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This book presents a transcript of and commentary on a journal kept by Bram Stoker between 1871 and 1882, which was left by his wife Florence to their son Noel, and passed down from him to Noel Dobbs, Bram's great-grandson, who lives today on the Isle of Wight. It was clearly more of a commonplace book or writer's notebook than a personal diary of the kind Stoker's characters write in Dracula, and contains 310 entries consisting of ideas he's had, bits of poetry, scenes he's observed in daily life, stories and jokes people have told him etc. Indeed, it's not unlike the sort of stuff people put on social media these days, with one entry in particular which records his inner turmoil after a child has called him ugly striking me as particularly classic LJ / DW fare! Most date from his mid-twenties to early thirties when he was living in Dublin, working for the civil service and writing theatre reviews in the evenings, although a few reflect his transition to London to work for Henry Irving, which happened in 1878.

The editors, Dracula scholar Elizabeth Miller and Bram's great-great-nephew Dacre (whom I went to hear speak last November: LJ / DW), present the entries thematically, under headings such as 'Humour', 'Personal and Domestic', 'The Streets of Dublin', 'Theatre', etc., rather than in the order presented in the original book, which I wasn't sure about at first. But I realised as I read that since this isn't a diary, the entries don't build on each other in any meaningful way, many of them aren't dated and indeed several seem to have been copied into the book from other sources (presumably scraps of paper) some time after they were written, there was no very compelling reason to present them in their original order. Meanwhile, grouping them thematically (but in their original order within that theme) does create some sense of how Bram's life and thinking evolved over time in different areas, and perhaps more importantly allows scope for an editorial introduction to each section contextualising and commenting on the notes. These are substantial (ten or more pages each for nine different sections, as well as an overall introduction and coda), so that they add up to what is almost a biography of Bram during his Dublin years, and indeed supply a lot of the sort of detail which I wanted and was disappointed not to get from David Skal's biography when I read it recently (LJ / DW). As such, I learnt plenty from them and enjoyed doing so.

Bram's actual journal entries are certainly fascinating if you're interested in the evolving thought-processes of the man who would go on to write Dracula. There is a (shortish) section entitled 'En Route to Dracula' which documents the emergence of his Gothic sensibilities, such as a memo to himself to do a dramatic adaptation of Poe's 'Fall of the House of Usher' or a couple of jottings for story ideas which relate to motifs later used in Dracula. But they are interesting for general social history too, as a record of the life and thoughts of a middle-class Victorian Dubliner. We learn quite a lot about his social life, work life and the general comings-and-goings of contemporary Dublin, which of course include quite a lot of obvious deprivation and inequality. Indeed, precisely because he was an aspiring writer, honing his skills as an observer of human life and capturing scenes and interactions which he found in some way striking or poignant, he is probably a better-than-average witness to his surroundings. I will confess that I only skim-read most of his sentimental and generally-mediocre poetry, and didn't always find the jokes and anecdotes he wrote down particularly funny, but in general I found him genial company, and am glad to have absorbed a slightly more rounded picture of him - not to mention a couple of little insights into his knowledge of the ancient world which will be useful for my Classical references in Dracula paper.


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