April 01, 2008


Max Schreck in Nosferatu, by way of wikipedia.

Bram (originally Abraham) Stoker was born in Ireland in 1847. After a sickly childhood, he recovered to shine at an athlete at Trinity College in Dublin. He graduated with a degree in math of all things. He later got a law degree

He wrote many novels and short stories, of which the 1897 Dracula is the best known, but his main gig was as personal manager to the British actor Henry Irving. He also managed the Lyceum Theatre. When Irving died in 1905, Stoker's fortunes went south, financially and otherwise. He suffered a major stroke from which he never fully recovered and died in 1912.

Stoker didn't live to see the first major and probably unauthorized film adaptation of his book, Nosferatu, which appeared in 1921 and spawned a flood of Dracula movies.

Stoker's novel is basically epistolary, being composed of the diaries of various characters along with fictitious news clippings. The plot isn't that hard to follow, although for some reason filmmakers can't seem to get it right.

The young solicitor Jonathan Harker goes to Transylvania to assist a nobleman (who just happens to be...) in his planned move to England. Things get really weird there and he barely survives. Meanwhile, back at the Sceptred Isle, strange things happen when a ship from that part of the world arrives in bad condition.

The focus shifts to Harker's Intended, Mina and her ill-fated friend Lucy, who is apparently Dracula's first victim in England. Lucy's fiance and former suitors band together to try to save her when she is stricken by a mysterious illness and call in the great Dr. Van Helsing from Amsterdam to look at her case. They discover the truth to late to save Lucy but manage to put her out of the vampire business before she gets much of a start.

The group, eventually rejoined by Harker identify Dracula as the perp and begin vampire hunting, making a royal screwup or two along the way. After not putting up much of a fight for a centuries old vampire, Dracula ditches England and tries to return but is killed for good outside his castle.

The thing that's kind of amusing about the novel is how "modern" it is. The characters use the telegraph, take pictures with a Kodak, practice hypnosis,give blood transfusions, and one character, Dr. Seward, records his diaries on a phonograph. Not to mention the Freudian symbolism.

The vampire slayers could learn a thing or two from Buffy. On one occasion, they leave Mina alone at night in Dr. Seward's asylum to go hunt for Dracula next door. Although they just lost Lucy to Dracula, it never occurred to them that this might not be a terribly good idea.

My favorite character, has got to be the fly- and spider-eating mental patient Renfield, a true gentleman, aside from his dietary irregularities and a penchant to fall under the sway of the Undead.

As for Dracula himself, he's kind of a letdown. After much in the way of background about his history and prowess, he turns tail and runs for the old country after one setback. One would think that a vampire who planned the English adventure for a century or two would have had a better plan...or maybe might have chosen the US, where he might well have gone unnoticed.

His real life namesake, a.k.a. Vlad the Impaler, would surely have racked up a higher body count and been harder to deal with. More on him tomorrow.

INEQUALITY GROWS. From the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities:

Between 2005 and 2006, the average income (before taxes) of the top 1 percent of households increased by $73,000 (or 7 percent), after adjusting for inflation,[2] while the average income of the bottom 90 percent of households increased by just $20 (or 0.1 percent). (In 2006, the top 1 percent of households were those with incomes above about $375,000.)

THE OVERCLASS. We hear a lot about poor people behaving badly. It's about time somebody checked upstream.

HARD TIMES. According to a newspaper report from last week, one in six West Virginians are now using food stamps. The numbers have increased by nearly 30,000 from five years ago. Numbers are climbing across the country as the economy tanks, as this article attests.

LOVE ME, LOVE MY BOOKS. Here's a NY Times essay on whether or not one should gauge compatibility on the basis of books. I will say that La Cabra and I highlighted the same passages in Hegel's Phenomenology of Mind.

TOUGH JOB. Massey CEO Don Blankenship's former maid is appealing to the state Supreme Court for unemployment. Too bad the deck is already stacked.

APRIL FOOL! Social scientists have studied the purpose of pranks. Here's a look.


No comments: