Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Dracula by Bram Stoker

published 1897


From regular guest blogger Colm Redmond








[From Mina Harker’s Journal; Jonathan is her husband]

We came back to town quietly, taking a bus to Hyde Park Corner … and walked down Piccadilly. Jonathan was holding me by the arm, the way he used to in the old days before I went to school. I felt it very improper, for you can’t go on for some years teaching etiquette and decorum to other girls without the pedantry of it biting into yourself a bit. … I was looking at a very beautiful girl, in a big cart-wheel hat, sitting in a victoria outside Guiliano’s, when I felt Jonathan clutch my arm so tight that he hurt me, and he said under his breath, “My God!”

I am always anxious about Jonathan, for I fear that some nervous fit may upset him again. So I turned to him quickly, and asked him what it was that disturbed him.





observations: This is a long, vivid book that conjures up many an enduring image. None more so than the Count, viewed from above through the window by his terrified guest, crawling around the sheer external wall of his castle like a spider, so as not to be seen navigating the corridors.

Like Morrissey, however, Bram Stoker is disappointingly unconcerned with clothes. I believe he only mentions them three times, and one of those is quite vague: there is “a dark-haired woman, dressed in the cerements of the grave”, and that’s admittedly quite startling – for a character who is not only bent over a child and biting its neck, but is also dead – but doesn’t really tell us much. You feel like he only mentions that her cerements are white because he wants us to see the contrast with the blood that “stain[s] the purity of her lawn death-robe.”

He misses a big chance with some gorgeous young female vampire accomplices, of a frankly licentious persuasion, who live in Dracula’s castle: he doesn’t give any physical description of them or their clothes. The makers of any number of horror films have not let that stop them, they invariably choose to portray them in skimpy, diaphanous, loosely-fastened items; but Stoker didn’t specify.

There’s a slightly comical occasion when Dracula’s suit jacket is cut open with a sword, and gold coins he’s been hiding tumble out onto the floor. But again we have to imagine what the suit is like. The scene is a good example of how he can seem like a slightly ludicrous, fairytale character, like Rumpelstiltskin: the book is scary and suspenseful, but Dracula is cunning and sometimes desperate, not superhuman and invulnerable. His abilities (turning into a bat or a hound, just for example) are useful but not all-conquering and they’re counter-balanced by impediments such as not being able to cross running water under his own steam. Nor is he suave and charming, like the Hammer version – he just tries to act like that, in a rather sickly manner.

Mina copes bravely with some seriously weird things, but I think Stoker still considers her a bit of a drama queen. He slyly pokes fun at her by making her write inane things in her journal. If someone clutched your arm and whispered “My God!” under his breath, would you need any particular reason to ask him what was wrong…?

The girl in the extract (the third and final mention of clothes, and then it’s only her hat) is waiting outside a shop for her purchase to be wrapped: Giuliano’s was a posh jeweller at 115 Piccadilly; the mis-spelling is Stoker’s. He mentions quite a few real places and surprising things in the book, such as a Kodak camera (very new indeed at the time), and people using a phonograph as a dictaphone. [As featured in the comments to the Clothes in Books Guardian piece on non-anachronisms;  Mina's diary gets a mention in this piece also.]



The pictures show another “very beautiful girl” - Grace Kelly – in a big hat in the Hitchcock film To Catch A ThiefIt's not immediately obvious that these are all the same outfit, nor that this is a swimsuit, with a sort-of-skirt around it for modesty away from the beach. Also strictly speaking it's not one hat but two - a crownless white one over a black turban. And of course that's Cary Grant with her - he and his suit featured in this entry and this one.

Here are some more cartwheel hats:


Lillian & Dorothy Gish, apparently. The one sitting down is blindsided and clearly doesn't know what the other is up to - she made her SWEAR not to pull any flirty stunts with her hat-brim and she just went right ahead and did it anyway.


[Note from original Clothes in Books: The two Gish girls have featured on the blog before - here and here - and at a guess I would say that's Lillian on the left.

I could never quite see what the fuss was about Grace Kelly, but that astounding top picture tells me.]

For more from the guest blogger, click on Colm Redmond below.




11 comments:

  1. Moira - Thanks as ever for hosting Colm.

    Colm - It is interesting how Stoker created such vivid portrayals without discussing clothes very much. And yet the atmosphere is so clear. Thanks for sharing those great 'photos of cartwheel hats. Just those images were a help in remembering the novel. And after all, it's Grace Kelly!

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    1. Yes, Margot, I suppose he describes only what he feels is necessary and therefore we are to assume that people are wearing whatever "ordinary clothes" means in that period and place. Even when there are gangs of Tzigany - gypsies, roughly speaking - their characteristic clothing is not described. If you're relying on the reader's imagination to create peril and suspense it can be a good idea not to clog things up with visual detail (that many of us - I, for example - will not register properly anyway...)

      I don't think many people would guess that the main pic of Grace Kelly was taken in the 50s. The wedges in particular look very modern.

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  2. Fashion is so ephemeral that I think Mr. Stoker was trying to avoid references that would cause his work to become dated within a few years. From our point of view, even the reference to a "cartwheel hat" needs to be looked at with care. Women's hats of the 1880's and early 90's were very small-brimmed and shaped for height rather than width. By 1897, wider brims were just coming into style and what would have been described *then* as wide-brimmed would have looked very modest to us. The trend continued into the 1910's, producing hats which truly were the size of cartwheels, and which would have dwarfed anything worn in the 1890's. Rather than depicting a particular hat, I would take the passage as describing a young woman "dressed in the height of fashion and knowledgeable about the latest trends in millinery". It is, of course, Mina who is speaking and Stoker has cleverly (sarcastic eyebrow-lift inserted here) put it in a feminine perspective because women notice dresses and things...
    Burial customs vary, but there was a very specific type of garment made as grave-clothing described in 19th century sewing manuals. It's rather like a long-sleeved nightgown with rows of gathering across the front and made to open down the back to simplify dressing the body. We assume (or at least hope) the vampire lady managed to find some safety pins somewhere before she took to bending over children...

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  3. Brilliant insights, thanks for that, Ken.

    I avoided mentioning a precise era because I'm not certain when Dracula is set. There's no doubt it's meant to describe recent events, when written/published in 1897. Some people say it's set in 1893, but if anything in the book fixes that I missed it.

    If it is 1893 Jonathan Harker must have taken a really big camera all the way to Transylvania in his luggage, because the first "pocket" Kodak wasn't sold till 1895 - although the first *relatively* compact one was "early 1890s" according to Wikipedia. (Harker was on business so it's not out of the question he would have taken a big camera.)

    As for the hat, one could easily imagine that Stoker would picture the latest dashing new-fangled hat when writing in 1897 and not worry too much if it wasn't strictly around at the time of the supposed encounter. Either that or you may well be more accurate than the sources I've seen claiming the book's set in 1893. My money's on you, Ken.

    As for the skimpy cerements, well, I certainly wouldn't put it past Bram Stroker to have been meaning us to picture hints of naked flesh...

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    1. That "Stroker" was a particularly unfortunate typo, not a Carry On-style joke...

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  4. She's a bit of a stunner in those photos. The book I'll pass on thanks.

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    1. Yes, a stunner and looking a bit different to usual. As blog-friend Trish Winter points out, Grace Kelly looks very different as a brunette, which the turban makes her seem to be. On this evidence, it would have suited her.

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  5. I will have to read this sometime. The length does give me pause, but I heard that it is worth it. And then re-watch the movie. We like the Gary Oldman version.

    The pictures of Grace Kelly are stunning, but I prefer Cary Grant.

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    1. I found the book mesmerising. It's long and leisurely and you often don't quite know where it's going, but dull it's not. I watched the first Hammer version recently and was quite surprised at what they left out, I thought there was a lot of filmic imagery they missed.

      Cary Grant is never wrong...

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  6. At the other side of the year, but I thought that I would just comment on what Colm said....Jimmy Sangster, the scriptwriter of the Hammer version, responded to people who asked him why he had not included certain bits from the book in the movie "Two reasons. Not enough time, not enough money".

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    1. Good quote, thanks. I do like the Hammer film. Many of the things they skipped make it more enjoyable as literature without adding to the horror story element, so it was fair enough to dodge them. For sheer creepiness the late 70s Nosferatu The Vampyre is really hard to beat.

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