Thursday, January 8, 2009

SF authors born 1844-53: 1847

1. Bram Stoker


Bram Stoker (1847-1912)

In Science and Social Science in Bram Stoker's Fiction (2002), Carol A. Senf makes the point that it isn't just religious artifacts that help defeat vampires (and Gothic, inscrutable, supernatural forces, generally) in Dracula and Stoker's other work (if so, his work would be pure Fantasy) — it's also modern science and technology.

Bette B. Roberts notes: Like other so-called Gothic writers of the late Victorian period — Robert Louis Stevenson (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray), H.G. Wells (The Island of Dr. Moreau) — Stoker is responding to his era's anxieties, not only about the past (previous Gothic novels took place in medieval settings, and featured supernatural events — ghosts, etc.), but the present and future. Late Victorian cultural phenomena — sexual repression, loss of religious faith and moral absolutes, scientific and psychological research, imperialism — animate these novels. Dracula emphasizes the conflict between Enlightenment types (modern Mina the technology-user and independent thinker, Harker, the scientist-doctor-lawyer Van Helsing) who believe that the world is systematic and subject to both reason and human control, and individuals (Dracula, unmodern, dreamy Lucy — the sleepwalker), whose very existence embodies mysteries and the total lack of human control over a powerful and overwhelming universe.

Avril Horner and Sue Zlosnik note: Serious Gothic writing deliberately exploits the reader's fear of the "Other" encroaching upon the apparent safety of the post-Enlightenment world and the stability of the post-Enlightenment subject. The boundaries between settled dichotomies become permeable: the quick/the dead, eros/thanatos, pain/pleasure, "real"/"unreal," "natural"/"supernatural," material/transcendent, man/machine, human/vampire, "masculine"/"feminine."

Best known today as the author of Dracula, Bram Stoker also wrote several other works, including The Jewel of Seven Stars, Lady Athlyne, and The Lair of the White Worm. In his exploration of supernatural subjects, such as vampirism, he is clearly a Gothic writer. The fantastic elements of his novels seem very much at odds with the world of science. Stoker, nonetheless, draws upon a large body of scientific theory and technological innovation throughout his writings. This book studies his blending of Gothic subjects with emerging discoveries in science and technology. The volume begins with an overview of Stoker's familiarity with scientific and technical developments. It then examines the role of science and technology in his various works, which demonstrate his familiarity with civil engineering, anthropology, physics, chemistry, and archaeology. While many of his writings seem to offer a rather uncritical celebration of science and its applications, some works, such as The Jewel of Seven Stars, reveal what happens when science oversteps its bounds. Stoker emerges as an early writer of science fiction whose work thoughtfully considers the place of science in society.

* The Jewel of the Seven Stars — reservations about science, popular Egyptology, the power of the natural world

* The Snake's Pass, The Mystery of the Sea, Lady Athlyne, The Lady of the Shroud, The Lair of the White Worm — technological salvation


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