Sunday, April 28, 2013

The German Professor in Dracula

Remember the German professor, Max Windschoeffel, in Dracula? No? That's because there wasn't one. Bram Stoker wrote him out or, rather, let his character be absorbed into the Dutch vampire hunter, Van Helsing, along with other characters, including a detective.

Stoker's "Historiae Personae," pictured above, resides at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philedelphia. It likely arrived in the United States through one of Stoker's many visits or when his wife, Florence, moved to the US, after his death.

The "Historiae Personae" shows the way that characters' roles changed and evolved during the writing and research process. Upon close examination, you can see how characters were changed and renamed throughout.

I also love how it problematizes the question of who the real-life inspiration for Dracula was. Scholarship on the question has speculated it could have been Oscar Wilde or Henry Irving.

If Van Helsing was originally supposed to be a German professor, a detective, a physical research agent, and even possibly a painter, it's likely that the vampire's character had many sources of inspiration as well. Henry Irving, Oscar Wilde, Jack the Ripper, and even Stoker himself are tossed around as inspiring Dracula all the time, but it's likely more true that parts of Dracula came from all of them and others as well.

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Monday, April 22, 2013

Dracula Book Cover Collection

Do you have an old copy of Dracula? If so, I'd love to add as many different covers to what I've already posted here. The popularity of my post on the War of the Worlds Book Cover Collection and the fun I had looking over all of those images made me want to do a similar thing here with my favorite Count.

Dracula was originally published in 1897. The yellow jacket was supposed to warn readers the the book's contents contained pornography. There's nothing pornographic about Dracula by today's standards and subsequent editions of the book quickly lost the yellow jacket. First edition copies of this book sell for $10,000-75,000.

What followed in Dracula's book cover design reflects what aspects of the novel publishers thought would appeal to the reading public. It's also a fine collection of book cover art!

Doubleday & McClure, 1899.
(This was the first American edition.)

1901 Edition 

Archibald Constable & Co., 1901.
(This copy is actually on sale for over $9,000.)

Doubleday, 1902

Constable, 1904.

Archibald Constable, 1904.

Rider & Son, 1916.

Country Life Press, 1927.

William Rider & Son, 1925.

Rider & Co., 1927.

Grosset & Dunlap, 1930.

Modern Library, 1932.

Oifig Dublin, 1933.

Armed Services Editions No. 851, 1945

Pocket Books, 1947.

Modern Library, 1960.

Marabout, 1963.

Limited Editions Club, 1965.

Penguin Classics, 1993.

Barnes and Noble, 1996.

Dover Thrift Edition, 2000.

Centipede Press, 2007.

Simon & Schuster, 2011.

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Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Importance of Being Oscar Wilde's Mother

Lady Jane Francesca Agnes Wilde (1821-1896), better known as "Speranza," was the youngest child of four in Wexford Ireland. She was an Irish nationalist some Italian roots, though she put stereotypes about that heritage to rest by being over six feet tall and devoting herself to the love of Ireland. She was a poet and her contemporaries considered her a national treasure because wrote about freedom for the people of Ireland, but as time went on tastes and politics would change, so that the younger Irish revolutionaries weren't as able to relate to her work.

She fell in love with and married William Wilde, a scrawny and often disheveled-looking man, who must have looked even smaller standing next to his larger-than-life wife; it was said that she was extremely tall and overweight, “walked like a ship at sea, the sails filled with wind.” For this, she was subject to abuse throughout her life, but developed a strong talent for putting people in their place and would defend the people she loved as well as she defended Ireland.

Sometimes, I think intelligent outcasts are the most important people the development of creativity and culture within any particular group. Henry VIII made big sleeves fashionable for men because preexisting fashions didn't suit his growing figure. Speranza dressed like gypsy, even when she could afford the fashions of her day, and wore cheap costume jewelry, sometimes made of pieces of older broken costume jewelry. The odd biographer suggests that she favoured darkness because it concealed certain physical features that made her insecure; but, according to her, she liked dark rooms lit by candles because it encouraged "bawdy talk."

These dark spaces in her house, which notable always had all of its shutters shut, were decorated with books and artifacts collected during William Wilde's archeological journeys to Egypt and by Speranza herself, who enjoyed busts and paintings from ancient Greece and Rome.

If being "the Irish Poetess" of her day weren't fame enough, she became a famous entertainer, hosting popular salons at her home in Dublin and later in London. She got know many of the most famous creatives and revolutionaries, especially feminists and the political types, that set foot in whatever city she happened to be in, which makes it hard to believe that she was all that shy about being out in the open and walking in the light. When asked how she managed to attract such interesting people, Speranza replied, "By interesting them, of course!"

In addition to the two daughters William Wilde had outside of his marriage, Speranza had two sons and a daughter. Her daughter died in childhood; her firstborn was named for her husband and would always be her favourite, even when he grew up to be a lecherous alcoholic; and her other son was Oscar Wilde. Because of her, the boys were well-educated before they even started school, though some acquaintances, like Lord Alfred Douglas, suggested she might not have provided the most wholesome environment for the boys, due to the types of people she kept around and the types of things they would discuss.

Ostensibly, "respectable people" were forbidden from her home because they were usually so uninteresting. Many of their friends attributed Oscar Wilde's wit to his mother.

Things took a turn for the unfortunate, when William Wilde Sr. was knighted. Speranza believed this misfortune came because fortune and fame attract the maliciousness of jealousy. A Dublin man, whose daughter was a patient of Sir William Wilde, the oculist, claimed Sir Wilde was sexually inappropriate in his conduct toward the young lady and would seek legal action. Speranza must have flown into a rage and wrote a nasty letter to the man, for which they were eventually sued and lost most of their wealth. It was about this time that both of Sir Wilde's daughters burned to death in a fire due to the restrictive nature of their fashionable clothes.

Sir Wilde died not long after and Speranza moved to London with both of her sons. In her reduced circumstances, she relied on the financial assistance of both her boys and earned a modest living as a journalist. She finished the work that she began years ago with her husband and published Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland (1888). Oscar began making a name for himself and Speranza continued to hope that both her boys would find their place in parliament. Her favorite son wasn't doing as well as Oscar though.

In London, Speranza became active in the fight for women's legal rights; specifically, the right for a woman to retain her wealth in marriage. She was part of a successful act to support these rights, but, as luck would have it, she needed to find a wealthy wife for her favorite son. The marriage lasted less than a year and Willie came home penniless. Even after he took a second wife, Willie would live with his mother to the end of her days. Many famous people still came to her salons, but she was heard at one such event saying that her life had been reduced to "the importance of being Oscar's mother."

I believe that Speranza died of a broken heart, when Oscar Wilde went to prison. When the trials started, she didn't believe they would imprison her son and wouldn't hear of him fleeing the country. He was, after all, "an Irish-born gentleman." The official cause of death was bronchitis, but her health deteriorated rapidly after Oscar's conviction. Even her requests to visit with him were denied.

Oscar's wife, came back to London from Europe, to break the news of his mother's death to Oscar personally, so that he wouldn't take it too hard.

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Friday, April 12, 2013

War of the Worlds Book Cover Collection

Ever go for a walk with someone, maybe your brother, and start talking about something crazy, like what if aliens or zombies descended on the scene. What would you do? Where would people hide? How would you survive? H.G. Wells had just that sort of walk, actually with his brother, and it resulted in The War of the Worlds (1898).

It's so fun to think that idle talk about martians landing in Surrey resulted in a book that has never been out of print and is one of the most inspirational novels of all time. The book cover collection is a testament to that fact, which is sincerely worth a look (click here). Here are just a few of my favorites:

Folio Society, London, 2004, English

Gong Ye Chu Ban She, Hong Kong, 2004, Chinese

Editora Sextante, Brazil, 2000, Portuguese

Khudozhestvennaya Literatura, Moscow, 1983, Russian

Marvel Comics, Editora de PeriĆ³dicos S.C.L. (La Prensa), 1981, Spanish
1976 Marvel Classics edition 
Contact, 1971, Dutch
Lancer Books, Inc., 1967.
1960 cover by Edward Gorey.
Some of Gorey's illustrations are here.

Molodaya Gvardiya, Moscow, 1956, Russian

Editora Latino Americana, Mexico, 1951, Spanish

State Publishing House of the RSFSR People's 
Commissariat of Children's Literature, 1945, Russian

1927 reprint in Amazing Stories.

Again, for the complete collection, visit:

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Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dracula's Fingerprint

Sir Henry Irving, Bram Stoker's employer, the occupation of most of his life, is popularly believed to be the inspiration for the character of Dracula.

One of many outrageous ideas, forwarded by the Victorians, was that a person's character could be summed up by the tip of their finger. In this 11 June 1898 article, Irving's fingerprint is used as an example of such analysis.

The article surmises many flattering things about Irving, who was a major celebrity at the time. Those, trying to advance the case for Irving as Dracula often echo the line about his "unlimited power of command," whatever that means.

Of Irving, the article claims to have read by his fingertip:
The finger print of Sir Henry Irving is strongly characteristic of the man. Extreme generosity is a marked feature; impulsiveness, determination, eloquence and desire for information, all these are marked items in the character of the print.
Sir Henry would approve of no wrong-doing, while his gentle nature proves his fairness in all things. He possesses unlimited power of command, and though he is always open to conviction, the operation of his mind works against the principle of accepting too much correction. His is the print of a successful man; fortune crowns the ridges, and upon close inspection it will appear patent to you that he is generally an even man in all his doings.
The article also provides analysis of the Lord Chief Justice of England, Sir Spencer Walpole, John Dunn, the city's mayor, and Edward Terry. It is pictured in full below.

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Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dear Mr. Morgan

The latest news about writers in London in the 1890s comes in the form of a forgotten letter by Oscar Wilde to an unknown Mr. Morgan. The advice in the letter (what has been shared so far) can be taken several ways, but I like to relate to my predecessors from across the sea.

The letter advises Mr. Morgan:
The best work in literature is always done by those who do not depend on it for their daily bread—and the highest form of literature, Poetry, brings no wealth to the singer… Make some sacrifice for your art and you will be repaid—but ask of art to sacrifice herself for you and a bitter disappointment may come to you.
This is the kind of advice I would have given, during my last days as a staff writer for a magazine when my daughter was small. It reminds me of the small sense of tragedy in needing to do what you always wanted to do. A short while later, I met a poet and confessed that I used to write. "What happened?" he asked. "I started working in journalism," was my reply.

Oscar Wilde indeed came to depend on the income that he earned through writing. Many of his surviving letters inquire of his publishers about advances. Many of his wife's letters ask her family for money. They were by no means poor in their time, but Oscar Wilde was true to his words:
Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.
Sometimes, I can really relate to the Wildes.

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