Sort of a late post (I’m starting at like an hour to midnight here), but Happy Halloween all the same!
I thought I’d share the small amount of Halloween-specific reading I did this year…
You can’t really read the cover in this photo (because ten o’clock at night is not a good time to be photographing a black-on-black book cover), but this is a chapbook cover of “Dracula’s Guest,” the short story by Bram Stoker which was released by his wife after his death. She said it was the original opening of the book, though scholars are not agreed that it actually was. Certainly it doesn’t fit with the narrative style of Dracula itself, since that’s an epistolary novel, and “Dracula’s Guest” is simple first person narration with no hint of belonging in a letter or journal. For that matter, the narrator is not identified. As far as the day of the year, it corresponds pretty exactly with the opening of Jonathon Harker’s journal in Dracula, but there’s no way the narrator is Harker, because he’d have reacted very differently to the Count if he’d been through all that.
I’ve read the story before, and I seem to recall coming to the conclusion then that the narrator might have been Renfield, which I think is not an atypical reaction to the story, but…yeah, I’m not 100% convinced of that, either. It might be interesting if it was actually Mr. Hawkins, since his death and leaving everything to Harker is awfully spontaneous and convenient, but…ultimately, I think this story represents a different approach to the story that Stoker decided not to follow. It’s not a bad story, but it doesn’t really fit in with the novel’s narrative.
Check out the way it’s bound: it’s sewn together by hand!
This was a Patreon benefit from Thornwillow Press. I got to know them via a Kickstarter campaign they did for a handbound letterpress edition of Pride and Prejudice. (Most expensive book I own, but it is so cool. You can feel each letter on the page.) Anyway, when they sent out an e-mail telling me this would be the October reward, I had to sign up. I was planning to cancel after getting it, only next month’s sounds cool, too. *sigh*
Aaaaaanyway, after “Dracula’s Guest,” my next Halloween reading was this:
This is something I got from Kickstarter. It’s a graphic novel that’s a lesbian reinterpretation of the Frankenstein story. Thankfully, unlike Frankenstein itself, it’s focused on the story, not on the philosophy of the ideas.
And, of course, I followed it up with…
A new edition I got from Kickstarter (yeah, I know, it’s a theme around here), with illustrations. It’s been quite a few years since the last time I read Dracula, so while I remembered much about it, there were also a lot of details I’d forgotten. (Although I haven’t actually quite finished it yet. The’re on their way from Varna to Galatz right now…though I couldn’t find Galatz in the atlas I consulted; I think Stoker got the name wrong…)
Anyway, I thought I’d share some of my reflections on this reread of the novel.
Since this book was first published in 1897, I’m assuming most people have already read it. If you haven’t read it, maybe stop reading now, mkay? Come back when you’ve read the book. ‘Cause there’s never been an accurate film adaptation. I think the play is supposed to be less inaccurate, but I haven’t seen it, so I can’t be sure. Right, so o with it…
The big thing, of course, that really struck me about the first half or so of the book is the overwhelming number of coincidences. Dracula’s ship just happens to put into port in Whitby, where Harker’s fiancee just happens to be vacationing with her best friend, one of whose suitors just happens to own the insane asylum next door to the house in London Dracula just bought, and then he just happens to pick said best friend as his victim/new bride, and then that same suitor just happens to know the one scientist open-minded enough to recognize the signs of a vampire attack and to know how to fight a vampire. Oh, not to mention the coincidence that one of the patients in the asylum happens to be the zoophage who either already knows about and worships Dracula or is eager to become his adherent. (The book is not clear, so it depends on whether or not you take “Dracula’s Guest” to be narrated by a pre-insanity Renfield.) This isn’t a criticism, per se, though; a lot of 19th century novels are plagued by excessive coincidence. (Dickens, for example, is infamous for it.)
Of course, a lot of film versions have tried to explain away some of the coincidences, often by reincarnation love-story BS which is entirely inappropriate. If it was me adapting it, I’d change around the chronology of a few things to reduce the number of coincidences: before the book starts, Mina Murray and Jonathon Harker are already engaged, and Lucy Westenra is already being courted by the three friends, Arthur Holmwood, Dr. John Seward and Quincey Morris. As it stands in the book, none of Lucy’s suitors meet Mina or Jonathon until after the undead Lucy has been dispatched. But there’s no reason they had to meet so late. If Mina and her fiance already knew Lucy’s suitors, then Jonathon could have learned about Carfax by visiting Dr. Seward at his lunatic asylum. Contrariwise, if we’re to believe that Renfield was the narrator of “Dracula’s Guest,” then he should have told the Count via their telepathic connection about the abandoned house, and Dracula should have suggested it specifically to his agents as the house he wanted to buy. Though that would still make Lucy’s connection to the asylum quite the coincidence without Renfield also having told Dracula about that as well, though the Count would have no reason to attack the woman who rejected the director of the asylum. And attacking anyone who was even remotely connected to the agents who came to Transylvania would be absurd if the Count had any idea his intended victim had escaped from the castle…and would render the falsely dated letters about Jonathon’s homeward voyage pointless if he already intended to destroy anyone who was awaiting Harker’s return home.
Beyond all the convoluted coincidences, however, the main things that strike me are the misogynistic sentiments placed in the journals and letters of Lucy and Mina, and the absence of the Count and his motivation. To address the first part, It’s really mystifying to me why anyone would do that. Was that just the misogyny of the era so deeply ingrained that Stoker didn’t even realize the absurdity of having two young ladies sitting there disparaging their own sex, or did he actually think that way about women consciously? There’s no way to get an answer, of course, but I guess the former is more likely.
As to Dracula himself, I couldn’t help noticing that we spend very little time with him after leaving Transylvania, and even during the sequence in Castle Dracula, he’s more an idea than a character. Worst of all, of course, is the complete mystery about why he’s doing what he’s doing. I mean, Van Helsing makes all these pronouncements about it, mostly boiling down to “there’s more prey in London,” but is that really what he’s after, just a more populated hunting ground? That, too, of course, is one of the reasons for the reincarnation BS in some movie adaptations, because it gives Dracula a motivation, but the problem there is that it’s carrying it too far from the “animal instinct for food” to give him this warm, positive motivation.
I’m sure there’s been a lot of modern fiction exploring Dracula’s motivations — at least some assuming that Van Helsing was wrong and that Dracula wasn’t a monster — but I wonder how much of it actually fits the details in the original novel.
I feel like I had more to say than this. But at this point it’s fifteen minutes to tomorrow, so…yeah, guess I’ll stop here.
I also wanted to post about Kickstarter United and how important it is to support them, but I’ll have to do a separate post about that tomorrow.