The story usually told
is that the idea for Penguin Books came to Allen Lane when searching a 1930s railway
station bookstall for something to read and finding only trash. I was reminded
of that the other day when, having finished my book on a long outward journey
to Leeds, looked for something to read on the way back. At first, it seemed
that the W H Smith at this major rail station did not have any books at all,
only arrays of magazines in which you could read about the latest outfit with
which your Duchess of choice has wowed us; what adorable thing some royal child
has contrived to do (smile adorably, wave adorably,….); and for those with more
cosmopolitan tastes: What the Kardashians Did This Week.
But, losing hope and
turning away, I spotted a very small and dismal display of books, mostly
down-market self-help and genre novels. I picked the only one which looked as
if it might be tolerable. I had never read Dracula
but of course knew of it and knew that it was published in the nineteenth
century (1897 in fact) and inferred that it might therefore have some meat to it.
The publisher? Penguin Random House, though in conjunction with the EBC (the
Establishment Broadcasting Corporation) which has done some adaptation of this
now out-of-copyright work.
is a good read. It is a Victorian book and therefore long - 421
pages in my edition, much longer than a train journey’s read. Even I, who do
not count myself a modern reader, found the final chase just a bit too drawn
out. I am sure the EBC will find a way of dealing with that and adjusting the
story to our modern attention spans.
But I liked the central stylistic
choice in which the main characters take turns to write up each day’s events. I
thought a long passage in which a clearly vulnerable Mina Harker is being left
unattended very well-done: a passage which you read with increasing impatience
and a growing desire to shout out to the bishops and knights You have left your Queen unprotected!
intrigued by a bit-part character who delivers a fascinating discourse on
tombstones as fake-news frauds: the bodies aren’t underneath and even if they
are, not the bodies of those memorialised above. I knew that there was a common
Victorian horror of being buried alive (it did happen and the fear is played on
in Dracula) but this was a different
take on graveyards, about which I write in the book Between Remembering and Forgetting advertised in the immediately preceding Blog post here.
And in a rare passage of light relief, Stoker
has great fun evading Victorian censorship in a passage in which a
bit-character speaks with many blooms and bloods allowing the reader to reconstruct
a discourse peppered with blooming and
bloody. (Stoker worked as a London
theatre manager at a time when stage plays were subject to fearsome
pre-production censorship and must have had intimate knowledge of the problem).
The whole passage made our dreary censored F***s and B******s look mechanical
by comparison - and, indeed, they are increasingly mechanical secured by prurient
little Apps. and their conglomerate users.
Those incidental passages are
not the heart of the book, but they are perhaps places in which the author
comes alive and escapes a little from the constraints of fidelity to his characters
which he set himself when he decided to use their diaries and letters as the vehicle for
telling their story. Interestingly, both passages involve rude mechanicals speaking in faithfully-transcribed dialect; from his work in theatre, Bram Stoker would have been intimately acquainted with how Shakespeare deploys his own mechanicals.
I won't spoil the plot by summarising it or telling you What Happens At the End.