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06

Dec

2017

Let the Companion to Dracula In

Written by: Roger Luckhurst

 
Dracula

courtesy of Tee Cee | Flickr

Let the Companion to Dracula In

In this blog post Roger Luckhurst, editor of The Cambridge Companion to 'Dracula', explores the various adaptations and critical reception of Bram Stoker's famous Gothic novel 'Dracula'

 

We continue to discover the extraordinary extent of the influence of Bram Stoker’s racy pulp fiction, Dracula. When it was first published in 1897, it was largely dismissed as a nasty shilling shocker, another tawdry addition to what the Church Quarterly Review, complaining about the blood and guts in Rider Haggard stories, called ‘the Cult of the Horrible’.

The standard story goes that Dracula was eclipsed on publication by Richard Marsh’s novel The Beetle, the story of a Mesmeric man-woman-beast-Thing that causes all sorts of ructions in the imperial metropolis before its destruction in a train wreck. Stoker’s boss where he worked at the Lyceum Theatre in London, the famous actor Sir Henry Irving, refused to stage Dracula after an interminable read through of a lifeless script. The book was barely mentioned in Stoker’s obituary in 1912, which predicted that the author would be remembered solely for his memoir of Henry Irving.

It was silent film that saw the potential of the vampire, even though Florence Stoker did her best to stamp out Friedrich Murnau’s German expressionist masterpiece, Nosferatu (1919), pursuing this damnable breach of copyright by hoping to chase down every last print in Europe, like some dogged Van Helsing. The Universal Studios Dracula (1931) – that one with the limping pace and odd presence of Bela Lugosi’s migrant menace, finally secured its success in another medium.

The global imagination turned to Stoker’s vampire much earlier than we thought. That evil mist crept ashore in more places than just Whitby on a dark and stormy night.

Now, though, we have discovered that Stoker’s Dracula started its steady seep into the global imagination much earlier than that. In 1901, it turns out that in Iceland the translator Valdimar Asmundsson did slightly more rewriting of Stoker’s original than was thought, effectively producing a new work, The Powers of Darkness. This version completely changing the narrative form and structure and stuffed the book with references to Norse myth. This was re-translated to English again in 2017 – the same year that saw the first English translation of the very free Turkish version of Dracula by Ali Riza Seyfioglu, The Impaling Voivode. This version, re-situating the whole politics of the battle between East and West in Dracula, first appeared in 1928 and has now been released as Dracula in Istanbul.

The global imagination turned to Stoker’s vampire much earlier than we thought. That evil mist crept ashore in more places than just Whitby on a dark and stormy night.

As editor of the new Cambridge Companion to Dracula, I’ve also become aware of the generations of criticism of the book. This has come a long way in a short time. As recently as 1979, David Punter suggested in The Literature of Terror that this minor work of the 1890s was perhaps worth seeking out and reading – a plea from the era when a literary education was focused on carefully discriminating Literature from its ghastly others.

Count Dracula is exactly this: a crossroads that points both West and East, one path leading to Europe, the other to the Ottoman Empire.

In just under forty years, a whole library of criticism on Stoker’s update of the vampire-libertine has been written. It is such an over-heated, over-determined story that the sixteen essays of the Cambridge Companion still do not exhaust it, but we’ve tried to map out some of the central Gothic traditions and the psycho-social, scientific, and geo-political contexts of 1897 the book evokes. We also wanted to take in new avenues – Dracula for a transnational era, Dracula in the new object-oriented horror theory, Dracula queered, Dracula from pulp fiction to big screen to online streaming television.

Traditionally, the damned were always supposed to be buried at crossroads, so that their disturbed spirits would lose their way when they rose from the grave. Count Dracula is exactly this: a crossroads that points both West and East, one path leading to Europe, the other to the Ottoman Empire. Dracula is the border, straddling the living and the dead, the ancient and the modern, the human and the animal, the rational and occult, the normal and the pathological, the patriarchal master and the polymorphous pervert. Such a complex and entangled figure requires a diverse group of experts to travel the paths of his impossible body and across the bewildering routes of Stoker’s feverish fin-de-siècle text. I invite you in: step across the threshold to join the world of vampire scholarship. What’s the worst that could happen?

We continue to discover the extraordinary extent of the influence of Bram Stoker’s racy pulp fiction, Dracula. When it was first published in 1897, it was largely dismissed as a nasty shilling shocker, another tawdry addition to what the Church Quarterly Review, complaining about the blood and guts in Rider Haggard stories, called ‘the Cult of the Horrible’.

The standard story goes that Dracula was eclipsed on publication by Richard Marsh’s novel The Beetle, the story of a Mesmeric man-woman-beast-Thing that causes all sorts of ructions in the imperial metropolis before its destruction in a train wreck. Stoker’s boss where he worked at the Lyceum Theatre in London, the famous actor Sir Henry Irving, refused to stage Dracula after an interminable read through of a lifeless script. The book was barely mentioned in Stoker’s obituary in 1912, which predicted that the author would be remembered solely for his memoir of Henry Irving.

It was silent film that saw the potential of the vampire, even though Florence Stoker did her best to stamp out Friedrich Murnau’s German expressionist masterpiece, Nosferatu (1919), pursuing this damnable breach of copyright by hoping to chase down every last print in Europe, like some dogged Van Helsing. The Universal Studios Dracula (1931) – that one with the limping pace and odd presence of Bela Lugosi’s migrant menace, finally secured its success in another medium.

Now, though, we have discovered that Stoker’s Dracula started its steady seep into the global imagination much earlier than that. In 1901, it turns out that in Iceland the translator Valdimar Asmundsson did slightly more rewriting of Stoker’s original than was thought, effectively producing a new work, The Powers of Darkness. This version completely changing the narrative form and structure and stuffed the book with references to Norse myth. This was re-translated to English again in 2017 – the same year that saw the first English translation of the very free Turkish version of Dracula by Ali Riza Seyfioglu, The Impaling Voivode. This version, re-situating the whole politics of the battle between East and West in Dracula, first appeared in 1928 and has now been released as Dracula in Istanbul.

The global imagination turned to Stoker’s vampire much earlier than we thought. That evil mist crept ashore in more places than just Whitby on a dark and stormy night.

As editor of the new Cambridge Companion to Dracula, I’ve also become aware of the generations of criticism of the book. This has come a long way in a short time. As recently as 1979, David Punter suggested in The Literature of Terror that this minor work of the 1890s was perhaps worth seeking out and reading – a plea from the era when a literary education was focused on carefully discriminating Literature from its ghastly others.

In just under forty years, a whole library of criticism on Stoker’s update of the vampire-libertine has been written. It is such an over-heated, over-determined story that the sixteen essays of the Cambridge Companion still do not exhaust it, but we’ve tried to map out some of the central Gothic traditions and the psycho-social, scientific, and geo-political contexts of 1897 the book evokes. We also wanted to take in new avenues – Dracula for a transnational era, Dracula in the new object-oriented horror theory, Dracula queered, Dracula from pulp fiction to big screen to online streaming television.

Traditionally, the damned were always supposed to be buried at crossroads, so that their disturbed spirits would lose their way when they rose from the grave. Count Dracula is exactly this: a crossroads that points both West and East, one path leading to Europe, the other to the Ottoman Empire. Dracula is the border, straddling the living and the dead, the ancient and the modern, the human and the animal, the rational and occult, the normal and the pathological, the patriarchal master and the polymorphous pervert. Such a complex and entangled figure requires a diverse group of experts to travel the paths of his impossible body and across the bewildering routes of Stoker’s feverish fin-de-siècle text. I invite you in: step across the threshold to join the world of vampire scholarship. What’s the worst that could happen?

 


 

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About the Author: Roger Luckhurst

Roger Luckhurst is Professor in Modern and Contemporary Literature at Birkbeck College, University of London. His previous publications include The Mummy's Curse: The True Story of a Dark Fantasy (2012) and critical studies of the films The Shining (2013) and Alien (2014). He has also co-editied books including The Fin de Siècle: A Reader in Cultu...

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