#52 = Volume 17, Part 3 = November 1990
BOOKS IN REVIEW
News From Somewhere
Frances Bartkowski. Feminist
Utopias. Lincoln: Nebraska UP, 1989. x+198pp. $21.50
I applaud Frances Bartkowski's contention that "[u]topian thinking is crucial to
feminism" (p. 12). Despite the absolute validity of this point, however, very few
feminist literary theorists address themselves to utopias. Hers is therefore a much needed
study. She rescues "lost" contemporary women writers through her attention to
important novels often ignored as belonging to a "subliterary" genre. She helps the feminist
utopia move from marginalization to its rightful position as significant feminist
literature. Feminist Utopias provides convincing evidence to support the notion
that feminist fabulation (my term for feminist SF, fantasy, and utopian literature) is an
integral part of the post-modern literary canon.
In five successive chapters, Bartkowski pairs the ten feminist utopias she deals with
as follows: Charlotte Perkins Gilman's Herland and Monique Wittig's Les
Guérillères; Joanna Russ's The Female Man and Marge Piercy's Woman on
the Edge of Time; Suzy McKee Charnas's Walk to the End of the World and Motherlines;
Christiane Rochefort's Archaos, ou le jardin
étincelant and E.M. Broner's A
Weave of Women; Louky Bersianik's The Eugélionne and Margaret Atwood's The
Handmaid's Tale. In the "conversations" resulting from these juxtapositions of
imaginative texts, feminists confront anti-feminists in meta-patriarchal and
post-patriarchal worlds. Such pairings also provide a logical technique for grappling with
diverse works, some of which have been isolated or abandoned. Bartkowski, in fact, is at
her best when she makes connections between differing texts. Her readers learn that
has adapted the tonality of Brechtian techniques of alienation and estrangement" (p. 61);
that Woman on the Edge "adds a feminist component missing from" Ken Kesey's One
Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (p. 63); and (what I especially appreciate) that
Charnas's Walk to the End is a precursor of Handmaid's Tale (p. 82).
When Bartkowski places less familiar writers (Bersianik, Charnas, and Rochefort) in the
context of their better known colleagues (Atwood, Broner, Piercy, Russ, and Wittig), she
broadens her readers' familiarity with feminist utopias. But I wish that she would have
cast her net even wider to encompass such exciting examples of contemporary feminist
utopian fiction as Gerd Brantenberg's Egalia's Daughters, Pamela Sargent's The
Shore of Women, and Joan Slonczewski's A Door Into Ocean. A primary
bibliography of feminist utopian fiction not confined to the particular works discussed in
Feminist Utopias would also have been highly desirable.
Bartkowski herself is more comfortable with the better known utopian texts. While her
discussion of Handmaid's Tale is replete with fine literary analysis--concerning,
for example, Atwood's portrayal of darkness and light (p. 156)--her remarks about Motherlines
and even about A Weave of Women are marred by too much plot summary. Despite
which, she often gives her readers insufficient contextual grounding. Charnas's Sheel, for
instance, is mentioned without any information about the role this character plays in Motherlines
(p. 95). Readers also might like to know that Nenisi, another of Charnas's Riding
Women whom Bartkowski talks about (p. 100), is black.
This failure sometimes to place information in context applies to critical as well as
to imaginative texts. Bartkowski uses Frantz Fanon's term "internalized colonization"
(p. 57)--to take one kind of instance--without providing a footnote or a bibliographical
reference. Then again, when I read that "literature on the mother is abundant both from
feminists and antifeminists alike" (p. 72), I expect to be directed towards examples of
such literature, whereas Bartkowski provides no such direction. Further, although she does
discuss Atwood in Foucauldian terms (p. 151), a statement such as "the mental hospital is
one of the institutions which helps to contain violence, disorder, chaos and
fragmentation" (p. 62) would better illuminate Woman on the Edge if it were made
in light of Foucault's work on mental hospitals. Finally, while Bartkowski's last chapter
is adequately documented in terms of feminist film theory's analysis of the male gaze, she
offers no such theoretical context for her statement that Russ's Jeannine "perceives
herself through the look of the other, who is male" (p. 55).
Handmaid's Tale receives the benefit of Bartkowski's most thorough insights
relating to theory as well as to content-analysis. But while this does not smack of the
tokenism of a decade or so ago (when Ursula Le Guin was virtually the only female SF
writer acknowledged by the critical community at large--which at present begrudgingly
recognizes Atwood's and Piercy's feminist speculative fiction as well as Doris Lessing's
space fiction), Bartkowski's reading of Handmaid's Tale in a more sophisticated
manner than she does lesser-known feminist speculative fictions suggests a certain
critical snobbery. "Literary value" does not justify her privileging of a mainstream
writer's contribution to feminist speculative fiction, especially since Handmaid's
Tale is neither a better narrative than The Female Man, say, nor a more
effective dystopia than Walk to the End.
My point is that Bartkowski is more at ease with Atwood's connections to the mainstream
than with Charnas's links to genre SF. She says that women writers are "often silenced by
literary history" (p. 9); but as she speaks, Charnas and her female colleagues associated
with SF are being excluded from contemporary literary history. The same is true of critics
who devote themselves to this feminist literary mode; and I am sad to say that Feminist
Utopias is complicitous in the silencing of such critics. While the last footnote to
her Introduction refers to conferences on women and utopia and to special Modern Language
Association sessions on this topic, Bartkowski does not mention the myriad discussions
about feminist utopian literature held at the Society for Utopian Studies, the SFRA, and
the International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts. And this same footnote of
hers, while listing critical anthologies about women's speculative fiction, fails to cite
the work published within them. Feminist Utopias could surely have benefitted
from references to two particular articles in Future Females, for example: Russ's
Feminist Utopias" and Charnas's "A Woman Appeared" (a commentary about writing
to the End and Motherlines).
Bartkowski also never mentions the Greenwood Press and Starmont titles appropriate to
her subject. When she does cite an SF scholar, she relies heavily upon Darko Suvin, whose
work stresses neither feminist theory nor female authors. In fact, Feminist Utopias,
for all its emphasis on community, exposes Bartkowski's lack of familiarity with many
studies about feminist speculative fiction generated by the academic community. Even
though Bartkowski describes her book as a "study of feminist utopian theory and literary
practice" (p. 7), she simply seems not to know the body of theoretical work devoted to
feminist speculative fiction.
Nevertheless, she does provide excellent insights about the connections between
feminist utopian fiction and feminist theory generally (i.e., theory not particularly
addressing such fiction). Feminist Utopias is replete with original comparisons
relating Piercy to Dinnerstein (p. 69), Charnas and Bersianik to Cixous (pp. 92, 136), and
Atwood to Irigaray (p. 157), for example. Bartkowski is right on the mark when she
stresses "a connection between the fictional practice of feminist utopian writing and
contemporary feminist theory" (p. 40). I could not agree more wholeheartedly with her
contention that "[u]topian thinking is crucial to feminism, a movement that could only be
produced and challenged by and in a patriarchal world....Feminist fiction and feminist
theory are fundamentally utopian in that they declare that which is not-yet as the basis
for a feminist practice, textual, political, or otherwise" (p. 12). Nor could I very well
not endorse discussing feminist speculative fiction in terms of feminist theory: that same
juxtaposition forms the crux of my Alien to Femininity: Speculative Fiction and
Feminist Theory, another study that Bartkowski fails to cite.
"Rewriting" moves Bartkowski's discussion from the connection between feminist
utopias and feminist theory to that between feminist fabulation and women's virtual
absence from the post-modern literary canon. She explains that Charnas
"rewrites" Cixous' "The Laugh of the Medusa" (p. 85) and that "Freud's Totem and Taboo (1913)
offers yet another insight into how specifically Charnas rewrites the underside of the
patriarchal quest narrative of Western literary tradition" (ibid.). Bartkowski mentions
"Russ's postmodern strategy of the twisted braid of narrative in The Female Man"
(p. 82). And she indirectly refers to the post-modern characteristics of feminist utopias
by observing that Wittig's "guérillères remake war, language, body, and history in the
formation of new collectives" (p. 44) and that "[i]n terms of the social mode of
reproduction, Piercy and Russ both rewrite the psychoanalytic family romance" (p. 76). I
would add that Piercy, Russ, and Wittig rewrite (or remake) patriarchal stories, create
feminist metafictions--fictions about patriarchal fictions. I would also supplement
Bartkowski's description of The Female Man as "a multiplicity of female
histories and narratives" (p. 50) by saying that Russ and her fellow feminist fabulators
challenge the patriarchal master narrative, revealing that this master narrative is a
patriarchal fiction which forms the foundation of constructed reality. Further, Charnas's
"claim to tell a new story [in Walk to the End] ...as...an act of willful
rewriting" (p. 94) justifies acknowledging that this text --like other examples of
feminist fabulation--deserves to be respected as a contribution to post-modernism rather
than despised as subliterary genre fiction.
In suggesting "that the utopian communities we have seen framed here must be read as
implicit critiques and remappings of the state" (p. 162), Bartkowski supports the point
that feminist fabulation criticizes patriarchal constructions. More precisely, her book
implies that contemporary feminist utopias metafictionally unmask institutionalized social
realities as patriarchal stories. She indicates that feminist utopias are "thought
experiments" (Le Guin's term) about the possibility of rewriting reality by replacing
patriarchal fictions with feminist dreams. As Bartkowski puts it: "Each of the utopian
novels studied here offers a model of how history and the future might be shaped if women
were the subjects, that is, speakers of these histories; the two dystopian fictions
represent the deformation of possible histories and futures when women are silenced" (p.
161). (Those who need justification regarding Bartkowski's and my own statements about
fiction's ability to affect reality need only look to the impact of the "Star Wars"
filmic myth upon the American military.)
Feminist Utopias is an important contribution to feminist critical practice.
It tells feminists exactly why they should read women's utopian projections: "Thinking
the not-yet is of particular importance for feminists, as it is here that freedom and
necessity meet: for feminists working with narrative the not-yet can rewrite views of the
past and present even as it projects possible futures" (p. 10). Feminist utopias, in
other words, rewrite reality and can serve as catalysts for social change through their
suggested revisions. Bartkowski's notion of the feminist utopia as rewritten narrative
indicates that our "lost" female post-modern writers are to be found by looking towards
feminist fabulation, be it SF, fantasy, or utopian literature. It is for that reason above
all that Feminist Utopias is a useful addition to the growing body of critical
material devoted to this marginalized feminist literature. Pronouncements about the
importance of feminist fabulation are not news from nowhere.
--Marleen Barr Virginia Tech
[A response by Frances Bartkowski appears in
SFS 54 (July 1991).]
The View from Leipzig
Dieter Wuckel & Bruce Cassiday. The Illustrated History of Science Fiction.
[Ungar "Writers' Recognition series; originally published as Science Fiction:
Eine Illustrierte Literaturgeschichte (Leipzig: Edition Leipzig, 1986);
translated by Jenny Voxles, "additional material and American adaptation" by
Bruce Cassiday.] NY: Ungar, 1989. viii+251pp.
Over the past several years, Ungar has published a rather odd and apparently
directionless series of books on SF writers, collectively called the "Recognitions"
series; and it is perhaps no accident that titles from this series comprise nearly a third
of the "selected critical studies" listed in the bibliography of this, their first entry
into the SF reference-book sweepstakes. It is gratifying that a publisher should so
enthusiastically seek recognition in the community of SF scholars and readers, but this
latest "illustrated history" is an extremely odd way to go about it.
The Illustrated History of Science Fiction is a translation
and "adaptation" of a work first published in the German Democratic Republic in 1986,
and the book's East German origins (which may be only a matter of historical note by the
time you read this) constitute the volume's greatest strengths and its greatest
weaknesses. For someone familiar with the traditional Anglo-American view of SF, the book
is full of glaring omissions, truncated discussions of major writers, and odd judgments.
(Heinlein, for example, is represented entirely by a justifiably critical discussion of
Farnham's Freehold.) At the same time, it is populated
with enough Eastern European and Soviet authors to convince one of the narrowness of this
Anglo-American view. Yet for someone taking the book at face value, it is a mixed blessing
at best, and is likely to lead more to confusion than to enlightenment. Lacking even an
index, the book fails in what should be its greatest strength--providing us with an
opportunity to look up authors who have received little attention anywhere else.
And there are many such authors discussed. Comparing Wuckel's account with Brian
Aldiss's Trillion Year Spree, for example, we find Wuckel paying attention to a
great many authors not even mentioned in Aldiss--Kellermann, Olcunov, Bulgakov, Alexei
Tolstoi, Obruchev, Belyaev, del'Antonio, Efremov, Kazantsev, Snegov, Dilov, Franke, Amery,
and many others, mostly from Eastern Europe and the USSR. On the other hand, Arthur C.
Clarke rates only a brief mention (as compared to some ten pages in Aldiss), and Aldiss
himself is covered only through 1976. In general, American and British authors receive
little coverage after the mid to late '70s, and younger Anglo-American authors are covered
not at all. One could not get a clue as to what cyberpunk is from Wuckel's account.
In his first section, Wuckel conforms pretty closely to the classic view that SF is an
outgrowth of Renaissance utopias and travel fantasies, and attacks Aldiss's "inconsistent" view that it began as late as Mary Shelley. He then reiterates the usual
litany of More, Campanella, Bacon, Francis Godwin, Wilkins, Cyrano de Bergerac, Holberg,
and other suspects, and provides some unusual (though inadequately captioned)
illustrations from early editions of these authors. One section, covering roughly the
period of the Industrial Revolution, pays much attention to Hoffmann, Shelley, Poe, and of
course Verne and Wells, offering rather stilted but defensible accounts of these authors.
A chapter called "The Revival of Social Utopian Literature," however, begins to reveal a
degree of ideological parochialism. Utopian authors of the 19th century, Wuckel argues,
were faced with "what seemed to be a rational prognosis for the future of
mankind"--Marxism--and thus had to accept Marxist doctrine, argue essentially for the
status quo, or "present an individual message of salvation" (p. 65). Butler, Bellamy,
Bulwer-Lytton, and Morris are thus neatly disposed of according to the degree of their
socialist or anti-socialist tendencies.
It becomes clear from this and later discussions that literary history written and
published in a Marxist culture--even as late and unstable as that of the GDR in 1986--is
not the same thing as Marxist literary history. Wuckel offers us little of the kind of
bibliometric analysis of literary production that Suvin provides in Victorian Science
Fiction in the UK, and what he does give us draws heavily on German examples and
second-hand reports of the American publishing industry. When he gets around to discussing
Zamiatin's We, he is obviously worried less about the book's implied critique of Marxist
theory than about its critique of Soviet practices: "One must remember that at this date
only the very first steps had been taken in forming a socialist society, that endless
experimentation was necessary, that opposing forces were trying their hardest to destroy
the revolution, and that the whole land was undergoing a radical change" (p. 134). Zamiatin
"says nothing about the economic basis of the society, or of the relation of
people to the means of production" (p. 134); thus his book is regarded by Wuckel as
defensible only as an attack on the capitalist efficiency expert Frederick Winslow Taylor!
The third section of the book, "The Growth of Science Fiction After World War I,"
includes an informative though largely uncritical chapter on Soviet SF from 1917 to 1956,
a fairly familiar account of Gernsback and the rise of the American magazines, and a long
chapter on European SF from 1918 to 1955, focusing heavily on Capek, Huxley, Orwell, and
Hans Dominik. The fourth section, "Science Fiction in the Second Half of the Twentieth
Century," includes the longest chapter in the book, on SF in the socialist countries,
followed by a chapter on Western Europe titled "The Americanization of Western Science
Fiction." Compared to the GDR, Poland, or even Bulgaria, France and West Germany are
virtually dismissed in this section as being little more than pawns of the Anglo-American
SF industry; the discussion of West Germany almost abandons reference to authors entirely,
in favor of a discussion of various publishing houses. One short paragraph dismisses all
of Italian and Swedish SF. "[E]verywhere," Wuckel writes, "the dominance of
Anglo-American science fiction in all its forms was felt. This had the effect, mainly, of
flooding each country with shallow and trivial products, having a decisive impact on the
great mass of the readership" (p. 197).
A final brief section, on "Themes, Subjects, and Motifs in Modern Science Fiction,"
is made up of generally unimaginative discussions of how SF writers have treated such
topics as human nature, the individual and society, technology, time, space, and aliens.
In almost every case, one would do better to turn to the topical essays in the
or, often, to those in Gunn's
A word should be said about the "illustrated" aspect of Wuckel's book. As I mentioned
earlier, some of the historical illustrations in the early chapters are fascinating; but
the illustrations as a whole seem less to represent a carefully selected graphic history
of the genre than to reflect what books and movie posters a dedicated East German
collector might have been able to get his hands on. Title-pages from modern American
editions of Bellamy and Butler are reproduced for no apparent purpose, and inordinate
amounts of space are given to pictures of American "Flash Gordon" paperbacks (three) and
Planet of the Apes movie posters (four, plus one still from the first movie). The
awful 1950s' Signet reprint of 1984 is reproduced as the "cover of George Orwell's famous
novel" (p. 138), and throughout, German covers or random American reprints are presented
as though they were first-edition covers. The unspeakable Monarch Books' novelization of
the monster movie Gorgo inexplicably gets a full page. In the caption for a still
from Things to Come, Raymond Massey is described as a "visitor from outer
space" (p. 64), which he is not.
There are other errors of this minor but irritating latter sort as well. The most
misprinted title in all SF, Delany's Dhalgren, comes out as Dhalgran (p.
201). Clarke's The Deep Range becomes The Deep Hangs (p. 149), and
Aldiss's The Malacia Tapestry, The Malaca Tapestry. Frederick Pohl is
said to have won the Hugo and Nebula for Getaway (p. 204)--escapist fare for
sure--while Judith Merril's classic novel is renamed Shadow on the Heart (p. 215)
and Robert Louis Stevenson's appears as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide (p. 38).
Non-conformists in We face a "grizzly death" (p. 135), no doubt at the hands of Taylorite bears.
I am not sure what Bruce Cassiday's contribution to this volume was; but if the idea
was to "adapt" Wuckel for American audiences, it hasn't worked very well. The book is
extremely misleading as a general introductory history of SF; and as an "illustrated"
history, it verges on the bizarre. Although it does contain useful endnotes, its lack of
index and its gerrymandered bibliography render it of limited use as a reference book as
well. Yet for all that, it does contain more and more detailed accounts of Soviet and
Eastern European SF writers and works than almost any other book now available (at least
in English); and for those interested in this neglected aspect of SF history, it can be
quite worthwhile. One cannot help but wonder, however, if the same author would write the
same book today.
--Gary K. Wolfe Roosevelt University
Welcome Mats for Newcomers
Marshall Tymn, ed. Science
Fiction: A Teacher's Guide and Resource Book. [Starmont Reference
Guides No. 5.] Starmont House, 1988. x+140pp. $25.95 (cloth), $15.95 (paper).
Thomas D. Clareson. Understanding Contemporary American Science Fiction: The Formative
Period (1926-1970). ["Understanding Contemporary American
Literature."] Columbia: South Carolina UP, 1990. x+300pp. $24.95
Professor Tymn's guide is intended for teachers new to the field-- new as teachers if
not as readers. In the introduction Tymn answers such questions as "Why teach science
fiction?" and "How will my colleagues react to me now that I am a science fiction
teacher?" The book is in three main parts. "Backgrounds" offers four essays: on the
history of SF, children's SF, the fan movement, and SF in the movies; "Resources"
surveys reference books, critical and scholarly periodicals, conferences and conventions,
and reading lists; and "Applications" makes suggestions about teaching tools, course
structure, and teaching SF as current events. The current-events chapter is by Lloyd Biggle, Jr, who has been at war with English departments and literary scholars for more
than 20 years now. Tymn is author or co-author of six of the 11 chapters. The other
contributors are Thomas D. Clareson, Joe Sanders, Brooks Landon, and Francis J. Molson in
collaboration with Susan G. Miles. It is all very sensible. I doubt that many readers of
SFS will find it valuable, but I would certainly recommend it to any SFS reader who is
also a beginner in the field.
I write this note on the Starmont Guide chiefly as a lead-in to Professor Clareson's
history of SF. The books in the series to which Clareson's UCASF belongs are evidently
designed primarily as handbooks for college and high-school instructors and secondarily as
supplementary texts for college students. Most have also been issued in paperback at
$10.95; whether the present title achieves paperback publication presumably depends on its
success in hardback. The purpose of the series is stated in general terms by Matthew J.
Bruccoli in the editor's preface ("Uninitiated readers encounter difficulty in
approaching works that depart from the traditional forms and techniques of prose and
poetry") and in more specific terms by Professor Clareson on page 5: "the field has
developed a kind of code which enthusiasts recognize immediately but to which newcomers
must be initiated." This is of course true, not to say tautological, of any field, but
perhaps irrelevant with respect to contemporary American SF after two decades in TV and
film of star treks, star wars, and journeys into and out of past and future, and of at
least ten years in which SF titles have regularly appeared on both hardback and paperback
If it were relevant, we would expect to find in this book a detailing and explication
of the SF code. What we find instead, however, is a very good history for beginners of the
American SF movement from 1926 through 1970, emphasizing "those texts which have
historical significance either in terms of the ideas they introduced or the narrative
strategies of the writers" (p. 2), together with the themes that have appeared in
response to changing times. Professor Clareson is well qualified for writing such a
history both by his training in and familiarity with American realistic and naturalistic
fiction of the 19th and 20th centuries and by his wide acquaintance with fans, writers,
and editors in the American SF world, having been a regular attendant at fan conventions
since the 1940s.
One of the deficiencies imposed by two words in the series-imposed title, Contemporary
American, can be remedied by reading the book in conjunction with Clareson's essay in
SF: A Teacher's Guide: "A Short History of Science Fiction." This covers in
greater and perhaps sufficient detail the tradition very briefly sketched in the opening
pages of UCASF's first chapter, "1926-1950: The Flowering of a
Tradition"--i.e., that of the utopias, imaginary voyages, and scientific romances. The
titles of the other chapters of UCASF make clear the structure of the history:
"The 1950s: Decade of Transition," "The Early 1960s: Cul de Sac," and "The Late
1960s: Revolt and Innovation." The book may be regarded as a fleshing out of "A Short
History..." in that a number of stories and novels accorded only a sentence or two there
are reviewed at some length here.
The second deficiency imposed by the title is that it precludes discussion at any
length of the important contributions of British writers. As one who was there at the
beginning, I could quibble with Clareson's evaluations at any number of places, but his
opinions are probably as good as mine and certainly much closer to what may be called the
consensus, for he is apparently less offended than I am by melodrama and sentimentality.
--R.D. Mullen Terre Haute, IN
Twenty-One Ways of Looking at a Vampire
Margaret L. Carter, ed. Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics.
by William Veeder. [Studies in Speculative Fiction, No. 19.] Ann Arbor & London: UMI
Research Press, 1988. xviii+253pp. $ 39.95
This useful and entertaining volume consists of 21 studies of Bram Stoker's classic
late-Gothic novel. Carter has arranged them in chronological order, which gives interested
readers the opportunity to trace changing "fashions" in Dracula criticism over
the three decades between 1956 and 1987; by extension, we can also read this collection as
one example of the gradually improving relations between academics and popular culture
during this same period.
Carter informs us in her introduction that "serious study of Dracula and
vampire fiction in general began in the early 1970s" (p. 1); and it is probably no
coincidence that the '70s also saw the rise of a new and very popular body of vampire
fiction, most notably Anne Rice's critically acclaimed Interview with the Vampire
(1976). In any event, only two of these essays originally appeared before 1970, and fully
half of them were published during the 1980s. These in my opinion are the most satisfying
and original in Carter's volume. I highly recommend, for example, Burton Hatlen's elegant
synthesis of Marxism and psychoanalytic theory in "The Return of the Repressed/Oppressed
in Bram Stoker's Dracula" (1980), which reads Stoker's vampire as the
physically, culturally, and socially other, "the psychically repressed and the socially
oppressed" (p. 120). Equally enlightening is Gail B. Griffin's feminist reading,
Girls That You All Love Are Mine': Dracula and the Victorian Male Sexual Imagination"
(1980), which builds on earlier studies--several of which are also included here--of the
functions of women in Stoker's text. Analyzing the very different roles played by Lucy Westenra as one of the
"suddenly sexual women" in the narrative--the phrase is part of
the title of Phyllis A. Roth's 1977 essay-- and taking into account Mina Harker as the
Good Woman who embodies aspects of Mother, Sister, and Child, Griffin argues that
"Stoker's gothic is quintessentially Victorian: the worst horror it can imagine is not
Dracula at all but the released, transforming sexuality of the Good Woman" (p. 148).
Christopher Craft's "'Kiss Me with Those Red Lips': Gender and Inversion in Bram
Stoker's Dracula" (1984) is far and away the most insightful essay in this
collection (as well as the lengthiest). Craft reads Dracula as a "homosocial"
text--I am making use here of Eve Sedgwick's very useful critical term, introduced in her Between
Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (NY, 1985)--in which, as he
argues, "an implicitly homoerotic desire achieves representation as a monstrous
heterosexuality, as a demonic inversion of normal gender relations" (p. 170). Drawing on
early studies of sexuality such as John Addington Symonds' A Problem in Greek Ethics (1883)
and Havelock Ellis's Studies in the Psychology of Sex (1901), Craft reviews
Victorian efforts "to put sex into discourse" (p. 172) in the Foucauldian sense. He
interprets Dracula as one instance of a particular culture's efforts to recuperate the
heterosexual norm, concluding that "in Dracula the vampiric abrogation of gender
codes inspires a defensive reinscription of the stabilizing distinctions of gender" (p.
176). Craft's essay, which suggests that Stoker's "sexualized women are men too" (p.
180), is particularly challenging in the context of the many fine feminist readings of Dracula
which have been published over the past 20 years.
Among the other essays which stand out in this collection I would include Christopher
Bentley's "The Monster in the Bedroom: Sexual Symbolism in Bram Stoker's Dracula"
(1972), an early instance of the kind of psychosexual analysis which Stoker's novel seems
so "naturally" to invite; Carol A. Senf's "Dracula: The Unseen face in the
Mirror" (1979), which examines the narrative techniques in Stoker's novel, also in the
light of psychoanalytic theory; and Thomas B. Byers' "Good Men and Monsters: The Defenses
of Dracula" (1981), which expands upon earlier readings of the roles of women in
the text to make the case that "the issue in Dracula is not only men's fear of
women and their sexuality; it is men's fear of themselves and their vulnerability" (p.
Carter has not limited this collection to critical readings, however. She also includes
several studies which examine the historical and biographical events which influenced
Stoker's creation of Dracula as well as material about the actual composition of
his popular masterpiece. Devendra P. Varma's account of "The Genesis of Dracula: A
Re-visit" (1975) is of particular interest here; among other things, Varma implicates Sir
Richard Burton, the Victorian explorer and translator of The Arabian Nights, in
the construction of Stoker's vampire. Readers of this collection will also be introduced
to Vlad Tsepesh, Voivod of Wallachia, the historical figure who provided the model for
Stoker's monster, although anyone interested in more detailed information about this
by-now notorious 15th-century warrior prince would do better to consult the new biography
by Radu R. Florescu and Raymond T. McNally, Dracula, Prince of Many Faces: His Life
and His Times (Boston: Little, Brown, 1989).
Dracula: The Vampire and the Critics opens with a foreword by William Veeder,
author of the recent Mary Shelley and Frankenstein: The Fate of Androgyny (Chicago,
1986). Using the essays gathered here as a starting point, Veeder suggests several other
areas of interest for future critical work on Dracula, demonstrating that potentially
rewarding associations between "the vampire and the critics" have by no means been
exhausted. Carter herself is a long-time aficionado of the Gothic mode and author of Specter
or Delusion? The Supernatural in Gothic Fiction (UMI Research Press, 1987). In her
introductory essay, she provides an overview of Dracula criticism to date and
appends to this an equally useful, wide-ranging bibliography covering major studies of
fantastic literature in general and the Gothic mode in particular as well as books and
articles on Bram Stoker and his most famous novel.
While it is true that not all the essays chosen by Carter are of equal value or
interest, The Vampire and the Critics has a lot to offer to anyone interested not
only in Dracula but in the Gothic novel and in late-Victorian literature and
culture. This is exactly the kind of collection that should be available in an affordable
soft-cover edition; the potential buyer who is discouraged by the cost of this UMI volume
might well be forgiven for speculating that perhaps not all the vampires are safely locked
away within the pages of Gothic fiction.
--Veronica Hollinger Trent University
Redemptive "Symmes' Holes" of the
G.K. Watkins. God and
Circumstances: A Lineal Study of Intent in Edgar Allan Poe's "The Narrative of Arthur
Gordon Pym" and Mark Twain's "The Great Dark." NY: Peter Lang,
1989. 242pp. $38.95
Kenneth Lynn seems to be the first to have reflected in print on the textual pairing
that G.K. Watkins here explores in detail. Discussing the unfinished
world-in-a-drop-of-water manuscript that Bernard De Voto entitled "The Great Dark," Lynn
in Mark Twain and Southwestern Humor (1959) notes:
The hot water, the white light, the violence, the madness, the ship full of corpses,
the terrifying snowfall, that [sic] fact that one of the mutinies is led by a
Peters,' are all details which are remarkably reminiscent of Arthur Gordon Pym. But above
all, it is the sense that Twain's projected novel conveys of a world going out of control
which brings the story of the Edwardses close to Poe. As in the case of Pym's voyage, the
journey of the Edwardses carries them across tropic seas toward chaos. (Quoted in Watkins,
To these similarities Watkins adds the autobiographical elements, the dream emphasis,
and the South Pole destination common to both works; the Superintendent of Dreams in
Great Dark" says of the ship "chartered for a voyage of discovery" that "[o]stensibly
she goes to England, takes aboard some scientists, then sails for the South Pole" (quoted
in Watkins, p. 194). However, it is Watkins' argument that "Lynn errs in perceiving the
journeys as heading towards chaos." Rather "they are journeys away from man-made chaos
to spiritual order" (p. 111). In both cases, "it is through the development of his
subconscious nature that man's redemption from the doom of reason is attainable" (p.
182)--hence the focus on sleeping, dreaming, and metaphorical movements downwards, or
southwards, into the subconscious. It follows that, thanks to what Watkins calls
"dream transcendence," "[b]oth Pym and The Great Dark are actually intensely
life affirming on a universal rather than a merely personal level" (p. 2).
It does indeed seem likely that "The Great Dark" was influenced to some degree by Pym.
The optimistic interpretations of the two works that Watkins offers are defensible, but
many of today's ironist and post-structuralist readers will probably not be persuaded. In
the case of "The Great Dark," Watkins' reading depends upon treating the mildly
optimistic point at which the manuscript breaks off as the work's true ending and
downplaying the notes that Twain made for a conclusion of seemingly unrelieved misery and
bleakness. Particular interpretations, while often insightful or ingenious, are sometimes
strained. For example, all references to mattresses and bedclothes in Pym bespeak
the possibility of sleeping, dreaming, and salvation via the subconscious. Understanding
the use of the color white in both works depends upon distinguishing the dangerously
limited white light of reason from the "supernal whiteness of spirituality" (p. 218).
With regard to Pym, Watkins is essentially providing one more instance of the
currently unfashionable visionary interpretation (albeit his is the first book-length
study devoted largely to this work). Many readers will be put off by the cavalier
certainty displayed by such statements as "the truth lies between these two extremes..."
(p. 110)--all the more so since Watkins' reading is uncompromisingly one-sided. He makes
no allowance for uncertainty, doubt, ambiguity, or Bakhtin's "dialogic
A couple of very apposite quotations from Thoreau's Walden cement
Watkins' position. In the first, Thoreau admonishes mankind to advance
"confidently in the direction of his dreams...." In the second, commenting on
that "South-Sea Exploring Expedition" that inspired Poe, Thoreau advocates the
more difficult task of exploring that "private sea...of one's being alone" and
finding "some 'Symmes' Hole' by which to
get at the inside at last" (quoted in Watkins, p. 219).
In order to expand this attractively simple argument to book length, Watkins presses
into service a good deal of loosely related, if not expendable, material. A "Prologue"
and the beginning of the central (fourth) chapter, "Rousseau, Poe, and Twain," attempt
to make the case that the social theory outlined in Rousseau's "Discourse on the Sciences
and Arts" (1750) and his "Discourse on the Origin and Foundations of Inequality Among
Men" (1754) provides an analogue or source--it doesn't much matter which--for the
critique of reason, technology, and progress, and the call to moral action in Pym and
"The Great Dark." Watkins' first three chapters--"An Overview of the Life and
Times of Edgar Allan Poe and Mark Twain," "The Composition and the Contemporary Critical
Reception of," and "Twentieth Century Criticism of The Narrative of Arthur Gordon
Pym and The Great Dark"--amount essentially to scene-setting. In these, he
laboriously rehearses a lot of familiar information. His account of Pym and "Great Dark"
criticism is mechanically and over-simplistically organized into examples of the work of
Practical, Psychological, and Philosophical Critics. (By Practical Critics Watkins
confusingly means not adherents of I.A. Richards' Practical Criticism  but
Biographical Critics.) Watkins' survey of Pym criticism in particular is highly
selective; no attention is paid to the largely pessimistic structuralist,
deconstructionist, and post-structuralist readings that have dominated Pym criticism
for the past 15 years or so. In an "Epilogue," Watkins provides the source for his rather oblique main title. Responding in a letter
to an article that W.D Howells had published on Poe, Twain wrote: "you grant that he
sinned against himself--a think [sic] which he couldn't do and didn't do"
(quoted, p. 221). It is useful to have this documentation for Twain's sense of kinship
with Poe, but the title-phrase does not relate in any very striking fashion to the
readings offered of Pym and "The Great Dark." God and Circumstance concludes
with a speculative "Appendix" on "the Australian continent and its indigenous people,"
the aborigines with their belief in the "dream time," as "a Possible Cultural and
Geographic Source" for the two works.
As with too much poorly-proofed criticism these days, typos abound (two instances are
noted in quotations above). And a white space following a mangled passage on page 133 does
not connote the end-of-the-printed-page illuminating whiteness that some critics have
suggested accounts for the truncated ending of Pym. We have to do here with the
vagaries of word-processing and the hastiness and cheapness of desktop publishing, all
part of that bias in favor of technological progress that, according to Watkins, Poe and
Twain believed blocked humankind's spiritual fulfillment.
--David Ketterer Concordia University
Still on the Level
Mordecai Roshwald. Level
7. Afterword by H. Bruce Franklin. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books,
1989. 192pp. $8.95 (paper)
Level 7 is now 30 years old and has been out of print for almost a decade.
Roshwald has made only two changes from the text of the 1959 McGraw-Hill edition: he has
removed the editorial emendation that identified the underground complex as American (as
H. Bruce Franklin explains in his "Afterword"), and he has changed the dedication. The
1959 edition was inscribed "To Dwight and Nikita." The new edition is updated: "To
George and Mikhail." If it seems ironic that Lawrence Hill has brought this book out
again just as the nuclear clock on the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moves
back ten minutes and peace seems to breaking out all over the world, that is appropriate;
ironic reversal meets the reader on every page of this anti-utopia. Roshwald has explained
that he deliberately constructed it to convey a message. Perhaps we have received it. If
the new dedication strikes us as more hopeful than the previous one, it may be because of
books like Level 7.
Franklin's "Afterword" is useful and illuminating. He reminds us what the world was
like before ICBM silos and "Mutual Assured Destruction," demonstrates Roshwald's
predictive accuracy, and associates Level 7 with such dystopian classics as
Forster's "The Machine Stops," Zamiatin's We, Huxley's Brave New World,
and Orwell's 1984. There is one major difference, however, that should be
noticed. Each of the earlier works, like Nevil Shute's On the Beach (1957), Helen
Clarkson's The Last Day (1959), and similar anti-nuclear-war novels, begins after
the formative crisis has occurred. Roshwald forces us to look at the process that permits
it to happen.
Level 7 does not dwell upon the beauty of the Earth: nor does it movingly show
people mourning the deaths of friends and loved ones. Instead, it describes in diary form
the mole-like lives of the 500 men and women who inhabit Level 7, the deepest level of an
underground bunker. It makes clear to the reader how easily nuclear war (and other
atrocities) can be arranged. "X-127" (a "Push-Button" officer) and his companions have
been chosen for this mission precisely because they have no intimate, caring relations
with other humans, and have been further dehumanized by their training before they enter
the underground system. Level 7 records the last months of people who have turned
into the perfect machines to carry out a mechanized war.
Level 7 may not be a great novel, but it is carefully and effectively crafted
to work on many levels. Roshwald's message is clear, and his research thorough. He often
seems prescient. Like missile officers in their underground silos today, X-127 must push
his buttons in precise concert with another officer, whose buttons are out of his reach.
Like them, he must rely on orders transmitted from an unseen superior. Like them, he must
be prepared to follow those orders even though they mean dealing death not only to the
"enemy," but also to his own land. Like them, he is assured of his physical safety--if
only to ensure his ability to do his job. Yet, as Franklin's "Afterword" reminds us, Roshwald wrote this book just as the first American ICBM's were being deployed.
Reversal is Roshwald's primary trope, and the upside-down underground world habitat his
primary metaphor. Upper levels contain the social and technical elite. Deemed "less
important" to the war effort, they are buried less deeply, crowded together more closely,
and given fewer supplies, than are X-127 and his comrades. They can also leave their
shelters; but they will all die before the outside is habitable again. (Throughout the
book, X-127 notes the reported sickness and progressive silence of the upper levels.)
Level 7, the lowest, is the most important, the "highest." In it live people whose only
job is to kill everyone else, to reduce the world to their own level of sterility. X-127,
who began military life as a private, has undergone extensive training at "Push-Button"
camp; he is promoted to major just before being interred in Level 7, where he will never
enjoy any of his officer's perks. He takes a long time to notice that he needed little
training to learn to push buttons ranked in well-marked rows, but did need training to do
so without question. It slowly becomes clear to X-127 that he and his fellows are promised
permanent safety, because Level 7 is a permanent prison; but after they destroy all life
on the surface, they are encouraged to "marry" and bear children.
In the book's final reversal, Roshwald predicts the deadly nature of the "Peaceful
Atom," once hailed by Eisenhower as the next great advancement of humankind. The
"inexhaustible" atomic plant that powers Level 7 malfunctions. X-127, who has tried to
convince himself that artificial light is the perfect substitute for the Sun he so
desperately misses, is bathed in invisible, lethal radiation. Alone and dying, he leaves a
last message from the last human: "Oh friends people mother sun I I" (p. 183). This is
the way the world ends.
X-127 does not record his life underground in chronological order. The book opens with
a self-conscious introduction, written 27 days after the start of events in the tale. For
whom is he explaining himself, recording details that he had not yet assimilated when he
began writing? He claims to write only to stay sane. Rationally, he cannot expect anyone
to read his message; but on some level he recognizes the importance of this account; and
given that recognition, the introduction serves well. Readers should notice and imitate
X-127's pattern; each day's record casts new light on previous information. For instance,
as residents of Level 7 are briefed about the bunker system, we see that the planners who
secretly ordered it constructed, loaded it with a 500-year supply of food, and tapped a
pure source of water for it, not only anticipated a nuclear war (while pretending that
only a fool-proof defense could prevent one), but made nuclear war far more likely. (As
Franklin points out, Roshwald seems to have anticipated Mutual Assured Destruction as
clearly as he anticipated the safety-interlock system in missile silos.) Although no one
actually says "we had to destroy the Earth to save it," we easily recognize the rhetoric
The logic that justifies the existence of Level 7 shows the power of propaganda to
produce absolute mechanical obedience: democracy, the denizens are told, "is the rule of
all over all," which obviously can't work. Expediency, therefore, gives power to an elite,
which is undemocratic. But on Level 7, pure democracy has been achieved at last, because
no person rules them. They obey only "the loudspeaker--the impersonal, the supra-personal
personification of all of us" (p. 50). In a society where symptoms of humane conscience
are treated as illness, and lies are presented not only as truth but as self-evident, such
arguments carry full weight. Every lie is presented in such a way that people want to
believe it true; every discomfort is made to look like self-sacrifice, biocide like
heroism. The better we understand the world we live in and the humans who live in it with
us, Roshwald implies, the more we can manipulate it, for good or ill. It is only as X-127
looks at the whole picture --by returning, as he does in his diary, to view the beginning
of his misadventure in the light of experience; by remembering, as he does in his dreams,
what it was like to live on rather than under the earth--that he begins to see the
horrible reversals. At times he even wonders self-consciously why he feels so little
emotion--though if he did, he would be treated as a psychiatric case. Critics have faulted
Roshwald for using such a desensitized narrator, but even in 1959 we were desensitized on
the issue of nuclear war. The gap between reader and diarist was not really very wide
then, and may be even narrower now.
It may seem like "a bad day for sales" of this book, reissued just as our attention
is suddenly focused on problems of peace. But nuclear war is not the only problem that Level
7 addresses. Remaining human in the midst of manipulation has never been harder. We
need to remember what allowed nuclear war to happen in Level 7: not the defenses,
not the preparations, not the unseen military-industrial complex, not the politicians, but
the human beings who persistently failed to see the pattern they were living, who allowed
themselves to become less than human. X-107, P-867, X-127, and the rest have been tricked
onto Level 7: but they never protest or refuse to follow their deadly orders. Roshwald
reminds us that nuclear war is not waged by "nations" or by "systems," but by humans like
us, just following orders. That danger is not over. Roshwald's message to the 1990s
reads: reverse the reversal. Become sensitive to the inhumanity that permits war. Look to
the real values of this world--"friends people mother sun I"--rather than to their
mechanical substitutes. After 30 years, Level 7 is still worth reading for many
reasons, but that one should be high on the list.
--Martha A. Bartter Ohio State University,
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