Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Dracula and the Dow Industrial Index


When I think of Bram Stoker's novel, Dracula, I think of Victorian science, technology, and gothic warnings about vice. This year, I was surprised to see that on the anniversary of the publication of Dracula, Daily Finance's Investor Center compared Dracula and the Dow Industrial Index:
Bram Stoker's Dracula was published for the first time on May 26, 1897. Arriving exactly a year after the first publication of Charles Dow's industrial index, the tale of a charming vampire from Transylvania had a similar effect on pop culture as Dow's index had on stock market culture. While it wasn't an immediate best-seller, the novel's influence on early filmmaking led to an explosion of interest in vampire stories that continues to this day, to the chagrin of many husbands and boyfriends. Stoker's creation, and the worldwide pop-culture craze it spawned, has added an estimated $10 billion to the economy, according to one "very conservative" estimate by 24/7 Wall Street's Jon C. Ogg.
I hadn't made the link between the two before. Of course, the anniversary dates are a coincidence in timing, but the fact that the Dow Industrial Index was still a babe reflects on the climate Bram Stoker was writing in and why Dracula is also seen as an early example of techno fiction.

Technology is a major theme in the novel, which is written in an epistolary style, during the throws of the industrial revolution when crackpots everywhere were clamouring to have their work recognized as science. The elevated place of science must have danced with Stoker's love of all things mystical, such as the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, producing the kind of environment where a specialist could very reasonably be called in to research supernatural phenomenons.

If one can make a science out of economics, why couldn't they make a science of chasing vampires?

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Anarchy, Pottery, and Nice Clothes

When we think of anarchy today, we think of someone who occupies a park, rather than someone who spends ages finely decorating his house before moving into it. Indeed, anarchy, today, is an ambiguous shape-shifting subject that changes from its uber intellectualized to something extremely subversive and counter-culture in the modern youth movement. However, while some Wildean scholars hesitate to draw the link between Oscar Wilde and anarchy, such a link exists - even if it is as tenuous as modern understandings of what anarchy means.

The Soul of a Man Under Socialism (1891) expounds Oscar Wilde's libertarian socialist (anarchist) worldview. There are loads of resources out there that analyze it, so I won't waist your time with it here. What interests me is how Oscar Wilde lived his views. He didn't attend protests and didn't write much on libertarian socialism after 1891. His focus was on the aesthetic movement and his life as an artist. As such, he saw himself as a leader of a sociopolitical movement, the aesthetic movement.

Though it's hard to imagine the links today, the minds of Victorian thinkers, like Wilde, linked anarchy, libertarianism, socialism, and other progress-based social-based political ideologies were linked to decadence. John Barlas (Evelyn Douglas) linked his anarchism to the decadence of Algernon Charles Swinburne in particular.

John Barlas and Swinburne both fit into the category of Writers in London in the 1890s. Algernon Charles Swinburne was a poet, playwright, novelist, and critic. Inventor of the roundel form, he wrote several novels and contributed to the Eleventh Edition of the Encyclop√¶dia Britannica. Swinburne was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature in every year from 1903 to 1907 and again in 1909. H.P. Lovecraft felt that Swinburne was the only real poet in England, after the death of Edgar Allan Poe. Wilde once said that Swinburne was "a braggart in matters of vice, who had done everything he could to convince his fellow citizens of his homosexuality and bestiality without being in the slightest degree a homosexual or a bestialiser."

John Barlas was a long time friend of Wilde and his crowd, but, by the 1890s, he was one of those friends kept on the periphery. Interestingly, Oscar Wilde bailed him out of jail after an incident on 31 December 1891.

On that New Year's Eve, Barlas went to the Palace of Westminster and fired a revolver outside the Speaker's House, declaring: "I am an anarchist! What I have done is to show my contempt for the House of Commons." After more than two weeks in jail, it was through Constance that Oscar Wilde was reached to post a bond as surety for Barlas's good behavior.

According to David Lowe's book: John Barlas: Sweet Singer and Socialist (1915), en route, Henry Hyde Champion, secretary of the Social Democratic Federation and the publisher of Bernard Shaw's first novel, Cashel Byron's Profession (1886), informed Wilde that Barlas suffered from the delusion that he was a reincarnated figure from the Bible and believed that others recognized his significance by crossing their hands reverently as he passed. Wilde reportedly said to Champion: "My dear fellow, when I think of the harm the Bible has done, I am quite ashamed of it."

In response to Barlas's letter of gratitude for the bond, Wilde wrote that:
Whatever I did was merely what you would have done for me or for any friend of yours whom you admired and appreciated. We poets and dreamers are all brothers. I am so glad you are feeling better...
And just like brothers or sisters or anarchists today, these anarchists, among the Writers in London in the 1890s, were as diverse as anarchists that you might meet today. Even though Oscar Wilde wrote and lectured (before Barlas was arrested) that:
Individualism, then, is what through Socialism we are to attain to. As a natural result the State must give up all idea of government. It must give it up because, as a wise man once said many centuries before Christ, there is such a thing as leaving mankind alone; there is no such thing as governing mankind. All modes of government are failures. Despotism is unjust to everybody, including the despot, who was probably made for better things. Oligarchies are unjust to the many, and ochlocracies are unjust to the few. High hopes were once formed of democracy; but democracy means simply the bludgeoning of the people by the people for the people. It has been found out. I must say that it was high time, for all authority is quite degrading. It degrades those who exercise it, and degrades those over whom it is exercised.
Wilde had no intention of overthrowing the State and he had a deep and abiding respect for due process through the legal system. During his trials, his radical Irish Nationalist mother assured him repeatedly that their position in society would assure that he would not be found guilty of any crime. While Wilde's friends and even the judge encouraged him to flee, during his own trials, Oscar stayed and was inarguably broken by it.

If his political views weren't reflected in how Wilde died, he certainly felt that they were reflected in how he lived. Compared to his contemporaries, like Bram Stoker, I feel that Wilde was a feminist because he used Women's World magazine to support Constance Wilde's feminist ideas and incorporated healthy or rational dress into the aesthetic movement.

A strong part of the aesthetic movement was about individualism, for Wilde. Self-governance was one extension of that individualism; the freedom of women was another extension. The freedom of workers was part of it as well, for through his mentor, John Ruskin, Wilde incorporated aspects of the Arts and Crafts Movement into the aesthetic movement. The Arts and Crafts Movement is reflected in women's art, in the aesthetic movement, especially pottery. Wilde's marriage to Constance, indeed, was intended to be an example of aesthetic life and the liberties Constance took, with Oscar's blessings and encouragement, were seen by other as scandalous as well as liberating.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Van Helsing meets Hamlet


In spite of the fact that Bram Stoker's lasting fame is inextricably linked to Dracula, Stoker was most proud of and most dedicated to his work in the Lyceum Theatre for Sir Henry Irving. While Stoker's notes on Dracula, the original manuscript, and even his own personal diaries have been difficult or impossible to track down, Stoker published his memoirs or Personal Reminiscences on the subject of Henry Irving.

Stoker lived for his work with Irving and he had lots of reasons to. His pretty young wife longed to be an actress, but the career was too controversial for her and she may have lacked the talent. Stoker's father was a giant pushover and loathed the idea that his sons might follow in his footsteps, which usually ensures that they will; hence, sucking up to Irving might have just been in Stoker's nature. Also, the Lyceum in the 1890s was the hottest place for London Society to meet and mingle; Irving was the rockstar actor of his day and was the first English actor to be knighted for achievements in his field.


That being said, the Lyceum presented more Shakespeare than anything else. Irving played the Bard's starring roles, most notably, Hamlet. And all of this got me thinking that some of this Shakespeare must have seeped into Stoker's famous novel. Of course and luckily, I wasn't the first to think of this.

Kelly K.'s EN 122 Blog provides a light and entertaining analysis of the Bard's influence on Dracula.
Without Shakespeare, Van Helsing, a doctor and central character in Dracula, would not be named Van Helsing or hold the characteristics he does. This character’s name originates from the Danish name for Hamlet’s castle, Elsinore—Helsingor, or island of Helsing. Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, selected to use “Helsing” to represent Van Helsing’s character due to the doctor’s strong and impenetrable personality that is much like the walls of the castle, Elsinore. Also, Van Helsing himself is like Elsinore where he keeps his emotions in, much like Claudius, King of Denmark and father/uncle to Hamlet, keeps him inside Elsinore’s walls. For instance, in chapter ten of Dracula, while he draws blood from Dr. Seward and observes it pour into Lucy Westenra, Van Helsing remains composed and undemonstrative. Without Hamlet, a creation of Shakespeare, Van Helsing would not bear his name or have the characteristics he embraces.
Since reading this, I haven't been able to shake the image of Van Helsing as a sulky prince.

Kelly Kendrick insists:
Shakespeare is the reason Dracula’s plot and characters exist. Without Shakespeare’sHamlet and Macbeth, Van Helsing would not bear his name nor carry the characteristics he does, Harker would never suspect Dracula to be anything other than human, he would never have been prisoner, he would have never contemplated death, and Harker wouldn’t have tried to save his poor Mina. Shakespeare should be mandatory to study simultaneously or prior to Dracula because they are so similar and based off of one another. Without Shakespeare, Dracula would not exist.
I don't know if I would go that far, but it's hard to say that Stoker wasn't influenced by Shakespeare. Everything in our lives can be said to influence us in some way and Shakespearean theatre is one of the things that Stoker was immersed in, while he was writing Dracula. He says so himself in Personal Reminiscences:
Henry VIII. was produced on the night of Tuesday, January 5, 1892, and ran at the Lyceum for two hundred and three perform- ances, ending on November 5. Its receipts were over sixfy-six thousand pounds.
And...
There is another view of Hamlet, too, which Mr. Irving seems to realise by a kind of instinct, but which requires to be more fully and intentionally worked out. . . . The great, deep, underlying idea of Hamlet is that of a mystic. ... In the high-strung nerves of the man; in the natural impulse of spiritual susceptibility ; in his concentrated action, spas- modic though it sometimes be, and in the divine delirium of his perfected passion there is the instinct of the mystic, which he has but to render a little plainer in order that the less susceptible senses of his audience may see and understand.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Shape-Shifting Bug


When I talk to people about my work, I never have to explain who Bram Stoker is; I never have to explain who or what Dracula is. Today, he is better remembered than Oscar Wilde, but he was never so popular among his contemporaries. In fact, the better-selling gothic novel, in Bram Stoker's day, was a story about a shape-shifting moth bent on terrorizing an MP.

The Beetle (1897) by Richard Marsh wildly outsold anything Bram Stoker ever wrote. Richard Marsh was the nom de plum of author Richard Heldmann, one of the most prolific writers of fin de si√®cle English literature and he looks a little like Stax, from Doctor Who. Richard Marsh's selected bibliography consists of a long list of titles hardly anyone has heard of today.
Selected works
The Mahatma's Pupil (1893)
The Devil's Diamond (1893)
Mrs Musgrave and Her Husband (1895)
The Beetle (1897)
Crime and the Criminal (1897)
The Duke and the Damsel (1897)
Philip Bennion's Death (1897)
The Datchet Diamonds (1898)
The House of Mystery (1898)
Curios: Some Strange Adventures of Two Bachelors (1898)
A Second Coming (1900)
The Goddess: A Demon (1900)
The Seen and the Unseen (1900)
Marvels and Mysteries (1900)
The Joss: A Reversion (1901)
The Magnetic Girl (1903)
The Confessions of a Young Lady: Her Doings and Misdoings (1905)
A Spoiler of Men (1905)
The Coward Behind the Curtain (1908)
Sam Briggs: His Book (1912)
Judith Lee: Some Pages from Her Life (1912)
The Adventures of Judith Lee (1916)
Sam Briggs, V.C (1916)
The Deacon's Daughter (1917)
On the Jury (1918)
While The Collected Supernatural and Weird Fiction of Richard Marsh is available in several editions today, his contemporaries compared him to Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe. The range and creativity in his subject matter leads me to suspect that he was somewhat the Stephen King of his time. For example, A Second Coming imagines the return of Christ to turn-of-the-century London and begins:
'If,' asked the Man in the Street, 'Christ were to come again to London, in this present year of grace, how would He be received, and what would happen?'
'I will try to show you,' replied the Scribe.
These following pages represent the Scribe's attempt to achieve the impossible.
And it has its funny moments of Victorian English bigotry:
Christ's name was in the air, the topic of the hour. The Stranger's claim was, of course, absurd, unspeakable. He was an impostor, some charlatan; at best, a religious maniac. Similar creatures had arisen before, notably in the United States, though we had not been without them here in England, and Roman Catholic countries had had their share.
Richard Marsh has been brought back from relative obscurity by the Richard Marsh Network and the community that celebrated the 20 years he spent living there, Three Bridges; Three Bridges is a neighbourhood within the town of Crawley, in the county of West Sussex in England. It leaves me wondering what writers from the 1990s we will still be reading in 100 years and whether anyone would run a campaign, at that point, to bring back Stephen King.

Update: in my post on education, I realized that I've barely begun to scratch the surface when it comes to Richard Marsh. Before Google, it was relatively easy for people to conceal parts of their past, or their family's history. Marsh began using his pen name to conceal his criminal past. His descendants propagated a myth (that may or may not have originated with Marsh himself) that he attended Oxford and Eton, which is simply not true. There's something fascinating about the parts of people's lives that make them lie like this, that make them, in some ways at least, try to become someone other than who they are.

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Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Most Valuable Poem in the World?


This week a poem that Oscar Wilde wrote in college sold for almost €80,000. Aside from the bitter irony that, in the latter part of the 1890s, Wilde was so desperately poor that he sometimes could not afford to eat dinner at all and relied on free meals, I think it's excellent that his poetry is so valuable at this point in the history of homosexuality. I'm not sure, however, that the poem itself has anything to do with homosexuality, but it does present an early version of a theme that would reoccur in Wilde's writing on love.

The poem was called, "Heart's Yearnings" and was written in 1873.

Heart's Yearnings

Surely to me the world is all too drear,
To shape my sorrow to a tuneful strain,
It is enough for wearied ears to hear
The Passion-Music of a fevered brain,
Or low complainings of a heart's pain.

My saddened soul is out of tune with time,
Nor have I care to set the crooked straight,
Or win green laurels for some pleasant rhyme,
Only with tired eyes I sit and wait
The opening of the Future's Mystic Gate.

I am so tired of all the busy throng
That chirp and chatter in the noisy street,
That I would sit alone and sing no song
But listen for the coming of Love's feet.
Love is a pleasant messenger to greet.

O Love come close before the hateful day,
And tarry not until the night is dead,
O Love come quickly, for although one pray,
What has God ever given in thy stead
But dust and ashes for the head?

The message of this poem is simple; he hopes to fall in love before he dies. The idea of waiting for Love has always appeared in art. Yet, the line I like best is: "My saddened soul is out of tune with time." Wilde often felt out of tune with time, in love, art, and other matters. Here, I think that line means that he's sad about love before love has given him the chance to be sad about it. It makes me think of a line in a song by Bjork: "I miss you, though I haven't met you yet."

Still, the price this poem sold for works out to €220 per word and more than three times the price that a poem by Yeats sold for at the same auction, making it the most valuable poem in the world - not long after the U.K. legalized same-sex marriage. The context of this sale gives an entirely different resonance to the idea that Wilde's "saddened soul [was] out of tune with time," whether he was writing about homosexuality at the time or not.

Because I am a person interested in all of the minute details of these writers' lives, my remaining question about the poem is whether or not this was before he met Florence Balcombe. I've been searching for the dates of their relationship, but can't seem to pin it down. Let me know, if you know and I will update this post, when I have that information.

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