Contemporary Reviews of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

Dracula first edition

(First Edition – Archibald Constable and Company, 1897)

I’ve been perusing and enjoying The Bela Lugosi Blog all afternoon. I just discovered it today and highly recommend it to anyone interested in Bela Lugosi, Dracula, horror films, or film and television in general. 

Here are some reviews written about Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, when it was first published in the UK in 1897 and in the US in 1899. Fun reading, and interesting.

The Daily Mail, June 1, 1897

Review

It is said of Mrs. Radcliffe that when writing her now almost forgotten romances she shut herself up in absolute seclusion, and fed upon raw beef, in order to give her work the desired atmosphere of gloom, tragedy and terror. If one had no assurance to the contrary one might well suppose that a similar method and regimen had been adopted by Mr. Bram Stoker while writing his new novel “Dracula.” In seeking for a parallel to this weird, powerful, and horrorful story our mind reverts to such tales as “The Mysteries of Udolpho,” “Frankenstein,” “Wuthering Heights,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” and “Marjery of Quether.” But “Dracula” is even more appalling in its gloomy fascination than any one of these.

We started reading it early in the evening, and followed Jonathan Harker on his mission to the Carpathians with no definite conjecture as to what waited us in the castle of Dracula. When we came to the night journey over the mountain road and were chased by the wolves, which the driver, with apparently miraculous power, repelled by a mere gesture, we began to scent mystery, but we were not perturbed. The first thrill of horrible sensation came with the discovery that the driver and the Count Dracula were one and the same person, that the count was the only human inhabitant of the castle, and that the rats, the bats, the ghosts, and the howling wolves were his familiars.

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The Aylett Project: Rachel Kendall Interviews Bill Ectric

AylettCoverMedium72

Rachel Kendall of Sein und Werden interviewed me about the new collection of essays on the work of Steve Aylett, edited by me and D. Harlan Wilson. Here’ an excerpt:

Rachel Kendall: A number of writers in the anthology refer to Aylett as a writers’ writer. What does that mean to you, and do you think it is significant?
Bill Ectric: Serious writers do a lot of reading. We pay attention to style, theme, and plot. We’ve seen just about every variation of theme and plot imaginable. We’ve seen detailed flowery prose and terse compact sentences; romanticism, realism, modernism, postmodernism, and all manner of genres and sub-genres. Steve Aylett, apparently bored with what’s gone before, moves past it all, often in a humorous way. Other writers get it. It’s not that he disdains what has come before him, he just doesn’t want to read what seems to him as the same books over and over again. Here’s one example: A few years ago I got interested in astronomer/alchemist John Dee and his working relationship with spirit medium/occultist Edward Kelley. I read books, articles, and essays on these men. Much later, in the Appendix to Aylett’s Shamanspace, I found a single sentence that cracked me up with laughter, because it summarized everything I’d read about Dee and Kelley with, “Elizabethan alchemist John Dee witnessed the scarab star of god blooming with a creak from the wooden table at Clerkenwell – a vision immediately waylaid by the arrival of unwitting holy man Edward Kelley who wasted years of Dee’s time with useless signs and wonders.” It was like, that’s all you need to know! You know?  If I call someone a “guitarist’s guitarist” it means that because I play the guitar, I can see just what they are doing, even though I can’t do it myself. Maybe I can learn to do it, but I would have never thought of it.

For a New Novel: Reading Robbe-Grillet by Fred Skolnik

Robbe-Grillet The Erasers    Robbe-Grillet For a New Novel

Via Sein und Werden, here’s a good article by Fred Skolnik called Reading Robbe-Grillet. It begins:

Alain Robbe-Grillet came to the attention of fiction readers in the 1950s with a series of extraordinary novels whose declared aim was to take the modern break with the traditional narrative a step further and help create a “new realism.” The line of development with which he associated himself included Flaubert, Dostoevsky, Proust, Kafka, Joyce, Faulkner, Beckett. Other representatives of the New French Novel included Marguerite Duras and Nathalie Sarraute (Tropismes, Portrait d’un inconnu).
Robbe-Grillet’s own novels appeared in regular succession during the Fifties: Les Gommes (The Erasers) in 1953,
Le Voyeur in 1955, La Jalousie in 1957 and Dans le labyrinthe in 1959; then the screenplay for L’année dernière à Marienbad in 1961 and the theoretical essays of Pour une nouveau roman in 1963.
The novels made a very strong impression on me – they were unique and certainly intriguing . . . A novel, he wrote, should no longer be a contrivance setting out “to illustrate a truth known in advance” but something that invents itself and in the process finds its own meaning.

‘clusterbusting hallucinations’: Speed in Steve Aylett’s Bigot Hall

Steve Aylett Speed

This essay by Robert Kiely will be included in the book To Unearth the Bruises Underground: The Fanatical Oeuvre of Steve Aylett (Anti-Oedipus Press, 2014), edited by D. Harlan Wilson and Bill Ectric. You can also check out Aylett’s latest project at UNBOUND.

The essay begins:

Speed engenders the unexpected. It is often considered a pleasure in and of itself, or a drug, an intensifier. It is difficult to read the work of Steve Aylett without some level of bewilderment – this work puts us on the alert, strains our nerves. This prose is uncompromisingly fast – the rapidity exceeds our ratiocination, and in what follows I want to think about how his texts figure their highly self-conscious speed. One of the primary methods for doing so is to approach it negatively, by lambasting other novelists for being slow – in Atom (2000) the hapless victim is John Updike.[2] Ernest Hemingway comes in for a similar berating in Bigot Hall (1995), which I will subject to some analysis. When these texts complain about slowness, they seem to equate originality with speed and volume of content. Aylett’s books are baroque in their density, speed, and finely crafted detail; they are overcrowded, they dazzle and distort rather than producing a coherent picture of their narrative world – and this is one of their unique selling points.

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Don Webb on R. A. Lafferty

Don Webb

Don Webb

R. A. Lafferty

R. A. Lafferty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s a good essay on R. A. Lafferty by Don Webb on Revolution Science Fiction.

Webb says, “Blurbers (those who blurb) say two contradictory things about the work of R. A. Lafferty. Often both poles will appear in the same blurb . . . He is either compared compared to Twain (or some likewise wholesomely American figure) or to the folktale, ghost tale, or tall-tale. The opposite pole stresses the uniqueness of his work – unique, quirky, one-of-a-kind. It would seem that either the blurbers have indeed read the work, and are hard put to find words to explain the effect of Lafferty’s prose on their psyches, or they are merely quoting other blurbers.

“I wish to argue that Lafferty deliberately creates the mythic effect through a technique I call effective arcanum, and that rather than examining his work with the conventional tools of science fiction criticism, we need to examine his system, firstly for our pleasure, and secondly, so that we may re-create it.”

Webb examines six ways in which Lafferty’s fiction creates the Unknown rather than the Known, and then explores the strengths and weaknesses of these methods. Webb adds, “Each of these points can be expanded into a dissertation and no doubt will be in the fullness of time.”

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Harry Potter and the Gothic Tradition

At The Leaky Cauldron, Elizabeth Murray talks about Harry Potter and the Gothic Novel:

 For as long as J.K. Rowling’s novels have been on best-seller lists and up for literary awards, reviewers, critics, and scholars have been attacking the novels and especially the adults who freely acknowledge their love of these “children’s books”. In a New York Times article published in 2000, William Safire clearly states his opinion on Harry Potter: “These are not, however, books for adults.”  Safire argues, “the Potter series is not written on two levels” and therefore is not worthy of consideration as literary or even proper reading for adults. The well-respected scholar Harold Bloom claims, “one can reasonably doubt that ‘Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone’ is going to prove a classic of children’s literature.”  After reading comments like these, I wonder if either of these Harry Potter skeptics have actually taken the time to read through the books or examine some of the scholarly essays that have been published about the series in a number of books, journals, and websites. Their dismissal of the Harry Potter books is reminiscent of the initial reactions scholars have had to other books that we now consider classics and are being taught in many university classrooms.

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Slipstream: Feeling Very Strange

Coming soon: More of my notes on Thomas Pynchon, Steve Aylett, and Charles Wadsworth Camp, but check this out! From Science Fiction Studies, a fantastic Special Issue on Slipstream, edited by Rob Latham, who begins by saying:

In July 1989, in his “Catscan” column in the fanzine SF Eye, Bruce Sterling published an essay entitled “Slipstream.” This brief piece combined a polemic against the moribund state of the sf genre with an analysis of an emerging literary mode that engaged the contemporary world with the ideational boldness sf had allegedly abandoned. This mode Sterling dubbed “slipstream,” rather nebulously defined as “a kind of writing which simply makes you feel very strange; the way that living in the late twentieth century makes you feel, if you are a person of a certain sensibility” . . .

. . . James Patrick Kelly and John Kessel’s 2006 collection Feeling Very Strange: The Slipstream Anthology showed the range and diversity of this new mode of writing, which at times seems like sf, at times like magic realism, at times like postmodern metafiction, but mostly a compound form all its own. Meanwhile, claims have been advanced for crossbreedings between the literary mainstream and other popular genres, but also for interminglings among the genres themselves, with terms such as New Wave Fabulism, the New Weird, and Interstitial Fiction generating their own sets of debates and semi-canonical anthologies . . .

 There’s a Slipstream Symposium, an update by Bruce Sterling, and lots of other goodies.

Just Because You’re Seeing Things Doesn’t Mean They Aren’t There

Lots of good study material on Nabokov’s shortest short story, Signs and Symbols.

I personally think Nabokov’s general idea was this: The young man is considered insane because he fears inanimate objects, but by the end of the story, we fear the telephone because of the potential message it might convey to the elderly couple. There is apparently much more to it, as can be seen in the following essays by Alexander Dolinin and Roy Johnson:

 “Contrary to the prevailing line of criticism, I take Nabokov at his word and argue in this article that “Signs and Symbols,” like “The Vane Sisters,” is constructed according to a specific “system” of concealment and does contain a neat soluble riddle whose function is similar to the acrostic puzzle in the later story.” – Alexander Dolinin, The Signs and Symbols in Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols”  from the Nabakov Studies section of  The Nabakov Society.

And from Roy Johnson’s tutorial on the story,

“We are given no further information, but it is impossible to escape the implication that the call is from the hospital with news of another and this time successful suicide attempt. For if it were another wrong number there would be no relation at all between these calls and the remainder of the story.

“It is not possible to ‘prove’ that this is the case, but it is quite obvious that Nabokov is inviting the reader to supply the missing explanation. Thus the old man and his wife do have a further blow waiting for them, and the second link between the two subjects is made – in the reader’s mind.”

Washington Irving Rips Critics

From The Literature Network, here’s an excerpt from Desultory Thoughts On Criticism, a very funny essay written in 1839 by Sleepy Hollow legend Washington Irving:

“It is singular, also, to see the fickleness of the world with respect to its favorites. Enthusiasm exhausts itself, and prepares the way for dislike. The public is always for positive sentiments, and new sensations. When wearied of admiring, it delights to censure; thus coining a double set of enjoyments out of the same subject. Scott and Byron are scarce cold in their graves, and already we find criticism beginning to call in question those powers which held the world in magic thraldom. Even in our own country, one of its greatest geniuses has had some rough passages with the censors of the press; and instantly criticism begins to unsay all that it has repeatedly said in his praise; and the public are almost led to believe that the pen which has so often delighted them, is absolutely destitute of the power to delight!”

Read the entire essay