Tag Archives: Dracula

New Book Discusses Treatment of Body in Gothic Literature

Dangerous Bodies: Historicising the Gothic Corporeal by Marie Mulvey-Roberts is one of the best books on Gothic literature that I have read in many years. Mulvey-Roberts previously published Gothic Immortals, which I loved and was a major source for my own book The Gothic Wanderer: From Transgression to Redemption, so I was honored when she agreed to write the foreword for my book. I am delighted that she has now published Dangerous Bodies, which explores how the human body as well as monsters’ bodies are treated in Gothic literature, although it explores far more than just that.

The book is divided into five chapters, and I can honestly say any one of these chapters, each a fine essay in its own right, is alone worth the price of the book. I will provide a few highlights from each chapter here with the hope you will read the book and explore in its entirety the wonderful discussion Mulvey-Roberts provides of some of the greatest Gothic texts.

“Chapter 1: Catholicism, the Gothic and the bleeding body” discusses both the role of Catholicism in Gothic literature as well as how bodies are treated, often by Catholics in the Gothic. Think of the scenes of the Inquisition in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820), for example. Mulvey-Roberts provides historical context for the backgrounds to Gothic texts, including pointing out that in reality Protestants committed far more bloodshed and torture to bodies than Catholics in the broad Renaissance error. Furthermore, during the heyday of the Gothic novel, English Protestants were not really as anti-Catholic as often thought, but sympathetic to the French clergy fleeing the French Revolution. However, for me, the highlight of the chapter was the discussion of Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764), considered the first Gothic novel. I have to admit I always thought it a rather silly novel, but Mulvey-Roberts discusses how it is really a satire of the English Reformation, offering commentary on Henry VIII and the dissolution of the monasteries. I won’t go into the details, but I feel the argument is very convincing and it shows that this very first Gothic novel was far from anti-Catholic and even in this early period, the Gothic was offering social commentary and a way to express the fears of the time, which would be more obvious in the 1790s when Gothic novels were largely fueled by the French Revolution. Mulvey-Roberts points out that The Castle of Otranto was itself written right after the conclusion of the Seven Years War and was doubtless influenced by that conflict.

“Chapter 2: Mary Shelley, Frankenstein and Slavery” was frankly rather mind-blowing for me. In the past, I have often thought I could just not possibly read one more article about Frankenstein (1818), but I am so glad I read this chapter. I have never heard the argument that Frankenstein is largely a commentary on slavery or at least influenced by the horrors of that institution. Mulvey-Roberts argues that Mary Shelley was not an abolitionist, but rather believed in an ameliorist position to make the transition to an end of slavery easier. Immediate emancipation would have been detrimental to slaves who would not know how to survive without assistance—think of how the Monster feels abandoned by Victor Frankenstein. Mulvey-Roberts offers evidence that Mary Shelley would have been aware of the plight of slaves, especially in the West Indies. Shelley had a friend, Frances Wright, who bought a plantation in Tennessee and bought slaves to educate and prepare them for their labor, with Shelley’s support. Furthermore, Gilbert Imlay, Mary Shelley’s mother’s lover, was involved in the slave trade, and in 1816 while working on Frankenstein, Shelley read Charlotte Smith’s The Letters of a Solitary Wanderer (1800), a novel set in Jamaica concerning slavery. She also read Bryan Edwards’ history of the West Indies. One passage, in particular, is significant because it describes rebels, called “monsters,” who decapitated a husband, then dissected his pregnant wife and threw her unborn baby to the hogs. The rebels then put her husband’s head into her belly and sewed it up, all while the wife was still alive. Mulvey-Roberts notes that similarly Frankenstein’s Monster is created by suturing of different body parts. In addition, in the chapter Mulvey-Roberts discusses Matthew Lewis, author of The Monk (1795), as a slaveowner.

“Chapter 3: Death by orgasm: sexual surgery and Dracula” continued to exceed my expectations. Here Mulvey-Roberts showed how aware the author of Dracula (1987),Bram Stoker, was of medical information. Three of his four brothers were doctors, and the eldest, Sir William Thornley Stoker, was likely a model for Abraham Van Helsing and Dr. Seward. Thornley’s gynaecological operations have never before been considered in relation to Stoker’s novel, but Mulvey-Roberts has filled a huge gap in Stoker studies by outlining them here. She discusses in detail the role of female sexuality in the novel and especially the way Lucy is depicted as sexually licentious in the novel and how she is punished through surgeries meant to destroy her sexuality and reproductive parts. Mulvey-Roberts goes on to discuss surgery, masturbation, hysteria, and the vagina. Mulvey-Roberts concludes that Thornley was a major source of medical information for the novel and that Stoker’s notes for the novel confirm it. I was fully convinced by her argument.

These first three chapters were the ones that interested me most because they explored major Gothic works of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, although the remaining chapters were also interesting. “Chapter 4: Nazis, Jews and Nosferatu” discussed how Hitler used negative stereotypes of Jews to turn the German people against them. Mulvey-Roberts admits there is no evidence that Hitler ever saw the film Nosferatu but it is likely he did, and it may have added to his ideas for the negative caricatures of the Jews that he promoted. She discusses this famous silent film, the first film version of Dracula, in depth. She also goes into detail about the myth of the Wandering Jew and how it was used to demonize Jews, although at times some writers were sympathetic to the Jew. She then discusses how vampires have been linked to the Wandering Jew. And ultimately, how the true vampires were not the Jews, as the Nazis tried to convince people, but the Nazis themselves.

The final chapter, “Chapter 5: The vampire of war,” discusses how war has frequently been depicted as being like a vampire, especially a female one. The discussion involves the Crimean War, as well as the World Wars. Mulvey-Roberts also discusses several twentieth century films about vampires created during times of war, plus the novels of Kim Newman, which are written to illustrate what would have happened if Dracula had not been defeated—he would have taken over England, and that would have interesting repercussions for World War I.

In the conclusion, Mulvey-Roberts discusses how “the Gothic arises out of conflict.” The examples of Gothic depictions of slavery, physical abuse, and war throughout the book all attest to the truth of this statement.

Overall, Dangerous Bodies brings fresh blood to Gothic studies, reinvigorating it with new perspectives that enrich our understanding of it and help us to see what has always been there but perhaps hiding in the shadows, waiting to be illuminated.

I highly recommend Dangerous Bodies and hope Mulvey-Roberts will write many more books on the Gothic. The book won the IGA Allan Lloyd Smith Memorial Prize in 2017, which only proves how frightfully good it is.

In the United States, the book is available at Amazon.

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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 many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic/Horror Films, Mary Shelley, The Wandering Jew

Lady Athlyne or Lady Ninny? Bram Stoker’s Sexist Novel

Given how fascinating I find Dracula, it may be surprising to some that I have not devoured everything else by Bram Stoker. I have been very slowly working my way through several of his other novels, but the truth is that Stoker was not a great writer, and while some of his novels are interesting, especially the ones with supernatural plots, his writing style could be loose, wordy, and weak. After Dracula, I think the best novel he wrote was The Jewel of the Seven Stars, although the realistic The Man is also interesting. Even a relatively bad novel like The Snake’s Pass has its moments of great atmosphere, and The Lady of the Shroud and The Lair of the White Worm keep readers interested, despite their weaknesses. I admit to not having read the other six novels by Stoker (The Primrose Path, The Watter’s Mou’, The Shoulder of Shasta, Miss Betty, The Mystery of the Sea, and Seven Golden Buttons). Truth be told, if not for Dracula (I have written too many blog posts about it to link to them all here but they can be easily searched for), it is unlikely anyone would remember Stoker or any of his other novels. In this blog post, I will discuss Lady Athlyne (1908), which I have to say it is one of the silliest Victorian novels imaginable.

Lady Athlyne

Lady Athlyne’s biggest weakness is the overall concept of its plot. Joy Ogilvie, on a trip from New York to Italy, meets a woman who fostered the Earl of Athlyne. The woman raves about him so much that Joy and her aunt start to joke about her marrying him and referring to Joy as Lady Athlyne. Eventually, this leads to rumors that get back to the earl that someone is impersonating his wife. He goes to America to investigate, calling himself Hardy. At a horse race, he happens to save Joy’s life, not knowing she’s the one calling herself Lady Athlyne. Wanting to keep his identity secret, he continues to call himself Mr. Hardy. Of course, he and Joy fall in love. Eventually, Athlyne/Hardy returns to England. The Ogilvies then visit, but Joy’s father cannot understand why Mr. Hardy doesn’t correspond with them, not knowing his sister-in-law and daughter are carrying on a correspondence with him. Eventually, Joy sees Hardy again and they go joyriding in his car. A string of circumstances results in a compromising situation that is resolved by their marriage.

The whole plot is highly strained, and Stoker, while trying to write something like a drawing room comedy novel in the style of Oscar Wilde’s comic plays, fails to pull it off. The novel’s denouement goes on for chapters until the reader wishes he’d just get it over with.

There is nothing Gothic about this book. Wikipedia has a very poor entry on it that tries to draw comparisons between Lady Athlyne and Dracula and also find references in it to the historical events of the time, but it fails abominably. The novel is not Gothic. Stoker is not trying to build Gothic atmosphere, and there is no real social commentary in the novel other than Stoker’s sexist comments (more on that in a minute).

For Dracula fans, the only thing about the novel of interest is that among the earl’s string of names is that of Westerna. This name is very close to Westenra, the surname of Lucy in Dracula, which critics have made a lot over to argue it reflects the superiority of the West over the East. That Stoker uses the same name with the placement of the “r” in it changed, suggests maybe he wanted to make some link between Dracula and Lady Athylyne’s characters, but then he changed his mind. The similarity is interesting but not significant. Stoker can’t even get his main character’s full name right, the first time presenting it in Chapter 1 as “Calinus Patrick Richard Westerna Hardy Mowbray FitzGerald 2nd Earl of Athlyne” and then in Chapter 23 as “Calinus Patrick Richard Westerna Mowbray Hardy Fitzgerald, Earl of Athlyne” lowercasing the g in Fitzgerald and reversing the position of Mowbray and Hardy.

Other critics have talked about Lady Athlyne in relation to the New Woman, showing how Joy’s aunt is more modern in her willingness to correspond with the earl and how as an old maid of forty-five, she reflects the New Woman who doesn’t settle for marriage. However, Stoker suggests she’s unhappy to be an old maid, and in the end he marries her off. If anything, as in Dracula, Stoker is showing concern about the New Woman and any efforts by women to better their position in society and be equal to men.

The sexism of the novel is apparent in the ridiculous statements Stoker makes about the sexes. In Chapter 7 is this surprising statement:

“Joy was a woman in whom the sex-instinct was very strong. She was woman all over; type of woman who seems to draw man to her as the magnet draws the steel. Athlyne was a very masculine person and therefore peculiarly sensitive to the influence. That deep thinking young madman who committed suicide at twenty-three, Otto Weininger, was probably right in that wonderful guess of his as to the probable solution of the problem of sex. All men and all women, according to him, have in themselves the cells of both sexes; and the accredited masculinity or femininity of the individual is determined by the multiplication and development of these cells. Thus the ideal man is entirely or almost entirely masculine, and the ideal woman is entirely or almost entirely feminine. Each individual must have a preponderance, be it ever so little, of the cells of its own sex; and the attraction of each individual to the other sex depends upon its place in the scale between the highest and the lowest grade of sex. The most masculine man draws the most feminine woman, and vice versa; and so down the scale till close to the border line is the great mass of persons who, having only development of a few of the qualities of sex, are easily satisfied to mate with any one. This is the true principle of selection which is one of the most important of Nature’s laws; one which holds in the lower as well as in the higher orders of life, zoological and botanical as well as human. It accounts for the way in which such a vast number of persons are content to make marriages and even liaisons, which others, higher strung, are actually unable to understand.”

Interestingly, Otto Weininger, cited in the quote, wrote a book titled Geschlecht und Charakter (Sex and Character) which became popular after his death. The book influenced the Nazis, and according to Wikipedia: “Weininger’s views are considered an important step in attempts to exclude women and Jews from society based on methodical philosophy, in an era declaring human equality and scientific thought.” Just one stupid thing Weininger wrote was “In the Jew and the woman, good and evil are not distinct from one another.” Seriously, Bram. This man was not someone to draw your philosophy about women from. Why would anyone listen to a twenty-three-year-old who killed himself? Stoker was thirty-three years older than Weininger and should have known better.

In Chapter 8, Joy’s aunt, Judy, spouts more sexism to her, saying:

“A woman wants a man to be master, and specially to be her master. She wants to feel that when it comes to a struggle she hasn’t got a chance with him, either to fight or to run away. That’s why we like to make a man follow when in truth we are dying to run after him—and to catch him up!”

In Chapter 10, we are told of Joy’s relationship to the earl:

“In that moment she had accepted him as her Master; and that acceptance on a woman’s part remains as a sacred duty of obedience so long as love lasts. This is one of the mysteries of love. Like all other mysteries, easy of acceptance to those who believe; an acceptance which needs no doubting investigation, no proof, no consideration of any kind whatever. She had faith in him, and where Faith reigns Patience ceases to be a virtue.”

Finally, Stoker makes several references to Eden and how God established marriage there. Toward the end of the novel, in Chapter 22, as Joy and Athlyne admit their love, Stoker tells us, “Instinctively the woman recognised the tone and obeyed, as women have obeyed the commands of the men they loved, and were proud to do so, from Eden garden down the ages.” What Bible was Stoker reading? I don’t remember Eve being very obedient to Adam about anything.

The novel might have actually worked as a fun comedy of errors over mistaken identity if the speeches didn’t go on for so long and include such inane sexist ideas. Instead, Stoker wrote an atrociously bad novel with characters none of us can remotely care about. As far as I am concerned, Joy is a complete ninny and any self-respecting twenty-first century woman would find her completely unsupportable.

I am left wondering how the author of Dracula could have written one of the greatest novels ever written and then followed it up with so much drivel. Stoker apparently worked harder on Dracula than on any other book and it’s also possible he had help from a good editor—a matter that still needs more investigation and was suggested first by H.P. Lovecraft, who stated that he once met a woman who had told him she had offered to revise Dracula for Stoker and that the manuscript she saw was in a terrible state. This suggests Stoker may have been seeking help with the novel. It also seems to me that a lot of Dracula’s strength comes from its first-Ottperson narration while many of his works, including Lady Athlyne, are in third person, allowing the narrator to intrude with his silly philosophical and sexist remarks, thus weakening the novel’s flow and the character development. That said, both The Snake’s Pass and The Lady of the Shroud are in first-person and fail to be great, though still readable, novels. Lady Athlyne, however, is an embarrassment to the author of the masterpiece Dracula.

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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 many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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A Pre-Dracula Vampire Novel—The Pobratim: A Slav Novel

The Pobratim: A Slav Novel was published in 1895. When I first heard of it, I thought it was a translation of an original Slav novel, but it was actually written by “Prof. P. Jones,” which makes me think he was British, Jones being a Welsh name. I have been unable to learn anything about Professor P. Jones beyond the few clues the book offers. The novel was published by H.S. Nichols, a printer in Soho Square in London, and dedicated to Prince Nicholas of Montenegro. This would be Nicholas I of Montenegro (1841-1921), who was prince of that land from 1860-1910 and king from 1910-1918. The date and place given in the dedication is Trieste and June 17, 1895, which suggests the author lived abroad at the time. Clearly, Professor Jones knew a great deal about the Balkans and traveled through them. After all, Trieste is in modern Italy near Slovenia. In this article, I will provide a plot summary of the novel since almost nothing about it can be found online. I hope this article will create greater interest in it among readers and scholars.

Of course, the only reason most people would be interested in The Pobratim is that it contains a vampire and was published two years before Dracula. I only discovered it myself because it was mentioned by Andrew Boylan in his introduction to James Lyons’ translation of After Ninety Years, a Serbian vampire novella from 1880. Although The Pobratim is a pre-Dracula novel, I do not believe it influenced Stoker. I still think it interesting, though I would not regard it as a vampire novel but a novel about the Slavs that has a vampire in it.

“Pobratim” is the Slavic word for “blood brothers.” The novel’s focus is on the friendship of two young Slavic men, Milenko and Uros. Set in the nineteenth century, it appears to be written primarily to depict Slavic folklore and customs. One custom, common to the Balkans, is that of blood brothers. The novel begins with the two friends becoming blood brothers. In the United States, we might equate this with slitting the wrists of two friends and comingling their blood, but in the Balkans, it is a more formal ceremony. The two men actually swear to be lifelong blood brothers in a church ceremony. This ceremony includes a “best man” for each brother and is described as being like a “marriage.” It is a lifelong bond that is created that must never be rent asunder, and during the ceremony, the two friends even hold hands and kiss each other. Twenty-first century readers would raise their eyes at all this and think of same-sex wedding ceremonies, but our two heroes are strictly heterosexual here.

Prior to the pobratim ceremony, Uros and Milenko have been friends from childhood, but an old woman predicts that tragedy will part them. That tragedy is set in motion when Uros falls in love with Milena, a married woman. Uros and Milenko decide to become sailors and leave their home, which seems largely to be to get Uros away from Milena. Milena is married to Radonic, a violent and unlikeable man. Radonic is friends with Vranic, who has the second sight and is rather disliked in the community. Uros and Vranic are both aware that the other is interested in Milena, although Radonic is not yet suspicious of either.

The pobratim now sail off. Eventually they are involved in rescuing a shipwrecked family, including a young woman named Ivanka. They learn Ivanka’s father was good friends with Uros’ father many years before. The two fathers had once sworn that Uros and Ivanka would marry. However, Ivanka’s father confuses Milenko with Uros, and Milenko has fallen in love with Ivanka. Uros, as a result, acts obnoxious to get Ivanka’s father to dislike him and agree to marry Ivanka to Milenko instead. Besides, Uros is not interested in marrying anyone except Milena, whom he cannot have.

When the pobratim return home, Uros again begins seeing Milena. One day, when Radonic goes on a journey, Milena goes to visit Uros’ mother. Vranic, thinking he will catch Milena home alone and have his way with her, goes to Radonic’s house. However, Radonic, suspecting his wife of adultery, returns home and finds Vranic there. He claims he is there to protect Milena from Uros, but Radonic knows Vranic is after his wife and murders him.

Radonic now goes into hiding. The novel, in its interest in depicting Slavic life, goes into detail about what happens next. A “Karvarina” ensues—this is rather like the weregild of Anglo-Saxon culture—where a murderer is forgiven after paying a price for the dead man’s life. Radonic’s friends go to Vranic’s two brothers and manage finally to convince them to forgive Radonic in exchange for payment. The scene is one of the best in the novel as they go through the formalities of this process, the brothers claiming their brother is worth a great deal, even though the narrator tells us they hated him, and in the end, because everyone hated Vranic, the brothers receive very little.

Vranic’s spirit, however, is not happy. He returns in the form of a vampire and begins to torment one of his brothers—the novel gets confusing here since the brother is also referred to as Vranic (I’ll call him Vranic 2). The townspeople come to realize Vranic has become a vampire so they go through a ceremony where they dig up the corpse, say prayers over it, and then require Vranic 2 to stab his brother. However, it is dark and the clouds make it hard to see. He is supposed to stab his brother’s corpse in the neck, but he bungles it and only gets his cheek. As a result, the villagers are angry with him and he’s told his brother will now have eternal life as a vampire.

Vranic continues to torment Vranic 2, telling him he will soon be a vampire too and enjoy it. Vranic 2 is now urged on by Vranic to kill Bellenic, Uros’ father, which results in Vranic 2, in the scuffle, stabbing Uros, who tries to defend his father. Vranic flees the scene, horrified that he has committed murder. He finds it even more scary because he didn’t want to kill anyone but found that the vampire forced him to act against his will.

Meanwhile, Milenko comes to Uros’ aid, carrying his friend to a nearby convent to be nursed. Believing Uros is dying, his parents visit him and they manage to sneak Milena into the convent, disguised as a boy. By this point, Milena has learned that Radonic has died, and she has also given birth to his dead child. Uros’ dying request is that he and Milena may be married, which the monks finally agree to. Uros then dies, and Milenko returns to sea.

Vranic 2 has also fled to sea and now works on various ships. Eventually, Vranic 2 and Milenko’s paths cross again when Milenko’s ship comes to the aid of Vranic 2’s ship during a storm. Vranic 2 is in the water about to drown when he realizes Milenko is rescuing him. He then cuts the rope he has tied around himself in an attempt to rescue him because he fears Milenko’s retribution. He is never seen again, presumably drowning.

Milenko now receives a letter from Uros that he has not died. He fell into a state of unconsciousness and was about to be buried when he was able to waken and be restored to life.

The novel ends with joy as the characters celebrate Milenko and Ivanka’s novel.

The author, unfortunately, seems to forget that Vranic, the vampire, is still on the loose. However, in Slavic culture, vampires tend to torment their relatives, and so with Vranic 2’s death—nothing is ever said of what became of the other brother—apparently Vranic is no longer a threat to the community.

I have summarized the main plot here, but the novel is filled with interrupting stories and poems of Slavic folklore and myth that the characters are continually telling to one another. In some cases, these stories appear to be commentary upon the main plot or the novel’s themes. At other times, the stories seem to be included simply to delay the action or provide a break from the emotion and suspense. One such story is a narrative poem about St. George. The other stories would not be recognizable to English readers, but they are all entertaining. I do not know if P. Jones drew upon actual Slavic stories or made up the stories he included. Since the tale of St. George is included, I suspect many, if not all, of the other stories have some origins in Slavic folklore. Most contain supernatural elements, including a bargain with the devil, and some are love stories.

Oddly, the book ends with a list of “transcriber” corrections, which mostly are things like missing periods the “transcriber” added.

While Vranic is far from as effective a vampire as Dracula, or even earlier vampires in British literature like James Malcolm Rymer’s Varney the Vampire or John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven, the novel itself is very interesting because it reflects an interest in the Balkans in Britain that predates Stoker, although is after LeFanu’s Carmilla (1872) which is also set in the Balkans. Overall, The Pobratim is very readable and interesting, which makes me surprised it is not more generally known, especially among Dracula scholars and vampire enthusiasts. I hope someone will do further work to reveal more about who P. Jones was and his reasons for writing the novel.

The Pobratim can be purchased in paperback and ebook formats at Amazon.

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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 many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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An Unusual Vampire Novel: Richard Laymon’s Bite

I am no expert on horror writer Richard Laymon (1947-2001), but a friend encouraged me to read his vampire novels, and while I don’t find a lot to write about in them, I do find a lot to enjoy. Earlier this year, I reviewed The Traveling Vampire Show (2000), probably Laymon’s best-known vampire novel, but he wrote two others, The Stake (1990) and Bite (1996). I have yet to read The Stake, so I’ll only discuss Bite here.

Like The Traveling Vampire Show, Bite is low on vampire appearances, and although it’s been described as horror, it is not really scary. Therefore, some vampire and Gothic or horror fiction fans might be disappointed by it, but what it lacks in vampires, it makes up for in a suspenseful, sexually-charged story that keeps the reader turning the pages, constantly wanting to know what will happen next.

In The Traveling Vampire Show, Laymon holds the suspense as the characters go through the day anticipating the vampire show that evening. In Bite, he does the opposite, having the vampire show up in the very beginning. I will not summarize all of the plot so I don’t give too much away. I’ll just say there is a vampire and the main characters, Sammy and Cat, have to kill him and then find a way to dispose of the body so they are not accused of murder—though killing a vampire may seem justified, who will believe them that their murder victim was a vampire?

The novel opens when Sammy finds Cat at his door. She wants him to help her kill the vampire who has been attacking her for the last year. Sammy and Cat are in their late twenties and dated in high school. Vampires aside, their relationship is really the meat of the novel and what ends up most interesting to the reader. Sammy is the narrator throughout, and it is clear from the start that he has never gotten over Cat. He is still highly sexually attracted to her, and so he is very willing to help her get rid of a vampire and all the mess that results from it. Plus, unlike in The Traveling Vampire Show where Laymon shied away from actual sex scenes because his characters were teenagers, these adults are able to have plenty of sex, even at some of the most unlikely times.

Once the vampire, named Elliot, is killed, the disposal of the body fills the bulk of the novel. Sammy and Cat decide to bury the body out of state, and so begins a road trip that will be filled with disasters, violence, and many twists and turns. Laymon is a master at keeping the suspense going and the reader guessing what will happen next.

Anyone who likes a suspenseful ride will not be disappointed. I didn’t miss the lack of a (living) vampire throughout most of the novel simply because there was so much else to keep me interested.

My only complaint is that while we have a great villain, why does he have to be gay and a pervert? Sure, gay people can be villains, but they can be villainous bank robbers or counterfeiters or carjackers—instead, there seems to be a trend of them always being perverts, and I find that offensive. Such is also the case in Outlander, as I’ve written about previously. In any case, these gay characters end up being more like vampires than the vampires themselves, which perhaps is intended by the author. In that respect, we can say Laymon was a product of his time, and he may have been more sensitive had he written the book today. That said, homophobia has been at the heart of the Gothic at least since Bram Stoker’s time as many a literary critic of Dracula will tell you.

Regardless of its flaws, the story in Bite does what it sets out to do—entertains—and it entertains extremely well.

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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 many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Dracula’s Icelandic and Swedish Versions: Translation, Plagiarism, or Fan Fiction?

In 2017, the literary world and especially Dracula fans were stirred by the publication of Powers of Darkness, believed to be a lost version of Dracula. For years, scholars have known of the Icelandic version of Dracula, but they had assumed it was just a translation of Bram Stoker’s novel. The curious thing was that it included a preface signed by Stoker. However, then Dutch literary researcher Hans Corneel de Roos discovered the Icelandic edition was a very different version of the story. Theories floated around that somehow someone in Iceland got a copy of an early version of Stoker’s novel and published it. The reason to think the novel represented an earlier manuscript of Dracula was that the scenes in Dracula’s castle were longer, but the scenes in London shorter. The book itself was only about half the length of Dracula (Berghorn 3) and many of the characters not as developed.

Powers of Darkness is the 2017 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.

However, since the publication of Powers of Darkness in English, further research has revealed that the book was not based on one of Stoker’s earlier drafts of Dracula, but rather upon the Swedish “translation” of Dracula. Whoever rewrote/translated Powers of Darkness borrowed from the Swedish translation and the strange differences can then be traced to that translation. Surprisingly, the Swedish translation is also quite bizarre. It turns out to be almost twice as long as Stoker’s Dracula (Berghorn 3). Furthermore, the preface to the Icelandic version that was believed to have been written by Bram Stoker is a forgery. Not only did Stoker not write it, but large portions of it are plagiarized from a Swedish priest. It is highly unlikely a priest would write or edit this preface. Instead, pieces of it were lifted from the memoirs of the priest Bernhard Wadström (Roos 12), who in his memoirs had written an essay about ghost apparitions.

This fascinating discovery leaves us with the question: Where did the Swedish version of Dracula come from? Further exploration has made it clear that the novel is not simply an earlier version of Dracula that Stoker wrote. The author of the Swedish version embellished Stoker’s work, given that Stoker published Dracula in 1897 and references in the Swedish version to the Orlean conspiracy of 1898-9 post-date Dracula (Berghorn 15).

I will not detail how these discoveries were made, but rather, I recommend people read my sources listed at the end of this article.

Of more interest to me is why would someone choose to rewrite Dracula? The answers to that are difficult to know. Since Powers of Darkness (Makt Myrkranna, the Icelandic version) has been published in English, I can only hope that a translation of the Swedish version (Mörkrets makter) will also be soon published in English so more scholars can compare the Swedish version to Stoker’s text. It is possible that an earlier version of Dracula was the source for the Swedish rewrite, and scholars have already determined that if it was based on a draft, it had to be a draft that post-dates 1892. That said, it seems unlikely the Swedish author, whose version was serialized in June 1899 to Feb 1900, thought he or she was solely working from an unpublished manuscript and would not have known that Stoker had already published Dracula. While Dracula had not yet acquired the great fame it enjoys today, it was known internationally, so I would think word of its publication would have reached the Swedish translator/author. Plus, it seems unlikely the author would have let a version of the manuscript just sit around. If the author had acquired it in 1892 or shortly thereafter, why wouldn’t he or she have published it sooner, even before 1897? Therefore, it seems unlikely to me that the Swedish author was working from an earlier version of Dracula. Instead, I believe the Swedish author was working from Stoker’s published version and embellishing the story as he went, although the case remains open.

David J. Skal, in his recent biography of Stoker, Something in the Blood, suggests the Icelandic version might be considered as “unauthorized fan fiction” (Brundan, Jones, and Mier-Cruz 303). I don’t think it’s as simple as that, although it may be.

First, it is certainly possible that the Swedish author simply enjoyed Dracula and wanted to fill in parts of the story by expanding it. But why then did the Icelandic author shorten it? That is complicated. According to Wikipedia, ten days after the Icelandic Powers of Darkness was published in 2017:

“De Roos and Stoker [Dacre, Bram Stoker’s great-nephew] were contacted by Swedish fantasy fiction specialist Rickard Berghorn, who claimed that Makt myrkranna must be based on an earlier serialization in the Swedish newspaper Dagen (The Day) under the title Mörkrets makter (equally meaning Powers of Darkness), from 10 June 1899 to 7 February 1900. In his interview with De Roos, Berghorn stated that Mörkrets makter was much longer than the ca. 160,000 words of Stoker’s English Dracula, and—unlike Makt myrkranna—upheld the epistolary style known from Dracula throughout the novel. Checking these claims against scans he obtained directly from Stockholm, De Roos established that there must have existed two different Swedish variants. It soon turned out that the second serialization of Mörkrets makter, in the tabloid Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga (Evening Paper’s Half-Weekly), from 16 August 1899–31 March 1900, as first obtained by De Roos, had been shortened to ca. 107,000 words, while dropping the diary style after Part I. Dagen, the sister paper Aftonbladet, and the Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga were owned by the same publishing company with the same editor, Harald Sohlman; Dagen was a daily Stockholm newspaper while Aftonbladets Halfvecko-Upplaga was a tabloid published twice a week for rural areas.

Did Bram Stoker play any role in the publication and translation of his novel in Sweden and Iceland?

“As the structure of the Icelandic version corresponded to that of the abridged Halfvecko-Upplaga variant (same chapter titles, no epistolary format in Part II), De Roos concluded that Ásmundsson must have used the latter as his source text, replacing various cultural references with hints to Icelandic sagas, while shortening the text even further, to ca. 47,000 words.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness#M%C3%B6rkrets_makter)

Since the Icelandic author also made changes to the manuscript as he abridged it, both the Icelandic and Swedish authors/editors might be considered as writers of fan fiction. However, there are other possibilities beyond just writing fan fiction.

Second, given that both the Icelandic and Swedish versions were serialized, a very real and practical explanation is that the authors expanded or abridged the text to meet the demand of the newspapers, which in turn were trying to meet the demand of the reading public. This, in turn, raises questions about whether the authors thought they were improving Dracula in some way to make it more attractive, palpable, or acceptable to their readers. An April 23, 2017 article by Mark Branagan in Express (online edition) described the Swedish version as a “‘SEX and violence’ version of Dracula deemed too shocking for Victorian Britain.” Was the Swedish author trying to make the story more sensational so it would help to sell the newspaper in Sweden, which may not have been as sexually repressive as England at the time? Perhaps the Icelandic author had similar reasons.

Third, we are left wondering what if any role Stoker had in the production of either of these versions of his novel. Theories were presented of how a manuscript of Dracula got to Iceland before the discovery of the Swedish version, but those we can probably now cast aside. Theories about how a manuscript got to Sweden have also been put forth (Berghorn17-19). However, at this point, we do not know enough to do more than guess.

Currently, many questions remain. I am hopeful a translation in English of the Swedish version will be published so we can learn more. Recently, on December 22, 2019, on his Weird Webzine Facebook page, Berghorn announced an English translation of the (longer) Dagen serialization is upcoming and has been accepted by a well-known publishing house. According to information supplied by Swedish literature scholar Martin Andersson, Berghorn will address anglicisms in passages that did not appear in Stoker’s Dracula, thus suggesting that an (other) English text must have been the basis of the Swedish version  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness_(Sweden)).

Dracula fans and scholars and, indeed, all of the literary world eagerly wait for more answers.

Update: The Swedish version of The Powers of Darkness is due to have an English translation published in January 2021. My thanks to Ryan McPeak for bringing this to my attention and the following links:

https://www.vampires.com/another-icelandic-dracula/

https://www.tapatalk.com/groups/monsterkidclassichorrorforum/powers-of-darkness-dracula-by-bram-stoker-centiped-t77798.html

https://www.librarything.com/topic/321696#:~:text=Powers%20of%20Darkness%20is%20an,preface%20written%20by%20Stoker%20himself

Sources:

Berghorn, Rickard. “Dracula’s Way to Sweden: A Unique Version of Stoker’s Novel.” Weird Webzine: Fantasy and Surreality.  Was available August 19, 2020 at: http://weirdwebzine.com/draculitz.html. Site no longer active.

Brundan, Katy, Melanie Jones, and Benjamin Mier-Cruz. “Dracula or Draculitz?” Translation Forgery and Bram Stoker’s ‘Lost Version’ of Dracula.” Victorian Review. 45.2 (Fall 2019): 293-306. Available at https://muse.jhu.edu/article/757842

de Roos, Hans Corneel. “Was the Preface to the Swedish Dracula Written by a Priest?: Bernhard Wadström and the ‘White Lady.’” Available at: https://www.vamped.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/HansDeRoos-WadstroemCase-v17-25May2018-for-W-D-Day.pdf

Wikipedia. Powers of Darkness. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness

Wikipedia. Powers of Darkness (Sweden). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Powers_of_Darkness_(Sweden)

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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 many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, Literary Criticism

Bram Stoker’s Carpathian Sources for Dracula

Until recently, it has largely been believed that Stoker was most influenced by J. S. Le Fanu’s Carmilla (1872) to set Dracula in the Balkan region. It appears he originally intended to set the novel in Styria (in southeast Austria), where Carmilla is set; then he came across references to Vlad Tepes that may have inspired the character of Dracula, so Stoker changed the novel’s location to Transylvania.

However, Stoker was not the first author to set a vampire story in the Carpathians. It is worth noting here, that Transylvania, and Romania, has no vampire tradition, but rather has had one imposed upon it by Europeans, and most intensely so by Stoker in writing Dracula. See my past post Racism in Dracula: The Romanian Perspective, largely based on the work of Romanian scholar Cristina Artenie.

Bram Stoker, whose sources for Dracula are still debated by scholars 123 years after the novel’s publication.

Previously, I have blogged about Jules Verne’s novel The Carpathian Castle (1893) as a possible source for Dracula. According to scholar Raj Shah, there are striking similarities between the description of Dracula’s castle and that of Jules Verne (Shah, Raj. “Counterfeit Castles: The Age of Mechanical Reproduction in Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Jules Verne’s Le Château des Carpathes.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 56.4 (2014): 428–71. p. 432-33). However, while similarities exist, Verne’s story is intensely dull and fails beside Dracula itself, so I cannot imagine it was much of an influence. If Stoker did read it, it could only have inspired him to write a better story.

More recently, it has been suggested that Stoker may have borrowed from an even earlier vampire story set in the Carpathian Mountains. This story, “The Mysterious Stranger,” was first published in Chambers Repository of Instructive and Amusing Tracts. Vol. 8, no. 62, 1854, pp. 1–32. I came across mention of this story in an essay by Katy Brundan, Melanie Jones, and Benjamin Mier-Cruz titled “Dracula or Draculitz?” Translation Forgery and Bram Stoker’s ‘Lost Version’ of Dracula” (Victorian Review, Vol 45, No. 2, Fall 2019, p. 293-306). The authors suggest that the reason Stoker chose the Carpathians was the result of his coming across this short story, and they argue as follows for it being a source for Dracula:

“But he [Stoker] stumbled instead upon an anonymous vampire tale set in Transylvania, which helped redirect the novel’s setting toward eastern Europe. Like Dracula, “The Mysterious Stranger” (1854) features an older, aristocratic vampire with “piercing” grey eyes and a sallow complexion who lives in a castle in the wolf-infested Carpathians (14). The very anonymity of ‘The Mysterious Stranger’ seems to have invited borrowing, which Stoker promptly did. The tale’s exact origins eluded researchers for decades, but we now know it is an unauthorized translation of Karl von Wachsmann’s Der Fremde (The Stranger), first published in his collection Erzählungen und Novellen (1844).

“In closely modelling the early portion of Dracula on an anonymous, pirated translation of a German story, Stoker created new textual life from a translated text whose ties to the original author had been severed. This example demonstrates how nineteenth-century mass culture’s parasitic consumption—a mirror of the vampire’s own insatiable appetite—depended in part on translational practices. Stoker’s unauthorized reproduction makes him complicit in the archive’s suppression of the German author responsible for many details of Dracula’s character, from the vampire’s “repulsive” but magnetic manner to his waving the wolf pack away with a hand (“Mysterious Stranger” 14).” (297).

While I was intrigued about the possibility that Stoker was inspired by “The Mysterious Stranger,” I thought the argument here of the work as an influence rather weak. Two characters having “piercing” eyes is not enough. As I’ve shown in my book The Gothic Wanderer, eyes that are piercing or more likely hypnotic are a frequent attribute of vampires and go back to depictions of the Wandering Jew. A sallow or pale complexion is common to most vampires in literature also—Stoker would have found such details in earlier British vampire stories like Polidori’s The Vampyre (1819) and the penny dreadful Varney the Vampire (1846), and so that leads us to just the Carpathian setting and the wolves for similarities. That said, I do think the story’s influence possible; I just don’t feel enough evidence exists to make a strong argument for it.

Readers can draw their own conclusions by reading “The Mysterious Stranger” themselves; the full text can be found online at: https://souo.fandom.com/wiki/Full_Text:_Mysterious_Stranger. However, I will summarize the story here to draw a few conclusions of my own.

The story begins when Count Fahnenberg, an Austrian nobleman, is traveling to an estate he recently acquired in the Carpathians. Accompanying him are his nephew Franz, his daughter Franziska, and her friend Bertha. Franz appears romantically interested in Franziska, but she confides to Bertha that he is too effeminate for her. By contrast, Bertha is engaged to Woislaw, a military man, who is heroic and admirable in Franziska’s eyes. Woislaw is away fighting in the Turkish war, while Franz refused to go.

On their way to the count’s new estate, they fear being attacked by wolves whom they can hear crying in the distance, so they take shelter in some ruins said to be haunted. As the wolves grow closer, a stranger appears and, by a gesture, sends them off. The rescued do not learn the stranger’s name.

When they arrive at the count’s mansion, the party learns from the locals that the ruins they took shelter in are those of Klatka Castle, whose last lord was Azzo von Klatka, a despotic tyrant who was hanged by the peasants he had oppressed.

When the count’s party returns to visit the ruins, they again meet the stranger who saved them. They thank him for his help and the count invites him to visit them. Although he seems like a hermit and is rather sullen, the stranger agrees to do so at a later date.

Eventually, the stranger becomes a regular visitor and shows interest in Franziska. She likes the stranger, who reveals his name as Azzo (a hint he is the nobleman who was hung). Franz, however, sees the stranger as a rival. After the visits begin, Franziska falls ill and begins having a strange dream in which Azzo comes in a mist, kisses her throat, then vanishes in a mist. The next morning, her neck is red with blood. No one can explain her illness or the dream.

Then Bertha’s fiancé, Woislaw, arrives from the war with the Turks. He has lost a hand in the war and has a new one made of gold, which is very strong. He recognizes Franziska’s symptoms and attributes them to the stranger. When the stranger next visits, Franz challenges him to a duel. In a tense scene, Azzo picks up Franz like he was a baby, but Woislaw intervenes and makes him drop Franz through the great physical strength of his golden hand. Azzo, thinking Woislaw’s strength is supernatural, calls him “blood-brother,” apparently believing Woislaw a vampire like himself.

Woislaw now visits the ruins and finds Azzo sleeping in his tomb. Woislaw nails Azzo’s coffin shut and leaves a packet of nails on top of it. Then he brings Franziska there and tells her she must drive the three nails (stakes) through it. After she does so, he says liquid will flow from the coffin. She must dip her fingers in the blood and besmear it on the scratch at her throat.

Only after Franziska does all this and begins to heal does Woislaw reveal that Azzo was a vampire, which he knew from his own past experience with one. He says a vampire must be destroyed by the one who has been afflicted by him, which is why Franziska had to kill Azzo.

The story ends happily with a double wedding between Franziska and Franz and Woislaw and Bertha.

While “The Mysterious Stranger” does have similarities to Dracula, especially in the vampire having control over wolves, the story being set in the Carpathians, and the vampire appearing in a mist and disappearing, as well as it seeming to be like a dream, there is also much that is strange about it—primarily the insistence that the victim is the one who must kill the vampire. Perhaps if Stoker was influenced by the story, he decided to change this element of vampire lore since that would require both Lucy and Mina to kill the vampire. Why he would make such a change could be an entire article in itself, disputing whether it was to increase the action of the plot not to have Lucy kill Dracula, or whether it was considered too unfeminine for a woman to commit such an act of violence.

Dr. John Polidori, whose story, The Vampire, was a major influence on vampire fiction in both England and France.

One also has to wonder about the origins of “The Mysterious Stranger” itself. While Stoker thought the story was written by an anonymous person, the version he read was really an unauthorized translation of Karl Von Wachsmann’s story “The Stranger” first published in 1844, more than half a century before Dracula, and only a quarter of a century after the publication of Polidori’s The Vampyre, considered the first real European and definitely English vampire story. Polidori’s story was tremendously popular in Europe, being translated and adapted into plays and eventually inspiring countless vampire works. More research needs to be done on whether Von Wachsmann knew Polidori’s story or was inspired by other works that were themselves inspired by Polidori’s story, or whether he had independent vampire sources to draw upon. Little appears to be known in the English-speaking world about Wachsmann, who lived from 1787 to 1862 and appears to have been part of the German literary Romantic Movement. Only the French and German versions of Wikipedia have entries for him (https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Adolf_von_Wachsmann) and the translations of the pages reveal little that tells us much about his literary works. Unfortunately, most of his works appear not to have been translated into English. “The Mysterious Stranger” appears to have been a rare translation.

Certainly, the path to the creation of Dracula remains as mysterious as Dracula himself.

Poster for the Italian version of the The Curse of the Karnsteins starring Christopher Lee. It is doubtful this film was in any way influenced by “The Mysterious Stranger.”

As a side note, according to Wikipedia, the Italian film La cripta e l’incubo (The Curse of the Karnsteins) (1962), starring Christopher Lee as Count Ludwig von Karnstein, may have been influenced by “The Mysterious Stranger,” although Wikipedia admits that the film is more closely based on Le Fanu’s Carmilla. I watched the film recently (available on Amazon prime) and will say that I see absolutely no resemblance between the film and “The Mysterious Stranger,” but the Carmilla influence is obvious. “The Mysterious Stranger,” however, might make a very good film in its own right.

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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 many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Dracula, The Wandering Jew

Book Reveals Shortcomings in Annotated Editions of Dracula

Anyone interested in Dracula and Dracula studies needs to read Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices by Cristina Artenie. In fact, anyone interested in annotating literary classics would benefit from reading this book.

At this blog, I have previously reviewed Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England and the essay collection she edited Gothic and Racism. I expected Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices would reiterate a lot of what Artenie said in those other works, in which she looked at Dracula from a postcolonial perspective and revealed the lack of true research into Romanian and especially Transylvanian history and culture by Dracula scholars in their attempts to understand and source Stoker’s novel. I was pleased to find that while this book has some repetition, the majority of it covers new ground.

As a scholar and fan of Dracula myself—I admit to being one of those scholars who went to Romania to tour Dracula-associated places and surprised to find it was not a perpetually dark, stormy night in Transylvania—and through my visit to Romania and reading Artenie’s work, I have come to realize just how unfair it is to the Romanian people to have Dracula be regarded as the emblem for their country by the rest of the world. I am completely won over by Artenie’s efforts to redeem her homeland from Gothic stereotypes that make it synonymous with vampires. As Artenie points out, Romania does not even have a vampire tradition—Stoker imposed one on the country—and the country is still trying to live it down—or in some cases, capitalize upon it through tours and tourist sites. Consequently, I found the depth of her discussion in this book only added to my understanding of the injustices committed by Stoker’s novel and its subsequent editors, who while not intending to be harmful or racist, out of oversight have done more harm than good in perpetuating stereotypes of the Romanian people.

Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices is divided into two sections. Part I focuses on Editorial Theory and Part II on Editorial Practices. Even if you are not remotely interested in how Stoker treats Romania in a less than accurate manner, anyone interested in Dracula studies will still find Part I invaluable because Artenie walks readers through a discussion of every annotated edition of Dracula that has been published, explaining the literary theories as well as idiosyncrasies of the various editors and their editions. She discusses the role of an editor, the politics of annotation, and the different types of annotation made. This discussion should be of interest to anyone interested in annotation and the editing of literature. Artenie repeatedly refers to how editors rely upon Stoker’s text, and in most cases, on his notes, as well as the sources he used in his notes. Plus she shows where they sometimes go overboard citing sources Stoker could not have known or they rely on other editors’ works for their own annotations. Most importantly, she reflects how there is an absence of focus upon Romanian sources used in the annotations. In addition, she discusses how the various editors have different agendas, linked to their different theoretical readings of Dracula, such as theological, historical, and psychosexual, but also from their own desire, springing from a love of the text, to bolster it by providing additional information to support the way it creates a Gothic atmosphere complete with Romanian superstition and vampire mythology. For example, Florescu and McNally’s annotations are designed to help bolster their belief that Vlad Tepes is the basis for Count Dracula. Artenie discusses also the extratextual myth of Dracula—created by the countless films, comic books, and other Dracula spin-off materials that make Count Dracula a household name to people who have not even read the book—influence our reading of the novel. Artenie’s voice is important, consequently, because it will make future editors think about how they edit books as mediators between the text and its readers, and it will make people aware of the agendas various editors may be working from.

The second half of the book is largely a close reading of Dracula divided into various topics to show just how lacking Dracula scholarship has been in understanding both Romania and Stoker’s use of it. Artenie goes into detail about Romania’s geography, taking editors to task for not providing maps of the country in their editions or for including outdated maps, or not even bothering to learn anything about Romania’s geography but just quoting from sources that are themselves ill-informed. She discusses both landscapes and cityscapes in the novel, and she goes into great detail about the food eaten in the novel and how editors have annotated it. She also discusses how editors and the sources they have used—never Romanian sources—have misunderstood the Romanian people’s history, mocking their claims to being descended from the Romans because they were not viewed as civilized enough, and she discusses how the editors tend to exoticize and orientalize Romania in a way that supports the Romanian myth created by Stoker’s text rather than look at the reality of Romania.

One prime example of how editors have failed to do their job in relation to understanding Romania and annotating the novel properly that Artenie cites is from when Jonathan Harker is warned of danger by the innkeeper’s wife on St. George’s Day, which is April 23 traditionally. However, the event happens on May 5 in the novel, because May 5 in England is April 23 in Romania, given that England used the Julian calendar while Romania used the Gregorian calendar at the time. The woman gives Harker a crucifix, which suggests she is Catholic, although most Romanians are Eastern Orthodox and do not use crosses—this is likely a mistake Stoker made, but editors have gone overboard trying to explain Stoker’s reasons for this, including suggesting the woman is a Hungarian Catholic. However, if that was the case, she wouldn’t think May 5 is St. George’s Day because Hungarians would use the Julian calendar. (This discussion also makes me realize how the novel focuses upon Catholic symbols like holy water and crucifixes as a means to defend or at least fend-off Dracula. This, in itself, is rather culturally irresponsible since it suggests that Catholicism, not Eastern Orthodoxy, is the religion that can defeat Dracula. Stoker, being Irish, of course associated Christianity predominantly with Catholicism, and the novel can be read as a vindication of Catholicism in the Gothic tradition since earlier Gothic novels mocked Catholicism as a religion of superstition. However, while Stoker was championing Catholicism, he was overlooking Eastern Orthodoxy, which would be the religion of the Romanians. Or perhaps his use of Catholicism was a veiled effort to show once more that the West is superior to the East because only the Western form of Christianity can defeat vampires.) Artenie concludes Part II with discussions of how the editors continually vampirize Transylvania; this discussion includes analyzing the word nosferatu at length and showing it is itself another error in the novel.

In addition to Artenie’s overall purpose of analyzing various editorial practices used for Dracula, I found that she drops many fascinating tidbits of information I had not heard before. For example, she mentions there are similarities between Dracula and The String of Pearls, the penny dreadful that introduced Sweeney Todd to the world. I had not seen The String of Pearls discussed as a Dracula source before. Also interesting is mention that Anne Rice was a student of Leonard Wolf, who composed the first annotated edition of Dracula, and that he read Interview with a Vampire and gave Rice feedback before she published it. Later, Wolf also was a consultant on the screenplay by James V. Hart for Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992). Also, I did not know Mary Elizabeth Braddon, best known as the author of Lady Audley’s Secret, had written a vampire story named “Good Lady Ducayne.” These are all tidbits worth exploring further. But perhaps the most fascinating to me was that H. P. Lovecraft claimed he knew a woman who had offered to revise Dracula for Stoker and said the manuscript she saw was a fearful mess. I have often wondered, as have other critics, if Stoker had help in writing the novel or at least a very good editor because Dracula is superior to his other works. While the woman Lovecraft mentions apparently did not get the job, it’s suspected Stoker’s good friend Hall Caine may have helped him.

Artenie concludes this insightful study by saying that she hopes her work will make both current and future editors rethink their editorial practices and create new or revised editions of Dracula that take into consideration the Romanian perspective. While I fully support this statement, it’s a bit ironic that Artenie took her own advice and in the same year published Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition—an edition I will review on this blog this autumn.

Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices was published in 2016 by Universitas Press in Canada. In the United States, it’s available at Amazon.

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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 many other titles. Visit Tyler at www.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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A Review of the Essay Collection “Gothic and Racism” Edited by Cristina Artenie

Gothic and Racism is a collection of essays about how Gothic literature reflects racist ideas and uses ideas about race to create the horror central to it as a genre. This collection, published in 2015 by Universitas Press, is edited by Cristina Artenie. I have previously reviewed Artenie’s book Dracula Invades England (2015) at this blog. When Artenie saw my blog post, she was kind enough to contact me and send me copies of her three other books. This blog post is about the first of those books. Future blog posts will be made about her other two books Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices (2016) and Dracula: The Postcolonial Edition (2016).

Gothic and Racism is composed of a very diverse group of essays about the Gothic. While my interest in the Gothic is primarily eighteenth and nineteenth century novels, the collection includes essays on modern novels, films, a television series, and a Gothic memorial in India. While some of these essays interested me more than others, I found them all informative and insightful. My only real criticism is that some are written in too academic a language for my taste. Not wishing to write in that style is one of the reasons I left academia. I have never understood why someone would utilize a large word when they could use a small one. Consequently, some were easier to read than others, but the patient reader will find all of them of value.

Since I will not discuss all the essays here in detail, it is fair to provide a complete list of them so topics that may not interest me as much but would interest others can be brought to people’s attention. Besides Artenie’s introduction, there are ten essays altogether:

  1. “Gothic Horror and Racial Infection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” by Avishek Parui
  2. “Abramovitch’s The Mare: Russian Imperialism and the Yiddish Gothic Novel” by Meital Orr
  3. “Strange Gods, Monstrous Aliens, and the Ignoble Savage: Revealing and Obscuring Xenophobia in H. P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Call of Cthulhu’” by Joanna Wilson
  4. “The Appropriation of the Gothic in Charlaine Harris’ Southern Vampire Mysteries” by Jessica Birch
  5. “Bigger Faustus: The Purpose of Diabolism in Richard Wright’s Native Son” by Mark Henderson
  6. “Women of Colour in Queer(ed) Space: Ann-Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees” by Monalesia Earle
  7. “Return of the Repressed Slaveholding Past in Three Horror Films: Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) and White Dog (1982)” by Fernando Gabriel Pagnoni Berns, Mariana Zárate, and Patricia Vazquez
  8. “A House Divided: Porous Borders in American Horror Story: Murder House (Fox TV, 2011)” by Lance Hanson
  9. “Forever Beyond the Forest: Dracula and the Neo-Victorian Editors” by Cristina Artenie
  10. “Mutiny Memorial: Imperial Gothic in Victorian Delhi” by Ipshita Nath and Anubhav Pradhan

To discuss each essay would be tedious and ruin the experience for readers of reading the book for themselves, but I will point out some of the interesting highlights of some of the essays.

In the introduction, Artenie begins with a discussion of how the Gothic is racist in its treatment of people from other cultures and nations. It uses “othering” of people from other cultures as a way to turn them into monsters or at least objects of terror. She argues that while the tendency to “other” people is now acknowledged and fully explored in postcolonial literature, it has been largely overlooked in Gothic studies. For example, editors of Dracula have completely ignored how the novel turns the people of Transylvania, Romania, and Eastern Europe into the Other to create an atmosphere of horror in the novel.

I found Meital Orr’s essay on Abramovitch’s The Mare particularly interesting since I had never heard of the novel. Orr discusses how oppression of the Jews in Russia led to Abramovictch’s novel. The novel really turns Western European Gothic literature’s treatment of Jewish people on its head. In most Gothic novels, the Jews are racial stereotypes or symbolic of the Wandering Jew, as in Charles Maturin’s Melmoth the Wanderer (1820) and Matthew Lewis’ The Monk (1795). Orr discusses how Melmoth the Wanderer influenced Russian literature, particularly Doestoevski and Abramovitch. In The Mare, however, Abramovitch makes the anti-Semite the Gothic devil figure. Abramovitch thereby pioneered the Yiddish Gothic novel, using racism itself as the true source of Gothic horror. I am looking forward to reading The Mare at a future date to learn more about how Abramovitch used the Gothic’s own tropes to turn it against itself.

I have to admit I have never read any of H. P. Lovecraft, which seems like a serious void in my reading of the Gothic, but I did find Joanna Wilson’s essay on “The Call of Cthulha” very interesting. I was especially interested, however, in the theme of racial degeneration in some of Lovecraft’s other works, including “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family” (1921) in which the title character commits suicide upon discovering his great-great grandmother was a white ape. This interests me since Lovecraft was writing about the same time Edgar Rice Burroughs was writing his Tarzan novels and Caspak series—in the latter, characters evolve from ape to human within one lifetime. Of course, Wells’ The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896) is also relevant here.

Several of the essays analyzed how the African-American experience is treated in the Gothic. Mark Henderson’s essay on Richard Wright’s Native Son was interesting because he sees the novel as a continuation of the “negative Romanticism” of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville. Wright plays on white people’s fear of black people by turning the main character Bigger into a type of Frankenstein monster who has been created by the whites—he becomes the monster they fear because they create him. Jessica Birch’s essay discussing Charlaine Harris’ Southern vampire mysteries points out that American Gothic is often perceived as specific to a particular region. Birch cites Toni Morrison’s statement that American Gothic is haunted by race. I found this viewpoint interesting because when I think of American Gothic, I think of Poe and Hawthorne primarily and do not feel that is true in them. Hawthorne’s Gothic comes out a Puritan mindset of guilt. Poe’s horror often has European settings and I don’t remember any characters of other races in it, though there may be. However, I also think of Charles Brockden Brown and James Fenimore Cooper who preceded Poe and Hawthorne. Brown’s Edgar Huntly and Cooper’s novels to a lesser extent rely on Native Americans to be the sources of horror for the main characters. However, today, American Gothic horror instead relies a great deal on the horrors and repercussions of slavery and the mistreatment of Native Americans. How the horrors of slavery continue to affect America is wonderfully explored in this book’s essay “Return of the Repressed Slaveholding Past in Three Horror Films: Chloe, Love Is Calling You (1934), Poor Pretty Eddie (1975) and White Dog (1938). The first film is racist in itself while the other two films explore the legacy of slavery and racism. However, these legacies are not limited to the United States. Monalesia Earle’s essay in this book discusses Ann Marie MacDonald’s Fall on Your Knees, a novel set in Nova Scotia that explores black, female, and queer issues.

Lance Hanson’s essay on American Horror Story: Murder House made me convinced I never want to watch the TV show as being too violent and over the top for me. However, his essay is interesting because of what it says about American Gothic. He quotes Teresa Goddu’s Gothic America: “the [American] gothic tells of the historical horrors that make national identity possible yet must be repressed in order to sustain it,” and then he shows how the TV show reflects this truth. He also quotes a review of the show by James Donaghy in The Guardian which reflects what for me is the problem with most horror films and TV shows today: “It fails miserably to differentiate between paying homage to horror and throwing every single horror trope into a blender and pouring the results over our heads.” I feel there is no true sincerity in horror film today, which makes many of them more disgusting or laughable than truly scary or worth watching. An example is Sleepy Hollow (1999), starring Johnny Depp, which begins with a powerful Gothic atmosphere but by the end of the movie becomes camp, which completely ruined the film for me.

I found Nath and Pradhan’s article on the Mutiny Memorial in New Delhi a rather surprising essay to include in a collection focused mostly on books and film. However, the authors make a good case for discussing why this memorial to British and Indian soldiers who died in an 1857 mutiny against British rule has a Gothic design. The authors discuss other Gothic buildings of the time period including the Palace of Westminster (the parliament building) and the Albert Memorial as examples of how Gothic architecture came to be equated with Englishness and the English national identity. Consequently, a Gothic monument in India was a way to express English dominance of India.

My primary interest in this book, of course, was the two essays on Dracula. Avishek Parui’s essay “Gothic Horror and Racial Infection in Bram Stoker’s Dracula” builds a lot on previous scholarship about race in Dracula and the concept that Count Dracula and his vampirism reflect a fear of Eastern European immigration to England. Parui expands on the idea by talking about how the British and French at the time had pseudo-scientific fears of degeneration and biological regression. Anthropologists of the time promoted racial inferiority beliefs in the possibility of evolutionary reversal to a lesser race, which they feared could occur through racial mixing. Of particular interest was how women with masculine features were seen as degenerate, excessively erotic, and lacking in maternal feeling. This for me explains a lot about the way more outspoken women in British literature and cross-dressing women are treated in eighteenth and nineteenth century novels. See my previous posts on this topic on Maria Edgeworth’s Belinda (1802), Samuel Richardson’s Sir Charles Grandison (1754) and Jane Porter’s The Scottish Chiefs (1809). In Dracula, Lucy reflects this kind of mannish woman in her remark that she would like to marry all three of her suitors. This makes her a deviant, monopolistic woman, and consequently, degenerate and more likely to fall into Dracula’s power.

Finally, Cristina Artenie’s essay on editorial practices in Dracula was the one I really read the book for. This essay is likely an earlier or shorter version of the book that followed it, Dracula: A Study of Editorial Practices, which I intend to review in full at this blog later, so I won’t go into great detail on it, but Artenie makes an incredible case for just how much foolishness has gone into Dracula studies. She references five major annotated editions of Dracula and a few minor ones. She notes that while the novel only has seven chapters in total set in Romania/Transylvania, they are the most heavily annotated. Unfortunately, the annotations often rely on quoting Stoker’s notes rather than his actual sources. They also rely on inaccurate sources that were written by people from outside Romania/Transylvania. Worst of all, they often rely on quoting one another rather than getting to the bottom of sources. The result is a continual repetition of misinformation. The editors also often reference their own travels through Romania on “Dracula tours” and their conversations with people they met in Romania, many of whom are not Romanian. Furthermore, they focus on looking for similarities in the Romanian landscape and historical places to affirm similarities with the novel rather than focusing on the differences from the text. They also love to rely on foreign sources about Vlad Tepes and even exaggerate them to make them more grotesque, ignoring Romanian sources that report how much Tepes’ opponents slandered him. Worst of all, they fail in their annotations to distinguish between what is fiction/fantasy and what is reality in Dracula when it comes to depictions of Romania. As I previously stated in my review of Artenie’s Dracula Invades England, her revelation about these issues that reflect a preconceived if unintentional racism toward the Romanian people in the novel and by its editors is groundbreaking in Dracula scholarship because it increases our understanding of the novel and its cultural influence, which has included making Dracula the first thing that comes to mind when Romania is mentioned. For more on this topic, see also my blog post about my own recent visit to Romania. I admit to being guilty of exactly what Artenie is complaining about—going to Romania to search for Dracula connections as if Romania were some sort of Gothic Disneyland. It is not, and frankly, I came away disappointed by the lack of Dracula atmosphere in the country, despite efforts by the tourism industry, but I found so much that is wonderful about Romania that I hope to return some day. I left Romania feeling what an injustice has been done to it by Stoker’s novel, and then I discovered Artenie’s work and was thrilled to know at least one Romanian is fighting to dispel these myths and the rampant racism that has resulted.

Gothic and Racism is well worth reading, and I highly recommend it to all interested in Gothic studies. I hope the contributors all continue to make their voices heard in revealing the role racism has played in Gothic fiction, and by extension, helping to heal much of our Gothic historical past.

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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.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

 

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Filed under Classic Gothic Novels, Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula, Gothic Places, Gothic/Horror Films, Literary Criticism, The Wandering Jew

Ontario-Set Vampire Novel Draws on Gothic Traditions

Michael Rowe’s debut horror novel, Enter, Night (2011) is a pleasant (though scary) surprise in horror fiction, or Gothic literature—the term I prefer—because it is a novel that feels very modern but draws very intensely upon traditional Gothic elements.

It is impossible not to give away some of the plot to discuss the novel properly, so this is a warning if you haven’t read it yet.

The novel was recommended to me by a friend who follows this blog. Because I live in Marquette, Michigan, on the shore of Lake Superior and Enter, Night takes place on the Canadian side of the lake, only a few hours’ drive from me, he thought I would be interested in it. I was very interested because of the inclusion of Ojibwa themes and history as well as French-Canadian history. These interest me because I am a writer of Upper Michigan history, am descended from seventeenth-century French-Canadian voyageurs who traveled the Great Lakes with the Jesuits, and am writing a biography of Charles Kawbawgam, the local nineteenth-century Ojibwa chief in the Marquette area. Therefore, a book that takes my favorite historical area and combines it with my beloved Gothic is sure to win me over—provided it is done well, and Michael Rowe pulls it off very well.

The novel’s primary modern section takes place in a small town in Ontario in 1972 not far from Sault Sainte Marie, Ontario. I will not go into the plot of this section that covers about 340 pages. However, I did like that the young boy in this section is a fan of The Tomb of Dracula comic book series of the early 1970s and also watches the popular vampiric TV soap opera Dark Shadows (1966-1971), which shows Rowe is well aware that he is writing in a Gothic tradition. In the afterword, Rowe also mentions how his mother gave him his first copy of Dracula when he was ten. Beyond these references, I don’t know how familiar Rowe is with the rest of the Gothic tradition, but the last section of the novel suggests to me he is very familiar with it.

In the novel’s primary section, the town of Parr’s Landing is the victim of a vampire scourge. In the last section, we learn the origins of this scourge through a discovered manuscript written by a Jesuit priest in the seventeenth century.

Discovered manuscripts have been an element of Gothic literature since its beginning. Mrs. Radcliffe has her main character discover one in The Romance of the Forest (1791) and the first Gothic novel, The Castle of Otranto (1764) claims to be a discovered manuscript itself. In Enter, Night, the discovered manuscript reveals ancient shocking horrors. It tells the story of a Jesuit priest who travels to a mission where he has heard that terrible things have happened. The journey to this remote mission across the Great Lakes reminds me of the journey in Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899) to find Kurtz, who has basically become a madman and been set up like a god over the Natives. Like Conrad’s Marlow, Father Nyon, who narrates, will discover that the true horror is the person he has come to find.

While the seventeenth century Jesuit missionaries had the purpose of trying to convert the Native Americans to Christianity, Father Nyon discovers that rather than spreading Christianity, Father de Céligny is spreading terror because he is actually a vampire. Father Nyon has already heard rumors of a possible weetigo (wendigo) in the area—wendigo is an Ojibwa term for a man who becomes a man-eater or cannibal; however, he had no idea that he would find not a cannibal but a true vampire in one of his fellow Jesuits. Father Nyon eventually realizes that Father de Céligny purposely left France to come to the New World so he could practice his vampirism more effectively, thinking himself safer in the New World where he would also have a large, innocent population to feed upon.

Rowe’s decision to make his vampire be a French Jesuit priest is interesting for many reasons. First, Rowe is drawing upon the Gothic theme of secret societies that alter world politics. The Jesuits were one of many such secret societies that the Gothic used. Specifically, in Eugene Sue’s The Wandering Jew (1846), the Jesuits are the great villains. For more on Jesuits and conspiracy theories, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jesuit_conspiracy_theories.

Rowe does not directly blame the Jesuits, but rather, he shows how this vampire has infiltrated the Society of Jesus to use it as a cover for him to carry out his evil. As the sole Jesuit at his mission, he has the ability to feed off the Native Americans he has come to convert. This is practically an Antichrist role, placing him in the position to do the opposite of what he is intended to do. One can’t help but also wonder whether Rowe has in the back of his mind how many Catholic priests have used their positions to hurt rather than help their flock by engaging in sexual abuse of minors.

The vampire tradition has always played off the tradition of Christ, turning it upside down. In Catholicism, the Eucharistic bread and wine, through the miracle of transubstantiation, are turned into Christ’s actual body and blood. Consequently, when Catholics take communion, they are engaging in what may be termed a form of cannibalism. The vampire tradition draws upon this concept by showing a supernatural being that feeds upon others’ blood, and many Gothic novels quote the Bible, referring to the blood as being the life.

The influence of Dracula on Enter, Night is also present in Father de Céligny being a French aristocrat—actually a count. Similarly, Dracula is a count. Furthermore, the early Gothic novels of the 1790s served as a veiled commentary on the French Revolution, and later, Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities (1859) would use Gothic elements to openly depict the French Revolution. (See my book The Gothic Wanderer for more on Dickens’ novel and how the Gothic responded to the French Revolution.) Aristocrats were frequent villains in Gothic literature, including in Mrs. Radcliffe’s The Romance of the Forest, Eleanor Sleath’s The Orphan on the Rhine (1798), and, of course, A Tale of Two Cities.

Another way Dracula influences Rowe’s novel is the spread of vampirism from one country to another. Dracula’s goal is to travel to England where there will be plenty of fresh victims for him. Many critics have discussed how Dracula is planning to invade and colonize England. Similarly, in Rowe’s book, a count plans to invade the New World to satiate his thirst and spread vampirism.

Vampirism has often been seen as a metaphor for the spread of disease, including venereal diseases and more recently AIDS. However, in Rowe’s novel, one can’t help thinking of smallpox and the other diseases Europeans brought to the Native Americans.

Of course, by the manuscript’s end, Father Nyon has managed to defeat Father de Céligny, imprisoning him in a cave, which he will eventually escape from in 1972 to terrorize the town of Parr’s Landing in the more modern part of the novel.

I think Michael Rowe has done a wonderful job of creating a true page-turner while clearly writing within the Gothic tradition and creating new twists on old Gothic themes. He is a modern-day James Fenimore Cooper in taking the Gothic from Europe and transporting it to the forests of North America. He also introduces homosexual characters in the modern section of the novel, another frequent though subtle and underlining theme in early Gothic fiction, especially in vampire novels. Consequently, it isn’t surprising that Rowe is the editor of two Queer Fear anthologies. He is also the author of several other horror novels I may just have to check out.

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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.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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Filed under Contemporary Gothic Novels, Dracula

Touring Romania, Land of Dracula

In September, I visited Romania, having long wanted to see the land associated with Vlad Tepes (1431-1476), the Wallachian prince whom it is believed that Bram Stoker based Dracula upon. While I traveled throughout Romania, beginning in Bucharest in Wallachia and then traveling throughout the other two provinces, Transylvania and Moldavia, I will only discuss here the sites I visited associated with Dracula.

First, let me say that it is well known that Bram Stoker never visited Romania himself, and his knowledge of the country is based on research he did. He was originally going to set his novel in Styria, where J.S. LeFanu had set his vampire novel Carmilla (1872), but Stoker later changed the location to Transylvania. Romania actually has no vampire tradition that predates the publication of Dracula in 1897, although vampire legends can be found farther south in Serbia. It is also perhaps surprising to those seeking a Gothic atmosphere, but Romania is a beautiful, sunlit country, and even the Carpathian Mountains where Dracula’s castle is allegedly located are vibrantly green and more akin to German Alpine landscapes than the dark and dreary settings one associates with the Gothic.

 

Sighisoara

The first Dracula location I visited was Sighisoara, a medieval town where Vlad Tepes was born. The city is known for its landmark gate/tower with a clock in it. Within about 100 yards of it is the house where Vlad Tepes was born. Today, it is the restaurant Casa Dracula. The restaurant features pictures of Dracula and even the napkins have Dracula designs. Upstairs, you can visit the room where Vlad Tepes was born for 10 lei (about $2.60). After climbing a staircase with cheesy Halloween decorations (witches and hanging skeletons), you arrive at the room where you see a body lying in a coffin. Then the live body jumps up to scare you. It is a momentary thrill, followed by a photo opportunity. In the next room are several pictures of Vlad Tepes, including one of him impaling people and a bust of him. One of my companions on my tour said the visit to the room was a total rip-off, but this was the second day of the tour and the first Dracula place of interest, so for me, it was the best moment up to that point.

Napkin from Casa Dracula

Casa Dracula – birthplace of Vlad Tepes

Painting of Vlad impaling his victims at the birthplace

Dracula and Me at Vlad Tepes’ birthplace

Bust of Vlad at his birthplace

Just a couple of blocks from Vlad’s birthplace is the newly opened Dracula Investigation Museum. It has only been in operation for about four months, and I was happy to see that I was the first person from Upper Michigan to visit it, given the world map with pins you could stick in it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This museum is decidedly low budget, but the presentation is quite artistically done. I believe the cost was 15 lei ($3.90). It takes about twenty minutes to see the museum. It consists of five rooms and there is an audio presentation to guide you through each room. The first room has a low ceiling and benches. You sit down to listen to the audio and watch a video shown on the ceiling that gives background information about Vlad Tepes. The museum’s purpose is really to tell a very accurate story about Vlad Tepes. The remaining four rooms continue the audio narration of Vlad Tepes’ life, with some mannequins depicting him and his brother Radu the Handsome and Sultan Mehmet (no mention of how Mehmet allegedly tried to rape Radu and may later have become his lover). The fourth room was cleverly done by using some small cut-out images hanging from the ceiling and then special lighting to cast shadows on the walls that tell the different parts of the stories. The final room has a bunch of bodies hanging from the ceiling to give you the impaler effect. At the exit are two baskets. People are asked to place a stone in the basket they think best reflects the truth—was Vlad a hero or a villain? The hero basket was three times as full as the villain basket, and I added my stone to the hero basket. Although Vlad’s tactics may not be commendable, he clearly did what he felt was best for his people to help them maintain independence from the Ottoman Empire and also to end corruption in his country. You can learn more about the Dracula Investigation Museum on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/TheDraculaInvestigation/. I believe it’s worth a real-life visit.

Mannequins of Vlad and his brother Radu kneeling before the Sultan during their captivity at the Dracula Investigation Museum

Shadows are used to tell the story of Vlad at the Dracula Investigation Museum

 

Bistrita

Bistrita is the town where in the novel Jonathan Harker stayed the night before he went on to Dracula’s castle. Stoker, however, uses the German spelling for it: Bistriz.

Honestly, there is not much to see in Bistrita associated with Dracula other than the Golden Krone Hotel, and it is a fake Dracula connection. Stoker has Harker stay at the Golden Krone in the novel, but the hotel is completely fictional. In the 1970s, a scholar visited Bistrita looking for a historical source for the hotel. An enterprising Romanian decided then to build the Golden Krone to cater to the tourist trade. The hotel is very modern and not very Dracula-themed other than a dining room named the Salon Jonathan Harker. In this room the walls are filled with ten pictures of simple images such as wolves, and each picture has a quote from Dracula in it. It was fun to sleep and eat there, but I wouldn’t say the Golden Krone was a highlight of my trip.

The Salon Jonathan Harker at the Golden Krone in Bistrita

 

The Carpathians and the Castle Dracula Hotel

From Bistrita we left the next morning and drove up into the Carpathians where we stopped at the Castle Dracula Hotel. The views from the mountain where the hotel is situated are quite impressive and one can see a monastery and a ski chair lift from there. A bust of Bram Stoker is located outside the hotel. One enters the hotel through a gate that leads into a courtyard. I would have liked to have stayed here because of the incredible views, although again, it is more a hotel built for tourists that uses Dracula’s name than anything really connected to Dracula. I did not see the interior, but the exterior was not overly Dracula-ish. That said, it claims to be built on the location where Stoker’s castle was set and to have been built in accordance with the descriptions of the castle in the novel. Wikipedia is skeptical but says the Hotel Castle Dracula is “located in Piâtra Fântânele in the Borgo Pass, which promotes itself as being constructed at the place of Stoker’s Castle, [but] at least is located at the point where Harker left the post carriage from Bistritz to Bukovina to be picked up by the Count.”

Bram Stoker and me in front of the Castle Dracula Hotel

The Castle Dracula Hotel

Sign at the Castle Dracula Hotel warning people not to speed or they will be dead like Dracula.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bran Castle

Bran Castle is the place in Romania most people associate with Dracula, although this association is simply the result of the Romanians trying to cater to the tourist trade. Bram Stoker seems to have had no knowledge of the castle and it has only tangential connections to Vlad Tepes. Some historians believed he was imprisoned in Bran Castle, but now it is believed this is not true. Dracula’s castle, as described in the novel, in no way resembles Bran Castle. Poenari Castle (which I didn’t visit) appears to be a more likely choice for Dracula’s Castle, although again there is no evidence that Stoker was aware of Poenari either. Instead, we can conclude that Dracula’s Castle was solely the work of Stoker’s imagination.

The climb up to Bran Castle is filled with cheesy vampire banners.

Narrow staircase inside Bran Castle

Bram Stoker display inside Bran Castle

Bran Castle

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nevertheless, Bran Castle is an amazing castle to visit. The views from the castle are superb, and the many winding staircases and twists and turns, as well as suits of armor and costumes on display, antique furniture, and the connection to Queen Marie of Romania, make the castle probably the most enjoyable place to visit in Romania (although Peles Castle, the Victorian palace built for the Romanian royal family is stunning also and worth a visit to Romania in and of itself). One room of the castle is devoted to Bram Stoker and the Dracula legend.

Below Bran Castle are a series of outdoor shops where you can buy everything imaginable concerning Dracula from snow globes to mini-castles, paintings, T-shirts, hats, and refrigerator magnets. Below are a few of my treasures I purchased.

Dracula T-Shirt – obviously inspired by the film “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” by Francis Ford Coppola

Vampire hat

Small original painting of the castle – about the size of a postcard. I also bought a 1000 piece Jigsaw puzzle and a small statue of the castle.

Bran Castle T-Shirt

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bucharest

Back in Bucharest, I visited the Old Town, where the fortress associated with Vlad Tepes is currently under renovation. It is the oldest building in Romania, and Vlad lived there for six years. It is currently closed to the public, though I was able to get a picture of the statue of Vlad Tepes through a hole in the green fencing surrounding the property.

Statue of Vlad in the fortress undergoing renovation

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Also in Bucharest is the Dracula Museum, which had only opened two weeks before so I knew nothing about it. My Bucharest city tour guide, knowing I was interested in Dracula, took me there, but it had closed early that day to my disappointment and it was my last day in Bucharest. The museum is located in the second oldest building in Bucharest. One floor is devoted to the life of Vlad Tepes and the other to Stoker, Dracula, and all the many film versions of the novel. The museum can be found on Facebook at Dracula Museum.

Dracula Museum – Bucharest

 

Snagov Monastery

The place in Romania I most wanted to see was Snagov Monastery where Vlad Tepes was buried. My tour did not include Snagov, but my travel agent had booked a separate day trip to it for me. However, I was the only person who signed up for the trip that day so it was cancelled and I could not find another way to get to Snagov that day, so I had to miss it. However, Romania is such a beautiful country that I hope to go back again someday and visit not only Snagov but some of the other Dracula sites I missed, including Poenari Fortress, which requires climbing 1400 steps to visit.

Snagov Monastery – like King Arthur, Vlad was buried on an island, but his body later disappeared, giving rise to the possibility he became a vampire.

Vlad’s Grave at Snagov

So those are the Dracula sites of interest in Romania, but while Dracula is a primary reason people visit Romania, I want to say that Romania is a beautiful, marvelous country that deserves to be known for so much more than just Dracula. It is filled with incredible painted monasteries, master painters of colored eggs, stunning and unique architecture, breathtaking mountain views, kind and friendly people who have overcome their Communist past with courage, and people just like you and me who are kindhearted and eager to be citizens of the world. It is an incredibly safe country—even Bucharest with its 4,000,000 people was incredibly safe and I never feared walking around it by myself—and it is an inexpensive country. Everything cost about half to two-thirds of what I would have paid in the United States. Please, go see Romania for a rich cultural experience like no other.

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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.GothicWanderer.com, www.ChildrenofArthur.com, and www.MarquetteFiction.com.

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