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Book Review: The New Annotated Dracula by Bram Stoker, edited by Leslie S. Klinger, intoduction by Neil Gaiman

November 27, 2013

The New Annotated DraculaThe New Annotated Dracula by Bram Stoker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a fascinating book. The novel has a lot of holes, and Klinger really skewers them, which makes it hard for me to give such a page turner. The end is the worst. How did Van Helsing just garlic the entrances to the castle in one sentence when some of the entrances Dracula could get to only by crawling barefoot down the side of the wall (an image that was frequently on the cover or frontispiece of early editions)? Why can Jonathan Harker pick up and throw box that it’s hard for manual laborers to move?

Klinger’s notes are fascinating, and very informative about the period. He denounces a claim, for example, that says that Harker’s telephone call makes it impossible for the novel to have been set earlier than 1893. Whenever the first edition has a typo, he notes it, although I caught two. I noted one on page 305: “It was an answer that appalled the most sceptical of us and we felt individually that in the presence of such earnest purpose as the Professor’s, a purpose which could thus use the to him most sacred of things, it was impossible to distrust.” What does “use the to him” mean? [Edit: A friend noted that “to him” should have been set off with commas, which was told to me in the midst of a Twitter war in which I was accused of using too many commas on my blog.] The other error is similar in nature to this one, but I didn’t note its location when I found it. Gaiman’s introduction is certainly true that the notes affect the reading of the book, because I would not have noticed every plot hole that Klinger pointed out on a first reading, although his observations can help even in the interpretation of the story–early on, when Dracula establishes a pecking order with the women, who are so often referred to by later writers as Dracula’s brides, that two of the three are described as being so close in appearance to Dracula that they are probably his sisters. While it’s not a major plot point, it’s interesting nonetheless.

The novel itself is a strange collection of documents that the narrative tells us were destroyed, sometimes implausibly early for them to have gotten to us. Indeed, Stoker claims that the story is true and that the Harkers and Dr. Seward are his friends under pseudonyms, and what a strange group of friends! Dr. Seward plays around with a lancet in public when he’s a psychiatric professional, he provides his patients, such as R.M. Renfield, with sharp dinner knives that they can use against him, and when he fears that Mina may be turning, he sings of the glories of the word “euthanasia.” and he’s the most introspective of all the characters!

None of the book is from Dracula’s point of view, so he is constantly in the role of “the other.” We get numerous references in Klinger’s notes to Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape, which gives the story from his point of view, arguing that Harker is wrong that the bag he loathes contains a baby, but a pig. Klinger does make an error that none of the book is from Arthur Holmwood’s point of view, although it’s nearly so–he provides only a telegram in chapter 5, and ditto for Quincey Morris. We get the points of view of Jonathan and Mina Harker, John Seward, Lucy Westenra, Abraham Van Helsing (albeit rarely), Patrick Hennessey, an unidentified Pall Mall Gazette reporter (interestingly enough, the Engles-Lafargue correspondence was a big instigator in me wanting to read this, and there are many, many references to that rather short-lived journal there), the Captain of the Demeter, (Captain Donelson of the Czarina Catherine comes only in interview with Mina), and a few business correspondences from Rufus Smith of Lloyd’s of London and a few similar to this.

Stoker does leave us much to think about, much of which is discussed in the literature survey in Klinger’s appendix–feminist, Marxist, etc. Stoker seems to have intended such deeper readings, such as when Jonathan Harker makes an anti-Semitic remark about Immanuel Hildesheim, or when he is unable to interpret Sam Bloxam’s Eastender rendering of deputy, “depite” (366-67). A laughable moment occurs early on when Jonathan Harker thinks that Dracula is wearing his clothing to impersonate him and thus implicate him in the crimes he has been perpetrating for centuries, even though Dracula looks far older than he does. Similarly, Dr. Seward’s treatment of Renfield after his back injury makes him look horribly incompetent. Renfield is a rather wealthy and educated man, and became a patient at the asylum voluntarily in his late 50s; Seward should have been sued by the Renfield family. Although Harker’s search for the boxes may be a slower part of the book, Stoker’s interpretation of the local color, especially when illuminated by Klinger, such as Jonathan’s visit to the Aërated Bread Company, which started England’s tea trend, is quite fascinating. It makes me wonder if the book would have been better had not so many chapters have been cut by the author, although “Dracula’s Guest,” presented as the first appendix, does not seem to fit very well.

Van Helsing is probably the most problematic character–so much of what he tells us about vampires is refuted by the observations of others. He actually tells us that a vampire cannot be active at night, when Dracula is seen during the day at the London Zoological Gardens and outside a jewelry store (which Coppola changed to a cinema in his film version, and added a narrator explaining why Dracula could be active by day!) in Picadilly Circus. The only mention of Vlad Tepes is in a quote from Van Helsing, and the introduction notes that the Tepes theory that infused Coppola’s film version has been shown in other sources to have little or no validity beyond providing a name that is likely a pseudonym, anyway. Some of the commentators on this site have found it annoying that Klinger uses the “gentle fiction” that the book is based on true events, but I think it makes sense given that Stoker presented it as such. Klinger uses moon and tide tables, as well as weather records (do we have records or just forecasts? unless yesterday’s weather is disastrous, it doesn’t get reported), to show a mixture of accuracy and inaccuracy consistent with deliberate fictionalization.

Finally, the book contains a survey of stage and film versions of Dracula, which, while short, is most interesting in addressing the Stoker version (which passed the censor only because it was never intended to go beyond staged reading) and how it was essentially turned into a drawing room mystery by Hamilton Deane, and was in large part the basis of the 1931 films, in spite of being flat and stagy to the critics even in its live theatrical version.

While the book may have some some glaring flaws, and Klinger gives us moments of bad research, such as “Anthony Drake” and “Nina van Helsing” (501) as the names of the descendants of the vampire hunters in Tomb of Dracula rather than Frank and Rachel, which hurt his credibility, it is still a fascinating read with or without the notes. I wonder if any corrections were made before the book was issued in softcover.

View all my reviews

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