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These four different attitudes correlate to three different real-world events. Harker's despair and sense of doom reflect the emotions Stoker imputes to Wilde. Lucy's day of triumph resembles Irving's. Seward's medical activities link him to Thornley Stoker, knighted for his surgical skills. Finally, the envious but stalwartly loyal loser, Quincey Morris, encodes Stoker's own feelings on that momentous occasion--Stoker, who didn't get any honors, but had to write the thank-you notes and organize the ceremonial dinners.
Possibly, Stoker had planned to structure Dracula along the four plot lines inspired by May 25. But soon Irving's, Thornley's, and Stoker's own tales get submerged in the overwhelmingly urgent story of Oscar Wilde. This first Recent treatments of Bram Stoker's novel analyze its homoerotic desperation, unconscious desire, and deeply buried trauma.(1) Not one critic, however, has recognized that Stoker began writing Dracula one month after his friend, rival, and compatriot Oscar Wilde was convicted of the crime of sodomy. Wilde's influence on Stoker has been neglected partly because much of Stoker's biographical information has disappeared.(2) Without knowing of Stoker's corrosive long-term relationship with Wilde, critics have lacked a context for analyzing Wilde's effect: an earthquake that destabilized the fragile, carefully elaborated mechanisms through which Stoker routed his desires. Stoker's careful erasure of Wilde's name from all his published (and unpublished) texts gives a reader the impression that Stoker was airily ignorant of Wilde's existence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The two men had an intimate and varied history lasting for at least twenty years, precisely of the sort whose permutations have been mapped in reliable precision by Eve Sedgwick. Stoker's erasures can be read without much difficulty; they utilize a recognizeable code that was, perhaps, designed to be broken. In texts patently about Wilde, Stoker crammed the gaps where Wilde's name should appear with terms like 'degeneracy,' 'reticence,' 'discretion,' and references to police arrests of authors. Dracula explores Stoker's fear and anxiety as a closeted homosexual man during Oscar Wilde's trial.(3) The novel is generally considered Stoker's only successful novel among many potboilers, as it constructed an enduring modern horror myth; regardless of the usefulness of this canonical distinction, its continuing acceptance does register a recognizably different affect provided by Dracula. This peculiar tonality of horror derives from Stoker's emotions at this unique moment in gay history. Oscar Wilde's trial set up a stark set of alternatives--safe concealment, or tempting revelation--yet forbade anyone to choose between the two. The trial's own interplay of disguise, half-admission, defense, and denial placed Wilde on the threshold of the closet. Thus the two extremes acquired value from their unattainability; the closet seemed like perfect sanctuary; coming out seemed like liberatory honesty. For a gay observer like Stoker, secrecy and self-assertion both became desirable goals even as Wilde's trial constructed 1890's homosexual identity as a delicate negotiation between them.
Honesty and secrecy are twin impossible ideals, for homosexuality is always an open secret:
[There is] radical uncertainty closeted gay people are likely to feel about who is in control of information about their sexual identity. . . . no one person can take control over all the multiple, often contradictory codes by which information about sexual identity and activity can seem to be conveyed.(4)
Dracula takes place on that ambiguous threshold between the known and the unknown. Harker journeys from Bistritz, "a fairly well-known place," to the "waste of desolation" of Castle Dracula, and the landscape marks his marginal status; he rides on the borders of three states.(5) In the rest of the novel, Dracula's victims constantly negotiate between hiding or revealing their condition. Dracula seems to be structured by the anguishing choice between repressed helplessness and dangerous action, and it is the unconsciousness of the whole problem that gives the novel its mythic status. The crisis of the closet in 1895 makes Dracula a horror novel; but Dracula's happy ending only shows that the closet is no longer a crisis but a state of complex, lived social relations whose inescapability--therefore, in a sense, whose normality--constitutes Jonathan Harker's hope of happiness. By the novel's last page, Harker has learned to love the memory of his internment in Castle Dracula, and has organized both a homosocial band of 'brothers' and a bourgeois family to revolve endlessly around that nucleus.
The earliest surviving document of Stoker's gender self-analysis is a remarkable letter to Walt Whitman, which records the particular accents of Stoker's closet discourse. Due to its passionate homoeroticism, this Whitman letter has been ignored or euphemized by Stoker scholars.
Love of Whitman was a widespread cultural phenomenon in England at this time; Stoker himself writes of recruiting younger men to establish "a little cult."(6) Stoker went to Camden three times, to find Whitman "all that I had ever dreamed of, or wished for" (R, 2:100-106). The men corresponded for years. Stoker requested a set of autographed books from Whitman, who also sent him a photograph and a copy of Leaves of Grass, and bequeathed him the original notes for Whitman's Abraham Lincoln lecture (R, 2:107-8, 111).(7) According to Sedgwick, photographs and books of Whitman and admiring references to Whitman, "functioned as badges of homosexual recognition" in the England of the fin-de-siecle.(8)
In its painfully intense frankness, especially its frankness about his inability to be frank, Stoker's love letter stands alone among all his writing.
I would like to call you Comrade and to talk to you as men who are not poets do not often talk. I think that at first a man would be ashamed, for a man cannot in a moment break the habit of comparative reticence that has become a second nature to him, but I know I would not be long ashamed to be natural before you. . . . You have shaken off the shackles and your wings are free. I have the shackles on my shoulders still--but I have no wings. If you are going to read this letter any further I should tell you that I am not prepared to 'give up all else' so far as words go.(9)
That last sentence presciently warns that Stoker's words--his novels, articles, histories--would remain 'reticent'; that he was willing to abjure secrecy in the unwritten spaces of the bedroom alone. He concludes that pure revelation can occur in speech alone. "How sweet a thing it is for a strong healthy man with a woman's eyes and a child's wishes to feel that he can speak so to a man who can be if he wishes father, and brother and wife to his soul."(10)
Stoker thanks Whitman, in the last line of his letter, for "all the love and sympathy you have given me in common with my kind."(11) It is significant that Stoker believes he has a "kind"--that he belongs to a species set apart (his definition anticipates the turn-of-the-century decision that homosexuality is an essential identity peculiar to a recognizeable minority, rather than a frequently practiced act called 'sodomy'). As a self-consciously proud member of "my kind," Stoker eschews widespread cultural attitudes towards homosexuality, complaining about "an atmosphere prejudiced towards the truths you sing" and "a conservative country."(12) He seems secure in his self-defined identity as member of a misunderstood group grateful for sympathy.
In 1876, Stoker commented on his earlier letter:
The years which have passed have not been uneventful to me, and I have felt and thought and suffered much in them . . . and I do believe that your open earnest speech has not been thrown away on me or that my life and thought fail to be marked with its impress.(13)
Instead of a love letter, he now asks for a verbal exchange in which revelation might be safe. "I only hope that we may sometimes meet and I shall be able perhaps to say what I cannot write."(14) Stoker is more cautious and the twin urges of secrecy and revelation are more deeply intertwined--notice how his assertion of his 'openness' of "life and thought" conflicts with his admission that he "cannot write" his thoughts. Whitman's testimony establishes that Stoker retained a strong sense of self-identity as a homosexual man well into the 1880's. In 1889, Whitman told his companion Horace Traubel: "He seems to have remained of the same mind, mainly, in substance, as at first."(15)
In the 1870s, Stoker established himself as an open member of that nascent homosexual culture centered around Whitman.(16) In 1912, he demanded imprisonment of homosexual writers. What had changed?
The longer answer lies in the ideology of secrecy whose filaments thread through the fabric of Stoker's Whitman literature and gently changed its color. The shorter answer is Oscar Wilde's trial, which changed the nature of Stoker's self-imaging. But the two answers are intertwined. Wilde's trial had such a profound effect on Stoker precisely because it fed Stoker's pre-existing obsession with secrecy, making Stoker retrospectively exaggerate the secrecy in his own writings on male love. In his Whitman letter, the stress of speaking openly is made painfully evident, as Stoker points out his openness with obsessive regularity. "I write this openly because I feel that with you one must be open"; "I only hope that we may sometime meet and I shall be able perhaps to say what I cannot write"; "a man cannot in a moment break the habit of comparative reticence that has become second nature to him"; "I am . . . naturally secretive to the world"; "I have read your poems with my door locked late at night"; "you must feel you are reading [my] true words"; "I have been more candid with you--have said more about myself to you than I have ever said to any one before."(17) If it is difficult for Stoker to break his secrecy and reticence, it is also a great pleasure. He caresses his secrecy in order to emphasize the enjoyment of penetrating it.
But in the new century after Wilde's trial, Stoker turned secrecy into a reified object that must be respected. In Stoker's later writing, he used terms like 'reticent' without using contrapuntal terms like 'open.' 'Secret' and 'reticent' now stand for a complex of concerns they can only name antonymically. Stoker began by exploring the no-man's land between closet and coming out. But in his semi-autobiographical Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, he elaborated the closet into a synecdoche for the whole struggle, making us infer something to be candid about from his ritual invocation of 'secrecy.' Stoker now writes from a position in which 'secrets' had been carefully funneled into books, unraveled into miniscule separate strands and allocated to fictional characters. Coming out--'opening their hearts'--becomes too crude a term for the work of sublimation and dissemination Stoker was engaged upon. His later texts whittle his desires into perfect camouflage within the "garden-land of convention."(18) Metaphors of stones and sharp points come to represent this reified secrecy.
It is important to trace, not Stoker's sexual history, but the textual history of Stokers repressed sexuality. We need to locate the metaphors by which he named the love that so famously could not speak its name. This detective work will help us understand that contemporary homosexuality was not simply poured into language that …