Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Austen and Stoker: Representations of Travel

For this essay, I intend to compare and contrast the way travel is represented in the novels Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen and Dracula by Bram Stoker.

Combined with the idea of travel is the idea of location. Although Austen herself was not widely travelled, she had nevertheless resided in various locations across the South of England during her lifetime, including Bath and Clifton, both of which feature in Northanger Abbey. She also spent many years living in small communities such as Chawton and Steventon, both in Hampshire. In her first novel, it is easy to assume that the travels undertaken by the heroine Catherine Morland are a reflection of Austen's personal experiences.

As well as being a utilisation of the author's own knowledge of the geography of Southern England, travel and location are also closely connected to Austen's treatment of Gothic conventions in the novel. Catherine, as an uncritical reader of Gothic literature, relates her real-life experiences to those she has encountered in her reading, and Austen compares the two in her brief description of the initial journey to Bath: ' ...performed with suitable quietness and uneventful safety. Neither robbers nor tempests befriended them, nor one lucky overturn to introduce them to the hero' (Austen, Northanger Abbey, p.6). Here we see how Austen's description of the journey fulfils three functions: it highlights and satirises the plot devices of the Gothic novel, it extends the satire by comparing those devices to the mundane reality of a journey through the English countryside, and it shows to the reader the naive and uncritical character of her heroine - a character who will gradually change and mature during the course of the story.

The landscape of Bath is often referred to, Austen frequently mentioning the names of various streets and buildings while her characters travel around the town as part of their social discourse. At the time of the novel's writing, Bath was a popular spa town and a fashionable Summer destination, and by making reference to features which would have been familiar to many of her readers - in conversation if not in reality - the novel is firmly grounded in the 'real' world. By juxtaposing this sense of reality with Catherine's Gothic fantasies, emphasis and a means of comparison are granted to both. We are grounded, as readers, in the reality of the English spa town by multiple references to Pulteney-street, Milsom-street and local points of interest such as the Upper and lower Rooms, Lansdown Hill and Claverton Down, while on the other hand we are exposed to the heroine's literary musings. In the more obvious comparisons we are treated to a view of innocuous English landmarks as filtered through Catherine's imagination; thus, when a daytrip to Blaize Castle is suggested, her excited reaction is, 'Is it like what one reads of?' (p.63) and she imagines ' ...lofty rooms, narrow winding vaults... a low, grated door' (p.66). Austen brings Catherine's imaginative expectations back to reality when the trip is curtailed before the destination is reached, due to a mundane reason - lack of time. She continues to relate her immediate, genteel environment to her readings during a later walk to the local beauty spot Beechen Cliff where, strolling along a river bank, she claims that it reminds her of the South of France... although she immediately qualifies this by stating, 'I only mean what I have read about' (p.82). Here Austen is not only gently mocking her heroine, but also using a more subtle form of irony, as the author of Catherine's favourite novel (Ann Radcliffe, 'The Mysteries of Udolpho') has, likewise, never visited the exotic lands which she describes.

It is not only travel but forms of travel which are used to demonstrate character. In Northanger Abbey the principal froms of transport are walking - demonstrated in various wanderings around Bath and the stroll to Beechen Cliff - and riding in coaches or gigs drawn by horses. When we first encounter John Thorpe, the 'burlesque rake-villain of the first part of the novel' (Watson, in The Nineteenth Century Novel, ed. da Sousa Correa, 200, p.56), he boasts about the distance from Tetbury his horse has travelled, and at what speed, and of the value of his gig. As opposed to Catherine, he is loud and materialistic, but often caught out in self-contradiction, used by Austen to highlight the vacuousness of his bragging. It is Thorpe who, as the driver during the curtailed day trip, is persuaded to turn back because his 'speedy' horse has not carried its passengers at an adequate pace. It is during such a journey, to Claverton Down, that Catherine - hitherto quite prepared to accept the opinions and judgements of others - begins to form her own opinions. After listening to Thorpe's nonsensical utterances, she comes to the conclusion that 'the drive had by no means been very pleasant and that John Thorpe himself was quite disagreeable' (p.50).

However, Catherine's education is yet to be completed. Bath has exposed her to a wider range of acquaintances and has caused her to question human nature, but she accepts an invitation from the Tilneys to their home at Northanger Abbey. Thus another journey begins. The name of the Tilneys' dwelling is enough to fire her imagination, and she speculates upon 'long, damp, passages, its narrow cells and ruined chapel... within her daily reach' (p.110).

During the journey itself, Henry Tilney builds her expectations by describing her imminent stay in the style of Gothic fantasy, and she imagines ''massy walls of grey stone, rising amidst a grove of ancient oaks... high Gothic windows' (p.127). Once again her expectations are mostly confounded, as she finds the building fitted with modern comforts, and its grounds subject to horticultural innovations. It is important to note, however, that an element of gothic is retained in the building, with pointed arches in the windows and quadrangles, for the arrival at Northanger sees a change in the story, a new chapter in Catherine's education, in which certain Gothic elements - although modernised - seem to have their part to play.

By this stage of the novel, Catherine has undertaken many journeys - from home to Bath, around Bath, from Bath to Northanger - and the journeys have represented not only temporal and spatial changes in the novel's settings, but also changes in the development of Catherine's worldly education. The journey from Bath to Northanger proves not only to be the most significant spatial move, but it also represents a change in the way Austen approaches her material and also in the way that Catherine, having absorbed her lessons in human nature at Bath, starts to become more critically conscious of herself as well as others.

Previously, Austen used her characters and locations to gently mock the conventions of Gothic literature: no bandits waylay the heroine on her journey through the countryside, the beauty spots visited in the environs of Bath are only Gothic by comparison in Catherine's colourful imagination. On the journey and arrival at Northanger, however, Austen begins to introduce a middle-class, 'English' element of Gothic in her settings and characters. It begins with a hint of tyrannical behaviour in General Tilney, regarding 'his discontent at whatever the inn afforded, and his angry impatience at the waiters', as well as the observation that he 'seemed always a check upon his children's spirits' (p.122). The description of the Abbey, juxtaposing its modern interior features with its arched windows, continues the feel of a Gothic influence permeating the surface gentility of the setting.

Catherine's stay at Northanger exposes, in her growing critical faculties, the 'quasi-Gothic villain' (Watson, in da Sousa Correa (ed.)(2000), p.56) General Tilney. Although she has, by now, accepted her own shortcomings with regarding reality in a literal Gothic light, Catherine, although 'the visions of romance are over' (p.159), has matured and developed her own critical faculties enough to appreciate that General Tilney, while not the stereotypical Gothic villain that she has imagined him to be, is 'not perfectly amiable' (p.161). Sha has learned that reality, while not Gothic, nevertheless is not genteel perfection, and that 'the exploded Gothic is faithfully shadowed by a cut-down version, the everyday terrors and tyrannies of the domestic' (Watson, in da Sousa Correa (ed.)(2000), p.56).

Catherine has one more important journey to make: the journey home, back to her origins. This is a reversal of her original journey from home, in both direction and the depth of her maturity. Originally, she wondered about highwaymen and the like; this time, 'the journey in itself had no terrors for her' (p.186). Even though she is now alone and unaccompanied for the first time, and unsure of her route, she has gained enough presence of mind to successfully navigate her journey. her mother sums up the maturing of her charcter with 'you were always a sad little shatter-brained creature; but now you must habe been forced to have your wits about you' (p.190).

So we can see how Austen employs travel for multiple uses in her first novel. By having catherine journey to real locations at first, she both grounds her novel in reality and uses this reality to satirise the Gothic conventions with which her young heroine is so enamoured. Later, when Catherine travels to a fictional location - Northanger Abbey - the basis of reality is undermined but then reinforced by the modernity of the Abbey's fixtures. This paradox is reflected by the Gothic conventions, filtered through genteel sensibilities which assail the heroine in the second half of the book... sensibilities which the first half appeared to have rejected. The moral seems to be that traditional Gothic representations are not realistic, but that reality can produce its own forms of Gothic.

Lastly, travel in Northanger Abbey stands as a metaphor for Catherine's journey toward maturity, awareness and a greater faculty for insightful criticism both of her own actions and the actions of others. Her trips to new places open up new vistas to her in more ways than one; through her adventures in Southern England she gradually learns about human nature and about herself.

Written in 1799, Northanger Abbey is predominantly a novel in realist mode, which satirises but then 'modernises' Gothic traditions. Bram Stoker's Dracula, written almost a century later in 1897, belongs to the Gothic tradition but uses realist techniques such as the introduction of modern technology - typewriters, phonographs, up-to-date psychiatric techniques. Travel and use of varied locations feature large in Dracula, but for different reasons from Jane Austen.

Dracula begins with a description of continental travel, as the charcter Jonathan Harker transcribes into a journal his experiences of travelling from England to Transylvania. Although it begins in a rather functional manner by mentioning train times, it quickly adopts the tone of a tourist's diary as Harker describes the cultural differences that he is witnessing. He states 'the impression I had was that we were leaving the West and entering the East' (Stoker, Dracula, 1897, p.1). This geographical division prepares the reader for the differences between these two regions of Europe, the familiar 'reality' of the West and the unfamiliar 'Gothic' of the East. Harker's train journey is a journey between two opposites, and the first of 'a series of related oppositions: uncertainty and certainty, night and day, madness and reason' (Ellman (ed) in Stoker, Dracula, p.xxiii). However, these oppsitions are not separated spatially: Harker's travels form a link between them, and serve as a reminder that East and west are geographical neighbours.

This concept of adjacent oppositions is central to the role of Dracula as a fin-de-siecle work, characteristic of the uncertainties prevalent at the end of the century, particularly what Stephen.D.Arata terms 'the late-Victorian nightmare of reverse colonisation' (Arata, 1990, in Regan (ed) 2001, p.462) and fears of imperial decay. According to Arata, Stoker's audience 'knew the Carpathians largely for its endemic cultural upheaval, and its fostering of a dizzying succession of empires (p.458); in other words, a region of political and social turbulence. Concerns about the British Empire sliding into degeneracy, into a racial and cultural tumult, were evident at the time of the novel's publication and Harker's descriptions of his journey through Eastern Europe are descriptions of this 'alternative', this idea of what Britain and the Empire could become. The geographical proximity of the tumultuous East highlights how close the mpire actually stands to this dark alternative, and this proximity is given immediacy right at the beginning of the novel when Harker travels from West to East in a single paragraph.

A metaphor for this descent from civilisation to barbarity can be seen in Harker's mode of travel. Originally he travels by train, a modern symbol of the power of engineering which originated in the Empire. However, once he reaches the Carpathians he has to complete his journey as a passenger in a horse-drawn coach, a common but much older method of travel. This emphasises a split between 'modern' and 'ancient', by implying that the more barbarous east is beyond the realm of modern technology. Toward the end of his stay in the castle of the Count, Harker highlights this concept by seeing the train as his saviour, as the modern symbol that will carry him out of the darkness: 'away to the quickest and nearest train! away from this cursed spot, from this cursed land...' (Stoker, Dracula, p.53).

The next journey to be taken is the reverse of Harker's: it is the journey of Dracula to England, and as before the journey is related in a journal. This time, however, the journal is a sea-log owned by the captain of the 'Demeter', an ocean-going vessel with the Count concealed in its cargo hold.

Like Harker, the log begins with brief mentions of times and places, before relating events of supernatural origin. As Harker was trapped in the castle, so the crew of the 'Demeter' are trapped on the ship. Sea travel, like horse and coach, is an ancient from of travel; no modern form of transport is used by Dracula, the embodiment of fears of imperial decay and degeneracy. The crew also are prone to superstition rather than reason, like the residents of the East: they cross themselves , and react to events 'in a panic of superstitious fear' (Stoker, Dracula, p.82).

The use of a ship can be seen as another symbol of imperialist concerns. The novel was written at a time of exploration in Africa, and travel to and from the Dark Continent were conducted by sea. The arrival of Dracula in England by this method could reflect concerns about 'foreign' influences swamping the Empire by way of ocean-going trade.

Symbolism plays a part at the dramatic climax of the 'Demeter's voyage. It arrives at the English coast in foreboding climatic conditions, 'the stillness of the air quite oppressive' (Stoker, Dracula, p.76) and, when the ship reaches the shore, 'without warning the tempest broke' (p.76). If the Count's arrival represents the threat of reverse colonisation, it would seem that this process is depicted as a stormy affair, a tempestuous invasion of degeneracy, rather than a slow cultural infiltration. After the arrival of the ship and the abatement of the storm, a hint of the peril that has arrived in the heart of the Empire is reflected in the observation that 'the sky is beginning to redden over the Yorkshire Wolds' (p.80). Literally, this descibes the break of dawn over England, but the choice of words imply another meaning. The sky is beginning to 'redden', rather than 'lighten', the ominous colour of blood washing over this most English of vistas. Equally important is the fact that the ship has arrived at Whitby, a harbour town overlooked by the brooding remains of Whitby Abbey, its presence in the landscape foreshadowing the arrival of Dracula's Gothic menace and his subsequent taking up residence in the grim surroundings of Carfax Abbey. These reminders of an ancient past, associated with the Count, once again symbolise the presence of another, older culture in the modern landscape of imperial England, and Dracula's arrival implies that 'Britain, rather than the Carpathians, is now the scene of these connected struggles' (Arata, 1990, in Regan (ed) 2001, p.460).

Dracula moves around London, the heart of the Empire, creating havoc. Whereas the 'heroes' of the story travel by conventional means, i.e. by coach, train or horse, Dracula flies in the form of a bat, runs in the form of a wolf and drifts in the form of mist. Bats, wolves, mist, all Gothic conventions, stand in contrast to the 'realism' of the heroes, all stalwarts of late nineteenth century modernity: Van Helsing and Seward, both proponents of up-to-date medical techniques, Morris the 'colonial', showing the extent of British influence, Holmwood representing the long-standing aristocracy, Harker the lawyer with strong ethics about work and family, and Mina who can use modern equipment such as a stenograph to write her journals. These representatives of the Empire are shown to flounder, to be one step behind the Count as he uses supernatural, 'un-British' and insidious techniques to move from one place to another. This shows that, for all her might and modern trappings, the Empire can still be challenged by 'inferior', degenerate forces once their influence has gained a foothold.

The final journey is undertaken by all the major characters: Dracula returning to his castle, the heroes in pursuit. Once again, the contrast between old and new, barbarous and civilised, is displayed in the initial forms of transport. Dracula once more chooses to make his journey by sea, while his enemies opt for more refined travel: 'we... took the places secured for us in the Orient Express' (Stoker, Dracula, p.333).

This time, the concept of reverse-colonisation is being challenged in its own heartlands - the Empire has invaded the East and is determined to stamp out the degeneracy. Harker writes in his journal, 'we are rushing along through the darkness... drifting into unknown places and unknown ways... into a whole world of dark and dreadful things.' (Stoker, Dracula, p.357). This could be the language of the explorer or coloniser, and indeed Harker and his companions can be seen to be reflecting the actions of colonial masters. By invading the 'darkness' and destroying Dracula, they are - on a personal level - following the example of 'superior' cultures who invade and dominate 'inferior' cultures. The emphasis on the East-West relationship has also changed. In his original journal, the geographical 'closeness' was more noticeable in the observation of the opening paragraph; now, a distance between them is more apparent. Rather than an uncomfortably close neighbour, the East is 'a whole world...', as though it were not part of the same continent but something entirely separate.

In the last part of this final journey, both Dracula and his pursuers are travelling on horseback. On the one hand this could be seen as an attempt to eqalise the representatives of East and West, to place them on the same 'level', to show that the victor will not claim his victory by subterfuge but by being primus inter alles: a way to clarify and morally support the victory. On the other hand, it could also be seen as a way to draw military comparisons, to show the pursuers as akin to a cavalry charge riding down the fleeing degenerates - a comparison supported by the ferocious rifle and knife battle with which the pursuit ends. Both Dracula and Quincey perish in the fight - the former crumbles to dust with a look of peace, as though the defeat of degeneracy by the Empire is a sign of peaceful times, and the latter dies 'a gallant gentleman', fulfilling Victorian ideas of chivalrous manhood.

In the above essay, I hope to have shown how two authors, their ideas and experiences separated by a century, used the concept of 'travel' in their novels: ane Austen, using travel and location to satirise Gothic, develop the character of her heroine and form a more genteel, Anglicised version of Gothic traditions; and bram Stoker, using travel and location to investigate fin-de-siecle concerns about the Empire becoming infested with degeneracy and decay, brought in by external forces.


Northanger Abbey Austen, Jane, reissued 1998, OUP, Oxford

Dracula Stoker, Bram, reissued 1998, OUP, Oxford

Northanger Abbey: a novel's entry into the world Watson, Nicola, in The Nineteenth Century Novel: Realisms da Sousa Correa, Delia (ed), 2000, OUP/Routledge, London

The Occidental Tourist: Dracula and the Anxiety of Reverse Colonization Atara, Stephen D, 1990, in The Nineteenth Century Novel: A Critical Reader, Regan, Stephen (ed), 2001, OUP/Routledge, London

No comments:

Post a Comment