Friday, May 21, 2010

Dracula's Guest

[Bram Stoker: Dracula's Guest (1914)]

After this I promise to shut up about vampires for quite some time. It just occurred to me, when I reached the end of my first post on the subject, that I hadn't really broached the subject at all: just gone into the details of the various annotated editions of Dracula.

Then, when I got to the end of the second, I realised that while I'd discussed the mechanics of vampires and vampire-hunting, I hadn't even touched on why they appear to have this perennial appeal. I mean, it is rather odd, isn't it? Who would have thought that after Bram Stoker, after Dark Shadows, after Anne Rice, after True Blood even, that it would be Stephenie (sp.?) Meyer's Twilight series that went on to scoop the pool? I mean, one vampire's much the same as another, isn't it?

[Sharon Tate in The Fearless Vampire Hunters (1967)]

There are some pretty obvious points one can make about vampires up front (enough to explain their attraction for adolescents, at any rate):

  1. They never get old and lose their looks. What you see is what you get: forever.
  2. They're always thin and yet never hungry - no dieting required (in fact, they can't even touch solids, so there's no temptation to pig out on junk food).
  3. Their basically nocturnal cycle is very much to the taste of kids who're used to being sent to bed before they felt sleepy: nor can they be ordered off to class despite having been up all night partying.

They are, in short, the perfect teenagers. Oh, and they don't get pimples, either. Or have to worry about predatory creeps and stalkers. They are the creeps.

Ever since Stephen King gave it as his considered opinion that the film I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) was basically about acne, it's become clear that some primal human drive has to be behind any successful horror franchise. Fear of the vulnerability of sleep in A Nightmare on Elm Street; irritation at constantly being rebuked for bad table manners in various generations of zombie movies ... The points listed above might account for the appeal of the current, post-Buffy crop of vampire fictions, but what of those that preceded them?

If Dracula weren't considerably more than a tidied-up, reheated version of Varney the Vampire, I doubt we'd still be discussing it after so many years. There's a reason why Mary Shelley and Bram Stoker continue to rule the Gothic roost. Off the top of my head, I'd say that a good deal of Stoker's fascination with vampires comes from fear: fear of the mongrel, Eastern-European hordes - what at a later date might be called Eurotrash. I don't think it's a coincidence that there's so strong a resemblance between Count Orlock in Nosferatu and the evil predatory Jewish faces in Julius Streicher's Nazi propaganda rag Der Stürmer:

[Julius Streicher: Anti-Jewish cartoon in Der Stürmer (1933)]

[Max Schreck as Count Orlock in Nosferatu (1922)]

That isn't all, though. Stoker's morbid preoccupation with forbidden sexuality is umistakable in the novel: from the famous scene where Jonathan enjoys being toyed with by the vampire women, to Mina Harker's forcible seduction by the count, it's clear that the spirit of Freud was already abroad in the land, even before the 1899 publication of The Interpretation of Dreams.

Was Stoker a repressed homosexual? Was his strange career as Henry Irving's gofer and factotum in fact some kind of homoerotic love affair? It's hard to avoid the suspicion. Nor has the close resemblance between the mercurial Irving and the shapeshifting Count escaped the attention of commentators. The polymorphously perverse vampire of Stoker's imagination is clearly a fantasy figure on more levels than one: a lust-object almost perfectly poised between attraction and repulsion.

Stoker was no Edgar Rice Burroughs, though - no mere instinct-driven mouthpiece for the zeitgeist. One can continue to unpack his novels for items from the collective unconscious, but it's important always to remember how conscious an artist he was. The Jewel of Seven Stars (1943) is not just a rehash of Dracula with a vampire queen - it's an almost-equally complex masterpiece of horror fiction, playing as adroitly on the atmosphere of ancient Egyptian tombs as its predecessor does with castles in the Carpathians.

Take, for instance, the final piece in the jigsaw of Dracula: the short story entitled "Dracula's Guest," which first appeared in a posthumous collection of fugitive pieces in 1914:

[Bram Stoker: Dracula's Guest (London: Arrow Books, 1966)]

[Bram Stoker: Dracula's Guest (1914)]

It might have started as a production gimmick - the black bat which leaped out when theatre-goers opened their programmes for the revival of the play Dracula - but you can see from the contents list above that many of the stories in this collection have gone on to become classics of the genre: "The Squaw" and "The Judge's House" perhaps even more than the title story.

[Bram Stoker: Dracula's Guest (1914)]

"To his original list of stories in this book, I have added an hitherto unpublished episode from Dracula. It was originally excised owing to the length of the book, and may prove of interest to the many readers of what is considered my husband's most remarkable work", wrote Stoker's widow in her preface to the original edition. That's putting it mildly! The arguments about his allegedly "excised" chapter of Dracula have hardly stopped from that time to this.

Is it really part of Dracula, to start with?

It didn't occur to Leonard Wolf to reprint it in the first edition of his Annotated Dracula (1975). The first commentators to include it were therefore Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu, in their Essential Dracula (1979):

[Raymond McNally & Radu Florescu:
The Essential Dracula (1979)]

Their subtitle makes it clear that they regarded it as no more and no less than the missing "first chapter" of the novel. They accordingly placed it first in their book, before the narrative proper, and annotated it in much the same way as the rest of Stoker's text:

[McNally & Florescu: The Essential Dracula (1979)]

Stoker's then recently-rediscovered manuscript notes were used here (as elsewhere) to justify a good many assumptions on their part. Is this narrator really Jonathan Harker? The "episode" does seem unusually self-contained for a discrete chapter of a long novel. The parenthetical mentions of Wagner's Flying Dutchman and of Walpurgis Nacht (so familiar to readers of Goethe's Faust, or - for that matter - Gounod's opera) might seem to encrust it with almost too much significance for so early a moment in the story.

The next editor to include it was, predictably, Leonard Wolf, in his own Essential Dracula in 1993:

[Leonard Wolf: The Essential Dracula (1993)]

He includes it only as an appendix, though, and makes no attempt to annotate it in the same way as the rest of the novel. For him it's clearly an intriguing afterthought rather than an integral part of the story.

Which brings us up to 2008, and the indefatigable Leslie S. Klinger:

[Leslie Klinger: The New Annotated Dracula (2008)]

Characteristically, Klinger hedges his bets. It's included as an appendix, rather than as the first chapter of the text, but he annotates it as thoroughly as the rest of Stoker's novel.

[Leslie Klinger: The New Annotated Dracula (2008)]

You'll note that there are the usual hints as to "uncertainties" surrounding Harker's narrative (possibly written to mask a quite different set of events). This is emphasised even more strongly in his notes on the end of the story:

[Leslie Klinger: The New Annotated Dracula (2008)]

Is the wolf meant to be Dracula, then, or merely (as Klinger claims) an emissary of the still far-off Count? Who can say? The title "Dracula's Guest" would seem to imply his physical presence in the story, but there's still no way of knowing if this title was Stoker's or Florence's.

More to the point, is the mysterious female revenant whose tomb the narrator takes shelter in ("Countess Dolingen of Gratz / in Styria Sought / and found Death / 1801" with underneath "... graven in great Russian Letters: the dead travel fast") actually meant as a reference to Sheridan Le Fanu's immortal "Carmilla" (1872), as McNally & Radescu suggest: "a countess whose activities took place in Styria, southeastern Austria, and who had been laid out in just such a tomb as Stoker describes here" [p.40]?

The mysterious warnings, the suspicious peasantry, the great white wolf, the beautiful apparition ... one thing is certain, "Dracula's Guest" is a masterpiece of dread and growing suspense. Whether it was written at the same time as the rest of the novel and left out for reasons of length (or structural coherence), or whether it was redrafted and tidied up subsequently (as I must confess I suspect), it encapsulates all the strengths and haunting themes of Stoker's novel in one short compass.

It doesn't, finally, matter very much whether one considers it part of the story or not, it's a brilliant piece of work in itself. It should remind us how much we're all still in Bram Stoker's debt - or should I say his shadow?

[Olga Kurylenko in Paris, je t’aime (2006)]

Further Reading:

As well as the stories in Dracula's Guest, you might like to check out some of those included in Peter Haining's useful compilation Shades of Dracula:

[Peter Haining: Shades of Dracula (1982)]

And here are some bibliographical details of the annotated editions which have served as the main focus of this discussion:

  • Wolf, Leonard, ed. The Annotated Dracula: Dracula by Bram Stoker. 1897. Art by Sätty. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. / Publisher, 1975.

  • McNally, Raymond & Radu Florescu, ed. The Essential Dracula: A Completely Illustrated & Annotated Edition of Bram Stoker’s Classic Novel. 1897. New York: Mayflower Books, 1979.

  • Wolf, Leonard, ed. The Essential Dracula: Including the Complete Novel by Bram Stoker. 1897. Ed. Leonard Wolf. 1975. Notes, Bibliography and Filmography Revised in Collaboration with Roxana Stuart. Illustrations by Christopher Bing. A Byron Preiss Book. New York: Plume, 1993.

  • Stoker, Bram. The New Annotated Dracula. 1897. Edited by Leslie S. Klinger. Additional Research by Janet Byrne. Introduction by Neil Gaiman. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Inc., 2008.

[Peter Haining: Shades of Dracula:
The Uncollected Stories of Bram Stoker


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