Timekeeping. The lifeblood of progress. Hollis Robbins reveals Dracula’s greatest threat

We take timekeeping for granted. We fail to imagine how fundamental a process it is for coordinating global trade.

Think for a moment. Every clock that tics-and-tocs is a guiding constraint. From a poultry filled cargo plane leaving Florida for a processing plant. To a microchip stocked container ship departing a Singaporean dock for Japan. Or even you, arriving on time at work, to cover the night shift for an ill coworker. Commerce depends on the clock hands of time.

And yet we forget this. But there was one cunning villain who understood the power of timekeeping.

Dracula.

As poet and scholar Hollis Robins points out in her essay Turning Back the Economic Clock:

To the economic historian, the biggest danger of Dracula is his potential disruption of civil timekeeping systems, which would undermine railway safety, mail, contracts, and modern commerce generally. Great Britain’s economic prosperity was becoming increasingly dependent on international standards, such as the global adoption of Greenwich Mean Time and the Universal Day. Dracula, whose powers are governed by the sun and the moon rather than clocks and calendars, threatens to destabilize social coordination. If he gained power, he would bring down the economy.

Turning Back the Economic Clock: the real danger embodied by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, July 15 2022. By Hollis Robbins. From The Fitzwilliam Substack.

The count isn’t only a human blood sucker. He is a blood-sucker of progress:

The Count is fascinated by modernity; he has been reading George Bradshaw’s railroad timetables, presumably to help him understand how to navigate a modern city. But why? It is not enough that Dracula turns victims into vampires, as the movies tend to emphasise. He also puts them in a mental fog so that they cannot participate in economic life. “[H]e cannot think of time yet,” Harker’s wife Mina laments, nursing him to health after a close escape from the vampire’s lair; “at first he mixes up not only the month, but the year.” Under Dracula’s spell, humans forget the time, becoming listless and unproductive. Dracula’s objective is not only literally to “fatten on the blood of the living,” but also more broadly to suck the lifeblood of a thriving commercial economy.  

Turning Back the Economic Clock: the real danger embodied by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, July 15 2022. By Hollis Robbins. From The Fitzwilliam Substack.

Hollis Robbins mentions Bram Stoker’s attention to timekeeping in Dracula was inspired from his court clerk day job:

The less academically inclined Bram Stoker, after graduating with a B.A. and M.A. from Trinity College Dublin, was able to secure a day job as a civil servant, with the help of his father. This job allowed him to go to the theatre at night, writing reviews for the Evening Mail. Most biographers skip over Stoker’s time as a court clerk but the experience is key to understanding the deep knowledge he had of time policy and its attendant frustrations.

Turning Back the Economic Clock: the real danger embodied by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, July 15 2022. By Hollis Robbins. From The Fitzwilliam Substack.

Dracula’s demise comes not from some chandelier swinging duel. But by a coordinated time keeping effort:

Coordination pays off: knowing about the train timetables, the transportation network, and the vampire’s limitations, the heroes are able to overtake Dracula just in time. Lying powerless in his coffin, he is stabbed in the heart, outside his castle, at sunset. Stoker’s point is made. The danger Dracula poses is the danger of market destabilisation and social dissolution – a transformation of British modernity into Transylvanian backwardness.

Turning Back the Economic Clock: the real danger embodied by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, July 15 2022. By Hollis Robbins. From The Fitzwilliam Substack.

Timekeeping and Dracula is a combination I would’ve never joined. But it does put the importance of timekeeping in a new perspective.

Read the essay in full here.


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