Thursday, 20 December 2012

Thoughts on reading (Bram Stoker)

Bram Stoker is most famous as the author of Dracula, the Victorian novel which took the vampire myth and centred it within the modern popular consciousness through the medium of literature and cinema. It's a classic obviously- I also own and have read The Jewel of Seven Stars, which is an excellent, spine-tingling supernatural tale by Stoker based around Egyptian mythology. I decided to download and read two lesser known works by Bram Stoker, The Lady of the Shroud and The Lair of the White Worm.

I discovered that they were lesser known for a good reason. The Lady of the Shroud is written in the same epistolary form as Dracula, advancing the narrative from different point-of-view perspectives, but this structure doesn't quite work for this novel.

The mystery of 'The Lady' herself is solved halfway through the novel, and what had begun as an eerie Gothic tale becomes a predictable and cliched 'Boys Own' Victorian adventure, dipping into piracy and Balkan politics, and dripping with sentimentality.

The novel begins and concludes in a dry fashion: the opening is dominated by dry legal affairs and notes which set up the novel's central premise; the hero, Rupert St Leger, inheriting a ruined castle on the Balkan coast. This is livened up only by the observations of the priggish Ernest Melton and his equally insufferable relations. They add some light relief and provide some of the more entertaining elements. The novel concludes with happy-ever-after observations of political ceremony. The climax is dominated by pomp and circumstance as the tale gradually grinds to a halt and outstays its welcome.

The best passages of the novel are its sinister prologue with elusive promise of the supernatural; Rupert's first mysterious encounters with 'The Lady'; and Ernest Melton's humorous passages, yet sadly the novel never quite lives up to its promise.

I also read the shorter novel The Lair of the White Worm, notable for its loose cinematic adaptation starring Hugh Grant and Amanda Donohoe, and directed by Ken Russell. A lurid, unsettling Victorian horror story, at times it is unintentionally absurd and also quaint and dated in its attitudes toward women and race. Although conceptually ridiculous, Stoker's ability to create memorable and sinister characters in the form of Lady Arabella and Edgar Caswell redeem the story somewhat. The ideas of psychic domination and mesmeric power in this novel echoed concepts I found in Aleister Crowley's novel Moonchild.

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