Friday, February 1, 2008

Deeper into the Rabbit Hole of Dracula

by Joel H. Emerson

The astute reader of Dracula will find many apparent discrepancies, incomplete plot threads, and otherwise “loose ends” throughout the novel’s chain of events. While many have simply dismissed these inconsistencies and irregularities as poor writing on the part of Bram Stoker, a rare few have come to wonder if there is not more to this novel than is generally known…

Most readers are familiar with the preface that appears at the beginning of Dracula:

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 later-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.

But there is another preface, more rare and far more revealing, that can be found in the 1901 Icelandic edition of the novel, which – translated back into English – reads as follows:

The reader of this story will very soon understand how the events outlined in these pages have been gradually drawn together to make a logical whole. Apart from excising minor details which I considered unnecessary, I have let the people involved relate their experiences in their own way; but, for obvious reasons, I have changed the names of the people and places concerned. In all other respects I leave the manuscript unaltered, in deference to the wishes of those who have considered it their duty to present it before the eyes of the public. I am quite convinced that there is no doubt whatever that the events here described really took place, however unbelievable and incomprehensible they might appear at first sight. And I am further convinced that they must always remain to some extent incomprehensible, although continuing research in psychology and natural sciences may, in years to come, give logical explanations of such strange happenings which, at present, neither scientists nor the secret police can understand. I state again that this mysterious tragedy which is here described is completely true in all its external respects, though naturally I have reached a different conclusion on certain points than those involved in the story. But the events are incontrovertible, and so many people know of them that they cannot be denied. This series of crimes has not yet passed from the memory – a series of crimes which appear to have originated from the same source, and which at the same time created as much repugnance in people everywhere as the murders of Jack the Ripper, which came into the story a little later. Various people’s minds will go back to the remarkable group of foreigners who for many seasons together played a dazzling part in the life of the aristocracy here in London; and some will remember that one of them disappeared suddenly without apparent reason, leaving no trace. All the people who have willingly – or unwillingly – played a part in this remarkable story are known generally and well respected. Both Jonathan Harker and his wife (who is a woman of character) and Dr. Seward are my friends and have been so for many years, and I have never doubted that they were telling the truth; and the highly respected scientist, who appears here under a pseudonym, will also be too famous all over the educated world for his real name, which I have not desired to specify, to be hidden from people – least of all those who have from experience learnt to value and respect his genius and accomplishments, though they adhere to his views on life no more than I. But in our times it ought to be clear to all serious-thinking men that “there are more things in heaven and earth/ than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
August 1898

Five important questions can be raised from reading these two prologues:

1. Was Bram Stoker the editor – not the author – of Dracula?
2. Can the opinions of the protagonists be trusted?
3. In what year did the events of Dracula take place?
4. Was there a connection between Dracula and Jack the Ripper?
5. Should Arthur Holmwood be further investigated?

Anyone looking to “get to the bottom” of what really happened during the course of the novel should delve more deeply into these five questions. Though the answers in and of themselves will not produce any definite conclusions, they will nevertheless bring the reader closer to the truth.

1. Was Bram Stoker the editor – not the author – of Dracula?

The familiar preface makes such statements as “these papers have been placed in sequence,” and “needless matters have been eliminated,” and “the records chosen.” These admissions in and of themselves make it known that a degree of editing has taken place, that some text has been included while other text has been left out. Furthermore, the final line explaining that the records were “given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them” indicates that there were multiple authors, rather than a single author writing from multiple characters’ viewpoints.

The Icelandic preface confirms the act of editing with the admissions of “excising minor details which I considered unnecessary,” and “I have changed the names of the people and places concerned.” Here the author of the preface – and thus the editor of the various protagonists’ works – even signs this preface himself with “B.S.” – which can without doubt be no other than Bram Stoker.

Furthermore, Bram Stoker’s writing notes that are stored at the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia reveal many characters and events that were left out of the published work – the involvement of a police inspector, an occult investigator, and an artist, the Count’s attendance at one of the protagonist’s dinner parties, Quincey Morris’ private adventure in Transylvania, and more. This would indicate that Stoker himself, as editor, chose what to include and what to leave out.

Thus it seems clear that Bram Stoker served as the editor for the various protagonists of the novel, rather than the direct author.

2. Can the opinions of the protagonists be trusted?

Stoker explains in the familiar introduction that the text of the book is “given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.” It seems that he is making allowances for the possibility of the protagonists’ perspectives and knowledge limitation having an impact on the factualness of the accounts. His addition of “there is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err” may even lead one to believe that certain protagonists may have wanted to add or remove information or otherwise change their recorded opinions afterward, but were discouraged from doing so.

In the Icelandic preface, Stoker blatantly states “I have reached a different conclusion on certain points than those involved in the story,” thus confirming that – at least from Stoker’s point of view – what the some of the protagonists’ believed happened and what really happened may have been two very different things.

Upon reading the text of Dracula, surprisingly few of the protagonists can be relied on to provide factual and unbiased accounts:

Jonathan Harker began suffering from “brain fever” early on in the story, and was prone to relapses (as we he all but passed out upon seeing the Count on the streets of London, and failed to remember the episode for a time).

Mina Harker was clearly under the Count’s hypnotic power, and thus was not allowed to participate in many of the planning sessions by the rest of the group. Though the claim in made that the undead’s control over Mina was removed on October 28, that is certainly subject to debate, as VanHelsing periodically makes mention of how her metamorphosis into a vampire is continuing to progress. Thus, nothing that Mina says or records can truly be trusted starting no later than October 2nd (when she was fed Dracula’s blood), if not earlier.

Lucy Westentra lied so many times – to her mother, to Mina, to everyone – that it is actually difficult to keep track of the instances. Even before her first encounter with Dracula, she prides herself in a letter to Mina on being “being a tough nut to crack” (that is, intentionally preventing Dr. Seward from determining what she is really thinking). And of course once she encounters Dracula then anything she says and does becomes highly suspect.

Professor VanHelsing, though he is the cornerstone of the group, can barely be trusted. He speaks in riddles, leaves out important information, is so prone to hysterics that he has his sanity questioned by Dr. Seward on more than one occasion. Furthermore, it is revealed in a discussion with Dr. Seward that he is also dealing with various emotional strains from the loss of his son (“mine own boy had I been so blessed that he live”) and the anquish of his wife’s mental incapacitation (“my poor wife dead to me, but alive by Church’s law, though no wits, all gone”).

Dr. Seward has emotional issues of his own. His first diary entry reveals that he is love-sick and depressed, as well as a workaholic. Later in the text he is still in the throes of depression, as he admits in his journal “my whole life ended with my new hope…I must only wait on hopeless and work. Work! Work!” Furthermore, he admits to fueling Renfield’s delusions (”In my manner of doing it there was, I now see, something of cruelty. I seemed to wish to keep him to the point of his madness, a thing which I avoid with the patients as I would the mouth of hell”) and battles with himself to keep from worsening his patient’s condition (“I must not think too much of this, or I may be tempted; a good cause might turn the scale with me”). Finally, it appears that Dr. Seward may well be an addict of chloral hydrate, as he is apparently taking it enough to say “I must be careful not to let it grow into a habit,” which may well mean that it already is a habit.

And Arthur Holmwood…well, he will be discussed in due course.

3. In what year did the events of Dracula take place?

Pinning down the exact year the events of Dracula occurred has always been a challenge. If the reader is to suspend disbelief and accept the content of Dracula as a factual account, as Stoker insists it is in his introduction, then the events recorded in the text logically occurred before its publication in 1897. . . but how long before?

Certain cultural details within the novel—such as a possible reference to the death of the famous neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, and the common-place use of the term “New Woman”—would seem to place the year of Dracula in or around 1893. What’s more, the calendar dates listed in The Notes match up with those of 1893. However, Harker’s final note at the end of the book places the bulk of the events at least seven years before it was published. We know the book was published in 1897, which thus requires the story to have occurred before 1890, despite the previously-mentioned support for 1893.

Furthermore, some of Stoker’s notes housed at the Rosenbach Museum are dated at least as early as 1890. If he began editing the various journals in 1890, then the events described therein clearly must have taken place earlier than that year.

Now, thanks to the rarely-seen Icelandic version of the introduction, we have Stoker specifically linking the timeframe of Dracula to the infamous Jack the Ripper murders with his statement of “This series of crimes has not yet passed from the memory – a series of crimes which appear to have originated from the same source, and which at the same time created as much repugnance in people everywhere as the murders of Jack the Ripper, which came into the story a little later.” This would then place the events of the novel in 1888, when Jack committed his crimes.

4. Was there a connection between Dracula and Jack the Ripper?

Now that we have established the year of Dracula as 1888, and with the Jack the Ripper being mentioned by name in the Icelandic preface, one must wonder if there is a more concrete connection between the Count and the Ripper.

Though there is no conclusive evidence found within the text of the novel itself, we know that one of the Count’s houses was located at Mile End, very near Whitechapel.

Here are some revealing exerts from 1888 newspapers:

The London Times, September 11th
“Description of a man…rather dark beard and moustache. Dress-shirt, dark vest and trousers, black scarf, and black felt hat. Spoke with a foreign accent.”

The East London Advertiser, October 6th
“A Thirst For Blood
“The two fresh murders which have been committed in Whitechapel have aroused the indignation and excited the imagination of London to a degree without parallel. Men feel that they are face to face with some awful and extraordinary freak of nature. So inexplicable and ghastly are the circumstances surrounding the crimes that people are affected by them in the same way as children are by the recital of a weird and terrible story of the supernatural. It is so impossible to account, on any ordinary hypothesis, for these revolting acts of blood that the mind turns as it were instinctively to some theory of occult force, and the myths of the Dark Ages rise before the imagination. Ghouls, vampires, bloodsuckers, and all the ghastly array of fables which have been accumulated throughout the course of centuries take form, and seize hold of the excited fancy. Yet the most morbid imagination can conceive nothing worse than this terrible reality; for what can be more appalling than the thought that there is a being in human shape stealthily moving about a great city, burning with the thirst for human blood, and endowed with such diabolical astuteness, as to enable him to gratify his fiendish lust with absolute impunity?”

5. Should Arthur Holmwood be further investigated?

Here, perhaps, is the most interesting question of all. There were a number of suspicious events surrounding Arthur Holmwood, enough to question his motives and role in the novel’s events.

[1] Arthur Holmwood and his two very close friends—Quincey Morris and John Seward—all propose to Lucy on the same day. Afterward, they all get together to discuss things which, as Arthur says in his telegram, will “make their ears tingle.”

[2] Arthur always seems to be mysteriously absent during those times when Lucy’s health gets worse.

[3] Arthur’s fi ancé Lucy, Lucy’s mother, and Arthur’s father all die within a day or two of each other. (Jonathan’s employer Hawkins dies at this same time as well, though the text does not make any direct connections to the Holmwoods)

[4] In addition to his own inheritance, Arthur also receives the estates of both Lucy and her mother, through a legal arrangement so peculiar that even the lawyers of Lucy’s mother tried to talk her out of it.

[5] Dr. Seward notes Arthur was withholding information when he returned to report the diaries were burned.

[6] Renfield is well acquainted with the Holmwoods, and reveals to the party that he knew Arthur’s father from the Windham.

[7] In his hysterics after Lucy’s death, Van Helsing reveals that his wife was mad and their son lost, yet he says he loves Arthur as a father loves a son because Arthur looks exactly like his missing (and presumed dead?) son!

In Conclusion…?
What was the connection, if any, between the Ripper murders and Dracula? Did Arthur Holmwood have a nefarious agenda, and if so how did it tie into the Count’s own plans? Though we can never know for certain what Stoker’s editing failed to reveal to us, such questions as these may hold the key to understanding the true chain of events that nearly caused the infestation of London by the undead.

Should you have found these questions intriguing, they are the topics of an expanded rewrite of Dracula – a literary “director’s cut” if you will – entitled:
The Un-Dead (HC ISBN: 978-1-4257-5040-4, PB ISBN: 978-1-4257-5031-2).


Taliesin_ttlg said...

Just couldn't resist, ordered the book today!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I've now read Joel Enerson's novel and... well, wow... I have reviewed it over at my blog and the review can be found here.

monsterofmud said...

I can't wait to read this and think it's a tremendous idea, but I inherently have a problem with the time setting:

Van Helsing refers to the neurologist Charcot as having just passed away, meaning the novel without a doubt takes place in 1893. This is supported by one of the Tuesdays matching up with the same calendar date of that year.

Emerson cites setting his reconstruction years earlier than that because of the post-script Harker has written seven years later. Obviously this one-page note presents much trouble with the notion that it was included with the publication of all the other materials in the year 1897.

On an abstract level you can imagine the main events of the novel occurring in 1893, and the post-script being a forthcoming entry in 1900, three years after the book's publication.

Certainly Emerson had to choose one possibility over the other for his fictional assertion that the novel's events did indeed happen, and either way he went he was sure to pose the same stumbling block. However given Van Helsing's blatant assertion of Charcot's death, and especially backed up by a calendar date matching the year 1893 exactly, I feel having it set in that year is the better choice, as it gives two examples versus the one of Harker's "seven-years later" note. Given that Stoker made a few gaffes of his own when it came to consecutive dates, one could assume that Harker meant to say “four-years later”. Dates and the recall of a number of years remembered are one thing, but the passing of a peer a week before (VH’s lament of Charcot) is quite more explicit and not subject to transcription error and/or faulty memory.

That said, I'm sure the rest will be a great read as long as I suspend my disbelief on the overall setting of the year.

Dirgesinger said...

Absolutely stunning info! I am an ardent lover of the book. Thanks a lot for these!