Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Resurrected: Dracula author Bram Stoker's first attempts at Gothic horror

Christopher Lee as Dracula
Christopher Lee as the title character in Dracula (1958). Photograph: Alamy

For more than a hundred years the name Count Dracula has struck a chill into the hearts of readers. The original Bram Stoker novel has spawned countless imitation stories and a rich tradition of vampire films that still thrill audiences today.

Now, in the centenary year of the author's death, a discovery of lost work by him has shed fresh light on a great horror masterpiece. An American author has unearthed writings by the Irish novelist that were published more than a century ago in periodicals that have long since disappeared, some of which give new insights into his 1897 story of the bloodsucking count.
Following two years of archival detective work, John Edgar Browning, a specialist in horror and fantasy, has tracked down short stories, poetry and journalism. The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker is published this month by Palgrave Macmillan. Browning told the Observer of his astonishment at finding "an entire book's worth" of published material that "no one living today knew about". The writings reveal much about the style and background Stoker would re-use in his classic vampire story.

Browning said of the new texts: "These stories offer some of the proto-primordial writings and ideas from [which] Dracula would be fashioned. Much of what we love about Stoker's vampire novel … had to be experimented with first, and in these writings Stoker does just that." The discoveries include Old Hoggen: A Mystery, a Gothic comedy from 1893 – four years before Dracula. Its protagonist, Augustus, is searching for crabs along the English coast one morning when he spots a drowned corpse floating – that of a disreputable character, Old Hoggen. He drags the body onto the beach and relieves it of valuables he finds, but it is so decayed body parts start falling off. Finally, he is left only with the head to carry under his arm. When two crabs emerge from the chest cavity, he puts them into his "shooting jacket" for his family.

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