Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Love can only be made in perfection by the sea

'As we passed through the wood in the twilight the gentle wind took the puffs of steam from the engine and carried them in tall columns till they looked like ghosts among the trees.'

Tracing my interest in vampires and posthumous magic back to reading Bram Stoker's Dracula as a teenager, I find it interesting to occasionally follow the ongoing development in the literature on Stoker and his creation of the Count Vampyre.

The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker, edited by Elizabeth Miller and Dacre Stoker and published by The Robson Press, is a lovely and very welcome addition to both the Stoker biographies and the various editions of his own work. A caringly edited and annotated version of a journal that passed on from Stoker's widow, Florence, to their son, Noel, and now in the possession of Stoker's great-grandson, Noel Dobbs, the Journal is a kind of notebook containing verses, short pieces of prose, jokes, observations and ideas that the young, aspiring and developing writer Bram Stoker planned to use at some time. So now one can feel with the young man writing shortly before his twenty-fifth birthday of pain in 'Pain & Bravery':

'To have feeling but to lack its fit expression
To be dumb amid the music-world of life
To be still amid the roar & the progression
Where the worker as he touches stamps possession -
To be fettered by our hearts before the strife -
To be crippled ere the race - to lose the Real
Which we erst have sadly toiled for and in vain
To seek among the passing forever our Ideal
This is pain.'

The Journal is not reproduced in the original order. Instead, Miller and Stoker have organized the contents thematically, e.g. devoting one part to portions that may have inspired bits in Dracula, as they find that 'the Journal breathes new life into Dracula, offering fresh insights into Stoker's method of composition as well as motifs for his plot and characters.' This section contains references to Poe and Frankenstein, but I will let others decide to what extent it really does provide insights into Dracula, written several years after the Journal.

Stoker himself appears to have had a bit of taste for the gruesome, as in this sketch:

'Seaport. Two sailors love girl - one marries her, other swears revenge. Husband goes out to sea soon after marriage & on return after some days sees in grey light of morning his young wife crucified on the great cross which stands at end of pier.'

And we are affirmed that the sea played a special role for him, even curiously claiming that: 'Love can only be made in perfection beside the sea.'

Miller and Stoker note that 'the closest we get to vampires in the Journal are the references to Dion Boucicault,' who wrote the popular play The Vampire: A Phantom Related in Three Dramas from 1852. So the vampire historian will probably gain little from the Journal - apart from the pleasuring of dipping into the numerous bits and pieces.

Stoker researchers, of course, will find inspiration for future work, but first of all, it is simply a delightful collection of short pieces, proving that a private notebook never intended for publication actually can have some value to readers almost 150 years after it was written.

The various introductory essays and comments, along with a timeline of Stoker and his family, by Miller and Stoker aids in setting the Journal into the context of its author's life, work and times, as does about a dozen of photos of Stoker's family.

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