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Sublime Spectation

Who knew that we’d be getting such a great example of mesmerizing/dangerous spectation here in Dracula?  I’m beginning to realize that when Matthew Baldwin decided on Dracula as the next book he had an inkling of the ways we would end up talking about IJ and Dracula together. 

My first reaction to Chapter 7 – the news article about the storm and the ship’s arrival in Whitby was much like Infinite Detox’s.  Then as I read on and realized that there was a “mass of people on shore” I thought – what the hell are all those prim Victorians doing out in the teeth of a howling gale?  Enjoying the Sublime?  Honestly, given the description of the storm we can understand that the intrepid reporter is out there doing his duty, but all these spectators out there staring into the inky darkness cheering as each boat arrives safely?  He goes on to describe how the men with the new searchlight spot the schooner then keep the light trained on the entrance to the harbor where all expect to see the ship dashed to bits.  Once the ship does come up onto the shore the mass of people take off from the cliff to race down to investigate.

Now, we know they’re not out there in their all weather gear from the trendy outfitter’s and they don’t have the lovely big windproof golf umbrellas we use here in Florida during storms.  So think about it – a crowd of Victorians, most probably on holiday at the seashore, lured out of their lodgings to stand in the midst of a tremendous storm.  Are they mesmerized by the Sublime?  By the power of  Dracula?  I’d say it was simply the age old pull of the horrible – the people who stop to look at wrecks, etc. – if not for the intensity of the storm.  Something is compelling those folks to be out there risking harm to themselves, up on the cliffs in the tempest.  I don’t have the time now to really research this, so if anyone has thoughts on if this was more of a common occurance of the times, chime in.  Perhaps it’s as simple as this was the most exciting thing to happen during their summer vacation and weren’t about to miss it because the weather was bad!

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. October 7, 2009 at 3:37 pm

    Great post Joan — I was struck by the spectation too. One of the conventions Romantic painters often used to convey the sublime was to stick tiny human figures somewhere in the foreground of their landscapes, to convey the overwhelming size of it all (see, for instance, this painting by Thomas Cole — one of the detail views shows a tiny dude reclining on the ledge in the foreground). So I suspect the onlookers are partially playing this role.

    But you’re absolutely right also that this gets into all the issues of viewership and spectation that kept coming up in Infinite Jest. And also, perhaps, it highlights Dracula’s sheer animal magnetism — people are terrified of him but drawn to him at the same time.

  2. Joan
    October 7, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Exactly, I do think they are part of the sublime, but I just don’t know of any out in such a tempest. The Cole is lovely and others, especially of the Hudson River School, usually do have tiny figures. I have some texts on this at home from my years as an art history grad student – I’m going to do some digging. And thanks, I was hoping I wasn’t just making up the spectation connection to IJ!

  3. October 8, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    I spent the the last 8 years living in the Midwest, and it totally shocked me to discover that every time the tornado sirens went off (tornado sirens mean an actual tornado has been spotted, on the ground, in the area, get underground immediately) a huge number of people would actually wander out into their yards to watch the tornado coming! It boggled my mind, but it was just a thing that people did, despite all the warnings, despite all the danger. So that part to me was sadly true to life.

  1. October 9, 2009 at 11:59 am

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