liminality dracula

Topics: Dracula, Rite of Passage, Abraham Van Helsing Pages: 19 (7072 words) Published: January 27, 2014
“Betwixt Sunset and Sunrise”: Liminality in Dracula

Mark M. Hennelly, Jr.

[Mark M. Hennelly, Jr., a Professor of English at California State University, Sacramento, has published fairly widely on Victorian fiction, including several liminal readings of Dracula.]

In various ways, among widely different primitive peoples, the marriage customs go to show that the home threshold cannot be passed except by overcoming a barrier of some kind, and making an offering, bloody or bloodless, at this primal family altar. (H. Clay Trumbull, The Threshold Covenant 35)

“Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will!” [The Count] made no motion of stepping to meet me, but stood like a statue, as though his gesture of welcome had fixed him into stone. The instant, however, that I had stepped over the threshold [of Castle Dracula], he moved impulsively forward. (Bram Stoker, Dracula 2:25-26)

[T]he door is the boundary between the foreign and domestic worlds in the case of an ordinary dwelling, between the profane and the sacred worlds in the case of a temple. Therefore to cross the threshold is to unite oneself with a new world. (Arnold van Gennep, The Rites of Passage 20)

When Van Helsing instructs the occidental vampire hunters about the gnostic powers of the Count in Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897), he also announces the primary liminal premise of the occult: no demon can “enter anywhere at first, unless there be some one of the household who bid him to come; though afterwards he can come as he please” (18:308). In other words, an “evil” spirit cannot cross a threshold unless first invited by an indweller, just as Dracula understands above that no “innocent” outdweller can be forced unwillingly to cross a demon’s threshold. Each must voluntarily and chiastically “unite onself with a new world” as Stoker’s contemporary Arnold van Gennep puts it – that is, accept the other in what another contemporary, H. Clay Trumbull, calls “the covenant of union” or Janusian exchange, if not liminal self-extension and discovery. Such an insight significantly challenges past anthropological readings of Dracula, like Kathleen Spencer’s relevant analysis of “rituals of cleansing,” which finds the novel questioning but ultimately “reaffirm[ing]” the “crumbling boundaries between certain key categories”: “what is inside is good, what is outside is bad: The group boundary is therefore a source of magical danger and the main definer of rights: you are either a member or a stranger” (218, 207). Again, when Van Helsing chants “In manus tuas, Domine!” while “crossing himself as he passed over the threshold” (19:321) of the Count’s English estate at Carfax, his speech act performatively reinforces the ritualistic significance of liminal crossings in the text. Since Carfax etymologically signifies that “the house is four-sided, agreeing with the cardinal points of the compass” (2:35), it also recalls da Vinci’s celebrated “Canon of Proportions” drawing with its mandalaesque cruciform, in which the nude male suggestively links the four “cardinal points of the compass” with the crucified Christ, the new Adam who sacrificed himself to save the world and thereby “allowed” the vampire hunters in Dracula to “go out as the old knights of the Cross to redeem more” souls (24:412). The ideally proportioned human limbs or somatic thresholds of da Vinci’s figure further suggest the boundless spiritual potential of Everyman and woman, old Adam and Eve who have enjoyed “the taste of the original apple” (14:236), while “the cardinal points of the compass” liminally figure the urbs quadrata or ancient ground plan of quaternal wholeness whose cityscape or cultural spacing replicates the unbounded possibilities of life, besides the harmony of the spheres. In “Dracula’s Guest,” believed by some to have been a dropped early chapter of the novel, Jonathan Harker even rests at the Quatre Saisons hotel in Munich before advancing to Castle Dracula, implying...

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