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Stranger Danger

Martin Greene

Dracula, by Bram Stoker, Oxford World’s Classics, 448 pp, £4.99, ISBN: 978-0199564095

Ulysses, by James Joyce, Vintage Classics, 672 pp, £10.99, ISBN: 978-0099511199

Dangerous intruders from Hungary play important parts in both Dracula (1897) and Ulysses (1922). Stoker’s “Un-Dead” Transylvanian Count threatens to infect an ever-increasing proportion of the population of England with vampirism; and, in the Circe episode of Ulysses, Virag, Bloom’s long-dead Jewish-Hungarian grandfather, threatens to undermine the Irish moral order.

By giving danger a Central European address, Stoker and Joyce were engaging with end-of-century anxieties in Western European countries about the perceived threat from “backward” Eastern Europe. There were two main reasons for this prejudiced view of Europe beyond the borders of the “advanced” Western countries. First, the Balkans were seen as a zone of disorder on the West’s doorstep – specifically, on Austria-Hungary’s doorstep – because of the slow unravelling of the Ottoman empire. Second, Western anxiety about Eastern Europe, particularly at popular level, was linked to the onset of mass immigration of Jews from the region, beginning in the 1880s, provoked by an upsurge of antisemitism in Russia. In 1911, the Daily Mail described Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe as “the scum of the earth” and as threatening to bring about “the moral and spiritual death of our race”.

But the debates provoked by these anxieties reflected not only conditions in Eastern Europe but also a corrosive self-doubt about the capacity of the West to maintain its dominant position. Questions were raised as to whether Western societies had the mettle to avoid the fate of Shelley’s Ozymandias and Gibbon’s Roman empire. Domestically, the traditional order was under threat as long-standing habits of deference were losing their force under the pressure of economic and social change. Internationally, events such as the Zulu and Boer wars in South Africa and the Japanese defeat of Russia in 1905 suggested that seemingly impregnable empires could be vulnerable to challenge by colonial peoples and upstart competitors. The resulting debates sometimes took on an apocalyptic tone: theories of “race decline” and cultural “degeneration” circulated widely. 

In Hungary, too, ideas about East and West were hotly debated. Historically, the Hungarians who established the medieval Hungarian state in Central Europe had eastern origins: they had migrated over a period of centuries from their original location in Eastern Europe, which was probably in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains. Politically, the turn-of-the-century Hungarian state had (at least nominally) equal status with Austria at the helm of the Austro-Hungarian empire. But in terms of its economy and living standards it lagged behind the leading Western countries. Modernisers called for reforms in aspects of the country’s political and socio-economic systems, seen as being “Eastern” in character – the limited franchise, the privileges of the aristocracy and the harsh conditions endured by the peasantry. But a conservative establishment defended the status quo. In the cultural sector, the advocates of reform congregated around the journal Nyugat (West). The poet Endre Ady described Hungary as a “ferryland” – like a ferry boat moving between East and West but belonging to neither. Arguing for reform, he insisted that it was possible both to honour Hungarian traditions and values and to learn from other countries. He was, he said, “speaking for the European Hungarian soul”. Fine studies of Ady’s ideas – and, more generally, of the cultural debates in Hungary at this time – are available in Judit Frigyesi’s Béla Bartók and Turn-of-the-Century Budapest (1998) and Péter Hanák’s The Garden and the Workshop: Essays on the Cultural History of Vienna and Budapest (1998).

Both Stoker and Joyce associate their fictional characters (and by extension Hungary) with danger (mitigated to some extent in both cases by the country also being identified as a place of refuge). Stoker goes further by explicitly linking the danger to Hungary’s supposedly partly “Eastern” character, thereby accepting at face value the stereotype of a “backward East”. Joyce associates Hungary with danger but without resorting to the idea of a “backward East”, thereby implicitly challenging the stereotype. In Dracula, the net effect is to predispose the reader to accept the count’s identification as a vampire when it is eventually made; in Ulysses, it is to prompt the reader to see Bloom (with whom Virag is closely associated) in a somewhat darker light than would otherwise be the case. Although there is no explicit reference to Stoker or Dracula in Ulysses, the reader may feel that they have an unacknowledged presence there since Joyce’s text repeatedly hints at a connection between the two works.                                

When the count makes his first appearance in Dracula, it’s not altogether clear that he is Hungarian: he describes himself as a “Szekely” (properly Székely, in English sometimes called Szekler). It is therefore necessary to begin with an exploration of the historical relationship between the Székelys and mainstream Hungarians – as will be seen, this shows that the Székelys are a subgroup within the Hungarian population, not a separate people.    

The story begins around 896 A D when the Hungarians established their state in the Carpathian basin. This was the culmination of their extraordinary migration from their original location in Eastern Europe – considered by most historians to have been in the vicinity of the Ural Mountains (for example, Miklós Molnár, A Concise History of Hungary, 2001). The Székelys were then already closely associated with them, apparently to the extent of being already Hungarian-speaking. As the migration had been extended over almost half a millennium and had involved lengthy periods of settlement at intervening locations, there was undoubtedly a considerable amount of intermingling with other peoples along the way. Nevertheless, the Hungarians had maintained a distinct identity: the medieval Hungarian state was an island of Hungarian-speakers – that is, speakers of a Finno-Ugric, not an Indo-European language – in an ocean of speakers of Indo-European languages (Slavonic, Germanic, Romance).

After the establishment of the new state, the Székelys were settled in the eastern borderlands of Transylvania, where their role was to defend the Hungarian heartlands from external attack. Because of the limitations of the historical sources, it is not possible to say whether they were members of the core Hungarian population who were settled in the borderlands for this purpose, or an element of the core population which had arrived in the Carpathian basin in advance of the main body of the migrating group, or a pre-existing people in the region who allied with the Hungarians and adopted the Hungarian language. Their social practices – for example, in relation to land ownership – then (and subsequently) differed in some ways from those of mainstream Hungarians, whether as a result of their particular location and role or because they had different origins.

In the kingdom of Hungary between the tenth and the fifteenth centuries, the Székelys and the mainstream Hungarians living in Transylvania were regarded as distinct groups for political purposes; together with the Saxons, they were recognised as “nations”, which gave them more rights than other peoples such as Wallachians (Romanians) and Jews. It was also the case that relations between the Székelys and mainstream Hungarians were sometimes strained or even antagonistic. Moreover, between the early sixteenth century and 1867, the Székelys (together with mainstream Hungarians living in Transylvania) and Hungarians in the Hungarian heartlands lived under different political jurisdictions. This was initially because the expansion of Ottoman power into Central Europe in the early sixteenth century resulted in the breakup of the medieval kingdom of Hungary. The central portion fell under direct Ottoman control; the lands to the east (Transylvania), though nominally an independent principality, became a tributary state of the Ottomans; and the western part fell under Habsburg control.

When a Habsburg-led alliance (including an important Hungarian element) pushed the Ottomans back into the Balkans in the late seventeenth century, all the lands of the medieval kingdom of Hungary were reunited – but now they were under Habsburg control. Moreover, Transylvania and the Hungarian heartlands were initially governed as separate entities within the empire, both being ruled directly from Vienna. It was not until 1867, with the reconfiguration of the Habsburg state as the Austro-Hungarian empire (it was previously the Austrian empire), that Transylvania was reintegrated with the Hungarian heartlands. But this remained the case only until 1918, when it was transferred to Romania as a consequence of the dissolution of Austria-Hungary and the dismemberment of Hungary following the First World War (the majority population was Romanian but Hungarians – 1.7 million of them – accounted for one-third of the total). This meant that the Székelys of Transylvania (together with mainstream Hungarians living there) and Hungarians living in the Hungarian heartlands were again (and still are) living under different political jurisdictions.

It is therefore understandable that outside observers have sometimes seen the Székelys as a different people from mainstream Hungarians. But they are in fact a sub-group within the Hungarian population, not a separate people. Emily Gerard, one of Stoker’s sources for Dracula, got this right, noting that some historians had erroneously “supposed” them to be “unrelated” to mainstream Hungarians whereas they should be seen as “a branch of the Magyar race settled in the east and the north-east of Transylvania” (The Land Beyond the Forest, 1888). But the misunderstandings persist, including among Dracula commentators. For example, Stephen Arata, in an influential article, “Dracula and Reverse Colonisation”, reproduced in the Norton Critical Edition of Dracula (1997), writes that “Dracula was a Roumanian”, adding (incorrectly) that “Gerard designates the Szekelys as a branch of the Roumanian race”.

The audiences for early stage and screen versions of Dracula would have been in no doubt about the count’s nationality. As Catherine Wynne has shown, the production notes for the first authorised commercial stage version of Dracula (adapted by Hamilton Deane, first staged 1924) indicate that at the raising of the curtain there should be three minutes of “specially orchestrated Hungarian music in which the sound of sleigh bells is recurrent” (The Cambridge Companion to “Dracula”, 2018). This feature was retained in a revised version for the American market prepared by Deane in collaboration with John L Balderston (staged 1927; published 1977). The Hungarian actor Béla Lugosi played the count in this production and in the film version based on it (Universal Studios, 1931).

Stoker, for his part, allows the Count to explain his own origins. When Jonathan Harker arrives at Castle Dracula, supposing Dracula to be a Transylvanian nobleman who wishes to buy a property in England, he hears from the count that the Székelys are a people in whose “veins flows the blood of many brave races”. But Dracula’s account of Székely history is muddled in the extreme. In this distorted presentation, the Székelys resisted the Hungarian settlement of the Carpathian basin (there is no evidence for this) but later (illogically) welcomed being “claimed as kindred” by the victorious Hungarians; and they subsequently fought alongside mainstream Hungarians to resist the Ottoman expansion into Central Europe (as in fact they did) but later (illogically) welcomed their absorption into the Ottoman sphere of power on the (dubious) grounds that this was a matter of their “[throwing] off the Hungarian yoke”. He also undermines his own insistence on the differences between the Székelys and mainstream Hungarians by acknowledging his Hungarian identity without qualification in a separate part of the conversation. When he addresses Harker using the Hungarian name-order (family name followed by given name), he excuses himself: “pardon me, I fall into my country’s habit of putting your patronymic first” (italics added).

The count’s reason for misrepresenting the relationship between the Székelys and mainstream Hungarians was evidently to support his claim to be descended from a warrior race. Stoker’s reason for having him do so in so bombastic and self-contradictory a fashion was evidently to present him as someone whose self-presentation is decidedly unreliable.

Although it is not explicitly stated in Dracula that the count is Hungarian-speaking, the compositional history shows that this surely is the case: one entry notes that the Székelys “speak [the] purest Hungarian” (Bram Stoker’s Notes for Dracula: A Facsimile Edition, 2008). There is nothing surprising about this as there is no reason to believe that they ever spoke any other language. But the reference to their speaking the “purest” Hungarian is interesting because it chimes with a view of the Székelys sometimes heard in modern Hungary – similar to a comment sometimes heard in modern Ireland about, say, Connemara people – that they are the part of the national population which best exemplifies national traditions and values: they differ from the mainstream population but only in that they are the keepers of the flame for the true national character.

Clearly, therefore, Dracula’s status as a Székely means that he is, ipso facto, a Hungarian. But what does this tell the reader about him? Jonathan Harker’s initial impressions of Hungary and his subsequent experiences in the country can perhaps help to answer that question. Having arrived at “Buda-Pesth” en route to Castle Dracula, he finds it to be “a wonderful place”. But as he proceeds by train eastwards towards his rendezvous with Dracula, he has the “impression” that “we [are] leaving the West and entering the East”, adding that “the most Western of splendid bridges over the Danube ... [takes] us among the traditions of Turkish rule”. (Central Hungary was in fact the high-water mark of the expansion of Ottoman power into Central Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries). As he makes his way further eastwards and into the Transylvanian Carpathians, he encounters increasing indications of backwardness and “superstitions”, including warnings by people he meets about “something that is either were-wolf or vampire” and other “grim fancies”. 

But when he makes his way back to Budapest, after he has learned the truth about the count and escaped from Castle Dracula, the city – the “Western” face of Hungary – becomes his place of refuge and recuperation. “Sister Agatha” and her colleagues at the “Hospital of St Joseph and Ste Mary, Buda-Pesth” provide him with every possible support as he makes his recovery. Later, after Dracula has made his dramatic arrival at Whitby harbour and set about his mission to “create a new and ever widening circle of semi-demons” in England, Van Helsing, the leader of the band of vampire-hunters which includes Harker, bases his claim to relevant expertise on his association with “Arminius of Buda-Pesth” – a reference to the real-life Arminius Vámbéry, a Hungarian explorer of Central Asia and a professor of oriental languages at the University of Pest. In the event, the knowledge of Van Helsing’s Hungarian associate plays a crucial part in the defeat of Dracula’s attempt to spread vampirism in England.

Thus Hungary, in Dracula, stands as the borderland between West and East, between an advanced Western society and a backward Eastern one, between order and chaos. The count is immediately seen as suspicious, even before he is identified as a vampire, because he is from a marginal country between East and West. That his home is in the easternmost extremity of the country’s easternmost territory marks him out as a likely threat to everything that is Western, advanced and orderly. It doesn’t help his case that he is also a marginal figure in terms of the Transylvanian aristocratic society of which he is supposedly a member: he leads an isolated existence in a mausoleum-like castle, has apparently no contact with other Transylvanian aristocrats and is feared and dreaded by the local peasantry. The effect of this portrayal is to condition the reader to accept his identification as a vampire when it is eventually made. (Readers looking for a realistic account of Transylvanian aristocratic society at this time will find one – and much more besides – in the fine “Writing On The Wall” trilogy by Míklós Bánffy, himself a genuine Transylvanian count, first published in 1934-1940 and re-issued by Arcadia Books as They Were Counted, 1999/2016, They Were Found Wanting, 2000/2016 and They Were Divided, 2001/2016).  

Virag’s arrival at Bella Cohen’s brothel, in Dublin’s Nighttown, is no less dramatic than Dracula’s at Whitby harbour: he “chutes rapidly down through the chimneyflue and struts two steps to the left on gawky pink stilts”. This occurs just short of the halfway point in the lengthy Circe episode. Bloom has followed the drunken Stephen to Nighttown, in the forlorn hope of keeping him out of trouble. The reader will have grasped already that, in Circe, the text has definitively slipped the moorings of realistic representation. As the commentator Hugh Kenner points out, Circe replays some of the events of the rest of Ulysses – but in a grossly distorted form. In doing so, it draws, according to Kenner, on the “hallucinations” or “fantasies” of some of the characters. Readers surprised at the sudden appearance of Bloom’s long-dead Hungarian grandfather may connect it to the closing scene of the earlier Cyclops episode. There Bloom, making his escape from Barney Kiernan’s pub where he had been attacked by the Citizen, seems to morph into his grandfather as he fantasises about finding refuge in the land of his forefathers. Bloom, exiting Cyclops, carries “an illuminated scroll of ancient Irish vellum” – evidently the “roll of parchment” carried by Virag on his arrival in Circe. 

Thus Bloom, in Cyclops, saw Hungary – just as Harker, in Dracula, saw Budapest – as his place of refuge and recuperation. The description of Bloom’s flight of the imagination in Cyclops is dripping with irony. As Ferenc Takács has shown, the Hungarian-language term “Száharminczbrojúgulyás-Dugulás” does not mean “Meadow of Murmuring Waters” (as the text implies) but something like “constipation caused by one hundred and forty portions of veal goulash”. Nevertheless, the effect is to identify Hungary as Bloom’s imagined place of refuge and recuperation.

Immediately on his arrival in Circe, Virag stresses his Hungarian origins: “My name is Virag Lipoti, of Szombathely.” (Szombathely is a town in western Hungary.) In doing so, he uses the Hungarian form of name-order (family name followed by given name), thereby correcting the stage direction for the scene which follows the Western European practice (“Lipoti Virag”). Later he quotes a proverb from the Carpathians. This raises the possibility, plausible in terms of historical migration patterns for Jewish families in Central Europe, that the Virags had lived in the Carpathian region before moving to western Hungary, from where Bloom’s father had emigrated to Ireland. The compositional history shows that Joyce was concerned to make the Hungarian connection explicit. He returned to the manuscript at the fair copy stage, some six months after he had completed the earliest extant manuscript for the episode, to add Virag’s self-identification as a Hungarian and his reference to the Carpathians.  

The passages featuring Virag are interspersed with others describing the interactions among those present in the brothel. Virag’s remarks seem to be exclusively addressed to Bloom; and no one but Bloom seems to notice his presence. Therefore, the reader may see his presence as a product of Bloom’s imagination. His discourse is calculated to outrage conventional morality. He suggests that it is based on a study he published in (at least) seventeen volumes entitled “Fundamentals of Sexology or the Love Passion” – this was, he claims, praised by “Doctor L. B.” as “the book sensation of the year”. Unsurprisingly, however, given that it occurs in the context of the raucous scenes in the brothel, it is somewhat haphazard in character.

His chief topics are female anatomy, aphrodisiacs and cross-dressing. He describes one of the house prostitutes as having  “in front well to the fore two protuberances of very respectable dimensions ... while on her rere lower down are two additional protuberances, suggestive of potent rectum and tumescent for palpation”. He says of the prostitutes: “All possess bachelor’s button discovered by Rualdus Columbus.” (The Ulysses annotators Don Gifford and Richard Seidman explain that the term “bachelor’s button” refers to “the clitoris, of which the anatomist Rualdus Columbus [1516-59] supposed himself to have been the discoverer.”) He further reflects: “Insects of the day spend their brief existence in reiterated coition, lured by the smell of the inferiorly pulchritudinous fumale possessing extendified pudendal nerve in the dorsal region.” In his survey of aphrodisiacs, he praises particularly “Spanish fly”, “priapic pulsatilla”, “truffles of Perigord” and, “those succulent bivalves”, “Redbank oysters”. Mention of oysters prompts him to reflect further: “woman’s bivalve case is worse. Always open sesame ... Why they fear vermin, creeping things.”

He asks Bloom whether he likes or dislikes “women in male habiliments”. Later he mentions “viragitis” (according to Gifford and Seidman, masculine mentality and psychology in a woman). Later still he exclaims: “Who’s dear Gerald? Dear Ger, that you? O Dear, he is Gerald. O, I much fear he shall be most badly burned.” In its immediate context, this passage is incomprehensible but Bloom himself, later in the episode, reflects: “It was Gerald converted me to be a true corsetlover when I was a female impersonator in the High School play.”

Thus, although the effect of Joyce’s late revisions to these passages – Virag’s self-identification as a Hungarian and his reference to the Carpathians – is to tie Virag’s performance to his Hungarian origins, there is nothing specifically Hungarian about the content of his discourse. Moreover, although Joyce, like Stoker, associates Hungary with both danger and refuge, he does so in a different way and to a different effect. Stoker presents danger and refuge as the manifestations of, respectively, the Eastern and the Western sides of a borderland country, thereby accepting at face value the stereotypes of a “backward East” and an “advanced West”. But Joyce attributes both threat and refuge simply to Hungary, without any reference to East or West, thereby implicitly challenging the stereotypes by suggesting that a mixture of negative and positive characteristics is normal for any country and so requires no explanation.

Although Virag’s discourse is calculated to undermine the conventional moral order, it is probably too disjointed to have any effect on the readers’ understanding of the text’s treatment of this topic. But given the identification of Bloom with Virag, it will probably encourage readers to see Bloom’s character in a somewhat darker light than would otherwise be the case. That is not to say that they will now see him as a thoroughly sinister figure. The admirable qualities he demonstrates throughout the text – his broadmindedness and reasonableness, his capacity to empathise with other people, his moral courage in standing up to the Citizen’s prejudice – ensure that this will not be the case. But readers who might have seen some aspects of his behaviour – his traffic with prostitutes, his masturbation in public places, his interest in women’s clothes, his risky games with Martha Clifford and Gerty MacDowell – as the harmless foibles of a decent man, may now take a somewhat more serious view of them.

Readers who are familiar with both Ulysses and Dracula may wonder why Ulysses includes no specific reference to Dracula or Stoker. Given that Ulysses is saturated with references to popular culture, the absence of any such reference is more conspicuous than its presence would be. The puzzle deepens when it is noticed that there are a good number of points in Ulysses at which it seems that either Stoker or Dracula is sure to make an appearance – but this never happens.

In the Proteus episode, Stephen begins to compose a vampire poem – an undertaking which remains on his mind as the day progresses. This looks as if it must yield some tangible link to Dracula but, in the end, Stephen’s composition can be read as a typical piece of nineteenth century vampire literature in the tradition pioneered by early works such as Goethe’s The Bride of Corinth (Die Braut von Korinth, 1797; first English-language publication, 1835) and continued in the last decades of the century by writers such as Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu (Carmilla, 1872). Likewise, the passage in the Gothic style in the Oxen of the Sun episode – part of a series of passages in the styles of different periods of literary history – seems likely to deliver a specific connection to Stoker. But in the end this, too, looks like a generic piece of nineteenth century Gothic fiction, albeit with some added features (for example, phrases in a parody of Synge’s style).

More generally, features associated with Gothic fiction are brought into play in Ulysses in passages concerned with post-mortem bodily putrefaction (for example, in the Hades episode), nightmares (Stephen’s, related to his mother’s death, Haines’s), ghosts (Virag’s, Rudolph’s, Rudi’s, Dignam’s), and uncanny events (the circus clown’s claim to be Bloom’s son, the sailor Murphy’s story about having known someone with the same – unusual – name as Stephen’s father, Alf Bergan’s insistence that he saw the recently deceased Paddy Dignam on the street). But there is, again, no specific link to Stoker.

There are also seemingly incidental references to individuals closely associated with Stoker whom Joyce could hardly have thought about without thinking also about Stoker – Stoker’s brother, Sir Thornley Stoker, his employer, Sir Henry Irving, proprietor of the Lyceum Theatre in London, and John Martin-Harvey, the film actor, who credited Stoker with having given him the early-career mentoring which underpinned his later success. But, again, there is no mention of Stoker.

These patterns suggest that the absence of any explicit reference to Stoker or Dracula in Ulysses reflects a deliberate choice on Joyce’s part. But in all the circumstances some readers may feel that they have an unacknowledged presence there. Those who do so and who are also familiar with Finnegans Wake will surely feel that their view is confirmed by the exhortation there to “root out Brimstoker and give him the thrall of our lives” because “It’s Dracula’s nightout”.


Martin Greene is a former Irish ambassador to Hungary. The preparation of this essay benefited from conversations with Marianna Gula, Csilla Bertha and Donald Morse.