Category Archives: Dracula

Vampirism in Outlander

Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series has taken the world by storm. Since the first book’s publication in 1991, the series has grown into eight novels, a spin-off series, and a television series on Starz. However, it was because Outlander placed second, after To Kill a Mockingbird, in the PBS Great American Read that really made me want to know what all the fuss is about. And so I read the first book, and my comments here are based primarily on that book and not the sequels or the TV show.

A recent edition of Outlander featuring the actors playing Jamie and Claire in the TV series

But given my title above, readers interested in the Gothic will want to know if there are vampires in Outlander? No. In fact, it’s not Gothic at all, but what interested me most were its vampiric scenes. But first, a short summary for those who haven’t read the books. Warning: There will be some spoilers here.

The novel starts in 1945. Claire Randall, a former combat nurse in World War II is on her second honeymoon with her husband Frank Randall in Scotland. When they visit an ancient stone circle, she suddenly finds herself back in Scotland in 1743 where she is a Sassenach (Scottish for Outlander, or more appropriately someone not from Scotland). I won’t go into all the details beyond the fact that she meets up with two men of significance for this discussion. The first is the handsome young James “Jamie” Fraser, a big, strong hunk of a man a few years younger than her, who is an outlaw and wanted by the British. And then there’s the villain, Captain Jonathan Randall, a British soldier out to get Jamie. Claire instantly dislikes Captain Randall, but she also knows from time doing genealogy that he is her husband’s ancestor.

A lot happens in the book—and there a lot of pages—850 in my copy. A good editor could have cut it down to 500. It’s way too long and goes on and on often without seeming to know exactly where it’s going. But in the end, Claire has to choose between her love for Jamie—she ends up being forced into marriage to him for her own protection—or trying to return to the ancient stone circle to be transported back to her own time and her husband Frank. She ultimately decides to stay with Jamie, but that choice has its dangers, not least of which is that he’s a hunted man.

Toward the end of the novel, Captain Randall captures Claire and threatens to rape her. Jamie, who has already been beaten, offers himself in her place. Claire is then freed, while Jamie is kept in prison. Out of spite, Claire then reveals to Randall his future—the date of his death—which she knows from her husband’s genealogy.

Jamie, in prison, agrees to let Randall have his way with him if he will let Claire go free.

Claire now works to free Jamie, but not before Captain Randall has his way with Jamie—Randall is a homosexual and Jamie is a very attractive young man. Here is where the vampirism comes in. After Jamie is freed, he reveals to Claire what happened between him and Randall. And it happened because Jamie allowed it to in exchange for Claire’s freedom. Randall took a knife and drew it across Jamie’s chest, causing him to bleed. Then he dipped his finger in Jamie’s blood and licked it off his finger. Then he applied his mouth to Jamie’s chest and sucked his blood. Jamie says it didn’t hurt but felt “verra queer.”

This scene of sucking blood from a man’s breast comes right out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) where Dracula forces Mina to suck blood from his chest. It should be noted that Stoker’s novel is full of homosexual overtones, but he never allows his vampires to prey on men directly. The opposite is true in Outlander. Randall willingly engages in homosexual activity. And it gets worse. He then spreads Jamie’s blood on his penis and has Jamie suck it off. Gabaldon is vague in her description of this since Jamie would feel uncomfortable being explicit about what happens, but regardless, Jamie definitely performs fellatio on Randall. (Interestingly, in the TV series, while Randall is shown stroking Jamie’s penis and probably sucking it (he bends down below the camera’s angle) and later buggering Jamie, we never see Jamie engaging in pleasuring Randall. Too intense for television, I guess.)

Later, Randall tells Jamie he loves him and tries to force Jamie into saying he loves him as well, which Jamie refuses to do. Randall then falls into a distrait psychological state where he tells Jamie he knows he loves him, but in the process, he begins calling Jamie “Alex.” Claire is shocked as she hears this because the only Alex she knows of is Randall’s brother, Alexander.

Gabaldon’s villain acts like a vampire, and the implications here are that he is not only homosexual but has also committed incest. While Outlander is far from a Gothic novel—it’s a romance novel with some historical fiction trappings—Gabaldon is using Gothic themes here since incest often occurs in Gothic novels or at least is threatened, usually by a villain who doesn’t realize he’s about to rape his own daughter, as in Ann Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest (1791).

Personally, I find Gabaldon’s use of Gothic themes here to be repulsive, primarily because I feel the novel is homophobic since it casts a gay character in the role of villain. I honestly was not very interested in Claire or Jamie, but I find I feel sorry for Captain Randall, who is obviously a tormented soul. Does he perform vile acts? Yes. He does it not because he’s gay but because he’s violent and enjoys using his position to gain power over Jamie. But Randall is also clearly tormented about his homosexuality and the romantic feelings he cannot have returned. Captain Randall is a true Gothic wanderer. In fact, his nickname is Black Jack, which Jamie says refers to the blackness of his soul.

I am tempted to say Gabaldon is homophobic in her portrayal of Captain Randall. Why must the gay man be the villain? And there is another gay man in the novel, the Duke of Sandringham, who also preys on innocent young boys and even tried to have his way with Jamie when he was a younger man. Of course, Jamie is an attractive man, so all the gay men are going to want him, but why must gay men be treated like villains who use their positions to rape other men? I have seen similar situations depicted in other novels by female authors, and I really don’t understand it. It makes one think women hate gay men because they steal other men from them, or some such illogical belief. In real life, I believe, though I could be wrong, that it is rare that a gay man is a bully to a heterosexual man. Typically, it is the other way around.

Jamie and Randall lying beside each other after the buggering.

That said, Gabaldon’s spin off series is about Lord John, who appears in the second novel in the series, and then gets his own series, and Lord John is a gay man, so perhaps she is trying to redeem herself for her depiction of Captain Randall by depicting gay men positively in her later books.

The other interesting thing is that Randall ends up being trampled to death at the end of the first book, which is not conducive to what Claire knows of his history, including that he married and had children. If he died, then her husband Frank never would have lived, and yet Claire realizes that after Randall dies, the ring she wears that Frank gave her has not disappeared, so Frank must still exist in the future. (Spoiler alert: Randall turns out not to be dead, but the reader doesn’t know this until Book 2: Dragonfly in Amber.)

One other interesting fact is that Frank and Captain Randall resemble each other so much that when Claire first meets Captain Randall, she thinks for a moment he is her husband. Her hatred for Randall suggests she may have negative feelings about Frank himself that she has yet to resolve.

In any case, whether consciously or not, Gabaldon hearkens back to Dracula in her novel and equates homosexuality with vampirism, thus equating homosexuality with evil. In the end, Captain Randall is a tormented Gothic wanderer trapped in a novel where the author refuses to have any sympathy for him, simply because he is gay and his need to express his sexuality could exist in no other way than violence because his society would not have approved of it. In fact, if he is violent, it is because he can only express his sexuality in relation to men he has power over, for if he tried to show affection for a man who was his equal or superior, he would be exposed, and probably punished or beaten, and even killed.

Note: Since first drafting this article I have read the second book and I have watched two seasons of the TV show. But that does not change what the first book says, even though Gabaldon did try to redeem herself in her treatment of gay characters in future novels. Because the reader finishes the first book believing Randall is dead, a bad taste remains in the mouth that in Gabaldon’s world being gay has to result in a death sentence for a character, and I am left thinking, “Rest in peace, Jack Randall.”

But wait, Randall isn’t dead. It is as if he resurrects—yet another sign he might be a vampire.

___________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

The Woman in White’s Influence on Dracula

Similarities between Wilkie Collins’ 1860 novel The Woman in White and Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula have long been noted by critics and readers. Recently, I reread The Woman in White with fellow members of the Trollope and His Contemporaries group online that I have long belonged to. During this read, several similarities between the two novels stood out to me and some of the other members, particularly Ellen Moody, which I will discuss here. Personally, I believe Stoker was influenced in numerous ways by The Woman in White, many of which he may not have realized himself.

An 1880 portrait of Wilkie Collins by Rudolph Lehmann

The biggest and most often noted similarity between the two novels is their structure. The Woman in White is written as a compilation of various documents and eyewitness testimonies by various people involved in the strange events depicted in the novel. Stoker adopted this same technique for Dracula. While previous novels had claimed to be collections of documents—for example, Samuel Richardson’s novels and all the epistolary fiction that followed—Collins was the first to have multiple characters compile documents for the purpose of sharing them with the public and documenting events to provide evidence of what happened. By comparison, Richardson’s characters’ letters are simply “discovered” by the author who claims to be their editor. Stoker goes a step farther than Collins in Dracula by even employing new technology, such as phonographs, to compile the record, but the results are the same—numerous pieces by different eyewitnesses that are put together to create a complete narrative.

Several similarities also exist between Collins and Stoker’s characters beginning with the villains. Our primary villain in both novels is a count and a foreigner. Count Dracula is from Transylvania while Count Fosco is from Italy. Several scholars have written about how Dracula may be a commentary on the concern of Eastern European immigrants coming into England and the need to hold back that threat. (For more details on this theory, see my book The Gothic Wanderer.) Such prejudice or racism directed at foreigners is also apparent in The Woman in White when Laura Fairlie’s aunt marries Count Fosco, thus resulting in her being disinherited and only able to collect her inheritance should her niece Laura die. Of course, Count Fosco is not a desirable husband, but that the foreigner is made into a villain still suggests a note of racism in the text. Another foreigner in The Woman in White is Mr. Fairlie’s servant Louie, whom Mr. Gilmore describes as “miserable”; Louie, far from being a villain, is subservient and mistreated by Mr. Fairlie, but disliked regardless.

The primary female character in Dracula is Mina Harker. In The Woman in White, it is Marian Halcombe. Notably, the women have the same initials. Marian is similar to Mina in several ways I will discuss below, but as Ellen Moody noted, Marian also takes on the role of Mina’s husband, Jonathan Harker, when she is seen crawling on the rooftops so that she can overhear conversations in other rooms to learn her enemies’ secrets. Similarly, Jonathan Harker makes explorations of Dracula’s castle, including going out on the ramparts to try to find a means of escape.

Hints of homosexuality and fear of it also exist in both novels. In The Woman in White, Mr. Fairlie is a weak and effeminate male who is constantly whining and acting like a hypochondriac. Notably, he is also much impressed by Walter Hartright, complimenting him on how strong he is when he first arrives at Limmeridge House, suggesting a sexual attraction or at least an admiration for men who are stronger and, thus, manlier, than he is. By comparison Marian is very mannish and dresses in mannish ways.

Bram Stoker may have had homosexual feelings himself. He liked to play with gender themes in many of his novels, including The Lair of the White Worm and The Man.

While there is no overt homosexuality in either novel, there is a definite fear of it in the novels’ subtexts. Most notably, in Dracula, the men all fear the count as the alpha male figure who has the power to defeat and, thus, emasculate them, including by taking their women from them. Dracula succeeds in taking Lucy from the men who love her, and then he attempts to do the same with Mina. The most horrifying moment in the novel is when the men discover the count with Mina. Dracula has broken into Mina and Jonathan’s bedroom and apparently overpowered Jonathan, who lies there unconscious while Dracula forces Mina to drink blood from his breast. While Dracula does not drain Jonathan, that he takes Jonathan’s woman is sufficient to show he has unmanned Jonathan. This fear of a more powerful male draining another male of their manhood is a subtext for homosexuality and specifically fellatio.

A similar, though less explicit, event happens in The Woman in White after Walter Hartright falls in love with Laura Fairlie. However, Laura is engaged to Sir Percival, who also is depicted in alpha male terms. Walter leaves Limmeridge House just before Sir Percival arrives. He apparently feels unmanned that the woman he loves could prefer Sir Percival. Consequently, the next time we hear of Walter, he is described by Mr. Gilmore as having been seen walking about London looking “pale and haggard.” In other words, by taking his woman, Sir Percival has drained the manhood out of Walter Hartright.

Stoker takes this image of Walter walking about London and reverses it in Dracula. When Jonathan Harker first sees Dracula at his castle, the count is pale. Later, Jonathan sees him walking about in London and notes how he has grown young, which he has done by drinking blood. Jonathan is also weak and pale by the time he leaves Dracula’s castle, having undergone a great shock. The female vampires wish to feed on him, but Dracula tells them “This man belongs to me.” Stoker gives no indication that Dracula has sucked Jonathan’s blood, but perhaps we are to read between the lines. Again, the sense is that one man can drain the life and manhood from another. Later, Dracula warns all the men, “Your girls that you all love are mine already. And through them you and others shall yet be mine, my creatures, to do my bidding and to be my jackals when I want to feed.” In other words, if Dracula comes to control the men, they will be his inferiors and thus be unmanned. They will become beta males whose job is to assist the alpha male in fulfilling his needs—both food-wise and sexually.

I will not go so far as to say there is lesbianism in Dracula between Mina and Lucy, although some critics have speculated upon this and Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula shows the two women kissing. However, hints at lesbianism definitely exist in The Woman in White. Marian, as previously stated, is very mannish in her behavior and how she dresses. She is also very protective of Laura, like a man would protect a woman—this is understandable given that they are sisters, yet the subtext is still there. It’s also noticeable that in the end, Marian does not marry. Collins could have easily married her off to one of the lawyers or doctors who are minor characters in the novel if he wanted to end the novel with neatly tied up marriage knots. Instead, that Walter ends up living with two women, Marian and Laura, may be reflective of the fact that Collins himself had two simultaneous mistresses, although they never all lived together. It also suggests that Marian wants to remain close to Laura and also that perhaps she feels some attraction to Walter. Certainly, Marian is more Walter’s equal than Laura. That Marian is mannish suggests a male homosexual bond between Marian and Walter while also suggesting a lesbian connection between Marian and Laura.

If Marian is a pseudo-man, it is telling that she admits at one point she would also fold Count Fosco’s cigarettes for him like his wife does—a sign not that she is attracted to him so much as that she would be submissive to him, just as men fear being submissive to a more alpha male.

Connections to Dracula also exist in Marian and Count Fosco’s relationship. Although the count has no supernatural powers, he insinuates himself into Marian’s mind so much that she states she can recall his conversation and hear it in her head later as if he’s in the room. Similarly, Dracula and Mina are able to communicate telepathically. Later when Marian is sick, Dr. Dawson accuses Count Fosco of using mesmerism on her.

Dracula, of course, does have supernatural powers, including the power of mesmerism through his hypnotic eyes. Dracula also has power over other, weaker animals, including rats and wolves. Fosco has power over, or at least an affinity for, his mice and birds, and he is even capable of taming a great violent dog by telling it that it is a coward.

Secret societies also come into play in both novels. Toward the end of The Woman in White, it is revealed that Count Fosco has belonged to a secret society, The Brotherhood, and he has a mark upon him showing that he has been denounced by them—a mark reminiscent of the Mark of Cain that made the biblical Cain an outcast. While Dracula is not a member of a secret society, per se, the vampires are a sort of secret society in themselves. Similarly, the men are part of a “band” in their efforts to defeat Dracula. While it remains questionable whether Stoker was inspired by Vlad Tepes in creating Dracula, we know Vlad belonged to the Order of the Dragon, from which the name Dracula is derived. Vampires are also outcasts, unable to receive heaven’s salvation. At one point, Jonathan strikes Dracula on the forehead, resulting in a mark remaining there, again recalling the mark of Cain. Later, Van Helsing presses a Eucharistic host to Mina’s forehead and it also leaves a mark there, showing she is an outcast now that she has become Dracula’s minion.

The latest film of The Woman in White, which aired on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre in 2018.

It’s notable also, although Collins only drops the name, that we learn Fosco has belonged to several secret societies, including the Rosicrucians. The Rosicrucians claimed to have two major secrets: the elixir of life, which provided them with life extension and also the philosopher’s stone which gave them the alchemist skill of turning lead into gold. Fosco does not claim to have either of these secrets, but he does have chemical (if not alchemical) knowledge that allows him to administer drugs to Marian. As a side note, numerous critics have commented upon how Laura ending up in an insane asylum may have been based on Edward Bulwer-Lytton locking up his own wife in such an institution. Notably, Edward Bulwer-Lytton belonged to a Rosicrucian society himself, and the title character of his novel Zanoni (1842) is a Rosicrucian.

Finally, early in The Woman in White, Walter meets “the woman in white”—Anne Catherick. Dracula also has its woman in white—Lucy, who as a vampiress preys upon many children before she is put to rest.

I don’t think Stoker plagiarized from The Woman in White, but I think too many similarities exist between the novels not to believe he was heavily influenced by Collins’ novel. I am sure Stoker was aware of how he adopted from Collins’ novel a similar narrative structure for Dracula, but I think the way he took Collins’ themes and characters and developed them on a more supernatural level must have been done largely subconsciously. Clearly, The Woman in White had a profound influence upon Stoker beyond his own awareness.

___________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City, and numerous other books. For more information about Tyler and his books, visit him at www.ChildrenofArthur.com, www.GothicWanderer.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

3 Comments

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula

Dracula’s Origins: A Review and Summary of Barbara Belford’s Bram Stoker and the Man Who Was Dracula

Barbara Belford’s Bram Stoker and the Man Who Was Dracula (1996) is a biography of Stoker’s entire life, with some commentary on the history of Dracula’s influence after Stoker’s death and what happened to some of Stoker’s family and those close to him. More specifically, it gives a close look at Stoker’s relationship with Henry Irving, the famous actor whom Stoker worked for. The book’s premise is that Henry Irving was the inspiration for Dracula. Irving is depicted as a controlling man. Belford suggests Stoker was at his beck and call, and apparently enjoyed Irving’s power over him. This implies homeroticism in their relationship.

I do not doubt Irving was very demanding, but Belford’s argument feels weak or exaggerated to me. She has all the biographical facts here of Stoker and Irving’s lives, and I do not doubt Stoker idolized Irving, but she goes overboard in talking about how Bram Stoker considered Irving his master, much as Renfield calls Dracula master. She states that “The fascination and horror of Dracula, for males, was as a humiliator of men,” (9) focusing upon how Dracula is able to seduce all the women in the novel, taking them from the men, and especially how he is able to force Mina into drinking blood from his breast (symbolic of fellatio) while Harker lies there unconscious. I completely agree with this statement, but to suggest that Irving also was a humiliator of men and Stoker enjoyed this feels a bit of a stretch. I am not saying it isn’t very possible, but Belford is reading between the lines of their relationship without a lot of hard evidence. She makes other statements such as that Stoker, “even more than wanting to be admired, liked admiring” (28), and “Being anywhere with Irving was contentment for Stoker, who felt complete in his company, safe and protected” (121). I do not doubt Stoker admired Irving or he would not have gone to work for him, but that he worshipped Irving seems a stretch to me, and how can we know he felt safe and protected by him? Maybe he did in some financial sense since Irving gave him employment, but Stoker was a tall and strong man, who did not physically need Irving’s protection. Other such broad and sweeping statements include “As he approached middle age, Stoker’s infatuation with men of power continued, doubtless aided by his growing insecurity over Iriving’s affection” (189).

I am sure Stoker had affection for Irving as one would for a close friend, and there may well have been homerotic feelings between them, at least on Stoker’s end—but Belford’s statements seem overreaching and she does not always provide evidence to back up her claims. Of course, in Victorian England, neither Stoker nor Irving would have committed to paper any overt love felt for the other. This is made even more clear in the context of Dracula, in the sense that Stoker himself later advocated for censorship of overtly sexual and pornographic novels, yet Belford notes that Dracula is full of sexual imagery and overtones. That no one tried to censor the novel reflects that no Victorian was willing to admit they understood its overtones.

Henry Irving in the role of Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. A Jewish character who would influence treatment of the Wandering Jew figure in literature and later characters like Svengali in Du Maurier’s Trilby, which in turn would influence Dracula.

Belford’s biography has many strong points beyond her questionable interpretation of Stoker and Irving’s relationship. It is an informative look into the Victorian theater, especially of Irving’s numerous and varied roles, many of which may have influenced Stoker’s creation of Dracula—performances such as Faust, for example. Other interesting plays are The Three Bells, a translation of The Polish Jew, about a mayor who kills a Jew and feels guilt over it. Eventually, a mesmerist causes him to confess his guilt. This play is a perfect example of the Victorian fascination with crime and guilt and Gothic wanderer figures. Belford also mentions many mesmerism novels of the Victorian period, including George Du Maurier’s Trilby, which sold more than 200,000 copies and was the first novel to really succeed by publicity efforts.

Of greatest interest to me were the many possible sources of inspiration for Dracula that Belford outlines. She notes that the heroine Trilby also has three rescuers/suitors like Lucy in Dracula, and that Trilby succumbs to the villain Svengali’s power through mesmerism much as the women succumb to Dracula’s hypnotic power. Both are also anti-Jewish novels since Svengali is a Jew and Dracula is often seen as a symbol of the Jewish or at least Eastern European immigrants into England. Belford notes that Shaw’s Pygmalion, which later became the musical My Fair Lady, may also have been inspired by Trilby. Belford goes a bit far, though, in suggesting that Irving himself was able to use hypnotic powers on his audiences and that Stoker was subject to this power, which made him subject to Irving. However, here Belford gives a source, saying that Gordon Craig actually believed this. Craig was the son of Ellen Terry, who was Irving’s leading lady (74). It is possible Irving studied and tried to use hypnotism on audiences to keep them mesmerized by his performance, but whether he deliberately used it on Stoker we can’t know.

The great threat of Dracula to other men, and the idea that he controls them, supposedly influenced by Irving and Stoker’s relationship, is definitely a powerful theme in Dracula, particularly when Dracula warns the female vampires “This man belongs to me.” Belford notes that this line is a constant throughout Stoker’s notes and various revisions of Dracula—and there were many. (Stoker typically wrote a book a year; The Lair of the White Worm he wrote in three months, and it shows. He was typically a wordy, second-rate writer, but to Dracula, he devoted seven years and it went through many revisions, a dedication that made it far superior to his other works.) However, Dracula does not sexually desire Harker like he does Mina and Lucy. Rather, he wants to keep Harker alive so he can accomplish his goal of invading England where he can find fresh blood. Dracula is not interested in Harker for sexual reasons or to dominate him in a sexual way but simply as a tool to get him to England.

A painting of Irving performing the role of Mephistopheles in Faust, a play about a man selling his soul to the devil, a theme that would influence the Gothic and reflects the very close fatal deal Mina finds herself in with Dracula.

Other sources for Dracula include Macbeth, which Irving often performed. Dr. Seward of Dracula may be based in Lord Siward, Earl of Northumberland, from the play. Belford notes that Macbeth and Dracula both end up trapped in their castles. (Dracula actually is trapped in his coffin just before reaching his castle.) And both contain the cathartic ancient Celtic ritual of severing a head to release evil. (Dracula doesn’t lose his head but Lucy does.) Tarot cards also had an influence—Van Helsing is equal to the Magician card, and the 1901 Constable edition had a tarot-inspired drawing on the cover that shows readers saw a tarot influence on the novel. Interestingly, there was also a Joseph Harker who worked for Irving’s company—he is the only person Stoker knew whose name got borrowed for the novel in the character of Jonathan Harker.

Stoker’s first encounter with the name Dracula happened as a result of visiting the Whitby library (where Dracula comes ashore and where Mina is visiting Lucy). At the library, he read William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia.

Once Dracula was published, Stoker wanted to create a play version for Irving to star in, but Belford says Irving likely never read the novel nor expressed interest in a play version. What Irving actually said or didn’t say about the novel we don’t know, but Belford sees this as further reason to show Irving degraded Stoker, perhaps thinking he could not act in a play by someone who was his inferior as Bram, as his manager, apparently was.

I have sought elsewhere for sources for the name of the character Mina, which is a strange name not common in England. I have found the name in Paul Feval’s vampire novel Knightshade (1860), but as Belford notes, Stoker was also influenced by Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White, primarily for the novel’s use of numerous voices. (The result of the characters collecting documentation of the chain of events in both novels, although I wonder whether Collins’ character Marian Halcombe may not have inspired Mina Harker since the characters’ initials are the same. Belford, however, notes that Stoker was fond of creating female names that started with M, perhaps as a tribute to his mother and his sisters Margaret and Matilda. That said, there’s no reason why he might not have chosen names for multiple reasons and layered them with meaning.)

Dracula’s publication coincided with the display of the painting The Vampire by Philip Burne-Jones. Burne-Jones painted it because he fell in love with a well-known actress, Mrs. Patrick Campbell. She rejected him in favor of another; in revenge, he painted her as a vampire! People recognized her in the painting.

Beyond the Dracula origins information, Belford’s book is interesting for the insights it gives us about Stoker’s relationships with many other literary people of his time, including Wilde, Shaw, W.S. Gilbert, Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman. Anyone interested in late Victorian literature and Victorian theatre would find this book fascinating, whether or not they are convinced by Belford’s arguments about Stoker and Irving’s relationships.

___________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City and numerous other books. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com, www.GothicWanderer.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, The Wandering Jew

The Snake’s Pass–Bram Stoker’s First Novel

The Snake’s Pass is one of those pseudo-minor classics that would have been forgotten if it were not the first novel written by the author of Dracula, one of the greatest of the nineteenth century novels. The book was published in 1890, only seven years before Dracula, yet it is a long way from Stoker’s masterpiece in plot and form. A fan of Dracula may not enjoy it, but a literary or Bram Stoker scholar definitely would. It is actually better written than Lair of the White Worm, a later Stoker novel, but not up to the quality of The Jewel of the Seven Stars.

The Valancourt Books edition of The Snake’s Pass, Bram Stoker’s first novel.

What sets the novel off the most from Stoker’s other Gothic works is a real lack of the supernatural in the novel. There is a legend of a snake king driven from Ireland by St. Patrick in the book, but nothing supernatural ever actually occurs in the novel’s pages. The mysterious shifting bog is not supernatural at all, and frankly, the dullest part of the novel since Stoker goes into great detail of the measuring and study of the bog, which is being analyzed to determine where a lost treasure may be found. The conflict exists between the villain, Murdock, who is willing to do anything to find this treasure, and Arthur Severn and his friends. Arthur falls in love with Nora, whose father is cheated by Murdock to gain control of his land which may have the hidden treasure on it.

The first half of the book is bogged down with descriptions of the bog until Arthur falls in love with Nora, and then a tender, but not terribly exciting love story occurs. The book picks up speed halfway, yet still moves relatively slowly until the dramatic ending scene during a storm where Murdock and the protagonists struggle to find the treasure. This final scene makes the book worth reading, both for itself, and as an example of the talent Stoker had already developed for pacing and drama which he would use consistently in Dracula.

The book is not for the general reader, but I would recommend it to anyone interested in the history of the British or Irish novel—it is the only novel Stoker set in his native Ireland. One wishes Stoker, as a more mature writer, had written another novel of Ireland, perhaps with vampires included.

___________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula

New Dracula Prequel Builds on Stoker’s Unpublished Manuscripts

Dracul, the recently published prequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written by his great-grandnephew Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, is a treat for both Dracula enthusiasts and Dracula scholars. The novel tells a fictional story about Bram Stoker’s childhood and early life from the 1850s through 1868, including his encounters with Dracula. Although the story is obviously fictional, the authors drew upon Stoker’s early versions of Dracula, including his handwritten notes, to create this spellbinding tale.

Dracul, a prequel to Dracula, allows Bram Stoker to meet Dracula face to face.

When the novel opens, Bram is a sickly child growing up in Ireland during the potato famine. He nearly dies at birth, but his nurse Ellen Crone saves him, although no one is quite sure how. She continues to care for him during his illnesses and the family notices that afterwards, as he grows stronger, she becomes weaker. Over time, Bram and his sister Matilda continue to notice strange things about Ellen. At one point, Bram sees her naked limbs, which have the appearance of those of a wrinkled old woman, although she seems fairly young. They investigate her room and find the floor dirty and dusty with no sign of footprints. Ellen realizes they are curious about her, so she taunts Bram for going out at night to investigate her wanderings, all the while climbing the walls and ceiling like a spider. Many other strange incidents occur that make it obvious Ellen is not human, but then she disappears from the children’s lives for many years.

I don’t want to give away the whole plot beyond that, but it’s sufficient to say that Ellen has had dealings with Dracula, and as a result, Bram also encounters the great vampire. I found the book entertaining, although some readers might find the novel far-fetched and not like it’s lack of being accurate to Stoker’s biography—I am not aware that Stoker ever had a nurse named Ellen and could not find evidence of her in the recent Stoker biography by David J. Skal, Something in the Blood, or that he ever traveled to Munich to fight vampires. Regardless, the authors raise some interesting questions about Stoker’s writing of Dracula and the possibility that it was based on real events. Consequently, the novel’s afterword alone makes Dracul worth reading.

I won’t go into full details about the afterword, but here are a few points worth mentioning. At the end of Dracul, Dracula warns Stoker that he will be back to claim him when he dies. Of course, this is supposition on the authors’ part, but in the afterword they note that Stoker had himself cremated, which was unusual in 1912. The suggestion is that Stoker may have feared becoming a vampire like the corpse of Lucy Westenra in Dracula. More significantly, in the original manuscript of Dracula, which was titled The Un-Dead, Stoker wrote a preface in which he states that the novel’s events really took place. Of course, this literary trick—the claim that the book was based on true events to make fiction feel real—was around long before Stoker. Such claims were an effort to validate fiction and make it more reputable, as well as more interesting to readers. For example, in the early days of the novel, Daniel Defoe claimed Robinson Crusoe (1719) was a true story and Samuel Richardson claimed Pamela (1740) was a compilation of real letters. Neither claim was true, so there is no reason to believe Stoker’s tale had any truth to it either. Regardless, it’s fun—in a scary way—to think it might be.

For me, the most fascinating thing about Dracul’s afterword is how it builds on the recent scholarship that revealed the version of Dracula published in Iceland, known there as Makt Myrkranna and recently translated into English as Powers of Darkness, with a preface by Dacre Stoker, is not the same version of Dracula we have in English. According to Dracul’s afterword, Stoker’s publisher made him do serious revisions to the novel, including cutting the first 101 pages and changing the title, plus toning down the idea that it was based on true events. The publisher feared the Whitechapel murders of 1888-1891, blamed on Jack the Ripper, were still fresh enough in people’s minds that claims of vampires in England might cause a panic. (This fear may seem far-fetched to us, but let’s not forget the panic stirred up by Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of A War of the Worlds in 1938.)

The most recent biography of Bram Stoker.

Stoker, to get his novel published, went along with his publisher’s desire for changes for his English reading audience, but he did not make the changes to copies of the novel he personally sent to publishers worldwide. As a result, Powers of Darkness is a very different novel from Dracula in many ways, and in the afterword to Dracul, Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker suggest more foreign editions of Dracula need to be translated to see what other changes were made.

Also of importance is that the original manuscript of The Un-Dead still exists, minus its first 101 pages. The authors of Dracul state that it is now owned by Paul Allen, the cofounder of Microsoft. He allowed them to view the manuscript after signing a disclosure agreement not to reveal what was in it. They can only disclose that the short story “Dracula’s Guest” is from the original manuscript and also that the manuscript begins on page 102, the page number of which has been crossed out and renumbered as 1. Stoker apparently cut the first 101 pages of the novel and they have been long missing, which is one reason Powers of Darkness is so interesting since Jonathan Harker’s time in Dracula’s castle is extended in that version.

Of course, the discovery of Powers of Darkness was a field day for Dracula scholars. Hopefully, more foreign editions of Dracula will be translated and published, but more importantly, we can hope that The Un-Dead will eventually be published. Unfortunately, Paul Allen died on October 15, 2018, so the fate of The Un-Dead will remain to be seen.

Powers of Darkness is the new translation into English of the Icelandic translation of Dracula. It reveals many surprising changes between the Dracula we know and the Dracula read in Iceland for over a century.

Finally, what fascinates me most is that anyone who has read Stoker’s other novels will admit that despite a few stirring passages, they largely fall flat beside Dracula. Certainly, as fascinating as Powers of Darkness is from a scholarly perspective, the writing is far from first-rate, and that can be said of most of Stoker’s other novels. I think this difference lies largely in the revision process Stoker went through to get Dracula published in England. According to Dacre Stoker and J. D. Barker, Stoker’s editor, Otto Kyllman, worked with him for several months to reshape the novel, the two butting heads over what to cut and what to save. I had never heard of Kyllman before, but he seems to have been very astute as an editor. Surprisingly, he did not die until 1958, which means he must have been extraordinarily young when he was Stoker’s editor at Archibald Constable & Company. Unfortunately, I could find little online about Kyllman. His Wikipedia entry does not even give his birthdate, but it says he was the senior director at Constable & Co. from 1909 to 1950. This is a man whose editing career spanned more than half a century and who worked closely with such authors as George Bernard Shaw and May Sinclair. Surprisingly, Kyllman is not even mentioned in Skal’s biography of Stoker. While I don’t want to downplay Stoker’s genius in creating Dracula, one has to wonder how much credit Kyllman deserves for the Dracula we have today. It is definitely a topic that deserves more exploration.

Dracul is a fun read for those who like novelizations about famous authors, but it’s more than that—in a roundabout way, it helps to add another piece to the mystery of Dracula and how it came to be the incredible novel it is, one that has captivated our imaginations for 121 years and counting.

Thank you to Robert Burke for bringing Dracul to my attention.

___________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

The Lady of the Shroud: Bram Stoker’s Failed Return to Dracula’s Roots

Few people realize that Bram Stoker wrote a total of thirteen novels. Dracula (1897) has eclipsed all the others in popular culture, although The Jewel of the Seven Stars (1907) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911) have both had film versions and both return to the supernatural themes that made Dracula such a success. In The Lady of the Shroud (1909), Stoker again used supernatural themes, but this time, the supernatural is not real but simply a figment of the main character’s imagination. These seemingly supernatural moments in the novel are uncanny and enticing, but ultimately unconvincing, and the reader finds it far-fetched that anything supernatural is happening long before the main character realizes it. Consequently, the novel falls short as intriguing fiction or even coming close to the power of Dracula.

One of the many dramatic covers of The Lady of the Shroud.

The Lady of the Shroud is built around an entrancing idea: a mysterious woman wearing a shroud appears only at night in an Eastern European land that makes the main character extremely curious about her. And, of course, attracted to her. The concept is attractive, but Stoker cannot maintain the interest once it is revealed that she is not a ghost or vampire but a mere mortal woman. Furthermore, Stoker fails to create a plot with enough action to maintain the pace or interest of the book. A short summary of the plot reveals there really is little plot at all.

The novel is written as a series of documents, a style hearkening back to Dracula, which itself was inspired by the style of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. It opens with the death of Roger Melton and several letters and journal entries, primarily of his great-nephew Ernest Melton, who expects to inherit since his father is the head of the family and he will succeed him. Ernest is obnoxious and insulting in his remarks about all other members of the family whom he thinks himself better than, especially his cousin Rupert Saint Leger. Unfortunately, Ernest is the most interesting character in the novel, completely oblivious to what a prick he is. When Rupert inherits the estate, Ernest is not happy.

We then follow Rupert for the remainder of the novel. Rupert’s inheritance of more than a million pounds is conditional upon his living for a year in his uncle’s castle in the Land of the Blue Mountains on the Dalmatian coast. This is a completely fictional and oddly named country. It is a small country striving to maintain independence against the Turks and basically recalls Romania or Transylvania in Dracula. Soon, Rupert befriends the locals and helps them acquire weapons to fight the Turks.

The title character of the novel now enters the story. On a dark, wet night, she seeks shelter in Rupert’s room, mysteriously appearing there, and asking for permission to warm herself by the fire. He agrees, and although she is dressed in a white shroud, he does not ask questions of her. She flees in the morning, but expresses her gratitude to him and promises to return. Her repeated visits only at night and her wearing of the shroud eventually make him consider she may be a vampire. The suspense about her identity continues because he never asks her questions. She here recalls images of Lucy Westenra after she has become a vampire in Dracula and also the “woman in white” in Collins’ novel. Regardless, Rupert falls in love with her. Then he visits the local church and finds her lying in a glass-topped coffin in the crypt, a sign she is dead, or rather, the undead. However, that she visits him but never seeks to seduce or bite him makes the reader quickly realize she can hardly be a vampire.

Here the lady is floating in coffin in the ocean – the crypt does flood but the coffin never becomes a boat.

Before we know it, without learning his female visitor’s identity, Rupert has promised to marry her, no matter what that marriage will mean—even apparently losing his soul. This decision very much recalls the dark marriage that occurs in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) between the accursed Melmoth and the innocent Immalee, except for the gender reversal of who is innocent here. Even after the nighttime marriage, which turns out to be an Eastern Orthodox ceremony conducted in the church, and not some sort of Black Mass, she tells him while she loves him, she must continue to live in the crypt.

The truth about Rupert’s new wife is revealed when she is kidnapped from the church by Turks. The locals then tell Rupert she is not dead but alive, named Teuta, and daughter of the local Voivode, who has been traveling in America. She had fallen into a trance and been declared dead, but when she woke, the local clergy and political leaders spread a story that she was a vampire. She chose to live up to this story, apparently to protect herself and trick the Turks, by lying in the crypt, but when it had flooded, she had sought the warmth of Rupert’s castle. Of course, once kidnapped, the Turks realize she is not dead.

Rupert now leads a rescue party. However, he has barely saved Teuta before it’s learned that her father has returned and also been kidnapped by the Turks. What follows is the most dramatic moment in the book when Rupert uses his airplane to save the Voivode. He does so by lowering Teuta down from the airplane to where the Voivode is imprisoned in the castle, and then he raises the two back up. At this point we are told Rupert is a giant man and incredibly strong since he can pull up two people into his airplane. Prior to this, no mention is made of Rupert’s great size and strength so the moment is a surprise to the reader. Soon after the Turks are defeated and then the happy ending is prolonged for about two hours’ worth of dull reading.

There is no real plot after this. The Voivode is happy to have Rupert as a son-in-law. The people want to proclaim the Voivode their king but he says he is old and that Rupert should be king. Rupert feels Teuta should instead rule since she is the Voivode’s rightful heir, but she declares she is not like modern women “in an age when self-seeking women of other nations seek to forget their womanhood in the struggle to vie in equality with men!” In other words, men, not women, should rule. Stoker’s sexism is obvious here. Worse is Teuta’s statement, “I speak for our women when I say that we hold of greatest price the glory of our men. To be their companions is our happiness; to be their wives is the completion of our lives; to be the mother of their children is our share of the glory that is theirs.” (Oh, Teuta, I liked you far better when I thought you were a vampire and not a submissive women ready to surrender your identity and crown to your husband. Unfortunately, your creator was a product of his time.) Following Rupert’s coronation is a visit by the obnoxious cousin Ernest, who is soon made to leave the country for how rude he is, and then comes the birth of Rupert and Teuta’s child. The novel drags on and on during these scenes before finally ending.

Yet another floating coffin.

With The Lady of the Shroud, Stoker has made a novel out of a simple concept that would have made a nice short story. The atmosphere is powerful in the middle of the novel, but once the truth about the lady is revealed, it falls into a male fantasy adventure in which an Englishman becomes king over the inferior locals and saves the day. Here we have Western supremacy over the East much like in Dracula where the count, being from the East, is ultimately a degenerate and may represent the Eastern European immigrants who were coming into England at the time. One also has to wonder whether Stoker, in creating Rupert, had Lord Byron in mind with his efforts to liberate the Greeks.

Ultimately, The Lady of the Shroud has little story and provides little interest. Even returning to the Eastern European setting of Dracula fails to rekindle the count’s magic. The Lady of the Shroud is only interesting to Stoker scholars and fans as a curiosity. It’s as if the leftover pieces of Dracula were sewn together to create something that resembles a complete novel.

___________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula

Dracula’s Rival: The Beetle by Richard Marsh

Richard Marsh’s Gothic novel The Beetle first appeared in 1897, the same year as Dracula. Originally published in serialization as The Peril of Paul Lessingham: The Story of a Haunted Man in the magazine Answers from March 13 to June 15, that autumn it was published in book form with a new title, The Beetle: A Mystery. The title change is apt since it is more concise and focuses on the chief horror of the story. However, the original title is significant because it identifies Paul Lessingham as the main character. Lessingham does not occupy a major chunk of the narrative, yet he is in some sense responsible for the horrible events that unfold.

The Beetle is about an androgynous human-like creature who shape-shifts into a beetle and may have sources in Ancient Egypt, scarabs, and the cult of Isis.

Before discussing the plot and the novel’s Gothic elements, it’s worth noting that few literary critics have given The Beetle much attention, even though the novel outsold Dracula upon its initial publication. It was immensely popular and was never out of print until 1960. It even inspired a 1919 silent film and a 1928 stage play. As late as 1997, a radio play of it was produced. However, only in recent years have literary critics started to take notice of it.

This article will explore The Beetle’s Gothic elements, suggest why it fails beside greater Gothic novels like Dracula, and why it deserves a place of significance in the history of its genre, although it more draws upon its Gothic predecessors than inspired later Gothic works.

The novel is divided into four books, each told by a different character. Each section is a document or report compiled by Champnell, the inspector in the case. These different narrative voices and the idea of documents compiling a novel suggest an influence of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White. Notably, Stoker would use a similar format in Dracula.

In Book 1, Robert Holt, an unemployed and homeless clerk, seeks shelter by entering through an open window into a house. Inside the house, he sees glowing eyes from which he is unable to draw his gaze. Even when he realizes the creature he sees is not human, he finds himself unable to flee. Eventually, the creature approaches him and “mounts” him, crawling up him. The description of this encounter is very sexual, the creature even coming to his “loins.” Given the book’s title, the reader assumes this creature is the beetle. It is described in sticky, wet terms that make it sound female, and yet also male. Later, a light comes on and the creature disappears. Holt finds himself in a room with a man in a bed. This man throughout the novel will also be described as an Oriental and an Arab. Like the mysterious creature, the man also has hypnotic eyes, and he orders Holt to undress. Unable to resist, Holt is left standing naked before the man. The man, with female features, ultimately kisses Holt, which seems to be a way of feeding upon him. Toward the end of the novel, Holt is found with scratches on his neck and he appears to have been drained of life, reminiscent of vampire behavior, although the beetle is clearly not a vampire. The scenes with Holt are the most disturbing and intriguing of the entire novel. I won’t go into further detail about them but they are filled with sexuality and homoeroticism.

Eventually, Holt is ordered by the strange man to go to the home of Paul Lessingham, a member of Parliament, and rob him. He is told if Lessingham catches him, to utter the words “the beetle” to scare him off. Holt, unable to disobey, does exactly what the strange man says. Lessingham catches Holt in the act of robbery, but he shrinks back in horror when the words “the beetle” are uttered. Holt then flees.

The second book is told by Sydney Atherton, who sees Holt fleeing from Lessingham’s home and goes to warn Lessingham. Atherton is in love with Marjorie Lindon, who is in love with Lessingham.

The third book is told by Marjorie, presenting her view of her love affair. Her father is opposed to the marriage, not liking Lessingham’s politics. Because of Lessingham’s political speeches, the delivery of which might be termed preaching, and because of his first name, Lessingham is called “The Apostle” and “St. Paul” by Atherton. What Marjorie doesn’t know is the story of Lessingham’s past. Lessingham had once traveled to Egypt and there had been walking down a street when he heard a woman singing. He went into the building and found it was a type of nightclub. The woman he heard singing eventually drugged him, and before he knew it, he had lost about two months of time being her sex slave while in a drugged up state. He refers to this woman as the Woman of the Song. This woman has many literary predecessors, notably La Belle Dame Sans Merci, whom Keats wrote about and many of the Pre-Raphaelites painted—a woman who takes men to her fairyland as lovers and when they return to the real world, they find a significant amount of time has passed in what seems just hours. The woman’s ability to take control of a man also recalls H. Ryder Haggard’s novel She. Lessingham only has dim memories of what happened in the den where he was held captive, although he believes human sacrifice is among the crimes committed there. Finally, in a rare moment where his captor forgets to drug him, he is able to escape.

As the novel progresses, it’s realized that the Woman of the Songs, a member of the cult of Isis and perhaps not human but some sort of creature forgotten by history, has traveled to England. It turns out she is the Beetle and also the strange man in the bed whom Holt first met. She is apparently androgynous or able to shift her appearance. Her hypnotic eyes, of course, have predecessors in the hypnotic eyes of the Wandering Jew as featured in Matthew Lewis’s The Monk, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, and vampires, including Stoker’s Dracula, although earlier vampire novels like Polidori’s The Vampyre and Rymer’s Varney the Vampire are more likely influences. A more contemporary source may have been George Du Maurier’s Trilby, in which Svengali hypnotizes and controls the female title character. Prior to The Beetle, hypnotic eyes were attributed to male Gothic figures and they usually controlled men, but Trilby is, to my knowledge, the first novel in which a woman is controlled by hypnotism, and The Beetle is the first novel in which a female character is able to mesmerize another with her eyes.

The novel concludes when Marjorie is kidnapped by the Beetle/Woman of the Song. In fact, Marjorie is forced to dress in Robert Holt’s clothes (who by now is lying close to death) and then make her way to a train station to be smuggled out of England. The implication is that she will become the Woman of the Song’s next human sacrifice. Fortunately, Champnell, the police inspector, who narrates the fourth and final book, along with the help of Atherton, is able to rescue Marjorie in time.

The novel is fascinating for its use of hypnotism, its use of an ancient creature—the Beetle appears to be thousands of years old—its homosexual and homoerotic renderings that are very similar to but surpass the homoeroticism in Dracula, and its treatment of a threat from the East upon England, just as Dracula has been read as a novel about the threat of Eastern European immigrants upon England.

However, the novel ultimately fails to succeed because it never fully explains the mystery. We never understand what the creature is or how it metamorphoses; unlike Dracula, whose role as a vampire is illuminated by Van Helsing’s knowledge, the Beetle is never understood. We do not know how or why the creature becomes a beetle; is the creature cursed like someone who turns into a werewolf is, or is it is some strange creature who was overlooked by zoologists and got written out of evolution theories? At the end of the novel, we are told that Champnell has read a report of a discovery of a hole in the ground in the East where several strange creatures are found dead after an explosion, and we are to assume the Beetle was one of these non-human creatures, but while this makes us feel assured that the threat is over, it does not explain what the Beetle is. Equally unsatisfactory is why the creature comes to England. Paul Lessingham’s past experiences in Egypt allow us to understand that it is the same creature he experienced that has now comes to England. The creature says it wants revenge, but what Paul did, other than escape, is not clear. The creature apparently kidnaps Marjorie as revenge since Paul is engaged to Marjorie, but none of the creature’s motives are really ever made fully clear.

Ultimately, however, what causes the novel to falter, in my opinion, is that Paul Lessingham is not a Gothic wanderer figure—although tormented by memories of the Beetle while in the East, Lessingham is not a transgressor—he did nothing to deserve his torment, and he has no guilt over his past—just simply a horror of an event that occurred in his past. While he apparently brings the creature to England in the sense that it follows him there, he does not intentionally unleash such evil. Of course, in Dracula, no one is at fault for Dracula coming to England either, but Dracula himself is the Gothic wanderer. We learn enough about his past in the novel to know he has committed a transgression—made a pact with the devil by studying in the Scholomance and in the mountains, and thus he is damned, and we know when Dracula is destroyed at the end that an expression of relief comes across his face, a sense that he is glad to be released from the vampirism that fills him. The Beetle’s ending is less satisfactory. It is apparently destroyed, but all that is left is a sticky mess and a lot of unanswered questions. We never learn what the creature was, how it came to be what it was, or why it commits human sacrifice, if that is even what it was doing.

I will not say this is the final word on The Beetle or Richard Marsh. Marsh (1857-1915) actually wrote about eighty novels and stories, none of which have received much critical attention. Several others deserve to be explored, including The Goddess: A Demon (1900) about an Indian sacrificial idol that comes to life with murderous intent, The Joss: a Reversion (1901) about an Englishman who transforms into a hideous idol, A Spoiler of Men (1905), in which a gentleman-criminal renders people slaves to his will through chemical injection, and A Second Coming (1900) which imagines Christ’s return in twentieth century London—another case of the ancient and the modern coming together. I have not read any of these novels, just seen short descriptions of them, but because their themes are similar to those in The Beetle, they may hold further answers into Marsh’s thinking about these themes that will further illuminate a reading of his best-known work.

The Beetle’s popularity definitely struck a chord among its readers, and though eclipsed by Dracula, and understandably, it remains fascinating in many ways. Marsh’s popularity in his day makes further study of him and his works a worthy pursuit for a fuller understanding of Gothic literature at the dawn of the twentieth century.

___________________________________________________

Tyler Tichelaar, PhD, is the author of King Arthur’s Children: A Study in Fiction and Tradition, The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, The Children of Arthur novel series, and Haunted Marquette: Ghost Stories from the Queen City. Visit Tyler at www.ChildrenofArthur.com and www.GothicWanderer.com.

11 Comments

Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, The Wandering Jew