Posts Tagged Dracula
To mark the centennial anniversary of Bram Stoker’s death, a contemporary review of you-know-what, from the Manchester Guardian:
“They neared the grounds of the abbey and here she noticed anew how the trees simply disappeared, as if the land was so cursed it could not sustain life. Storm clouds smothered the sky. She drove on and suddenly there it was, their destination. Carfax Abbey sat broken, haunting the cliffs above the sleeping town of Whitby. Its Gothic towers scratched the skies and its long-empty cathedral-like windows kept a silent and solemn watch over the mist-filled graveyard next door”
Dracula The Un-Dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt (2009)
Not that I’m a sucker for any old tat related to something I’m obsessed by, of course, but I was always going to buy this book. It being £1.99 helped. Jointly written by a direct descendent (a great-grandnephew) of Bram Stoker and a self-confessed “horror geek”, this is a perhaps surprisingly ambitious novel, rather than a money-for-old-rope attempt to cash in on the family name.
The authors’ stance is that of attempting to reconcile the many different threads in film, theatre, and literature that were spawned by the original novel (many of which were a result of a failure to enforce copyright in North America). At the same time they seek to be true to both Stoker’s intent and the context of historical real-world events in 15th century Romania.
As I say, surprisingly ambitious.
This results in a novel which paints a more ambiguous picture of Count Dracula than most other portrayals, setting out to ‘give him his say’, describing him as a “complex anti-hero”. It also merges fact and fiction, making Bram Stoker himself (and, of course, his most famous work) part of the story, also including real-life ye olde worlde people such as Sir Henry Irving, Frederick Abberline, and, in passing, Oscar Wilde. Abberline’s involvement is as a result of a plot device which intertwines the Jack The Ripper murders with the story of Dracula, the Harkers and co, and which sees both Dracula and Abraham Van Helsing fingered as suspects for the Ripper’s killings. Finally, the end of the novel includes the departure of the Titanic from Queenstown in Ireland.
Meanwhile, the idea of reconciling different takes on the original story sees Carfax (in the novel, a house in Purfleet purchased by the malevolent Count; in film, an abbey) combined with Whitby Abbey to give us ‘Carfax Abbey, in Whitby’. Similarly the asylum in which the lunatic Renfield is originally held is relocated, again from Purfleet to Whitby.
This blending of fiction, fact, and, um, fictionalised fact does require a fair amount of deliberate explanation to be made, in order to make the new events more plausible. The authors do this by telling us that Stoker senior wrote his original novel based on a tale told to him in the pub. Stoker, believing this tale to be the fanciful ranting of a drunk, then took liberties with what were actually (but of course) true events. This, we are told, led him to using incorrect dates for Dracula’s arrival in England via Whitby harbour – thus allowing our modern-day authors to re-set the original novel’s events in line with the Ripper murders, the Titanic, and so on.
I don’t know about you, but I’m becoming very confused by this.
Anyway, the book has its weaknesses. In addition to understandable criticism aimed at the above faffing about, there’s a surprising amount of sex and swearing (I’m no historian, but however common the word ‘bollocks’ was in the early 20th century, it simply seems incongruous), and one ‘twist’ in particular was screamingly obvious from the outset. That said, the complexities described above are executed very entertainingly, and even just a passing knowledge of one or more of the original novel and its subsequent adaptations will mean they become all the more fascinating. Similarly, the mixing of old fiction, fact, and new fiction makes for an interesting read. There is also an extensive afterword, penned by an academic who has the honorary title of ‘Baroness of the House of Dracula’, as well as lengthy notes from the authors – these suggest they are indeed genuine in their love of the story, and sincere in their attempts to create a ‘legitimate’ sequel.
Personally, I like it. I like it to death.
“Mina and I chanced upon a sporting endeavour, most curious in execution, concerning the use of shaped metallic rods to propel a small sphere across various terrains into a receiving cupola. These terrains were many and varied, and featured all manner of curios: a windmill, a house with water-wheel ‘pon its side, and a strange cone-shaped object, purported to be a scale model of a vehicle intended for extra-terrestrial travel. The notion of this latter struck me as being little other than poppycock and fancy, and I dare say such ideas will come to naught. The premises belonged to a gentleman I know not, but who appeared to be held in no little esteem in the locality”
“But, strangest of all, the very instant the shore was touched, an immense dog sprang up on deck from below, as if shot up by the concussion, and running forward, jumped from the bow onto the sand. Making straight for the steep cliff… it disappeared into the darkness, which seemed intensified just beyond the focus of the searchlight.
… A good deal of interest was abroad concerning the dog… To the general disappointment, however, it was not to be found; it seems to have disappeared entirely from the town. It may be that it was frightened and made its way on to the moors, where it is still hiding in terror. There are some who look with dread on such a possibility, lest later on it should in itself become a danger, for it is evidently a fierce brute. Early this morning a large dog, a half-bred mastiff, belonging to a coal merchant close to Tate Hill Pier, was found dead in the roadway opposite its master’s yard. It had been fighting, and manifestly had had a savage opponent, for its throat was torn away, and its belly was slit open as if with a savage claw.”
“The coastguard ran aft, and when he came beside the wheel, bent over to examine it and recoiled at once as though under some sudden emotion. This seemed to pique the general curiosity, and quite a number of people began to run. It is a good way round from the West Cliff by the Drawbridge to Tate Hill Pier, but your correspondent is a fairly good runner, and came well ahead of the crowd.”
“The wind suddenly shifted to the north-east, and the remnant of the sea-fog melted in the blast; and then, mirabile dictu, between the piers, leaping from wave to wave as it rushed at headlong speed, swept the strange schooner before the blast, with all sail set, and gained the safety of the harbour. The searchlight followed her, and a shudder ran through all who saw her, for lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro at each motion of the ship. No other form could be seen on deck at all. A great awe came on all as they realised that the ship, as if by a miracle, had found the habour, unsteered save by the hand of a dead man! However, all took place more quickly than it takes to write these words. The schooner paused not, but rushing across the harbour, pitched herself on that accumulation of sand and gravel washed by many tides and many storms into the south-east corner of the pier jutting under the East Cliff, known locally as Tate Hill Pier.”
” He hobbled away, and I could see him hurrying, as well he could, down the steps. The steps are a great feature of the place. They lead from the town up to the church, there are hundreds of them – I do not know how many – and they wind up in a delicate curve; the slope is so gentle that a horse could easily walk up and down them. I think they must originally have had something to do with the Abbey.”
“My gog, but it’ll be a quare scowderment at the Day of Judgement when they come tumblin’ up here in there death-sarks, all jouped together an’ tryin’ to drag their tombstones with them to prove how good they was; some of them trimmlin’ and ditherin’, with their hands that dozzened an’ slippy from lyin’ in the sea that they can’t even keep ther grup o’ them.”