Dracula Unearthed

A version of this review will appear in The Vampire's Crypt 18 (Fall 1998). The Vampire's Crypt web site is: http://members.aol.com/MLCVamp/vampcrpt.htm

Clive Leatherdale, ed. and annot. Dracula Unearthed. UK: Desert Island Books, June 1998; 512 pp.; ISBN 1-874287-12-0; 16.99 pounds.

It's been done before, you say. DRACULA has been annotated before. By Leonard Wolf (twice). By Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu. By Nina Auerbach and David J. Skal (lightly, for Norton). But this latest annotated edition has a thoroughness and straightforward seriousness that the other annotated editions lack. Leatherdale has taken a no-frills approach: there are no cute "I'm Zacula!" anecdotes, no steel engraving collages, no Dracula movie stills. The jacket has a respectable monochrome portrayal of the title character, but the text itself is pure *text*.

In his introduction, Leatherdale takes pains to set the record straight on a number of popular misconceptions. Foremost among these is the connection between the literary and historical Dracula, which he terms "contrived and unsubstantiated," noting that the two characters have "little in common save for an unhappy association with impalement." He also treats at some length the (mis)classification of "Dracula's Guest" as a "lost first chapter" of the novel. Leatherdale describes some aspects of DRACULA's complexity and density, noting that "what began in 1890 as a vampire tale set in modern-day Austria, with Count Wampyr pursued by a German professor and and English detective, matured by 1897 into the Transylvanian epic we are familiar with today." This long gestation and the breadth of the author's research make Stoker's research papers "of paramount importance in understanding DRACULA," and Leatherdale has obviously made a detailed study of them. In fact, this edition includes a complete list of Stoker's sources of DRACULA (from his working notes), and a number of the annotations detail exactly where Stoker found information on such topics as scenery en route to Castle Dracula.

The notes in fact cover a wide variety of topics. There are of course notes on lore (St. George, garlic), history, and vocabulary. The topics that most conspicuously receive Leatherdale's attention, however, are continuity and (for lack of a better word) common sense. For example, in following Dracula's "crawl down the wall" act, Harker describes "a narrow ledge of stone which runs round the building." Leatherdale deems this bit of architectural filigree "dramatic license," noting that the outer wall of a fortress "is built to frustrate all attempts at illegitimate entry." Leatherdale also notes numerous contradictions in the descriptions of Transylvanian geography at the beginning of the novel and at the end, where rising action takes precedence over both realism and continuity.

Leatherdale's notes subject even minor characters to scrutiny and painstakingly (sometimes painfully) analyze and even deconstruct major ones, pointing out parallels between Van Helsing and Dracula; showing inconsistencies in Quincy Morris's character; and repeatedly casting particularly unflattering light on John Seward, pointing out his "highly questionable" ethics in drugging Renfield to examine his note-book and making explicit what the novel only implies: that Seward (abetted by Van Helsing) ultimately leaves Renfield "abandoned as a bloody heap on the floor, with a massive hole in his head." As another note wryly comments, "Small wonder that Seward shows himself adept at circumventing legal enquiries into awkward deaths." (Leatherdale draws attention to a number of occasions on which DRACULA's protagonists circumvent the law.)

Although Leatherdale has taken a serious and scholarly approach that reflects a thorough grounding in the laws and culture of the time, the notes also make forays into humor and beauty. Observing that Dracula has bought a number of properties in London, Leatherdale suggests the prospect of "a Dracula version of the popular property board game 'Monopoly.'" A handful of notes draw attention to scenes that filmmakers have not taken advantage of.

Here and there, Leatherdale's observations seem a bit far-fetched (describing Mina's dose of vampire blood as "oral sex with Satan") or frivolous (speculating that Dracula's "wives" shave him), but these are decidedly in the minority. Most of the notes are on-target and show a familiarity with the novel itself, not to mention the realities of its time, that reflect years of thought and study. By the author's own count, the annotations run to some 110,000 words: "only 50,000 fewer than the text of DRACULA." As DRACULA itself is a "profound book," so many words are needed to properly plumb its depths, both as a reflection of its historical era and as a work of literature. In fact, Leatherdale's notes bear almost as much re-reading as the text itself, offering insight not only into their ostensible subject (DRACULA) but also its historical and cultural context. They would also provide much food for thought for an author who [shudder] has designs on writing yet another DRACULA-derivative work of fiction.

But you didn't hear that last part from me.

Desert Island Books publishes a number of Dracula-related titles. You can check out their website at http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~desert/

All Desert Island Dracula Library titles are distributed in North America by Firebird Distributing.

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