Friday, November 2, 2007

The hunt for the truth begins...

At the beginning of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the author assures us:

How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of latter-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.

Bold words. Stoker is telling us he has a true and accurate account – something we should take seriously. Of course that’s hogwash. What follows is a crazy story about lesbian vampire babes, and guys climbing up walls like Spiderman, and some ghoul stashing soil samples all over London so he can feast on the blood of the living.

But it gave me an idea for an odd little exercise in critical thinking. What if Stoker’s story – this collection of journal entries and newspaper accounts, and messages from a ship’s log – were composed of real documents? It certainly wouldn’t be the first time someone used second-hand testimony as evidence of the paranormal. How would you go about investigating the story behind them?

In the days and weeks that follow, I will be asking cops, lawyers, folklorists, and Dracula scholars to take Stoker’s promise – and his documents – seriously, and begin an investigation. I invite anyone with an interest and a related expertise to write an essay – as short as 300 words – tackling this subject. Tell me who you are, and if you have a website or a book you’ve written, I’ll be sure to mention it along with your essay. Try to answer any or all of the following questions:

Who would you need to question, if you lived in the 19th century? How would you research them today? What are the weak points in their testimony, and what aspects of their accounts are truly challenging? Could you develop a working hypothesis that explains Harker’s harrowing experience, or the scene in Lucy’s crypt? Or any of the other paranormal experiences these people describe? And who are these witnesses, really? Who is the Count they spend most of the book pursuing? Was Dracula framed?

Check back in, and hopefully we’ll get some answers. I know we’ll have fun.

16 comments:

Maktaaq said...

Just as importantly, why do none of the iconic Dracula depictions have moustaches? Lugosi's count, Nosferatu and Count Chocula are all clean-shaven. The novel was pretty clear that Dracula had facial hair.

Paul Bibeau said...

I know! And in "Sundays with Vlad" I point out that Vlad the Impaler looked like the unholy lovechild of John Stossel and Yanni. Thanks for pointing this out.

Anne said...

You know what bothers me? The insistence on formal clothing. Lugosi started it, of course, his count meeting Jonathan in full opera garb, and every Dracula since has had to look like he just drank blood on Saville Row.

Paul Bibeau said...

Here's the big question: Is opera garb better or worse than the club kid outfits they wear on movies like Blade? Which is more terrible: European royalty or hipster?

Anne said...

I have to admit that I would rather see an opera cape than another one of those long leather dusters...

Maktaaq said...

Opera here too, if I had to choose. The ultra-cool vampires are a real turn-off.

I don't like moustaches either, but at least those are historically more accurate. Weren't most men in Eastern European Medieval or Victorian times non-shavers?

Charles said...

Well, razor technology wasn't terribly advanced back then (they only had three blades! And no battery-powered vibration? Oh, the humanity!), so shaving would inevitably produce nicks and cuts, that would due to unclean conditions invite infection. And, of course, bloodsuckers.

Hey, wait a minute...

geerte said...

Hi! I found your blog through the livejournal literature community, it looks great so far! I linked to you in my blog (it's here: http://19thcentury.wordpress.com/2007/11/07/victorian-spooky-stuff/), hope you don't mind!

Kind regards, Basje from the 19th century blog.

Leah said...

What a fun project! I'm a PhD candidate writing on the creation and function of authority through the editorial persona and documentation in Victorian gothic novels, and my first chapter is on Dracula, so I'll follow this with great interest.

I also have an Edward Gorey Dracula tattoo, but that's not nearly so scholarly.

Paul Bibeau said...

No, but if you're defending your diss., and one of the profs says you lack commitment to the subject, you can show that, and they'll have to back right the hell off.

Anne said...

I decided to start the project, with a bit of fun. Feel free to run with it, anyone. Here is the log book of an English Constable sent to the scene of Mrs Westenra's death.

The Log Book of Constable Thomas Farmer, September 18th

So, I goes down to the station here at Hillingham, and the sergeant, he tells me to get over to the Westenra house. Seems some neighbours had reported strange sounds in the night, like breaking glass and people screaming.

Morning seems a bit late to be investigating these reports, but of course I does what I’m told and gets on my bicycle and goes over to the Westenra house.

I knocks hard on the door, and bless me socks if it ain’t answered by a gentleman of quality, and not no maid nor butler.

“Yes, Constable, can I help you?” he asks, but I can tell, being a good observer of human nature, that he’s not nearly as calm as he’s pretending.

“Excuse me, sir,” I says, “but I did not know there were any men in the Westenra family. Constable Farmer at yer service, sir.”

“I am Dr. Jack Seward, a friend of Miss Lucy Westenra’s. Now, what brought you calling, Constable?”

“Sorry to disturb the household, sir,” I says, deciding not to comment on finding an unchaperoned gentlemen in a household full of women, “but we have received complaints from the neighbours of strange noises in the night. People roundabouts here have told us they heard glass breaking, ladies screaming, and even a large dog howling. Do you know anything about these events, sir?”

“Lower your voice, please, Constable. This is a house of death.”

Of course I snatches me helmet right off, to show proper respect and all. “I begs our pardon, I’m sure,” I says, “but I still need to know some answers, sir. And who has died, may I ask?”

“Mrs Westenra is dead. She had a weak heart for many years, and last night it gave out.”

“I am very sorry to hear that, sir. Were you attendant upon her at her deathbed?”

“No, I arrived too late to save her, or even witness her death. The only one with her was her daughter Lucy. Lucy herself is in a very delicate condition, I forbid you to question her.”

I looks at him sternly. “I am an officer of the law, sir,” I says, “you cannot forbid me anything. But I shall do my best to avoid upsetting the lady. Can you show me where Mrs Westenra is laid out?”

I can tell he doesn’t want to, but he knows he’s got to. So he leads me upstairs to a bedroom. And there’s poor Mrs. Westenra, cold as clay, her eyes open and her mouth, too.

“She looks like she was plain scared to death, sir,” I says.

Then I sees the glass all over the floor. Some of the pieces have blood on them. And there’s most of the window missing. “Somebody came through that window?” I asks.

“This is the second floor, Constable,” snaps the doctor. “How could anyone have come through the window?”

“How else did it get broken and get blood on it?” I asks. “Doctor Seward, this here is now a suspicious death. I am going to have to report to my sergeant and have them call in the Yard. Nothing here is to be touched or moved. Good day to you, sir.”

And I stalks out of that house and cycles back down to the station.

Paul Bibeau said...

Great post, Anne!

Bloofer said...

Thanks, Anne. Here's my small effort.

[Letter]

Ambassador Thomas F. Bayard
U.S. Embassy
Grosvenor Square
London

Dear Mr. Ambassador:

I am writing to you as a last resort because I’m at the end of my rope and have no idea what else to do.

I am looking for my brother, an American citizen who spent several months in London last year. His name is Quincey P. Morris. During that time he wrote me regularly, even hinting that he had fallen in love with a local gal who later got hitched to someone else – some noble fellow. But then the letters stopped.

I have a friend near Purfleet who claims she saw my brother last year going in and out of a local mental hospital run by a Dr John Seward. She made inquiries for me and was told by one of the staff that Dr Seward and a few of his pals left the area last over a year ago and headed off to somewhere in eastern Europe. Nobody has seen hide nor hair of Quincey since.

Now this name (Seward) rings a bell. I remember Quincey telling me that he and a Jack Seward had gone on camping expeditions together, so I feel sure this is the same one. Surely he must know something!

I’ve written Dr Seward at Purfleet several times but my letters have gone unanswered.

I want to know what happened to my brother. I am beginning to suspect foul play and some sort of cover-up. I want him found – dead or alive.

Thanks.


Louisa M. Morris
Crawford, Texas
November 6, 1894

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Maktaaq said: "Just as importantly, why do none of the iconic Dracula depictions have moustaches? Lugosi's count, Nosferatu and Count Chocula are all clean-shaven. The novel was pretty clear that Dracula had facial hair."

Not quite true Christopher Lee played the Count, as well as his more famous Hammer performances, in Jess Franco's version of the story (Count Dracula) and he had a moustache.

tnu said...

The Essay's in this collection make far more sense then they should be allowd to I commend you for really spurring my mind and making me want to reread the book more then I already do (I already have The Essentail Dracula which I was planning on rereading maybe i'll get the anotated and the Undead will be a must)there were some elemnts of the physical descriptions of the charactres that i had completly forgotton i need to really pay attention to the clothing that Dracula was described in (if he is ata ll i can't recall)

Lady Nightshade said...

One thing I'd like to add, Lucy only died after She's had blood transfusions from three men, before the discovery of blood-types. Coincidence?
I think not.
PS: Mina is Romanian for 'mine'. Make of that what you will...