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Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro
Miguel Ángel Benítez Castro
How do journalistic excerpts contribute to the development of the story in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”?
The main purpose of this essay is to comment on the role played by journalistic excerpts in the development of the story contained in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. For this reason, I will start by briefly considering the general structure of the novel and then, I will proceed to a detailed analysis of the three journalistic excerpts included in this work. As we shall see later, these fragments provide the reader with some crucial clues which he/she needs to ‘decipher’ in order to understand what has come immediately before and what will come immediately after. Dracula is told primarily through a collection of journal entries, letters, telegrams and journalistic excerpts written or recorded by its main characters: Jonathan Harker, Mina Murray, Lucy Westenra, and Dr. Van Helsing (in his final memorandum). Therefore, the reader is presented with a ‘plural’ perspective of the story, requiring his/her active involvement in the reading process. The collection of documents of which Dracula is composed creates in the reader such a sense of verisimilitude and authenticity that he/she feels part of the nightmarish atmosphere surrounding the story. Bram Stoker emphasizes this sense of ‘verisimilitude’ by claiming in the first page of the novel that he was not the actual writer, but a mere compiler of the materials which other people had written:
How these papers have been place in sequence will be made clear in the reading of them...all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them. (p.8)1
Surprisingly enough,. Dracula, the character entitling the book, does not play an active role in the composition of the novel, in the sense that everything we know about him is presented by others. Not having access to the vampire’s personal reflections implies that neither the readers nor most of the fictional characters2 are aware of Dracula’s real intentions. Obviously, this makes the ‘atmosphere’ of the novel even more threatening , because readers do not know what to expect. The chronological ordering of the book is also very significant in terms of structural division. The time span of the novel covers about six months in the lives of these characters (from 3rd May to 6th November). Basically, this period saw Jonathan’s imprisonment at Dracula’s castle, Dracula’s arrival in England, Lucy ‘s ‘vampirization’ and death, Mina’s ‘vampirization’ and Dracula’s final defeat. Since not all the characters were together when some of the events took place, we may find several examples in which one of the characters is writing about something which is completely unrelated to something important that was taking place on the same day. The clearest example of this ‘inconsistency’ appears in the letter written by Mina Harker to Mina
All the quotations that I will provide in this essay to support my arguments have been taken from the following version of the novel: Stoker Bram. (1994). Dracula. London: Penguin Popular Classics. 2 There are some characters who can ‘predict’ Dracula’s next move, either because they’ve ‘studied’ him (Doctor Van Helsing), or because they are ‘mentally’ controlled by the Vampire (Renfield; Mina Murray/Harker: at the end of the novel)
Murray on 17th September (Chapter 12). Mina Harker, unaware of Lucy’s death, writes her friend a letter to express her joy at her recent wedding with Jonathan. Another instance of this ‘unawareness’ or ‘lack of knowledge’ on the part of one of the characters can be found in Mina Harker’s journal on 26th June (Chapter 6). Mina has received one of the letters Dracula had forced Jonathan to write, and she gets worried, because she does not know what is really going on with her fiancé: “That’s not like Jonathan”. Although in the letter Jonathan (or Dracula) said that he was fine and he was “just starting home”, in his journal we learn that “one of my post-dated letters went to post, the first of that fatal series which is to blot out the very traces of my existence from the earth” (Chapter 4). Once we have dealt with some issues related to the general structure of the novel, we will concentrate on the analysis of the relevance of journalistic excerpts to the development of this horror masterpiece. As I said above, the novel includes just three journalistic excerpts, all of them located in the first thirteen chapters of the book: Excerpt 1 (chapter 7), Excerpt 2 (chapter 11), Excerpt 3 (chapter 13). In my opinion, the presence of these excerpts could have to do with Dracula’s overt and public ‘dealings’ or activities in England. As a ‘creature of the night’, Dracula wants to appear unnoticed; that’s why he metamorphoses into a bat or into swirling specks when he goes ‘hunting’. However, his arrival in England did not go at all unnoticed, for, although he had metamorphosed into a dog, the derelict ship that brought him to land, together with the captain’s corpse, made people suspect that something strange was going on, and so, ‘the Dailygraph’ decided to make this story public. In the second excerpt, what the keeper of the zoo’s wolf department explains to the correspondent lets us (readers) conclude that Dracula showed himself in daylight (as a “tall man...with a hooked nose...red eyes...sharp teeth”) and he was responsible for the escape of the wolf. The escape of this wolf, as well as everything surrounding it (the presence of that strange man), makes this story suitable for a newspaper. Finally, the third excerpt is not directly related to Dracula, but to a ‘product’ of his evil power: Lucy. The disappearance of many children, along with the ‘ghostly’ appearance of the “bloofer lady” are perfect ‘ingredients’ for an article in “The ‘Westminster Gazette’”. Consequently, these excerpts provide an objective, external and unknowing perspective of the story, as opposed to the subjective, internal and knowing perspective of those who are personally and emotionally involved in this nightmare (Jonathan, Lucy, Mina, Dr. Seward, Van Helsing...). In other words, journalistic excerpts ‘capture’ the part of the story which has been publicly shown (Dracula’s arrival, the escape of the wolf and Lucy as a vampire: just a small ‘portion’ of the whole story), whereas journals and letters present the whole story, as it is personally and internally experienced by each of the main characters. For this reason, journalistic excerpts do not show a complete awareness (knowledge) of the problem, while journals and letters do. Bearing these ideas in mind, I will know try to explain in what way each of the three excerpts contributes to the development of the story: 1. Chapter VII: Cutting from ‘The Dailygraph’, 8 August + Log of the ‘Demeter’. The last time we had news of Dracula was on 30th June. In the last entry to his journal, Jonathan said that all the earth-filled coffins were ready to set out in a journey that would take the ‘Undead’ to England. After an exchange of letters between Mina and Lucy, we find Mina’s journal on 24th July (chapter 6). She is going to spend her summer
holidays with Lucy at Whitby. Two days before the arrival of the Russian ship, the weather started getting unsettled: “Today is a grey day, and the sun as I write is hidden in thick clouds...Everything is grey...” (chapter 6, p.93). At the end of the entry, Mina reports seeing a strange ship. Everything seems to foretell a dark and evil future situation. In the newspaper article (pasted in Mina’s journal), the story of the landing of Count Dracula’s ship is presented. In the middle of a great storm (“one of the greatest and suddenest storms on record...”, p.95), a strange Russian vessel was trying to approach the coast. By the light of a spotlight, witnesses noticed that “lashed to the helm was a corpse, with drooping head, which swung horribly to and fro” (p.99). As the vessel violently ran aground, “an immense dog sprang up on deck from below” (p.99), jumped from the ship, and ran off. Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that the man tied to the wheel had a crucifix tied in his hand. In a newspaper article the next day, it is revealed that the only cargo on board of the Demeter was “a number of great wooden boxes filled with mould” (p.101). The dog has mysteriously disappeared, and some citizens are worried that the dog may be dangerous. The narrative continues with excerpts from the Demeter’s log (official record of events). The log begins on the 6th of July, a week after Jonathan Harker’s last entry in his journal. According to the log entries, all is calm aboard the ship for several days. However, as days went by, all the crew members disappeared. On 17th July, a sailor reports seeing a “tall, thin man, who was not like any of the crew...” (p.104). On the 30th of July, only the captain, his mate, and two crew members are left. On 7th August, the captain is all alone, and, since he is the captain, he decides to tie his hands to the wheel and take the ship to port. The first journalistic extract provides the reader with some vital clues to the identity of the “tall, thin man, who was not like any of the crew...” (p.104). The “wooden boxes” and the “crucifix” clearly point to the only possible identity here: Dracula. He is so powerful that he can not only assume the form of an animal (dog), but also control the weather; perhaps, that’s the reason why everything was so “grey” two days before his arrival, and why there was such a great tempest on the day of his arrival. It should be noted that just after the landing of Count Dracula’s ship “Lucy was very restless all night” (p.108); this is the beginning of Dracula’s ‘influence’ on her. Dracula’s influence can also be noticed in Renfield, who on 19th August (p.124) says: “the Master is at hand”. 2. Chapter 11: ‘The Pall Mall Gazette’, 18 September- The Escaped Wolf Thanks to several blood transfusions and to Dr. Van Helsing’s “flowers” (garlic), on 17 September Lucy records that she is feeling much better: “I am so strong again that I hardly know myself” (p.164). This recovery, however, will be short-lived. At this point, the story is interrupted with a newspaper article about an “escaped wolf”. One day, one of the visitors to the zoo’s wolf department seemed to have exerted a strong influence on one of the wolves, because Bersicker started “tearing like a mad thing at the bars as if he wanted to get out” (p.167). To the inquisitive questions of the wolves’ keeper, the strange visitor replied that he was used to wolves and that he had made “pets of several” (p.168). When the moon was shining that night, all of the wolves of the zoo began to howl and a “big grey dog was seen coming close to the cages where the wolves were” (
p.168). When the zoo keeper checked the cells at midnight, he found one of the wolves missing. Suddenly, while the interview was taking place, Bersicker returned home, docile and peaceful, except that his head was covered with broken glass. On the 17th of September, at nighttime, Lucy records everything she can remember in a memorandum: she was awakened by a strange flapping at the window. Since she was frightened, she tried to stay awake and heard something like the howl of a dog. Disturbed by the noise, her mother came into the room and got into bed with her. Suddenly there was a low howl, broken glass was flying into the room and in the window was seen “the head of a great, gaunt, grey wolf” (p.172). Lucy’s mother was so frightened that she suffered a heart attack and died. The four household maids had been drugged by a considerable dose of laudanum, which someone had poured into their bottle of wine. Lucy realises that she is alone in the house, and she wonders where she can hide her memorandum so that someone can find it next day. Her memorandum ends by saying: “ The air seems full of specks, floating and circling in the draught from the window, and the lights burn blue and dim” (p.175). In this journalistic excerpt, we can easily recognize a further extension of Dracula’s power: he was a master/lord of wolves. Dracula’s attitude in the zoological garden reminds us of the moment when Jonathan Harker begged the Vampire permission to leave his castle: “ ‘Hark!’ Close at hand came the howling of many wolves. It was almost as if the raising of his hand...” (p.65). If we read carefully, we will notice that Bersicker, the escaped wolf, was actually the wolf who hurtled in Lucy’s bedroom (he broke the window – when he comes back to the zoo, his head was peppered with broken glass). A further point which I would like to remark is the use of regional dialectal features in the speech of the wolves’ keeper (“ ‘Ittin’ of them over the ‘ead with a pole is one way...”; p.166) 3. Chapter 13: The ‘Westminster Gazette’, 25 September. A Hampsted Mystery In this chapter we read that arrangements are made for Lucy and her mother to be buried at the same time. That night, Van Helsing took a handful of wild garlic and placed the garlic all around the room and around Lucy’s coffin, and then he took a small golden crucifix and placed it over Lucy’s mouth. The following morning, he would ask Seward to help him cut off Lucy’s heart and take off her heart. However, when they got up, they realized that someone had stolen the crucifix from Lucy’s mouth during the night. Thus, their original plans were thwarted (“ ‘We shall not do it’... ‘Because...it is too late-or too earl’”p.202). Lucy looks so beautiful that his fiancé, Lord Goldaming, doubts that she is really dead (is she dead?). The chapter concludes with an excerpt from the Westminster Gazette three days after the funeral. According to the article, the area surrounding the area where Lucy was buried, has been terrorized by a mysterious woman whom the local children refer to as “the Bloofer Lady”. Children are kidnapped late in the evening, and they are not found until early in the following morning. Although Van Helsing does not say clearly what will happen if these superstitious proceedings (beheading and taking out the heart) are not carried out in Lucy’s corpse, the reader somehow infers that “the Bloofer Lady” has something to do with Lucy, mainly for two reasons: - Her ‘perimeter of action’ is restricted to the area where Lucy had been buried.
The small wounds in the children’s throats and the fact that she always goes out at night makes us think of a vampire (though not necessarily Lucy)
Our expectations are confirmed a bit later, when Seward and Van Helsing see that Lucy’s coffin is empty at night. In conclusion, I think that journalistic excerpts play a double role in Dracula. On the one hand, they provide the story with verisimilitude, and on the other, they help to involve the reader actively in the reading process. The information is not presented at once to the readers, for it is our responsibility to ‘decipher’ each of the small threads making up the tapestry of the novel.
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