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Henry Irving and Dreams of 'Dracula': Bram Stoker's Lost Writings

Posted: 01/14/2013 10:39 am

The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker is not my first book. Yet, I can't remember any book before it ever teaching me as much about archival research, or about Bram Stoker. The Daily Mail (London) called him, in 1896, a "Hercules among managers," referring both to Stoker's brawn and the energy with which he employed himself as a writer and Sir Henry Irving's business manager. Throughout the 1890s, newspapers and journals on both sides of The Atlantic called Stoker "indefatigable," and that's a lesson we're still learning even now; this book proves that.

It's always a wonderful thing to discover long lost, unpublished materials by a noted author. However, what's in many ways extraordinarily more rare is to find that there is an entire book's worth of published material by a noted author that no one living today knew about, published materials that were lost to memory. It makes perfect sense for an unpublished manuscript to escape the prying eyes of scholars, collectors, and publishers because there is only one of them, but for an entire crop of works to be written, published in newspapers and periodicals, circulated, then to be lost utterly, without being documented, is extraordinary. Why? Because to think that such things could actually happen is almost incomprehensible.

Such a discovery, invigorating as it may be for a field like Bram Stoker Studies, also begs an important question: How many other noteworthy writers out there have undiscovered published materials just waiting to be unearthed? Such a notion is both exhilarating and, potentially, unsettling for some scholarly disciplines that were thought to be "tapped out."

The sheer number of periodical writings collected in this book is by itself no small feat, but that most of them are new and thematically diverse--love, mystery, death, heroism, comedy--is profound. For one like Stoker, an extraordinarily busy man who, because he supplied the world's most prolific vampire narrative, has come under such incredible scrutiny as to make it exceedingly difficult to realize anything new about him, these writings speak voluminously.

This book, and a host of dedicated scholars, call into question our insistent tunnel view of Dracula as Stoker's only legacy worthy of consideration, though naturally there are still several writings collected here that offer new vantages from which to scrutinize Dracula and how it came into being. For example, "The Wrongs of Grosvenor Square" (1892), a political poem that was published in The Speaker, appeared in print just three years before another of Stoker's works that reled on the use of a Scottish dialect, The Watter's Mou' (1895). This poem, and later The Watter's Mou', are important because when taken together they prove to be early stomping grounds for Stoker to master the use of dialects before publishing Dracula in 1897 (a work which employed no less than five dialects). In "Old Hoggen: A Mystery" (1893), which appeared in The Boston Sunday Herald, there is a striking parallel between the character (or corpse, rather) of Old Hoggen, whose coat hid--and subsequently poured forth--a fortune in bank notes, and Count Dracula, whose clothing produces more or less the same effect during a surprise encounter in London with Van Helsing and the other vampire hunters:

[Harker] had ready his great Kukri knife, and made a fierce and sudden cut at [Dracula]. The blow was a powerful one; only the diabolical quickness of the Count's leap back saved him. A second less and the trenchant blade had shorne through his heart. As it was, the point just cut the cloth of his coat, making a wide gap whence a bundle of bank-notes and a stream of gold fell out.

In "When the Sky Rains Gold" (1894), which appeared in two serial installments in The Boston Sunday Herald, we see, as in Dracula, traces of Stoker's love for maps, which he demonstrates as well in Dracula. But perhaps most striking of all, not only do we encounter in the story an American frontiersman brandishing a bowie knife (like the gallant Quincy Morris in Dracula), but of the protagonist's love-interest, Riddy, who in the story exudes only love and purity, the description of her mouth, "like pearl and ruby where the white teeth shone through the parted lips," bears remarkable resemblance to her antithesis in Dracula, the three vampire women inhabiting Dracula's castle who "had brilliant white teeth that shone like pearls against the ruby of their voluptuous lips." The similarity is made all the more intriguing by the fact Stoker was busy researching Dracula at the time he published this story. Of the young heroine in "A Young Widow" (1899), which was published in The Boston Sunday Herald, it is worth noting that the protagonist's affectionate description of her "full lips [which] show[ed] scarlet against her white teeth," again, mirrors that of Dracula's three vampire women. Thus, the once clear demarcation in Dracula between heroine and villainess is made uncomfortably fluid by Stoker's parallel descriptions in these love stories.

Also included in this collection is the rare article, "Henry Irving's Fight for Fame" (1906), which appeared in Success Magazine, and in it Stoker spends considerable time discussing Irving's dedication to the art of acting during his youth. Irving's tenacity to learn the role--to become the part--is, interestingly, reflected also in the way Stoker characterizes Dracula's obsession with "sounding" and "becoming" English before his journey across Europe to London (hence the argument some have made for Dracula being characterized after Irving). And finally, in a poem from The Brooklyn Daily Eagle entitled, "Night with Sir Henry Irving: With Intimations That Bram Stoker Was Also in the Neighborhood" (1900), by R. M. Field, the speaker, addressing "Bram," recounts the joy of staying up all night talking with Irving and other like company--mostly more admirers of Irving's. The whole episode is slightly reminiscent of Jonathan's tiresome (and forced) ritual of having to stay up all night talking with the Count in his library. Dracula, of course, slept during the day, not unlike Irving I might add whose evenings were mostly spent on stage at the Lyceum and afterwards entertaining guests, or wandering by carriage across Europe, or by ship across the Atlantic to America. New York newspapers often teased that when Irving's large crates and boxes were being offloaded in port, one was likely to find Stoker not far off, watching over them.

 
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