Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Dracula Incarnate – revisited

I suggested, when I first reviewed this book, that “It pains me to be negative about someone’s book – especially when it is clear that they have poured heart and soul into it.” Unfortunately, I had structural issues with the book and, more so, an absolute issue with the central premise of the book.

To be fair to Andrew Struthers, not only has he taken the criticism in his stride it appears (though not to the point of solving everything raised with regards the structure and certainly not so much that he would abandon his central theory), but he was good enough to send me a review copy of this revised edition of the book. This, I think, underlines his sincerity and I have no doubt that he honestly believes what he has written. Unfortunately, nothing can sway me from the belief that his theory is fundamentally flawed.

So, structural things first. Whilst the prose is still chatty (and I did originally say that this could be a good or a bad thing dependent on the reader, though it doesn’t appeal to me) he has definitely worked on the actual prose and it did not feel like bullet points, in places, any longer. Either he had scaled back on the exclamation marks or I noticed them less this time. He added maps to the Whitby section, useful to anyone who has not been there and specifically mentioned in the original review.

However, he has not added an index – in correspondence a deliberate decision but a flawed one in my opinion – and his referencing is still awful, whilst Bram Stoker’s Notes are mostly referenced (with page numbers offered), there is no bibliography and no citations for the numerous assertions. There are also potential errors. The idea that Lilith is mentioned as Adam’s first wife in “some scriptures” (P22) is perhaps open to an interpretation of the word scripture, but as scriptures are commonly deemed to be the Old and New testaments this is in error; the concept of her being the spouse has been traced back no earlier than the 8th–10th centuries' satirical Alphabet of Ben Sira and is not in either book of the bible (though the word Lilith does appear). Again, perhaps a perceived error rather than a factual one, but the sentence “The poem was entitled The Giaour (1813) and is considered the earliest published English language story to feature a vampire”, does read as though the author deems Byron’s poem as the English literature source of vampires. Polidori’s the Vampyre actually has that honour in a prose sense (and the quoted sentence might be a clumsy way of communicating that), but if we are looking to poetry, one could offer Coleridge’s Christabel (1797) that honour (if one classes it as a vampire poem, which I do not), or Southey’s The Old Woman of Berkley (1799) (though she is a vampiric witch), or Southey’s Thalba the Destroyer (1801), or Stagg’s The Vampyre (1810). This might seem to be nit-picking but language is important and so is referencing for a reference work to survive critical analysis.

The last one I’ll point out might be a tad unfair as the assertion that “there is no word in any language which describes a vampire as Nosferatu” (p67) is based on the once “common wisdom” that Gerard used a word never before seen in print and assumed to be a mishearing on her part. In actual fact, in his article Vindicating Gerard, Anthony Hogg (2011, p3) presented the discovery of the use of the word by Wilhelm Schmidt some twenty-years before Gerard. In an addendum to Hogg’s article, Elizabeth Miller postulated that it may have been a localism that never entered the Romanian dictionary. That may be true but what is perfectly clear is that Gerard did not invent or garble the term.

Getting to the main point of the book, I will start with the fact that the author has made it clear that he did not mean to suggest that Stoker’s notes were the method that Stoker intended to convey the “true identity” of Jack the Ripper – this is in answer to a criticism that the notes were not meant for public consumption – but the novel was that vehicle. However, he does suggest that notes are the key to the code used. Again, this is problematic as one cannot see why a person would reveal a secret but hide the key to the code in a place where no one would ever see it. Indeed, as the notes were not for public consumption one wonders why they were not more explicit

The author admits that using anagrams is “the least believable of any evidence put forward on a given theory…” (p153) However in volume he does challenge cynics and critics into countermanding the points espoused, which includes anagrams. That is unlikely to happen anagram by anagram – unless one was to write a full volume addressing this book. He does, however, focus on one “strange” word that in his mind proves that Stoker was using anagrams and lays out a challenge to explain why it might be there in the notes otherwise. That word is “Brahmapootra”. As (generically) requested, I’ll look to answer, though my answer is supposition. One possible answer is that the word could be seen to be a conflation of two words; Brahma is the Hindu creator God and pootra is Malagasy for difficult. This (to me) is unsatisfying, despite the fact that Stoker was on terms with at least two persons, Burton and Vambery, who may have mentioned Brahma to him. Burton was a known polyglot (as was Vambery) with estimates of him knowing up to 29 languages, maybe more if one includes sub-dialects. Whether either man was fluent in the language of Madagascar is unknown. However, more satisfying as a source for the word is to suggest that Brahmapootra could be a phonetic interpretation of Brahmaputra – a word that does exist, indeed it is a major Asian river which flows (amongst other places) through Tibet. Stoker (in Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving) makes particular mention of asking Vambery, on April 30th 1890, about whether “if when in Thibet he never felt any fear.” (1907 edition, p238) This shows that Stoker did speak to Vambery about Tibet, though with little detail about that conversation. Does Stoker’s note refer to the river? I don’t know but it makes more sense than it being a nonsense word to feed an anagram that no-one was meant to read.

It is my belief that the anagrams presented are simply a case of apophenia, but the more deductive reasoning espoused in the theory doesn’t necessarily ring true either. For example, the notes suggest that Stoker considered having a dinner party in his novel (at the Mad Doctor’s house, with the Count) featuring 13 guests. The obvious reason for this is a superstition that if 13 dine at a table then one will die within the year (incidentally in the nineteenth century a thirteen-club existed to disprove this superstition). The expunged dinner party may be connected to the Last Supper, also, especially as the Count is the devil (or the devil’s aide-de-camp) and would take the role of the 13th guest. The author suggests that the person he deems to be the Ripper, in a previous life, hosted a dinner party in America with events so shocking they were recorded by a guest and Stoker was referring to this – without any evidence that Stoker knew anything of the party and without citation to show where the assertation was drawn from, in fact even the name of the guest was wrong (probably a typo). If this were the case, and Stoker was trying to lay out a message about the Ripper, surely the dinner party would have remained in the finished novel in some form or another?

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don't discount the idea that Stoker had, to a greater or lesser degree/consciously or subconsciously, the memory of the Ripper as he wrote his novel (it was, after all, a local horror from just a few years before). Indeed, he did reference the Ripper (as pointed out) in the Icelandic Edition foreword - though that book is massively different to Dracula and the full extent of the difference won't be known until the even earlier Swedish edition is translated (the Icelandic edition apparently based on the Swedish). We should remember, though, that even then referencing the Ripper could be a selling point and Stoker will have known this. However, I do not think that Stoker was trying to impart some secret knowledge of the Ripper's identity, nor do I believe the notes contain cryptic keys to the novel that would lead us there. Rather they offer an insight into Stoker's creative process, offer plot points that were considered and then abandoned and complete a picture of a remarkable novel (which needs no grand conspiracy to embellish it).

The score remains the same, the author’s integrity I do not doubt, his theory, however, I cannot accept.

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