Sunday, February 17, 2008

The Un-Dead – review


Author: Joel H Emerson (& Bram Stoker)

First Published: 2007

Contains spoilers

The Un-Dead is described as “the Dracula novel, rewritten to include Stoker’s deleted characters and events.” I first came across it when Emerson wrote a piece for the Dracula Innocence Project, which was based around his reimagining, and I thought to myself, I have to have this book… was my enthusiasm justified?

You are probably aware that ‘The Un-Dead’ was the original title of Stoker’s masterpiece and he only changed the name to Dracula at the last minute. I guess you can sum up what Emerson has done in three threads. He has (self-admittedly) invented an intimation about one of the main characters within the novel that was not there before and the direction of this can be seen on his piece for the Dracula Innocence Project. He has studied Stoker’s notes and then tried to add in characters and threads, as the story flow would allow, that Stoker deleted. Finally he has given the events in the novel a definitive date.

Let’s start with the dating of events. Whilst the original is an epistolary novel, all the dated entries had day and month but not year. If one takes the premise that it was a gathering of true accounts then the events could not have occurred later than 1890 – the final entry is seven years after the events and the novel was published in 1897. Stoker’s notes actually place the novel in 1893 (given that the dates match that year), however an alternate introduction for the novel was written by Stoker when it recieved a foriegn language publication. This can be found at the Dracula Research Centre - the Icelandic introduction – and sees Stoker tying the events loosely to the Jack the Ripper murders, in 1888. Emerson has taken this as the date and, whilst the Ripper aspect is not key, has added through the text authentic transcribes from newspapers reporting on the murders and offers hints of a connection.

By adding in characters and events that Stoker deleted Emerson has broadened the scope of the novel. Main new characters include ‘New Woman’ Kate Reed, a pupil of Mina’s and granddaughter of Mr Swales. Francis Aytown, a friend of Kate Reed, is a tortured artist who becomes obsessed with the Count. Alfred Singleton is an occult investigator who is contacted by Kate Reed and thus drawn into the events and Inspector Cotford is a policeman suspicious of the rather closely timed deaths of Lord Godalming (Arthur’s father), Lucy Westenra and Lucy’s mother.

More familiar characters have stronger roles. Renfield’s involvement is well rounded and thus more satisfying and Quincy Morris is less a two dimensional side character and his solo travels through Transylvania are a fascinating aside, especially with regards the Scholomance. Even Dracula himself seems fuller as a character; his activities in England are more varied. Dracula’s guest is added in, though modified, and a neat connection between the vampire Harker comes across in that segment, one of the three brides and Van Helsing’s past activities is nicely realised.

There is an additional piece of vampiric lore within the book that came straight from Stoker’s notes, “Painters cannot paint him – their likenesses always like someone else” and “Could not Kodak him – come out black or like skeleton corpse”. We are very aware of the reflection aspect of the lore but this additional visual lore actually leads directly to Aytown’s obsession as he cannot capture the Count’s likeness on canvas and his renditions look more and more corpse like. The intimation is that the painter is subconsciously painting that which the eye truly sees rather than the illusion that the brain interprets. This also leads me to wonder whether the growing younger and older that the Count seems to do is more tied to the illusion he projects to the observer. It is an interesting thought.

Not everything is as satisfying. Originally Stoker planned for the Count to come ashore in England in his box of Earth rather than as a wolf. Emerson has both events occurring and the answer to the conundrum of him being in the form of a corpse and a wolf at the same time, whilst tackled later in the book, didn’t satisfy – perhaps because I was looking for a definitive answer and two theorems are put forward. This is, however, one minor gripe in a book that offered much pleasurable reading. Another, very picky, gripe was in respect of the number of notes through which Emerson tells us, in detail, where the concepts came from. Don’t get me wrong, they were both interesting and essential – it is just that my flow of reading was interrupted as I couldn’t resist flicking to the back of the book to check the reference note.

To give Emerson his just dues, the writing throughout feels authentic and it was often only a long standing knowledge of the books that caused me to see where Stoker ended and Emerson began – he captured the original author’s style perfectly. Sometimes Emerson would adapt other parts of Stoker's writing and place it within and there is one scene that is borrowed from Stoker's own stage play of the novel.

So, is this the definitive version of Dracula? Patently not, that honour lies with the original. It is clear that Stoker must have had his reasons for any omission or deletion he made from his original notes. However this is a very worthwhile read, in fact I would go as far as to say essential, for any fan of the novel or student of the genre. An utterly fascinating and riveting retelling of a classic tale – 9 out of 10.

6 comments:

Harker78 (Spain) said...

I am reading "The Un-dead", and it is an exceptional work. however, I have a doubt and I would like that someone was answering. With regard to the eliminated character "Kate Reed", I am well-read in some sites that she was the LOVER of Harker and in some her letters it was mentioned. Also supposedly she was friend and schoolfellow of Mina. But in " The Un-Dead ", Kate is simply Mina's pupil. Who was Kate Reed in Stoker's original manuscript??

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Harker78, I haven't read Stoker's notes so this isn't a definitive answer (the notes are available as a volume with study pieces but it is an expensive book).

From Emerson's notes he states "Kate Reed is a character mentioned on page 1 of the notes - a friend and schoolfellow of {Mina}". Emerson also states that Reed did not make it into the final manuscript.

As such I'm guessing this is the most Stoker mentioned. Certainly her relationship with Aytown and familial tie to Swales were invented by Emerson.

Given the relationship Stoker wrote between Mina and Harker, plus the time at which the novel was written, I doubt that Reed and Harker were designed to be lovers in the notes or early manuscript drafts.

I cannot remember if the character Kate Reed was ever romantically tied to Harker in the Anno Dracula series - it is a long time since I read the series - but it is possible that that series (or spin off fan fiction) drew such a relationship.

Sorry that is a bit vague but I suspect Emerson got it right.

Harker78 said...

Thank you very much for your response, Taliesin_ttlg. The detail of which Kate Reed was initially a lover of Jonathan Harker (suggesting a possible infidelity in a letter) I found it in the study about the novel of the prologue of the Spanish edition of 1993 of "Dracula", by Juan Antonio Foix. I was feeling curiosity for this female eliminated character.Of all forms, thank you very much for your help. A greeting from Spain!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Harker78, and many thanks to you for visiting the site.

I don't totally discount the possibility but to date I have no evidence - other than the forward you mentioned.

Now that I realise they are available, I'll be keeping my eye out for the volume with Stoker's notes at a reasonable price!

monsterofmud said...

I can't wait to read this and think it's a tremendous idea, but I inherently have a problem with the time setting:

Van Helsing refers to the neurologist Charcot as having just passed away, meaning the novel without a doubt takes place in 1893. This is supported by one of the Tuesdays matching up with the same calendar date of that year.

Emerson cites setting his reconstruction years earlier than that because of the post-script Harker has written seven years later. Obviously this one-page note presents much trouble with the notion that it was included with the publication of all the other materials in the year 1897.

On an abstract level you can imagine the main events of the novel occurring in 1893, and the post-script being a forthcoming entry in 1900, three years after the book's publication.

Certainly Emerson had to choose one possibility over the other for his fictional assertion that the novel's events did indeed happen, and either way he went he was sure to pose the same stumbling block. However given Van Helsing's blatant assertion of Charcot's death, and especially backed up by a calendar date matching the year 1893 exactly, I feel having it set in that year is the better choice, as it gives two examples versus the one of Harker's "seven-years later" note. Given that Stoker made a few gaffes of his own when it came to consecutive dates, one could assume that Harker meant to say “four-years later”. Dates and the recall of a number of years remembered are one thing, but the passing of a peer a week before (VH’s lament of Charcot) is quite more explicit and not subject to transcription error and/or faulty memory.

That said, I'm sure the rest will be a great read as long as I suspend my disbelief on the overall setting of the year.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Monster of Mudd, thanks for the comment and please do read it but good spot re the Charcot.

Now I am currently reading the New Annotated Dracula (review to come) and there is an appendix in that re dating and so this subject may well be touched upon again.

However, on a quick glance, Klinger has mentioned the death of Charcot and the fact the Miller cites it within her view that 1893 would seem to be a definitive date. Klinger does go on to state that this may not be so – but we need to remember that he has used the premise that the novel was based on true events, compiled by Stoker and then noodled with - at which point he suggests that Stoker as editor might have added in the Charcot reference in his attempt to obfuscate the truth he was revealing. All well and good for that theory, which has a nice intellectual exercise aspect, but not good for accurate dating purposes.

Emerson has primarily used the Icelandic edition introduction, and the connection with the Ripper contained within, but it is probable, of course, that Stoker was drumming up some sensationalism to help sell his book and didn't even think about the date issue when doing so or, more cynically, thought that a foreign audience wouldn't make the connection.

Be that as it may, as a re-imagining this works very well, the language is nicely authentic and it is well worth your time in my humble opinion.