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

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Vampirology (2)

[Bela Lugosi in Dracula (1931)]

In 1993, engineering professor Andrew Keane ... tackled the problem of designing a better space-station girder for American astronauts. He devised strings of numbers expressing the girder's thickness, material, angle of attachment, and other requirements. The numbers were analogous to genes, with each string of numbers representing a chromosome.

Keane coped this "genome" until he had produced a diverse founding population, then ran his evolution program on eleven networked computers. According to U.S. News and World Report (July 27, 1988): "For several days the truss designs had cybersex - they swapped digital genes with random abandon ... Those designs that suppressed vibration best yet remained lightweight and strong were rewarded with greater fertility. Generation by generation, the fittest got fitter. The program threw occasional random mutations among the competing genomes to provide a little extra variety."

Fifteen generations and 4,500 different designs later, an optimal truss emerged, looking vastly different from the ones conceived of by NASA's human engineers. According to Keane, the lumpy, knob-ended result looked somewhat like a leg bone. Tests on the evolved models proved them superior to those designed by humans.

- Richard Milner. Darwin's Universe: Evolution from A to Z (Berkeley & LA: University of California Press, 2009): 164.

"Why isn't everyone a vampire?"

It sounds like a bit of a silly question. But then I guess that anyone who's ever read Dracula has done a few calculations in their head about the sheer exponential speed with which the vampire scourge will spread if everyone who's bitten becomes a bloodsucking fiend in their turn.

[John Sutherland: The Literary Detective (2000)]

That painstaking sleuth into everything literary (and trivial?), John Sutherland, discusses the subject in detail in his essay of the same name, included in The Literary Detective: 100 Puzzles in Classic Fiction (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000):

Let us assume that each vampire infects one victim a year, and that this victim dies during the course of the year to become, in turn, a vampire. Since they are immortal, each vampire will form the centre of an annually expanding circle, each of which will become the centre of his or her own circle. The circle will widen at the rate of 2 x n-1. In year one (say, 1500) there is one new vampire; in 1501, two, in 1502, 4; in 1503, 8; and so, by the simple process of exponential increase, there will be 1,024 new vampires in 1510. ... Within thirty-one years the vampire population will have reached 2 billion. By 1897, the presumable date of Stoker's novel, the numbers are incalculably vast. In fact so vast that they will probably have collapsed to nil. Long since everyone will have been vampirized; there will be no more food-supply ... Dracula and his kind will die out. And with them the human race. [pp. 711-12]

It's a worry. It's almost the worry, in fact, for any writers (or filmmakers) aspiring to make an original contribution to the vampire genre. Sutherland gets round it in two ways: First, by postulating the "selective infection" idea:

There is, one deduces, an inner elite of "super-vampires" who circulate Dracula's sacramental blood among themselves - true communicants in the horrible sect ... it is only this small coterie which is immortal, we may speculate. The bulk of their victims are disposable nourishment - a kind of human blood-bank to be discarded when exhausted. [p.714]

In his footnote to this passage, Sutherland mentions that "This seems to be the line adopted in Anne Rice's very successful series of modern vampire stories" [p.749]. "Unfortunately," he goes on to say, "Stoker does not give us any clear warrant for this speculation, nor does he (as far as I can see) work it plausibly into his narrative." [p.714]

His second attempt at a solution is more ingenious, though admittedly more speculative:

The Dracula paradox touches on what was, for the nineteenth century, a strange mystery about actual epidemics. How and why did they die out? Cholera, for instance, smallpox, and venereal disease infected large tracts of the population, often very quickly. Why did their infectious spread ever stop? ... Why did not every epidemic become, literally (as no disease ever truly has been) a pandemic?

He goes on to cite a number of explanations proposed by nineteenth century theorists; "For the faithful, the hand of God ...was the remote reason for the starting, cresting, and stopping of diseases."

Darwinists, by contrast, believed that disease was a mechanism for separating the weak from the strong, building up 'resistance'. Epidemiologists, finally, drew on the same image of Van Helsing - that of the widening ripples of a pebble thrown in a pond. With the dispersion of energy, as the ripple enlarges it becomes weaker. So, it was believed, did the virus ... lose its virulence and through exposure the host population might become stronger, develop strategies of resistance.

Whichever way you read it, then, Nature appears to operate its own version of the Eleatic paradox: the one which explains why Achilles can never beat the tortoise in a running race. First he travels half the distance the tortoise (who had a head start) has already covered, then half the remaining distance, then half of that distance, and so on and so on ad infinitum. There will always be another tiny fraction of the distance left to cover. Ergo, Achilles will never overtake the tortoise.


It's perhaps a slightly far-fetched comparison, but if we see that "truss-creating" computer programme cited above as analogous to all the ingenious and less-ingenious creators who've turned their minds to concocting vampire tales in the century or so since Bram Stoker let the cat out of the bag, perhaps we can see the the "lumpy, knob-ended" set of doctrines (rather like Asimov's three laws of Robotics) which have resulted as, in their turn, "superior to those designed by humans" - by any particular human, that is.

In a strange sense, that appears to be how pop culture works.

Let's run through our vampire catechism, then:

Can vampires go out in the daylight?

Dracula is frequently seen out in the daylight (though he admittedly looks a bit shaky there). It isn't really till Nosferatu (1922), Murnau's (unauthorised) film adaptation of the novel, that sunlight becomes immediately fatal to vampires. It's how Count Orlock is finally killed in the movie. It's remained a favourite convention of film-makers ever since. In Joss Whedon's TV series Buffy: The Vampire Slayer (1997-2003), any old tarpaulin slung round your shoulders seems to suffice to keep away danger, though full exposure is still deadly. In the more recent film Daybreakers (2009), graduated exposure to sunlight is the only way of curing the vampire "virus", as demonstrated by Willem Dafoe to the still-infected Ethan Hawke.

Does everyone bitten by a vampire become one in their turn?

So it would appear - in folklore, at any rate, and thus, accordingly, in Stoker's folklore-saturated novel. The mathematical difficulties caused by this contention became apparent very soon, though. Werner Herzog's 1979 Nosferatu remake has a haunting scene showing the vampire (and rat) infested streets of "Jonathan Harker's" hometown, full of coffins and mourning processions. Stephen King's Salem's Lot (1975) imagines a whole town which is irreparably infected by them and effectively uninhabitable by human beings. It isn't still Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles got underway with Interview with the Vampire (1976) that the idea of having to drink the vampire's own blood to accomplish infection became entrenched (though it had been hazily evident before that). Since then, it's become the faute de mieux solution to the dilemma: in Buffy as well as Stephenie Meyer's Twilight (2005) and its successors.

Are crosses, garlic and holy water effective against vampires?

Not particularly - onscreen, at any rate. Powerful vampires seem to be able to sweep them outside without much difficulty. A "king" vampire even manages to consume food full of garlic in The Lost Boys (9187) as a consequence of having been invited into the house earlier. Even in popular fiction, it's a little difficult to see the power of the cross as physically inherent in the design, without any reference to its liturgical significance. Filmmakers therefore prefer to rely on the "natural" properties of daylight.

Can vampires enter private dwellings without being specifically invited in?

No, but gullible mothers and flatmates tend to let them in anyway, however specifically they've been told not to. So this isn't as valuable a safeguard as it might seem. Once they've been in, they can return anytime they choose.

Where and when did vampires begin?

In ancient Egypt, accordingly to Anne Rice. In medieval Wallachia, according to Francis Ford Coppola's Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992) - though the identification of the fictional Count Dracula with the historical Vlad the Impaler (1431-1476) is far more equivocal in the novel, as Leslie Klinger demonstrates in his New Annotated Dracula (2008). Outside the walls of Antioch during the First Crusade, according to J. S. Cardone's less well-known indie-vampire classic The Forsaken: Desert Vampires (2001). Whichever "origin myth" you choose, it tends to be associated with an act of extreme bloodthirsty greed on the part of some living person.

Could a world inhabited solely by vampires actually sustain itself?

Daybreakers, with its towers of living people hooked up (Matrix-style) to blood-vats is probably the most extensive canvassing of the issue to date. No, in short. Richard Matheson's book I am Legend (1954) is less pessimistic, though certain critics have observed that his infected, blood-drinking hordes really resemble zombies more than they do classical vampires. The various film treatments of the book (with Charlton Heston in 1971; with Will Smith in 2007) have tended to be more successful in portraying a world empty of humanity than in solving the difficulties and inconsistencies in Matheson's original plot.

Is there any cure for vampirism once it's been contracted?

Mina Harker is cured (allegedly) when her "infector", Count Dracula, is killed and burned at the end of the book. Angel, in the Buffy series, is not cured so much as incapacitated when some gypsies curse him with the return of his soul. Spike, in the same TV series, has a computer chip planted in his head which prevents from attacking or killing anyone "good" (though demons and human malefactors still appear to be fair play). Daybreakers is the first story (so far as I'm aware) to toy with the idea of a complete cure through graduated doses of sunshine (combined with large amounts of water to counter the burning).

How do you kill a vampire?

Simple - stick a stake through their heart. In Buffy, this makes them disappear at once in a puff of dust. In the novel Dracula, decapitation appears to be required also. Lucy Westenra has her severed head stuffed full of garlic to make doubly sure. Burning the body also seems to have a certain efficacy. It's unclear if this is sufficient in itself, though, or requires the staking and slashing to have taken place first.

All in all, as most juvenile students of the genre are well aware, vampire-hunting appears to be one of the safest sports in existence. All you have to do to succeed at it is:

  • Not wait till almost dusk - when vampires arise - to explore the creepy old mansion on the outskirts of town.
  • Not forget to bring along your little kit of stakes, hammers, holy water, garlic, machetes, matches, lighters and lighter-fluid.
  • Not fall in love with exceptionally fine-looking vampires as they lie in their coffins, and sit there watching them till the sun sinks in the west.
  • Not bring along the erstwhile girlfriend or boyfriend of same, and have to persuade them of the necessity for this little operation over the open grave in question.
  • Not wildly underestimate your opponent, and just give them a bit of a ding rather than actually making sure they're done for (obviously the term "dead" becomes a little ambiguous in this context).

Observe these simple rules, and you can look forward to a long and prosperous career as a vampire slayer without any need for the constant physical training and supernaturally developed senses of Buffy and her crew.

For the typologist the type (eidos) is real and the variation an illusion, while for the populationist, the type (average) is an abstraction and only the variation is real. No two ways of looking at nature could be more different.

- Ernst Mayr, "Darwin and the Evolutionary Theory in Biology" (1959)

I'm afraid that the same basic dichotomy applies to vampire fiction (as it does to lit crit in general, I guess). You can spend your time trying to deduce the essential features of the ideal type, or delight in the peculiarities and divagations of the population of such stories.

A very wise professor I once met compared it to acting like Gulliver in Lilliput and Gulliver in Brobdingnag. Critics can regard themselves as giant lawgivers, whose function is to observe the ways of the puny ants crawling at their feet, or they can see themselves as dwarfs crouching at the feet of giants, whose job is to learn from the ways of their betters.

Arrogance or humility - you take your pick.

I couldn't write a believable vampire story to save my life, which is why I suspect a healthy dose of the second attitude might suit me better in the long run. As long as you're not too pompous about it, though, I think a little bit of looking down on them from above won't hurt all that much.

So, as some small tribute to all those loons who've spent their time entertaining me by writing such stories (and elaborating their basic conventions), I'll leave you with a small listing of the texts [the population] I've used in my attempt to construct this portrait of the true, eidetic vampire as we know him-or-her (or it) today:

The Vampire Canon:
An Introduction

  1. John Polidori's The Vampyre (1819):

    • Bleiler, E. F., ed. Three Gothic Novels: The Castle of Otranto, by Horace Walpole; Vathek, by William Beckford; The Vampyre, by John Polidori; and a Fragment of a Novel by Lord Byron. 1764, 1786, & 1819. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1966.

  2. Varney the Vampire (1845):

    • Rymer, James Malcolm [or Thomas Peckett Prest]. Varney the Vampyre or The Feast of Blood. 1847. 2 vols. Introduction by E. F. Bleiler. New York: Dover Publications, 1972.

  3. Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla (1872):

    • Le Fanu, Joseph Sheridan. In a Glass Darkly: Stories. 1872. Introduction by V. S. Pritchett. London: John Lehmann, 1947.

  4. Bram Stoker's Dracula (1897):

    • Stoker, Bram. Dracula. 1897. London: Arrow Books, 1973.
    • Stoker, Bram. Dracula’s Guest. 1914. London: Arrow Books, 1966.
    • Ludlam, Harry. A Biography of Dracula: The Life Story of Bram Stoker. London: The Quality Book Club, 1962.
    • McNally, Raymond T. & Radu Florescu. In Search of Dracula: The History of Dracula and Vampires. 1972. London: Robson Books, 1997.
    • 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.
    • Haining, Peter, ed. Shades of Dracula: Bram Stoker’s Uncollected Stories. London: William Kimber, 1982.
    • McNally, Raymond T. Dracula was a Woman: In Search of the Blood Countess of Transylvania. 1983. London: Book Club Associates, 1984.
    • 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.

  5. Richard Matheson's I am Legend (1954):

    • The Last Man on Earth, dir. Ubaldo Ragona & Sidney Salkow - starring Vincent Price - (Italy, 1964).
    • The Omega Man, dir. Boris Sagal, writ. John William Corrington & Joyce H. Corrington - starring Charlton Heston - (UK, 1971).
    • I am Legend, dir. Francis Lawrence, writ. Akiva Goldsman & Mark Protosevich - starring Will Smith & Alice Braga - (USA, 2007).

  6. Stephen King's 'Salem's Lot (1975):

    • King, Stephen. 'Salem's Lot. 1975. London: New English Library, 1976.
    • Salem's Lot: TV Miniseries, dir. Tobe Hooper, writ. Paul Monash - starring David Soul & James Mason - (USA, 1979).
    • 'Salem's Lot: TV Miniseries, dir. Mikael Salomon, writ. Peter Filardi - starring Rob Lowe, Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer & James Cromwell - (USA, 2004).
    • King, Stephen. 'Salem's Lot: Illustrated Edition. Photographs by Jerry Uelsmann. 2005. New York: Doubleday, 2005.

  7. Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles: 15 vols (1976-2003):

    • Rice, Anne. Interview with the Vampire. 1976. The Vampire Chronicles, 1. London: Futura, 1994.
    • Rice, Anne. The Vampire Lestat. 1985. The Vampire Chronicles, 2. London: Futura, 1986.
    • Rice, Anne. Queen of the Damned. 1988. The Vampire Chronicles, 3. London: Futura, 1990.
    • Rice, Anne. The Witching Hour: A Novel. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, 1. 1990. London: Chatto & Windus, 1991.
    • Rice, Anne. The Tale of the Body Thief. The Vampire Chronicles, 4. 1992. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1993.
    • Rice, Anne. Lasher: A Novel. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, 2. London: Chatto & Windus, 1993.
    • Rice, Anne. Taltos: Lives of the Mayfair Witches. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, 3. London: Chatto & Windus, 1994.
    • Rice, Anne. Memnoch the Devil. The Vampire Chronicles, 5. London: Chatto & Windus, 1995.
    • Rice, Anne. The Vampire Armand. The Vampire Chronicles, 6 (1998)
    • Rice, Anne. Pandora. New Tales of the Vampires, 1 (1998)
    • Rice, Anne. Vittorio the Vampire. New Tales of the Vampires, 2 (1999)
    • Rice, Anne. Merrick. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, 4 (2000)
    • Rice, Anne. Blood and Gold. The Vampire Chronicles, 7 (2001)
    • Rice, Anne. Blackwood Farm. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, 5 (2002)
    • Rice, Anne. Blood Canticle. The Lives of the Mayfair Witches, 6 (2003)

  8. Joss Whedon's Buffy the Vampire Slayer: 1 feature film (1992) / 7 TV Series (1997-2003).

  9. J. S. Cardone's The Forsaken (2001):

    • The Forsaken: Desert Vampires, writ. & dir. J. S. Cardone, prod. Carol Kottenbrook & Scott Enbinder – starring Kerr Smith, Brendan Fehr, Izabella Miko & Johnathon Schaech - (USA, 2001).

  10. John Ajvide Lindqvist's Låt Den Rätte Komma In (2004):

    • Let the Right One In, dir. Tomas Alfredson, writ. John Ajvide Lindqvist, prod. Carl Molinder & John Nordling – starring Kåre Hedebrant, Lina Leandersson & Per Ragnar - (Sweden, 2008).

  11. Stephenie Meyer's Twilight Saga: 4 novels (2005-8) / 3 feature films (2008-10).

Not to mention John Carpenter's Vampires (1998), with James Woods as the leader of a church-sanctioned Western-style posse of rootin'-tootin', pistol-packing vampire-hunters; the Underworld trilogy (2006-9), with Kate Beckinsale in tight leather combatting werewolves (until she falls in love with one); Van Helsing (2004), with Kate Beckinsale in a frilly peasant blouse assisting Hugh Jackaman as the eponymous hero; and so on and so on and so on ...

Add flame to blue touchpaper and retire.

[Kate Beckinsale in Underworld (2003)]

Friday, May 07, 2010

Marginalising Dracula:

The Strange World of the Annotated Editions
[Leonard Wolf: The Annotated Dracula (1975)]

So I sent in an abstract for a projected anthology to be entitled Vampires and Zombies: Transnational Transformations. Strangely enough, they didn't take me up on my offer to contribute an essay on The Annotated Dracula (or, rather, all the editions of Bram Stoker's novel which have come out under that title or slight variations on same) - too frivolous-sounding, I guess.

In a way I'm not sorry, though. Spinning out my views into 7,000 words of ponderous Academic prose always did sound a bit too much like hard work. Instead, I thought I'd just post the main points here.

[Sätty: Illustration for The Annotated Dracula (1975)]

"With Stoker's novel serving as the backbone, this one-volume Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to the world's most famous vampire looks at its author, its psychological and sociological implications, the stage plays, the movies, television versions, the actors, and, of course, the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler."

- Ad for Mark Dawzidiak's Bedside, Bathtub and Armchair Companion to Dracula. London: The Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd., 2008.

I mean, what's next? The Home Shopper's Guide to Dracula? Dracula Does Dallas? Tuesdays with Dracula? - Coming Soon to a Bloodbank Near You ... Is nothing sacred anymore? It would appear not.

A certain amount of the fangs - get it? "Fangs" - for this avalanche of drivel has to go to Leonard Wolf (no, not the one who used to be married to Virginia Woolf).

Born in Vulcan, Romania (Transylvania), Leonard was originally named 'Ludovic', changed upon his arrival in the United States in 1930 with his mother, Rose-ita [Cool name, don't you think? Even a little prophetic, perhaps ...]

Among his numerous other literary accomplishments, in 1972 he published A Dream of Dracula: In Search of the Living Dead, a book which has some claims to have started the modern Dracula revival.

In 1975, Wolf followed it up with The Annotated Dracula, an obsessively detailed and beautifully illustrated edition of Bram Stoker's novel.

There's something almost pure and spiritual (in retrospect) about the annotated editions of famous books produced by New York publisher Clarkson N. Potter and his various rivals and collaborators in the mid-sixties and seventies.

They include Isaac Asimov's - somewhat po-faced - annotated versions of Swift's Gulliver's Travels, Byron's Don Juan, Milton's Paradise Lost, along with his Guide to the Bible and Guide to Shakespeare (not to mention Familiar Poems, Annotated). There were also beautiful editions of Thoreau's Walden (ed. Philip van Doren Stern, 1970) and Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues under the Sea (ed. Walter James Miller, 1976).

Two bona fide classics emerged from the process: Martin Gardner's Annotated Alice (1960 - now available in the 2000 "definitive edition"), which he followed up with the Annotated Snark (1962), and annotated versions of Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1965) and Chesterton's The Man Who Was Friday (1999); and William S. Baring-Gould's 2-volume Annotated Sherlock Holmes (1967), a mad compendium of everything then known about the detective and his several identities, morganatic wives, triple-headed assistant Dr John H. (or "James", as his - second? - wife addressed him on one occasion) Watson, with illustrations, chronological tables along with the full text of the canonical Four Novels and the Fifty-Six Short Stories ...

[W. S. Baring Gould: The Annotated Sherlock Holmes (1967)]

Baring-Gould's book apart, the aims of this motley group of annotated texts, by a variety of editors (under a variety of imprints) were remarkably consistent. They consisted of informative contextual - and textual - notes on various matters designed to improve understanding and appreciation of great works of literature. Their status - and the value of the information they provided - depended very much on the scholarly standing of their respective editors.

Isaac Asimov's claims as an interpreter of poetry might have seemed (to anyone but himself) a little on the flimsy side, but then the works he chose to adorn (Swift, Milton - a shame he didn't get to do Dante, really) tended to have a strong science-fictional element which gave full scope to his delight in calculation and scientific patter. Martin Gardner's love of puzzles and paradoxes made him almost the ideal companion to Lewis Carroll (whose mathematical side he was able to do justice to almost for the first time).

The one striking exception was Baring-Gould. It's not that he wasn't an expert on Holmes. His 1962 book Sherlock Holmes: A Life of the World’s First Consulting Detective was actually the first - though not, alas, the last - biography of the famous sleuth. It's the approach he chose to take to the "canon" which was unusual and striking.

I mentioned in a previous post on J. R. R. Tolkien's posthumous creativity the phenomenon of Holmesian (or "Sherlockian", if you happen to be American) "Higher Criticism". This consists of:

writing essays about the Holmes canon which assume as a basic convention the actual existence of its central characters, and the subordinate role of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as Dr. Watson's literary agent.

Its inventor, Monsignor Ronald Knox, outlined the main lines of the method in one of the pieces in his 1928 book Essays in Satire, and the idea spread like wildfire - presumably because it appealed to the same kinds of people who enjoy crossword puzzles, acrostics, the Baconian theory of Shakespeare, the rehabilitation of Richard III, and other even more recondite parlour games.

Of course the main gag behind the "Higher Criticism" was nineteenth-century Biblical scholarship, which - especially in the hands of the more ponderous German textual critics - had produced a bewildering forest of double (and triple) "Isaiahs" and "Ezekiels", not to mention the immense number of people who had collaborated in, edited, revised, added to, garbled, and otherwise served to transmit the gospels and the first chapter of Genesis. Biblical criticism had the disadvantage of demanding a pretty good knowledge of Hebrew and Greek (not to mention Aramaic, Latin, German and a number of other dauntingly difficult tongues), though. The good thing about it was that the invention of a really juicy new hypothesis virtually guaranteed instant notoriety; the bad thing was that there was a good chance of losing your cushy academic job and being run out of town on a rail ...

Holmesian higher criticism, by contrast, was basically as safe as houses. It offended no-one and pleased almost everyone (except, one suspects, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his heirs). The only real risk was passing out from drinking too much at one of the annual dinners of the Baker Street Irregulars (whose inhouse magazine published most of the crucial articles in this increasingly intricate war of words).

Baring-Gould's Annotated Sherlock Holmes, then, is as much of a memorial as it is a contribution to 40-odd years of footling speculation about Holmes's shoe-size, his Tibetan explorations, the vast number of pseudonyms under which he published scientific and other forms of research, his connections with Jack the Ripper and the Royal Families of Europe, etc. etc. etc. If you have no sense of humour, or - more to the point - no sense of the absurd, it's unlikely to strike you as a particularly profitable way of spending your time. If, however, you do, it might well qualify as a friend for life.

So what does all this have to do with Dracula, the ostensible subject of this post? Well, Wolf's Annotated Dracula is a very respectable contribution to the first generation of annotated tomes listed above. It's spectacular both in its size and the strange beatuy of its illustrations, and very informative on Stoker's sources for the first, "foreign" section of the novel (basically all cribbed from a variety of travel guides and histories, above all Emily Gerard's The Land Beyond the Forest (1888)). There's a good bibliography, a useful calendar of events in the novel, along with a rudimentary filmography and guide to the stage versions of the novel. There's no attempt to pretend that Dracula is real, or to treat it as anything but the classic Gothic novel it is.

Wolf followed it up two years later with an edition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, reprinting the original, 1818, text of the novel, though with full notes on her subsequent rewritings and revisions of this first, most direct (and arguably best) version of the story.

And there, presumably, the story should have ended. How much more information about Dracula do you actually need?

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

Well, as it turns out, quite a bit.

In 1979, Raymond McNally and his colleague, the Romanian scholar Radu Florescu, collaborated on their own attempt at a comprehensive annotated edition, The Essential Dracula, which drew both on the Eastern European local detail outlined in their 1972 book In Search of Dracula, but also on the recent rediscovery of the manuscript notes for Stoker's novel.

There's no doubt that their book had a good deal to add to Wolf's basically humanist view of Dracula. Their research was thorough (and thoroughly up-to-date). The solid and unfanciful way in which they presented it had the effect of making Wolf look, at best, like a unspecialised enthusiast; at worst, like a bit of an amateur.

Don't get me wrong, when it came to the essentials, they were every bit as crazy as he was (one of McNally's subsequent books, about the so-called "Blood-Countess of Transylvania", was entitled Dracula was a Woman), but they somehow carried it off better.

It would be interesting to know more precise details about the relations between the two rival schools of Vampirology represented by McNally / Florescu and Wolf. Suffice it to say that when the latter was offered the chance to revise and update his 1975 book for a paperback edition in 1993, he called it (somewhat confusingly) The Essential Dracula, rather than some variation on the Annotated title of his original version.

[Leonard Wolf: The Essential Dracula (1993)]

An attempt to gazump his competitors? Who knows? That "definitive" subtitle is presumably meant as some kind of a dig at them. In any case, Wolf's Essential Dracula may lack the imposing dimensions (and sumptuous illustrations) of its predecessor, but it makes up for that in the detail of its information on (especially) the explosion of interest in all things vampire and Dracula-related in pop culture since the 1970s. It was the first of these books I actually owned, so I do owe it a debt for bringing me up to speed on Stoker and his methods (though of course it lacks the specific information about his working notes contained in Mcnally and Florescu's Essential Dracula).

And there, one is tempted to say, the saga really needed to come to an end. It was not to be, however.

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

In 2008 Leslie S. Klinger (no relation, I assume, to the cross-dressing malingerer in M*A*S*H*), fresh from his immense (self-appointed) task of re-annotating Sherlock Holmes – three fat volumes in place of Baring-Gould's two – published The New Annotated Dracula.

Klinger’s sequel to Baring-Gould apes the latter's attempt to operate solely within the bounds of Holmesian Higher Criticism, but in a curiously half-hearted and unconvincing way. The freshness and daring of acting on this set of (basically fatuous) assumptions has turned into a kind of ponderous lip-service to the appearances, combined with an immense piling-up of often (alas) trivial period detail. Much of this would have been considered unnecessary for previous generations of readers, and there's an element of padding which would surely once have been ruthlessly edited out.

[Leslie Klinger: The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (2005-6)]

In this Klinger follows the example of other "second generation" annotated texts, notably those published by W. W. Norton & Company of New York. Some of these (the various editions of fairy tales edited by Maria Tatar spring to mind) are sound enough, if - at times - a trifle underwhelming. Some, however - notably the editions of Huckleberry Finn and The Wizard of Oz by Michael Patrick Hearn - also display the interesting property of drowning their originals in ill-considered trivia. This doesn't matter so much with L. Frank Baum, whose writing is loose enough to start with, but when one finds oneself yawning over Mark Twain, then clearly something has gone wrong.

Holmesian parlour-games can be played well or poorly, but there's nothing particularly shocking about them after approximately eighty years of such horseplay. Klinger's attempts to apply the same technique to Stoker's Dracula are, however, nothing short of disastrous. Bram Stoker has been relegated to the role of editor of the “Harker Papers”, and various hints are thrown out in the notes and introduction to suggest that the Count himself (who apparently survived the - staged? - death-scene at the end of the narrative) might have been instrumental in shaping the manuscript into its present form.

All of this seems harmless enough. It’s certainly in line with the many, many attempts which have already been made to write books (Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian (2005) being one prominent example) which supplement or intersect with the incidents and characters in Stoker’s story. The interesting thing is what a trivialising effect it ends up having on the book itself.

It's not that I mind the concept of inserting one's own silly notions into "classic" texts - especially one so eccentrically written as Dracula, with its elaborate epistolary framework of transcribed journals, newspaper articles, and even primitive audio recordings. It's just that the suspension of disbelief necessary for a ghost story tends to get lost in the process.

To give just one example, Klinger's rather far-fetched theory that the abridged version of his novel which Stoker produced shortly after its publication in 1897 somehow embodies "clues" about what is and is not integral to the narrative has resulted in a seemingly endless series of notes recording every variation between the two. He also records every misprint, down to the most trivial misspellings, in the original edition (which acts as his copytext). After one has added to this a number of notes explaining the concept of a "hansom cab", giving information on contemporary railway timetables and real estate values, the tone of almost hysterical fear and excitement which characterised Stoker's novel in its original form is, to say the least, somewhat diluted.

By all means use Stoker's text to illustrate some crazy notions of your own (a la Nabokov's insane narrator in Pale Fire (1962) - coincidentally (?), also the date of Baring-Gould's Annotated Sherlock Holmes), but to do so as confusingly as this does the original book no favours.

Yes, I read it to the end. Yes, there's a lot of interesting stuff in there (including some very pretty illustrations of contemporary equipment for dealing with "madmen" such as Renfield), but I have to say that my main feeling was disappointment. Do we really need four or five competing chronologies for Dracula? Wolf's original one may well need a little revision, after 35 years of increasingly recondite theorising, but it does have the advantage of being clear and serviceable. And at least he doesn't have to pretend to believe in vampires - or, rather, the vampire - all the time ...

I think it's time to call a moratorium on some of this extracurricular activity. Mind you, I suspect even Klinger's massive tome makes more exciting reading than Vampires and Zombies: Transnational Transformations will when it eventually appears ...

[Francis Ford Coppola: Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)]