Forgotten Authors No. 38: Bram Stoker
Sunday 20 September 2009
Of course he wrote that book, but Abraham Stoker (1847-1912) wrote 15 others besides. Nearly all of his output appears to have vanished, eclipsed by the novel with which he will forever be associated. Admittedly, no one now will want to thumb through his 1879 non-fiction book The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, but there are other works that share common themes with Dracula. Given the immense success of the novel that influences a vast body of vampire fiction, from the drippy Twilight to the brilliant Let the Right One In, you'd think anything that enlightens us further would be readily available.
Whether "Dracula's Guest" was actually the excised first chapter of the novel or not, it serves as an excellent curtain-raiser. In this, an unnamed Englishman survives an encounter with an undead countess in a graveyard (she's handily despatched with a bolt of lightning), only to be summoned by the count to his castle. The story was always found heading up collections of Stoker's short fiction.
Much has been made of the author's early childhood sickliness, and the way in which it created an interest in supernatural fiction, but a glance at his other novels reveals that Stoker was capable of inventing a range of occult tropes, from the disturbing blanched creature that rears its head in The Lair of the White Worm (1911), to his mummy-revivification tale, The Jewel of the Seven Stars (1903), which had its original grisly ending lopped off and replaced with something more upbeat. The Lady of the Shroud (1909) starts brilliantly, with what appears to be a female vampire in a floating coffin, but transforms into a rather turgid tale of Balkan nationalism. More interesting are Stoker's fairy tales, such as "How Seven Went Mad" and "The Invisible Giant", and the supernatural stories, the best of which is the palpable evil of "The Judge's House". Some of Stoker's short fiction remains uncollected. The author did not visit the Eastern Europe outlined in his imagination but chose instead to befriend America, where Dracula was transformed through film into one of the 20th century's most enduring fables.
And here, perhaps, is another reason why authors' works are left behind. Thanks to its endless reinventions on film, Dracula has a timeless visual appeal that his other works now lack, so the intriguing collection Snowbound: The Record of a Theatrical Touring Party (1908) has completely disappeared, while Dracula, like its titular character, lives on.
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