Welcome, as ever, dear readers.
Jonathan Harker is puzzled. He is in the castle of a Count
and something seems odd about his bedroom:
“The curtains and upholstery of the chairs and sofas and the hangings of my bed are of the costliest and most beautiful fabrics, and must have been of fabulous value when they were made, for they are centuries old, though in excellent order. I saw something like them in Hampton Court, but there they were worn and frayed and moth-eaten. But still in none of the rooms is there a mirror. There is not even a toilet glass on my table, and I had to get the little shaving glass from my bag before I could either shave or brush my hair.”
Although he may not have expected anything as sophisticated as the next image, which he might have encountered in a wealthy house in England (this is the 1890s, after all),
he would have imagined that his bedroom would have been at least equipped with the standard washstand and mirror—
But then things get stranger:
“I only slept a few hours when I went to bed, and feeling that I could not sleep any more, got up. I had hung my shaving glass by the window, and was just beginning to shave. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder, and heard the Count’s voice saying to me, ‘Good-morning.’ I started, for it amazed me that I had not seen him, since the reflection of the glass covered the whole room behind me. In starting I had cut myself slightly and did not notice it at the moment. Having answered the Count’s salutation, I turned to the glass again to see how I had been mistaken. This time there could be no error, for the man was close to me, and I could see him over my shoulder. But there was no reflection of him in the mirror! The whole room behind me was displayed; but there was no sign of a man in it, except myself.”
As many times as I’ve read this book or taught it, this, for me, is still a striking moment. It obviously rattles the narrator, Jonathan Harker, but, what’s equally interesting, it seems to disturb Dracula, as well:
” Then seizing the shaving glass, he went on: ‘And this is the wretched thing that has done the mischief. It is a foul bauble of man’s vanity. Away with it!’ and opening the heavy window with one wrench of his terrible hand, he flung out the glass, which was shattered into a thousand pieces on the stones of the courtyard far below.” (Dracula, Chapter II, beginning the section dated “8 May”)
We know, of course, that the fact that the Count has no reflection means that he is a vampire—
(this is from The Return of Dracula, 1958)
The ironic fact, however, is that we know it from this book, in which Jonathan will only gradually learn what he has innocently encountered on what was supposed to be a rather exotic business trip.
But mirrors are an odd thing, in general. Within the last few years, animal behavior researchers have found that, while primates of various types will recognize their reflection as their reflection,
dogs will not,
seeming, at best, to see them as other dogs, before losing interest. (Here’s are some LINKS to articles on the subject which you might enjoy: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/canine-corner/201107/does-my-dog-recognize-himself-in-mirror (Psychology Today), https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/dog-spies/what-do-dogs-see-in-mirrors/ (Scientific American), https://tuftoys.com/why-cant-dogs-recognize-themselves-in-the-mirror-10-animals-that-can/ (Tuftoys) )
Babies—human ones—begin to recognize themselves and not to imagine that it’s another baby sometime between 20 and 24 months.
There may be a danger in recognizing yourself, however. In the Roman poet, Ovid’s, long collection of verse stories about changes, The Metamorphoses, one character, Narcissus, finds his own reflection so fascinating that he stares at himself in a pool
until, about to die, a thoughtful god turns him into a flower, which we aptly call the narcissus.
(It’s in Book 3, lines 339-510—here’s a LINK to a translation: https://www.theoi.com/Text/OvidMetamorphoses3.html#5 )
And Alice, on a winter’s day, while talking to a kitten about Looking-glass House, soon finds herself there:
“Now, if you’ll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I’ll tell you all my ideas about Looking-glass House. First, there’s the room you can see through the glass—that’s just the same as our drawing room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair—all but the bit behind the fireplace. Oh! I do so wish I could see that bit! I want so much to know whether they’ve a fire in the winter: you never can tell, you know, unless our fire smokes, and then smoke comes up in that room too—but that may be only pretence, just to make it look as if they had a fire. Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way; I know that, because I’ve held up one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.
‘How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty? I wonder if they’d give you milk in there? Perhaps Looking-glass milk isn’t good to drink—But oh, Kitty! now we come to the passage. You can just see a little peep of the passage in Looking-glass House, if you leave the door of our drawing-room wide open: and it’s very like our passage as far as you can see, only you know it may be quite different on beyond. Oh, Kitty! how nice it would be if we could only get through into Looking-glass House! I’m sure it’s got, oh! such beautiful things in it! Let’s pretend there’s a way of getting through into it, somehow, Kitty. Let’s pretend the glass has got all soft like gauze, so that we can get through. Why, it’s turning into a sort of mist now, I declare! It’ll be easy enough to get through—’ She was up on the chimney-piece while she said this, though she hardly knew how she had got there. And certainly the glass was beginning to melt away, just like a bright silvery mist.
In another moment Alice was through the glass, and had jumped lightly down into the Looking-glass room. The very first thing she did was to look whether there was a fire in the fireplace, and she was quite pleased to find that there was a real one, blazing away as brightly as the one she had left behind.” (Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There, Chapter I. “Looking-Glass house”)
Alice is correct, of course, when she says that it “may be quite different”, but it doesn’t require “on beyond”—just look at the contrast between the chimney-piece in her house and its counterpart in Tenniel’s illustration–
the clock has become a clown and the vase for the dried flowers has now become a face for dried flowers. And this is only the beginning—“quite different” will include Tweedledum and Tweedledee,
and the very odd combination of a walrus and a carpenter (at second hand—through Tweedledum and Tweedledee).
And then there is that moment in the Marx Brothers’ Duck Soup (1933)
when Groucho, in nightshirt and cap, thinks that he sees his mirror image
Perhaps, then, Dracula is right when he calls Jonathan’s mirror “a foul bauble”. Then again, there’s the Jiangshi, an undead figure from ancient China.
They are animated corpses—greeny-yellow in color, who wear the clothes of the mandarin class of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912),
hiding during the day and coming out at night to attack the living and drink their blood. They share with Dracula an aversion to mirrors, although they apparently can see themselves—and that’s what can drive them away. (Here’s a LINK which will give you an entire menu of ways to deal with one: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jiangshi )
And maybe this is a clue to Dracula’s reaction: not that he’s afraid of the mirror, or even that it might suggest something sinister to his soon-to-be-prisoner, Jonathan, but that it’s the fact that arrogant creature that he is, he can no longer, like Narcissus, admire himself.
Thanks, as always, for reading,
Stay well and, if you’re in a place which celebrates Thanksgiving, may you enjoy the day,
And, as always, know that there’s
If you don’t have your own copy of Dracula, here’s the American edition of 1897:
and, if you don’t have Through the Looking-Glass, here’s a turn-of-the-century edition: