically. By reading novelistically, I mean that one identifies a lack in the protagonist that someone or something else must supply. Once the protagonist is supplied with the missing element--e.g., Robinson Crusoe with land, Tom Jones with a patrimony, or Edward Waverley with British identity--that individual can overcome the obstacle that keeps him from improving his position in life and achieve recognition within the community whose order and vigor he consequently renews. The protagonist's lack defines the magic ingredient that both enables self-fulfillment along with social empowerment and creates a reader who feels that lack of social recognition and wants to see it fulfilled. Self-fulfillment so defined calls for nothing less than a seismic shift in the prevailing social order. The small shock of incorporating a Pamela Andrews, Tom Jones, Fanny Price, or Jane Eyre throws open imaginary doors to individuals with the energy, wit, and desire to occupy positions formerly closed to them. The novel was born as authors gave narrative form to this wish for a social order sufficiently elastic to accommodate individual ambition.
Feminist literary theory made a swift and telling intervention in this way of reading British fiction when it created a reader willing to consider what a female protagonist lacked and how that lack could be satisfied. Feminists identified the feminine lack in terms of "agency," by which they usually meant the authority enabling men to effect some kind of social change, however local and temporary. But, taking their cue from fiction, these same critics rarely sought a masculine remedy for this lack in terms of property or position. Instead, feminists established a specific verbal performance as the precondition for achieving authority. Novels from Defoe's to those of Virginia Woolf indicate that an author-heroine has to represent herself as rational, consistent, durable, and personally resourceful before she can argue against some form of bias, do what that bias would not let her achieve, and gain recognition within a community that appears progressive for thus extending the limits of acceptable feminine behavior. This move convinced a generation of readers that acquiring a "voice," or what might be called cultural agency, can compensate for the forms of property that traditionally authorized the rights-bearing citizen. (1)
Thus, for example, in their groundbreaking study The Madwoman in the Attic, Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar ask us to read novels authored by women as the author's way of gaining compensation through the speech of a fictional surrogate for what she lacked in economic and political terms. They claim that
by projecting their rebellious impulses [...] into mad or monstrous women [...] female authors dramatize their own [...] desire both to accept the strictures of patriarchal society and to reject them. What this means [...] is that the madwoman in literature written by women is [...] in some sense the author's double, an image of her own anxiety and rage. (78)
Guided by this model, the reader feels the author/protagonist's lack but refuses to accept it as something she lacks simply because she's a woman. Like Jane Eyre, that reader projects her lack of political agency onto a madwoman who enacts the outrage of every woman's dependency and confinement within a masculine culture. But as the novel detaches action from the heroine and displaces it onto a debased surrogate, the speech act itself acquires a form of power superior to action, a form of power that consequently authorizes not only Bronte's narrator and Bronte herself but also those critics who identify her lack with their own as members of a masculinist discipline. By shifting responsibility for this lack from the natural condition of being female to the cultural institutions that reserve power and privilege for men, feminism clearly made a move in the right direction.
During the 1980s, this way of reading changed which novels were read and taught in British and American classrooms as well as the imagined relationship between individual and nation that compels one to identify with a protagonist. Feminist critics began to read Daniel Defoe's Moll Flanders in place of his Robinson Crusoe, Samuel Richardson's Pamela for Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, and Jane Austen's Emma rather than Walter Scott's Waverley. Because cultural authority, as feminism had defined it, depended on a lack of political authority, however, this argument left a new generation of feminists with the difficult task of overcoming their lack of political authority without losing the rhetorical power that very lack had given them. Wendy Brown explains this dilemma as a version of what Nietzsche termed ressentiment--the claim that because power corrupts truth and compromises moral authority, those without power are especially qualified to speak. To move from a position of lack to one of power, according to this logic, …