Lucinda Elliot

Dracula – The Classic Vampire Story – Part II

Stoker wished his friend the actor Henry Irving to portray Count Dracula on stage; his dignified, oddly charismatic presence is said to have inspired that of the Count. Sadly, Irving never did play Count Dracula…

Readers of Dracula know that the Count wished to relocate from the Capathian’s to London, presumably to increase his calorific intake, and also to spread the vampire population.

I can’t help imagining, if this happened today, his appearing on one of those property programmes.

A bright and breezy presenter speaks about His Lordship’s hopes regarding his relocation –
‘Our first guest is one Count Dracula, who finds his medieval castle in the Capathian’s rather out of the way. Also, he is unable to hire any help with the housework. He searches for a secluded, rambling property on the outskirts of London and I think I have just the place that will interest him, with a particularly accommodating basement… Wait, there seems to be a technical hitch…’

The Count, of course, is invisible to the camera…

Sorry about that, I couldn’t resist that idea!

As mentioned in my previous post, Bram Stoker took inspiration from other writers in his classic vampire novel. Apart from John Polidori’s ‘The Vampyre’ of 1619 (to some extent this character is based on Lord Byron) and the mid Victorian massive epic which appeared in ‘Penny Dreafuls’ ‘Varney the Vampyre, or the Feast of Blood’ there was Sheridan Le Fanu’s wonderful tale of the lovely ‘Carmilla’ of 1858 (it is unclear whether the author consciously depicted her as having lesbian preferences).

Stoker’s depiction of Jonathon Harker’s introduction to the Castle Dracula is so evocative that I can’t resist putting it in;-

‘I must have been asleep, for certainly if I had been fully awake I must have noticed the approach to such a remarkable place. In the gloom, the courtyard looked of considerable size, and as several dark ways led from it under great round arches it perhaps seemed bigger than it really is. I have not yet been able to see it by daylight (nor will he! LE)…

‘I stood close to a great door, old and studded with large iron nails, and set in a projecting doorway of massive stone. …

‘Then there was the sound of rattling chains, and the clinking of massive bolts drawn back. A key was turned with the loud grating noise of long disuse, and the great door swung back.

‘ Within stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere. He held in his hand an antique silver lamp, and, in which the flame burned without chimney or globe of any kind, throwing long, quivering shadows as it flickered in the draught of the open door…’

Countless film adaptions have, of course, tried to capture this ambiance of this unrivalled piece of Gothic, some failing to the pont of descending into farce, some conveying the atmosphere of impending, barbaric menace excellently. But here the original has to my mind never been surpassed, and you can imagine how it struck the late Victorian reading public when it first came out.

Stoker’s sources were, of course, the legends of Eastern Europe, which he studied for several years before embarking on his story. Of particular use to him was Emily Gerard’s work ‘Superstitions of Transylvania’ and the accounts of the Hungarian traveller Armin Vambéry of the legends of the Carpathian Mountains.

He was also fascinated by the accounts of Vlad II of Wallchia, who took the name ‘Dracul’ and the savagery of whose descendant, Vlad III, also inspired Stoker’s story.

Dracula’s gentlemanly, striking presence which gradually increases in dreadful vitality (he gets younger as he begins to refresh himself liberally with more blood) was inspired by Bram Stoker’s friend the actor Henry Irving.

(This is by the way, but I was struck when seeing this picture of Irving by how his face is similar to how I had imagined for my own Man Vampire character, Émile Dubois, with a Victorian rather than a late Georgian ‘carefully disarranged’ hairstyle, of course, and minus the freckles.)

The Count ( whom Stoker had originally attended to call ‘Count Wampyre’, while the novel was to be titled ‘The Undead’ until the author became fascinated by the legend of the Dracula family) – is the personification of aloof dignity, even as he threatens the imprisoned Jonathon Harker; –

‘”I pray you, my good young friend, that you will not discourse of things other than business in your letters. It will doubtless please your friends to know that you are well…”

As he spoke, he handed me three sheets of notepaper and three envelopes. Looking at them, then at him, and noticing his quiet smile, with the sharp canine teeth lying over the red under-lip, I understood as well as if he had spoken that I should be careful what I wrote, for he would be able to read it….’

The build up of meance, in both this opening section and throughout the novel, is brilliantly done. However, there are lapses in control, and some unintentional comic relief is created when the Count’s unwilling guest comes upon him at a menial task: –

‘I went cautiously to my own room and found him making the bed. This was odd, but only confirmed what I had all along thought – that there were no servants in the house. When later I saw him through the chink in the hinges of the door laying the table in the dining room, I was assured of it; for if he does himself all these menial offices , surely it is proof that there is no one else to do it…’

There is something so incongruous about the picture that this summons up, that at this point on first reading it, I let out a yell of laughter.

Generally, though, the author’s control over his material is brilliant, melodrama notwithstanding. This is partly achieved, as mentioned previously, by the author (who was after all an ex journalist) using forms of communication usually depicting the prosaic (a ships log, for instance) to portray the development of this Gothic adventure.

3 Responses

  1. I can see how the menial tasks can be odd, but I think they were intended to be sinister. Normally, Dracula wouldn’t bother with setting the table, or making beds… he’s a vampire; he doesn’t care. However, he’s got a human being to “fool” so he goes about doing these menial tasks to present the illusion that he has servants perhaps. But I agree, it is ironic that he has to do it himself out of necessity… as there are no servants in the castle.

    1. Hello, atoasttodragons…

      You would think he would have found someone foolish enough to work for him – smothered in garlic, and weighed down with crosses, lol.

      I’ve often burst into incongruous laughter at various points when reading dark literature; just the first sentence of Kafka’s ‘Metamorphosis’ made me collapse, and the protagonist’s harping on the theme of the wallpaper in ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ made me explode into laughter on the Picadilly line tube in rush hour (not done).

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