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Bram Stoker worked on Dracula on and off for six years between the commitments of his job as Henry Irving's manager. During that time, the way he ensured that he did not lose track of what he was doing was to take notes falling into two main categories: his plot and character ideas, and research notes on books and places providing details and settings to flesh them out and cloak them in verism. Those notes are held now by the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia, where they lay more-or-less untouched until the early '70s when Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu visited the library to view one of the fifteenth-century pamphlets published about Vlad the Impaler, and the archivist casually asked them if they would like to see Bram Stoker's notes for Dracula too? Since then they've been used by various scholars researching the genesis and development of the novel, and indeed parts of them have been made available as quoted extracts or transcripts within those people's publications. But this book has made them available in full to the general public for the first time.

This is obviously amazing for me, because I've long been aware of these notes and wanted to read them properly anyway, and that interest has become all the more pressing now I've decided to write a paper about Classical motifs in Dracula. Realistically, I wasn't going to travel all the way to Philadelphia just to research that - but thanks to Eighteen-Bisang and Miller, I can now do it in the comfort of my own home instead. It certainly paid off with regards to the specific topic of my paper. There is all sorts of evidence that Stoker actively set out to include antiquity within the scope of his researches – for example, he created a timeline of Transylvanian history for himself which extends from the 1st to the 19th century AD, which very much supports my core argument that this was the background and context into which he wanted to set Dracula as a character. But there are huge amounts of interest here beyond that one specific topic, ranging from watching Stoker develop and narrow down his list of key characters to scrutinising the little maps he drew to help make sure he could describe Whitby harbour accurately. You can even see how he added little notes to himself as he thought of new ideas, crossed items off as he put them into the novel itself, and had to fill in by hand gaps left in typescripts evidently done by someone else who could not always decipher his handwriting!

Indeed, that same issue clearly affects some of Eighteen-Bisang and Miller's own transcriptions of the hand-written portions of the notes. Stoker could write neatly when he wanted or needed to, but when writing notes intended for his own use, he didn't always bother. For the most part, Eighteen-Bisang and Miller clearly capture his meaning correctly, and I appreciated that they also occasionally signalled in footnotes when other authors had published different readings from theirs. But I noticed that they often ignored the symbols '+c' (for etc) and '+' (for and) in their transcriptions, while on one page they had transcribed "Roumenians take it that death is only sleep requiring cooking" for what was clearly actually "Roumenians take it that death is only sleep requiring waking" – as two seconds of thought and a bit of common sense should surely have told them. I also didn't feel their footnotes added very much to what was alresdy in the notes anyway. The majority of the footnotes just point to corresponding passages in the final novel, which I suppose saves us looking them up, but seemed a waste when they could have been used instead to provide further information about the content actually contained in the notes, similar to an annotated edition of an actual novel.

The appendices, which covered topics such as major themes in the novel as finally published, Bram's life and other publications, some of the major literary influences on his work (not reflected in any of his working notes) and what we know of the contents of his own library, were better. But even these are each individually rather short, and again mainly focused on the novel as published, rather than attempting to offer interpretations of the notes themselves. The only appendices which really relate to the actual notes are the final two, which outline the major differences between the notes and the published novel – but again, anyone who knows the novel would have seen those differences for themselves as they read the notes. The larger task of thinking about what the content of the notes really reveals in its own right – e.g. what the inclusion of particular characters, motifs or research details suggest about Stoker's initial conception of the novel and what their later rejection signals about how it evolved – hasn't really been attempted here. I guess the emphasis was always on getting the primary material of the notes themselves out, which I certainly appreciate, but it's a pity that the opportunity for an extended essay thinking seriously about them as a corpus was missed.

Edited to add: having checked my email after writing this, it turns out that while I was doing so my abstract for the 2018 Dracula Congress was accepted. So project 'Classical references in Dracula' is now definitively GO! I look forward to many happy evenings and weekends spent researching it and writing it between now and October, not to mention a trip to Romania at the end - hooray! :-)


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( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
owlfish
Jan. 22nd, 2018 11:53 pm (UTC)
The transcription of "death requiring cooking" is pretty funny!
I'm looking forward to hearing more about the paper as it develops.
strange_complex
Jan. 23rd, 2018 08:36 pm (UTC)
Bram had curly 'w's, so I do understand how it looked like 'cooking'. But sometimes when something just doesn't make any sense, it's time to look again!
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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