Sunday, September 15, 2019

Dracula: Sense and Nonsense

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, renowned author of many academic works on Bram Stoker's DRACULA, wrote an informative, scholarly, yet accessible and lively book debunking the many prevalent misconceptions about Stoker, the novel, and the vampire Count, DRACULA: SENSE AND NONSENSE (2000). Most sections of this book respond to direct quotes from previous authors, deconstructing their claims and documenting errors with evidence from primary sources, such as Bram Stoker's working notes for DRACULA. As Miller repeatedly mentions, the discovery of the Notes should have slain many of the widely believed inaccuracies once and for all, yet they keep rising from the grave.

Chapter topics: The sources for DRACULA; Stoker and the writing of DRACULA; the novel; the geography of DRACULA; Vlad the Impaler. The final chapter, "Source Alert," surveys the most significant biographies, commentaries, and annotated editions with comments on their usefulness and reliability (or lack thereof). The volume also includes a sixteen-page bibliography and an index, and each chapter has footnotes. It's interesting to see how often speculation by a single commentator gets repeated over and over until it becomes mistaken for fact; many critics preface their guesses with "undoubtedly" or "certainly." Which real person was Count Dracula based on, if any? Unknown, but all the Count's important traits can be found in folklore and fiction available to Stoker. In any case, the vampire wasn't based on Vlad. Did Stoker conduct research on an in-person trip to Transylvania? No. Did Stoker get information about vampires from Sir Richard Burton or Arminius Vambery? Probably not, since there's no evidence to that effect, and all the historical, geographic, and folkloric elements in the novel have identifiable sources in books we know Stoker consulted. Did Stoker have syphilis? At best, an unsubstantiated hypothesis. Is Bran Castle the "real" Castle Dracula (an idea exploited by the Romanian tourist industry)? Absolutely not. Was Lucy's burial site modeled on Highgate Cemetery? Uncertain. Is the Count confined to his grave by day? Definitely not. On these and many other questions, Miller meticulously and entertainingly distinguishes fact from hearsay, plausible speculation, wild guesses, unsupported interpretations, and demonstrable falsehoods. Moreover, she readily admits her own past misstatements when applicable.

The book's Amazon page:

Dracula: Sense and Nonsense

Frustratingly and strangely, the regular Amazon search doesn't turn it up (at least, not on the first few pages or on Miller's author page); I had to unearth it indirectly through a Google search.

After all these years, some of those mistaken beliefs remain in circulation, especially the apparently unkillable notion that Stoker had extensive knowledge of Vlad the Impaler and explicitly based his fictional character on Vlad's life. So DRACULA: SENSE AND NONSENSE is still relevant to Dracula studies today and indispensable for any serious student or devoted fan of the novel.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt


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