Review: The New Annotated Dracula, by Leslie S. Klinger

Formally: The New Annotated Dracula, by Bram Stoker, edited with a foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger, additional research by Janet Byrne, introduction by Neil Gaiman. W.W. Norton and Company, 2008. Hardcover, 613 pages, list price $39.95 US, $44.00 Canada.

What a perfect delight this is. There’s a point where scholarship and sheer enthusiasm fuse. “That is the point that must be reached,” as Kafka said of something else. Klinger’s gotten to that point and then set up camp for an extended stay.

This is a beautiful volume, and a pleasure to read and view. It’s almost square, with a heavy black binding and silver text on cover and spine. The paper is heavy and creamy, the typography elegant. The format is my favorite for annotations: one column for the text of the book, and one for annotations in somewhat smaller type. Most of the time, therefore, the notes are right next to the text they’re commenting on. This is one of those books that really thoroughly justifies its existence as a printed work rather than an e-book, with so much present besides the words themselves.

The version of the novel starts with with the original 1897 edition rather than the abridged 1901 paperback that is apparently the basis of many modern editions. In addition, Klinger draws heavily on Stoker’s working notes, fascinating in their own right. We see Stoker’s calendar pages, assignment and reassignment of plot points to different narrators, and annotated bibliography on subjeccts from the Carpathians to shipwrecks. Furthermore, Klinger notes differences between this text and changes made through the decades. So it’s a comprehensive and careful presentation.

But there’s also a hundred fifty or so pages on other subjects, starting with Neil Gaiman’s ruminations on his encounters with Dracula in various contexts. Klinger provides a history of vampire stories up to that point, with particular attention to the ones that seem to have most influenced Stoker, and a biography of Stoker himself.

All of this is lavishly illustrated, as is the novel itself, and full of marvelous things I hadn’t known before. For instance: in college, Stoker wrote a defense of Whitman against charges of immorality. As an adult he was business manager for actor Henry Irving and the Lyceum Theatre, and when the company took its first tour of North America, Stoker got to meet his idol. I wonder what their conversation was like. Likewise, there’s a photo here of Stoker leaving the theatre with his business partner on a fall day in 1901, and their confident strides could fit right in with photos of comparable people today, aside from the details of their suits. Stoker emerges here as substantially more interesting a person than I’d ever realized.

After the novel come appendices on the sort-of-related story “Dracula’s Guest,” dating and chronology matters, a glossary of the colloquial usages of Whitby’s people, Dracula in various media and as a subject of academic research, notes on Klinger’s sources and a great bibliography.

However, the point of this is the notes. Let me demonstrate. Here we are at the beginning of the novel proper:

Dracula. Footnote, to a discussion of sub-titles planned and used or discarded, with picture of the 1901 cover.

by Bram Stoker. Footnote, covering publication history.

“To My Dear Friend Hommy-Beg.” Footnote, with photo of the fellow for whom that was a nickname, capsule biography, and some about his friendship with Stoker.

Author’s Preface. Footnote tracing it to the Icelandic edition, and some earlier versions.

In fact, the preface includes a column and a half of text and six columns of annotation, with pictures of Henry Irving, Professor Friedrich Max Müller (apparently an inspiration for Van Helsing), and Mary Kelly (along with some comments on a not-completely-expunged early plan to link Dracula and Jack the Ripper.

Klinger indulges himself in a conceit that I felt very wary about, as I read his explanation in the preface. He plays (“has fun with,” not “wanders in and out of believing and taking seriously”) with the idea that something like these events actually happened and that Stoker knew some of the principals, but that he heavily fictionalized things. In fact, says Klinger in his speculative notes, Stoker was likely compelled to make some changes by Dracula himself. Hence, for instance, Van Helsing’s bogglingly bizarre career and methodology: it’s slander.

It works better than I’d have guessed. There are notes like this, on p. 323:

The coincidence of Carfax being next door to Seward’s asylum is impossible to credit. With thousands of suitable residences for Dracula in the vicinity of London, is it credit that mere chance causes Peter Hawkins and Harker to select a property next door to the physician-friend of Lucy Westenra? In fact, it seems much more likely that as a result of the selection of Carfax, Harker unwittingly doomed Lucy and imperiled Mina. The only logical explanation is that after selecting Carfax, Dracula telepathically explored the neighbourhood, discovered Seward and through Seward the very suitable victim Lucy Westenra (after all, Seward was obsessed by Lucy), made telepathic connection with Lucy, determining that she would be in Whidby, and based on this investigation, determined to land at Whitby—an otherwise unlikely port—where he could meet up with Lucy. Why Van Helsing never comes to this inescapable conclusion is mystifying, unless, of course, he did so conclude but the extent of Dracula’s powers was intentionally deemphasised in the narrative.

But they coexist peaceably with this, a page earlier: “Manifold paper, that is a set of thin sheets of paper interleaved with carbon paper, invented in the early nineteenth century but rising to popularity only with the advent of the typewriter.” Not to mention the six-paragraph note on aerated bread, the emergence of tea shops as distinct from coffee shops, and their role in advancing women’s emancipation.

If you like this sort of thing, you’ll like this book a lot.


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