Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

World Dracula Congress, Dublin

I have been doing lots of cool Dracula-related things lately, but until now haven't had the chance to write them up. They really need it though, as I will definitely want to remember them. So for today this is what I did two weeks ago at the Fourth World Dracula Congress - the latest in a series of ad hoc academic conferences on Dracula which began in Bucharest in 1995.

I wasn't actually sure I would be able to go to this until quite late in the day, as it was scheduled for a Thursday and Friday during term-time, but Friday is our regular research day anyway, and as luck would have it a lecture which I deliver fortnightly on Thursdays did not fall in that week. So off I went! Obviously the choice of Dublin for the venue reflected its status as Bram Stoker's birthplace, and indeed I had already made sure to visit his houses on my previous visits to the city: one of which in 2014 I managed to write up on LJ, and the other of which in 2015 I don't seem to have done, but involved visiting his childhood house on the edge of the city. Indeed, the whole conference actually took place in the same venue as the Augustan poetry conference which was the reason for me going over in 2014: the Long Room Hub on Trinity College campus. It was quite strange operating in the same venue but in a rather different capacity: last time academic, this time fannish. But that distinction only held true for me personally. The conference as a whole was very much an academic event, and indeed more so than I'd expected really. Every paper I heard was strong, and some represented really significant steps forward in our knowledge of Dracula: the novel, its author and the rich mythos behind it all. I'll highlight the two which that most held true for first, and then sketch out the others a little more briefly and by theme.

The first highlight paper was by Hans de Roos (who was also the conference organiser) on Makt Myrkranna (or Powers of Darkness), the Icelandic 'translation' of Dracula, which was first serialised in an Icelandic newspaper throughout the year 1900 and then published in a print edition in 1901. I've put 'translation' in inverted commas there, because it isn't actually a straightforward translation at all - and that's what's really exciting about it. It's long been known that this version is shorter than Stoker's novel - only just over a quarter of its length, in fact. But in spite of this, it is far from just being an abridged translation. Rather, the first part of the novel,set in Dracula's castle in Transylvania is considerably expanded (from c. 23,000 words in Stoker's novel to 37,000 in the Icelandic translation), while the remainder is then hugely contracted (138,000 words to 9,000) but in spite of that still contains some different material. This is Hans' slide, capturing the relationship between the two:

2016-10-20 11.16.08.jpg

Rather amazingly, no-one has really noticed this until now - partly because the Icelandic edition was never produced in very huge numbers in the first place, and I guess also because the pools of people who a) speak Icelandic and b) are geekily interested in Dracula are both pretty small, so that the overlap hasn't been strong enough to bring the anomaly and its potential interest to the place it deserves in the public consciousness. But it has been picked up on now all right. Hans has worked with a team of Icelandic and English speakers to produce an English translation of it which will be out in time for Christmas, and there's also a website here with lots more information about it and a few extracts.

What's interesting, of course, is where the extra material not in the standard English version of the novel came from, and the very-exciting answer seems to be that some of it came from Stoker and some from the Icelandic translator / editor, Valdimar Ásmundsson. Stoker certainly knew about this translation, as the book edition has a preface signed by him which contains more material than the English edition, is not present in any other edition or translation of Dracula, and reads as having been written by him. The bits likely to come from Stoker in the main text include things like the Count having a deaf-mute female housekeeper, which you can see listed but then crossed out in his original handwritten list of characters for the novel. The bits likely to come from Valdimar Ásmundsson include references to figures from Norse mythology like elves and ancient gods. So we seem to have something of a mash-up, bringing together bits of Stoker which didn't make it into the official novel with input from another creative imagination. Perhaps Stoker took the opportunity to get some extra material out there, providing either his notes or an early, unedited draft of the novel to Ásmundsson, and then Ásmundsson embellished further from there? It's not entirely clear what happened, or why the extensive embellishment of the first part of the novel then gave way to a hurried compression of what remained. But it certainly is hugely exciting. Haven't all those of us who love Dracula always longed for a sequel, and in many cases (certainly including mine) tried to write one? Well, this is really quite close to being one - and it turns out it was right there under our noses all along.

As for the details of the new (to most of us anyway) material, the bits which sounded most exciting to me where those which a) added extra dimensions to the Count's character and b) anticipate in fascinating ways things woven into the Dracula story by later creative minds - especially of course those at Hammer films. For example, the Dracula of Makt Myrkranna is not merely after blood, but is a political operator as well. Between letters which Harker sees in his castle and a gathering which he hosts at his house in London, we learn that he is an anarchist, fomenting rebellion so that the strong (i.e. him and his supporters) can take power. This is a logical extension of Dracula's interest in London as a bustling metropolis as portrayed in Stoker's novel, where it's clear he wants to go there to be at the heart of things, but we never quite learn the full extent of his ambitions. It's also picked up on in a slightly different way in Hammer's Satanic Rites of Dracula, where he is similarly seen drawing the politically-powerful into his anarchistic schemes, although in this case the desire to destroy and impose power is mingled with his own yearning for oblivion. Another similar case is the inclusion in Makt Myrkranna of pagan / Satanic rituals involving naked women on altars and crowds of acolytes, pursued in caves underneath his castle. Again, this expands upon elements already in the standard English version of the novel - particularly the idea of Dracula acquiring his powers in the first place as an acolyte at the Scholomance, an academy of the dark arts run by the Devil in a cave in the Carpathian mountains. Of course as a fully-fledged vampire Dracula would go on to lead rituals of the same sort himself, and sure enough Hammer recognised and referenced this to various degrees in almost every Dracula film they made, and most emphatically of all in one they didn't - The Unquenchable Thirst of Dracula. In short, then, it's pretty clear that Makt Myrkranna is going to give me more of a Dracula I already know, and like very much indeed. I really cannot wait to read it properly for myself!

My second highlight paper was by Paul Murray, author of a biography of Stoker entitled From the Shadow of Dracula: A Life of Bram Stoker which was initially published in 2004 but released in an updated edition in 2016. The reason for the update was the same as the subject of Murray's paper at the conference: a new research lead which he had pursued, which had led to the addition of a whole new chapter in his book, and which distinctly changes our picture of what Stoker knew about the historical Vlad III Dracula. The standard story about Stoker and Dracula is that his main character was originally just going to be called 'Count Wampyr' (again, see the original character-list), and that he came across the name and historical figure of Dracula fairly late in the day, possibly pointed in that direction by conversations with Arminius Vámbéry, and certainly taking notes on him from William Wilkinson’s book Account on the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia which he borrowed from Whitby's subscription library in 1890. Paul Murray, though, had taken the time and trouble to go through the ledgers for Marsh's Library in Dublin, the only public library in the city at the time of Bram's late teens, and to check exactly what Bram had been reading there over a series of seven visits between 1866 and 1867.

Murray found that Bram had read widely amongst 17th and 18th century printed works, including mythology, history, and geography, but that some clear themes emerged. He was interested in sectarian conflicts, including Irish ones but also comparable ones elsewhere in Europe, and particularly in the threat to Christendom represented by the Ottoman presence in eastern Europe. This, of course, is where Vlad III Dracula comes in. It isn't possible to prove exactly what Bram read within each book, as the library's ledger only preserves the titles consulted, but he certainly read works which included considerable information about both Vlad III Dracula and his wider historical and geographical context, and he certainly gravitated towards these sorts of books within a catalogue that contained tens of thousands of volumes in what looks like a targeted manner. In addition, William Wilde (Oscar's father) was also interested in Transylvania and wrote material comparing it with the legends of Ireland, later published by Lady Wilde. Given that the Wilde family were hugely influential on Bram, he would probably have absorbed the stories this way too. With this new information, it now looks more like Stoker was if anything reminded of the historical Dracula (and similar princes) while working on his novel in the late 1880s / early 1890s, and requested the volume by Wilkinson at Whitby in order to refresh his memory, rather than in order to research a topic which was brand new to him.

Certainly, the general impression of Vlad which Stoker would have gleaned from the books he read as a teenager is very much consistent with the way the Count appears in the final novel. The Vlad III Dracula of Marsh's public library was primarily a courageous medieval prince, certainly operating brutally in a brutal world, but engaged in the noble purpose of defending Wallachia against the Turks and more broadly Christendom against Islam. This is exactly the sort of back-story which Stoker gives to his character in the novel, and while his working notes certainly show that these details were refreshed by Wilkinson's book, I can now very readily believe they were also built on a deeper knowledge of Wallachia and its princes gleaned at a much earlier stage in Stoker's life. Meanwhile, the books of Marsh's public library never call Dracula 'the Impaler', or enumerate the supposed atrocities attributed to him in the pamphlet tradition, and indeed these don't seem to have informed Stoker's novel at all (as many have noted). Needless to say, Murray's updated biography is now also on my Christmas list, so that I can read the details of his research on this and other aspects of Stoker's life for myself. For now, here he is delivering his paper, complete with a map of Wallachia and Transylvania from one of the books Stoker consulted at Marsh's:

2016-10-20 11.52.17.jpg

So those two papers between them were worth the price of admission alone. But then there were lots of other awesome papers! I have grouped them into themes, which in some cases reflect the way they were grouped for the conference, but in others do not. This is just how they come together for me.

Biographical papers

By this I mean basically papers about how Stoker's background, knowledge and approach to his career shaped his work as a writer. One of the guests of honour at the conference was a gentleman named Douglas Appleyard, who described himself as a 'distant relative' of Bram Stoker, and did not pretend to be anything more (he reckoned it was third cousin three times removed). But he had done lots of genealogical research into the Stoker family and shared it with us, including the story of a John Stoker caught body-snatching as a teenager. Douglas also showed us how many of Bram's brothers and cousins had been doctors, a theme pursued further by Fiona Subotsky, who had herself spent her career as a very eminent psychiatrist. This connection meant that Bram was surrounded by medical men all his life, and it is no surprise to find many of their names and ideas appearing in the novel. Fiona was able to enrich what to me had always been just meaningless names by telling us about the careers and ideas of these doctors, and in many cases also to demonstrate their direct personal connection with Bram. Incidentally, Fiona happens also to be widow of Milton Subotsky of Amicus films fame, but although this is clearly very important for her and certainly sits neatly alongside her interest in Dracula, I mention it after the details of her paper rather than beforehand, because I absolutely do not want to slip into or perpetuate 'Wife of Famous Man Gives Paper'-style misogyny. Finally under this heading (but actually earlier on the programme), Bill Hughes of Bath Spa University spoke about Stoker's relationship with his publishers, as revealed by correspondence relating to one of his last works, the non-fiction collection Famous Imposters. Sadly no such correspondence exists in relation to Dracula, but it gives us quite an insight into how the publication process went for him, including multiple edits and a concerted (yet ultimately unsuccessful) attempt to get the book out for the Christmas market, as well as the impact of his by-then failing health, which the publisher was very sympathetic towards.

2016-10-20 10.05.31.jpg
Douglas Appleyard, with Hans van Roos in the foreground chairing.

2016-10-20 15.11.39.jpg
Fiona Subotsky, with Bill Hughes chairing.

Literary papers

I.e. papers based on literary theory or exploring literary motifs, sometimes in Dracula and sometimes elsewhere. Dara Downey of University College Dublin spoke on vampires in recent-ish (post-1970) novels as a way of exploring the relationship between humans and things / objects (which are they?), especially in the context of slavery - but also noted that in practice the full implications of the motif are often side-stepped, even in novels set in the American deep south, where it should be very relevant. Maria Parrino from Genova, Italy explored how speech is used in Dracula to code the characters and add richness to the story. As she pointed out, Dracula himself tries to hide his status as an immigrant by learning to pronounce English perfectly, but even in doing so remains conspicuously inauthentic in contrast to the casual speech of the native English characters, and to Van Helsing and Quincey Morris whose strong foreign accents comprise part of what they are liked and valued for. Finally, Marcia Heloisa Amarante from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil spoke about the way Dracula breaks the boundary between human and animal with his lizard-like crawling down castle walls and ability to transform into a bat or wolf. Her main point was that this would have been truly unsettling for contemporary audiences in the light of Darwinism, which had similarly called into question the boundary between humans and animals, always previously assumed to be divinely ordained and unassailable.

Papers on place

In this category (entirely invented by me), Clive Bloom, editor of Palgrave's Gothic series showed how Stoker's novel draws on the mythos (or as he called it the discursive nexus) of the East End as a place of lawlessness and Others, as represented by its history of immigrant residents and crimes which the authorities were unable or unwilling to address - especially, of course, Jack the Ripper. Duncan Light, a geographer who works on tourism at Bournemouth University also spoke about how tourism appears within in the novel, again particularly as a way to code the characters. While the human characters are marked out as exceptional by the lengths and exotic destinations of the journeys they undertake, Dracula by contrast is not a tourist but an immigrant - although, as was pointed out in the discussion afterwards, he cannot actually leave his country of origin behind, literally bringing it with him inside his fifty boxes of soil.

2016-10-20 17.04.32.jpg
Duncan Light with his concluding slide.

Papers on Dracula from a Romanian perspective

Under this heading, Bogdan Popa, a historian from Bucharest and representative of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, spoke about the evolving reputation of Vlad III Dracula in Romania, and what happened when Romanians finally encountered the fictional Count Dracula. Vlad was already well-established as a figurehead of Romanian nationalism long before knowledge of his vampire namesake reached the country. Indeed, the vampire Count arrived in Romania much later than many people in the west realise, and the main mechanism was not Stoker's novel (which had barely penetrated due to only partial and scantily-available Romanian translations until 1990), but Coppola's 1992 film. This in turn was very unfortunate, and not just because the film isn't very good, but because its opening sequences are more or less explicitly designed to irritate Romanians by foregrounding the idea of the historical Dracula literally becoming a monstrous vampire - itself building more on the overblown theories developed by Florescu and McNally in the 1970s than Stoker's novel. It created a backlash, with Romanians keen to protect the reputation of their national hero rejecting everything to do with the fictional character, even though the Dracula of Stoker's novel is much more in tune with their views than the Dracula of Coppola's film. To this day, Romania continues to struggle with a Dracula Dilemma, since Dracula the vampire is one of the country's major tourist draws, and yet they dislike seeing their national hero presented in these terms. In a similar vein (*boom-tish*), Marius-Mircea Crișan from Timisoara, Romania outlined the evolving history of Romanian literary responses to Vlad III Dracula, and his fictional namesake once he became known. This was slightly frustrating, because many of the works he was describing sounded awesome, but of course they are all in Romanian so not really accessible to me. The outline is that Vlad mainly features as a national hero and enemy of corruption in Romanian literature, but that more recent material weaves in the vampire mythos as well, often to satirical or comic effect, and engages with the same Dracula Dilemma mentioned above.

Meanwhile, over lunch in the pub on our second day I took the opportunity to quiz Bogdan in particular on the commemorations held to mark the 500th anniversary of Vlad III Dracula's death in Romania in 1976. This is, after all, Relevant To My Interests, given my work on Augustus' bimillennia. According to Bogdan, the Romanian Communist regime held large numbers of anniversary commemorations to mark significant events in their own history (this is very typical - the Nazis and Fascists both did it too), but the commemorations for Dracula were fairly unusual in marking a non-Communist historical figure's anniversary, and were done partly to bolster Ceaușescu's status as a comparable contemporary figure (hello Mussolini and Augustus!) and partly as a way of re-asserting control over the historical Dracula in the face of Florescu and McNally's claims equating him with the fictional vampire. Meanwhile, people in Romania now are reticent about anniversary culture altogether because it had become so strongly associated with the Communist regime by the time it fell. Between all that, I think I've got enough grounds for including Dracula's 500th anniversary as a comparative example in my book about Augustus - excellent! Furthermore, I also learnt from Bogdan about a very exciting series of books, currently in production, entitled the Corpus Draculianum . The linked page is in German, but basically it is all the primary sources about the historical Dracula, complete with full translations and scholarly commentaries. In other words, it is basically like the book by Kurt Treptow with collected primary sources at the back which I already read, except fuller (comparing the table of contents for the one volume of the three already to have been published, it has about twice as many sources)... and in German... :-( Yes, my ideal book, in German. I'm not quite sure what I am going to do about this yet, but I certainly know that I have to read it. There doesn't seem to be an ebook, so maybe I will have to buy it, scan it, apply OCR and then stick the results into Google translate? All I know is that I have never been so motivated to tackle a German text in my life before, and I will find a way!

Papers on historically-attested 'vampire epidemics' in eastern Europe

There are quite a number of such cases, mainly from Serbia, amongst which the most famous include the stories of Petar Blagojević, Arnold Paole and Sava Savanović. Clemens Ruthner from Trinity College was the first to tackle them, pointing out that they are essentially a creation of both the Enlightenment and Austrian imperial power. The reason we know about them at all is because Austrian medics jumped on the opportunity to stamp out localised superstitions, but in the process documented them and perpetuated the myths - though changing them as they did so. Their documentation attracts a lot of attention in retrospect for containing the first recorded usage of the word 'vampire', but Ruthner emphasised that this probably wasn't a term used by the Serbian peasants themselves, and that their beliefs were reconfigured even as they were carried forwards to infiltrate western literature. Ruthner pointed out that the stories are all reported at second-hand, that the texts vary wildly on the details of what the reanimated corpses actually do, and that the interactions between the Austrian doctors and the Serbian peasants were in any case rife with cross-cultural misunderstandings - for example peasants looking for signs of life in exhumed corpses while doctors looked for forensic evidence of their activities. Meanwhile, yet another layer of misunderstanding has been added since by the temptation to see these stories as the true 'origins' of vampirism as we know it today, and thus to retroject later ideas from western literature onto them. In other words, it's all a lovely big tangle of real-world culture, historiography and literary imagination, all bouncing off one another like nobody's business - awesome!

Tanja Jurkovic, just starting a PhD in Film and Media then spoke about the specific case of Sava Savanović, and current attempts to turn the story into a tourist attraction drawing visitors to his area of Serbia in a similar manner to Dracula in Romania. Graeme Murdock, a historian from Trinity College, explored how and why the inhabitants of Olomouc in Moravia (Czech Republic) might have come to believe that the dead were rising from their graves and attacking the living in the early 18th century. He did this by working through a good three prior centuries of successive religious suppressions and authority-figures encouraging the denunciation of deviants, and pointed out that many of the 'vampire' stories involve Others - particularly outsiders who come to the village bringing the infestation. Just at the time of the documented stories, witch-trials had come to an end and the Catholic church had announced that it no longer believed in witches, so people afraid of both death and the Other channelled their anxieties into a new belief in the heretical dead instead, asked their priests to solve it for them, and they in turn summoned Enlightenment-educated Austrian medics in response. Finally, Niels Kristian Petersen, author of the Magia Postumia blog spoke in more detail about the book of that name in which the Olomouc case is documented, written by Karl Ferdinand von Schertz, the manager of the Archbishop's property in Olomouc, in 1704. This book in itself has been widely mythologised, so Niels discussed what it does and doesn't actually contain (a wide range of local folklore about ghosts, witches and revenants with nothing at all about blood-sucking), and how it eventually reached the French Benedictine monk Antoine Augustin Calmet, who used it as source-material for his own treatise on vampires, thus acting as the main conduit by which eastern European 'vampire' folklore reached the west.

And then of course as if the conference were not enough, I also thoroughly enjoyed my third visit to Dublin in as many years. My main companion was Julia, chair of the London-based Dracula Society (i.e. the people I went to Romania and Geneva with), with whom I shared a room at Stauntons on the Green, a pleasant autumnal walk across a park from the city centre. We enjoyed several nice meals together, tried various Irish whiskies, met up with Julia's friend Brian Showers of the Swan River Press who organised a Ghost Story Festival in Dublin earlier this year, took a tour of Trinity campus including its splendid Long Room, and popped into Sweny's chemist, a historical pharmacy which features in James Joyce's Ulysses and is now run by volunteers as a literary centre and site of historical interest. Plus, after Julia had departed for her earlier flight, I mooched around Dublin a little more on my own, tracking down Sheridan le Fanu's house and buying a jolly nice new pair of flares. I close with a few photos of the sights of Dublin.

2016-10-22 14.18.44.jpg
Le Fanu's house, which is just around the corner from Oscar's on the same square.

2016-10-22 14.16.59.jpg
Its plaque.

2016-10-22 11.32.15.jpg
The Trinity College Long Room.

2016-10-22 11.28.54.jpg
The harp which features in stylised form on the Irish coat of arms.

Click here if you would like view this entry in light text on a dark background.


( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 7th, 2016 02:09 pm (UTC)
Fascinating - really must get my arse in gear and join Drac Soc too.
Nov. 7th, 2016 02:22 pm (UTC)
Nov. 7th, 2016 02:48 pm (UTC)
Cheers - and done :-) (old school style with printer and cheque book)
Jan. 6th, 2019 04:58 pm (UTC)
Excellent detailed article!

As well as photographs, did you make any recordings of the speakers' lectures? I would love to hear them.
Jan. 6th, 2019 06:04 pm (UTC)
Re: Recordings?
No, but if you Google some of the speakers' names you will find publications by them on the subject of Dracula, so you could learn more about their work that way.
Jan. 6th, 2019 06:05 pm (UTC)
Re: Recordings?
Thank you for your reply, will do.
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

April 2019


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by chasethestars