Tuesday, 31 May 2016

The Working Methods of Bram Stoker

British film and TV indie Zenith Productions took an option on The Kingdom of Bones ahead of publication, and financed its development under the title Victorian Gothic.

When Zenith went bust, the BBC's Drama department took over development. After a year of collaborative work they put the completed scripts before the BBC1 Controller as a so-called 'flagship' production for the coming season.

The then-Controller was a former producer from BBC Sport. After six months an exasperated Head of Drama spoke of repeated attempts to get a response of any kind out of him; after which the option expired and the rights came back to me.

But along the way, I'd been supported in a terrific program of travel and research, following the progress of the Lyceum Company's 1903 American tour, scouting locations and accumulating historical texture. As well as taking notes, every night I'd tape a summary of the day's findings and observations for later transcription and use.

A Twitter question from author and critic Anne Billson caused me to delve into the notes again. It concerned the dust jacket, or lack of one, on the first edition of Dracula.

I knew I'd seen a dustjacketed copy among Bram Stoker's working papers in Philadelphia's Rosenbach Museum. Some of the observations from that day seemed worth repeating.


I've spent the large part of today in the Rosenbach Museum consulting not only the collection of working papers for DRACULA, but also taking a look at the two first editions of the books that they have in their collection. The catalogue also listed some Lyceum-related related correspondence, which turned out to be of no direct value. But the two first editions were interesting, and I made a point of measuring the dimensions of the book and also taking fairly detailed notes of the jacket design in case we don't have any other reference material to recreate the first edition in facsimile. They had two copies, one fine with a crumbling dust jacket, and the other jacketless and in not such good condition. But what was so interesting about the second book was that that was the inscribed copy given by Stoker to Lord Tennyson. This must presumably have been Hallam Tennyson, son of the poet, as the laureate died in 1892 and the inscription was dated 1897. I couldn't help noticing as I flicked through it that in at least one place the pages hadn't been cut, so it would seem that Stoker presented it to Tennyson, and Tennyson never read it.
(I can't check because the notes are now archived along with my own working papers at my old University, but my recall is that the dust jacket carried the same design as the printed boards underneath. The paper was a buff colour that may have faded from its original shade)
It's clear from the papers that Stoker had a working method which I find very recognisable. He wrote structurally at first, in extremely small handwriting so that you could take in as much as possible at a glance. When he'd worked out his chapter structure, he did a little calculation on the wordage to get some estimate of what his final length was going to be if he were to average 6,000 words per chapter. Then he started expanding, allocating a different sheet of paper to each chapter, with a jotted summary of notes on each. Then his research took two forms; one was background research in which he derived notes from books and also interviews, like the interview with the coastguard at Whitby where he apparently persuaded the man to transcribe the incident of the Russian boatwreck from the coastguard's log. This became the foundation for the wreck of the Demeter in the book. He persuaded him to transcribe it in his own hand, and the transcription was appended in the file. Stoker made location atmosphere notes, like a set of jottings from Whitby where he noted the weather and the view, and the fact that from the top of the cliff he could see two brass bands playing, one on the pier and one in the town. Neither could be heard by the other, but both could be heard from above.

Also recognisable in technique was the single pencil stroke that went through each of the different chapter summaries, or individual quotes or thoughts or concepts which, at a guess, he struck out of his notes as he used them in the manuscript so that he wouldn't fall into the trap of reusing them later on.

One can actually see on one of the small pages the point at which the book changed, or at least the character changed, from the original generalised evil figure to the specific of Count Dracula, because on the list of dramatis personae he's listed as Count Wampyr, which is crossed out, and then the word `Dracula' put in its place, and then the name `Dracula' or `Count Dracula' appears again on the page at least three times, written in the corners as if Stoker was playing with it and repeating it, and getting comfortable with it at a very late stage. In subsequent notes, where he's writing structurally, he lapses in a couple of places, and writes `Count Wampyr', immediately striking it out and putting in the name of Dracula. And then after the first half dozen lines or so, he settles into the steady use of `Dracula' with no need for amendments.

There are some interesting clues and images that never got included in the final book which, given that we're looking for Ur-Dracula material, it would be nice to draw upon and include. These include the two servants, the silent man and the deaf-mute woman, that Dracula was originally given, and which correspond very closely to the existing VICTORIAN GOTHIC idea of the two acolytes that transfer their allegiance to whoever holds the title. There's a detective named Cotwood, and there are several references to a charred and bloodied secret chamber somewhere in Dracula's London house, which would correspond interestingly to the notion of a similar chamber that (in my own story) Louise maintains in America.

Stoker had a very strict schedule for the events of the book, as can be seen by the fact that he had a complete set of pages taken from a desk diary which he dated and then mapped out the various events on, taking into account all travel times, and even the times it would take for letters to travel from one place to another.

One of the items in the file betrays the place that Stoker stayed on a touring visit to Philadelphia, because he used notepaper from the Stratford Hotel. The address given for the Stratford Hotel is on the south west corner of Broad and Walnut Streets. That site appears today to be occupied by the Bellevue Hotel, and in the postcard photographs of the time, and also in the Shackleton book on old Philadelphia, and in the endpapers of the Lukacs book where sheep are being seen driven down Broad Street. . . in all of those pictures and by the map, the Stratford would appear to be what is presently the Bellevue Hotel. But the one picture of the Stratford Hotel frontage clearly showing its canopy and sign fails to correspond with the architecture.

Just going back to the diary schedule for a moment, something that never made it into the book, but which Stoker clearly planned to include before he revamped and cut the preamble and shortened the opening, was that as part of his journey from Britain to what was then marked in as Styria, and which later became Transylvania, Jonathan Harker was intended on April 30th to attend a performance of Wagner's opera of The Flying Dutchman, probably in Munich, possibly in Vienna, as there's some discontinuity in the datings from the end of April to the beginning of May. And this, even if it isn't of practical use, is an encouraging revelation of the extent to which the Dutchman and related legends powered the imaginative drive of Dracula.

The typed background research notes are curious. They're in strange blue ink on two different kinds of paper, one very thin and the other heavy-duty watermarked paper. There are gaps in these, into which handwritten insertions of the missing words have been placed. What's curious about these only emerges when you combine it with the fact that there are some errors in the typing that can only be phonetic - the substitution of `finding' for `fining', for example - which would seem to suggest that the typing was done from dictation. But if it was done live from dictation, then why the gaps? One would simply ask for repetition. Shorthand seems an unlikely option for the same reason. Why would it be copy typed from handwriting when nothing else was? (Christopher) Frayling has suggested that they were typed up for later sale, but these have the look of notes made for use; they carry handwritten additions and amendments. One possible option that suggests itself, for which I'm not aware of there being any other evidence, is that perhaps Stoker was using a very early dictation machine, exactly in the manner that he describes in the diary entries of Dr Seward.