For this episode, I talked to Erin who is the host of SubverCity Transmit and voice actor on No Sleep Podcast and Congeria Podcast. She also runs an awesome, spooky online store called Never Not Clever. So I’m incredibly grateful to Erin for making the time to talk to us.
The film we are chatting about is Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) also known as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Erin knows so much more about the movie than I could possibly hope to learn and among the many insights she has to give, she touches on the influence of Winona Ryder in the production, the Academy Award-winning costume design by Eiko Ishioka and the very deliberately rudimentary special effect that can be such an obstacle to new audiences discovering and engaging with the film.
Other subjects we touched upon include:
Lord Byron, because he always pops up
The Symbolist Movement
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
The 1991 movie Hook
and armadillos… because I just cannot get over this
Possibly named after Florence Nightingale as her father Lieutenant-Colonel James Balcombe was involved in the Crimean War. Florence is talked about frequently as being just gorgeous but it is pretty clear that there is much more to Florence than the flowery and elaborate praise of her appearance. she was said to be tall at 5 foot 8, which is a perfectly reasonable height these days but apparently tall for the Victorian Era
There was widespread admiration of Florence’s intellect and wit and it came to pass that she would cross paths with another person who was renowned for his intellect and wit; Oscar Wilde. In fact, they two dated for two years, Oscar even gave her a gold cross which could be interpreted as a sort of promissory gesture. Once Wilde left for England, they began a long distance relationship that didn’t really work out.
Florence ended up crossing paths with another witty and intelligent young man with theatrical aspirations, Bram Stoker. Oscar Wilde was devastated when he learned of their engagement. Florence and Oscar eventually got to the point where they were able to maintain a friendship.
But life isn’t that simple and Bram still felt the danger of Oscar’s perceived threat to his marriage or reputation or morality or some combination of the three and that threat was exacerbated when Wilde was arrested for gross indecency. That this was the time at which Bram sat down to pen a story about a pervasive threat to the morality of good Christian people has been a subject of much discussion. Many see the depiction of Jonathan at the Castle Dracula as a subconscious expression of his own homosexuality. There is an excellent article “A Wilde Desire Took Me: The Homoerotic History of Dracula” by Talia Schaffer that I alluded to in my blog post about Oscar and Bram, which paints the picture of a man who was at once, very happy in his life with Florence and had very intense, almost entirely repressed, feelings for the actor Henry Irving who he worked closely with during his time as the Director of the Lyceum Theatre. There is also a much more complex and distant impassioned relationship with Wilde which abruptly ended when Bram proposed to Florence.
One of the articles I read for this included a segment from Bram Stoker’s relatively recently unearthed “Journal”. They assert that it seems to be an idea for an unwritten work:
Seaport. Two sailors love girl — one marries her, other swears revenge. Husbands goes out to sea soon after marriage & on return after some days sees in grey light of morning his young wife crucified on the great cross which stands at end of pier.
Bram certainly never quite got over his distrust of Wilde. The same article that I grabbed that quote from which was from the New Inquiry by Kaya Genc draws distinct parallels between Bram’s version of his courtship with Florence and his friendship with Oscar and the narrative of Dracula. The forces of corruption represented by Dracula attempt to seize Jonathan and then Mina, but they are defeated by Mina’s common sense and good judgement and Jonathan’s eventual courage and the help of some dudes. It’s not a perfect analogy but considering the timing of his writing, it seems to be a little more than coincidental.
Bram and Florence seemed to have had a pretty equal marriage by Victorian standards and they enjoyed a happy and successful partnership. Bram struggled with illness but felt bad for Florence who ran the household and looked after him in his infirmity. Which is quite sweet because you really didn’t see a lot of that level of awareness in the men of the time. Florence was quite a gifted businesswoman, a trait that would serve her well through Bram’s illness, (which I’ve read was syphilis, which opens a whole new avenue for questioning, how did that happen?) and would continue to assist her after his passing.
After Bram died Florence’s main income stream was through Dracula and she was determined to wrestle control of the Dracula narrative back from the film studios in Germany and America, where Dracula was very popular but the Stoker family received no remuneration for use of Bram’s intellectual property. She fought against the production of Nosferatu which borrowed ideas whole cloth from Dracula. Florence with the help of the Society of Authors sued the makers of the unauthorized film and won £5,000 and an order went out that every copy of Nosferatu would have to be destroyed. Obviously, that did not quite happen…
Sha also fought the Universal Studios production of Dracula starring Bela Lugosi (previously mentioned on this podcast). They didn’t ask for permission, so they had to deal with the full force of Florence Stoker.
“A Wilde Desire Took Me”: The Homoerotic History of Dracula by Talia Schaffer
The Universal Studios Monsters and their entourage have had an indelible effect on our understanding of classic gothic texts like Frankenstein and Dracula. The differences between Frankenstein 1931 and the original text are too numerous to name… believe me, we tried. The essence of these stories can be completely changed and become a caricature of their former nuanced selves. We’re going to have a crack at examining most of these movies and the texts that they draw inspiration from (I should hesitate from calling most of these films adaptions because it is very often just the very bare monstrosity that is translated to screen)
Here are some of the characters of the Universal Monsters stable that we are planning to have a look at on The FrankenPod in the future, or maybe have already…..
Universal Monsters and Associated Characters
Frankensteins Creature in his Universal Studios form as Frankenstein’s Monster
Played By Boris Karloff in:
Bride of Frankenstein (1935)
Son of Frankenstein (1939)
Played By Lon Chaney Jr. in The Ghost of Frankenstein (1942)
Played By Bela Lugosi in Frankenstein Vs. The Wolf Man (1943)
All of our podcasts episodes are going to be vampire related, starting with the big one: DRACULA
By 1897 the vampire had already infiltrated the collective consciousness. Varney, Carmilla and Polidori’s Lord Ruthven had already prepped Victorian audiences in the UK for Count Dracula’s surprisingly bureaucratic invasion. Bram Stoker’s creation has mutated and evolved with popular culture, adapting to exploit our fears and vices. The sexuality and otherness of the original novel have been contorted and manipulated, spawning not only stand-alone vampire novels but also whole series of vampire fiction with a sustained, almost cult-like following.
Brent watched Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula released in 1992. Morgan read the original 1897 Dracula by Bram Stoker.
Dracula is an epistolary novel which uses letters and other documentation to piece together the narrative. The documents have been assembled primarily by Mina Harker because none of the other characters seems to be capable of organised thought. In fact, they tell her she has “a man’s brain”… ewww.
The book was written as a mystery because the 19th-century audience did not know what the count is. So as a modern reader you are like “noooo Jonathan! Run away! But he has no idea”. It’s like a slasher film in which you can see the killer but the characters can’t. .. except it goes on for chapters. Really until Van Helsing shows up.
Last time we recorded one of our proper book movie comparison episodes like this one (which come out on the 13th of every month) you watched a movie with Colin Firth who I have a bit of a fangirl situation going on about… This time you’ve got Tom Waits as Renfield.
Renfield attracts flies to his room, then feeds them to spiders, who he feeds to sparrows… then asks for a kitten… Dr Jack Seward does not let him have one, so, despairing, he eats the sparrows whole.
Oscar Wilde was imprisoned gross indecency in May of 1895, and one month later Bram Stoker began to write his novel Dracula, a novel filled with transgressive sexual and a text which has been of great interest when applying queer theory to the Gothic English literary canon. Whilst correlation is not causation, this timing may not be entirely without meaning.
The Wildes and the Stokers were friends when Oscar and Bram were young. But that implies the families were part of a confined social group, this is not quite true. Oscar’s mother Jane threw lavish parties and had a wide circle of friends, it was probably at one of these parties that the two met. Oscar’s parents were incredibly fond of the young Bram, and this may have sparked competition between them. There is no doubt there was a tense relationship between the two, with Stoker outstripping Wilde academically in their youth. Then they both fell for the same woman Florence Balcombe who deserves her own article and will get one so I’m just going to skip ahead a little. Suffice to say it was Stoker and Balcombe who married
We don’t know much about Stoker’s life (due to his own Charlotte Brontë style curation), but an overwhelming number of scholars assert his role as a “gay observer” (Schaffer, 1994). This is has something to do with close textual interpretations and some of the more blatant homoeroticism in his most acclaimed work, Dracula, and with writings that have been discovered as part of a recently recovered “Journal”
Homoeroticism in Dracula
The Count is similar to the caricature of Oscar Wilde that developed during his trials and some of the other narrative similarities I will save for the Florence Balcombe article. Suffice to say that Dracula and vampirism are a direct threat to the moral fibre of 19th century Christian British moral fibre, in much the same way as many saw Wilde and “transgressive” sexuality. This idea that you can catch homosexuality has never quite gone away sadly.
Many read Jonathan Harker’s time in the Castle Dracula as a homoerotic experience of temptation. In the end, Jonathan has reconciled this time of imprisonment with his life with Mina, which seems almost sexless. He is able to exist in London with his male friends and his family life existing in harmony, without the looming presence of The Count. This duality of domestic sphere of the heteronormative family and homosocial/homosexual social spheres This might sound familiar from our exploration of Dorian Gray. This duality was very much of its time, and the 1890s proved to be a period of transition between this dualism and devastating persecution that accompanied public awareness of queer communities and individuals.
Reading Dracula as a reactionary work to the trials of Oscar Wilde is an interesting and fruitful exercise. The view is that perhaps Stoker felt extremely vulnerable and embarrassed by his friend’s public shaming during his trial, and feeling his own sexuality called into question by association he panicked and began the erasure of their association.
Stoker systematically removed Wilde, or any allusions to Wilde in his works and documentation, replacing them with angry condemnations of degeneracy, thinly veiled references to Wilde’s arrest and other similar moral “transgressions”.
For more on the link between Wilde, Stoker and Homoeroticism in Dracula read:
As I was looking for resources through the hit and miss machine that is Google, I kept coming across goth dating sites… this is not relevant, I just thought you should know the level of people in pseudo-Victorian garb staring whimsically off into space that I had to endure to research this was relatively high compared with other topics I have written about.
Romanticism and the Gothic overlap so much that it is probably easier to define was isn’t Romantic Gothic and it might take less time. So rather than go over a definition of Gothic Romanticism that is so similar to the millions of others out there, not to mention our introductory episode, I thought I would give you a list of a few of my favourite stories that deal in Gothic Romanticism that we haven’t covered on The FrankenPod podcast:
The Murders in The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe (1841)
Falling into the category of both the genius detective (pre-Holmes I might add) and urban gothic, and with at least one very clear example of gothic excess (that is the fate of the victims in the story and their killer). Dupain is a delight and in my opinion far more likeable and intriguing than his successor Holmes.
The Murders in the Rue Morgue is as much fun as you can possibly have with a corpse shoved up a chimney.
There is also an excellent dramatisation of Murders in the Rue Morgue that was released as part of The Rivals Audio drama on BBC Radio 4 with the eternally adorable James Fleet inserted into the narrative as Inspector Lestrade, who is an Arthur Conan Doyle creation. The thread of the series is that Lestrade, of Sherlock Holmes fame, is basically offering examples of detectives who are better than Holmes, and Dupain played by the incomparable Andrew Scott is his first example.
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886)
This was the first gothic novel I ever read and it has a very special place in my heart to rival Frankenstein. Pop culture has entirely ruined the ending for new readers unless they are 10 like I was. If you do let a 10-year-old read it, maybe go for a kid’s edition to minimise nightmares. Still worth a read despite the spoilers. Doubling you guys! More Doubling!
I know that there are other vampire stories that pave the way to Dracula (some of which we will talk about on the podcast), but none of them quite achieve the drama and the sense of formidable invasion the way the Bram Stoker does. He has brought together a lot of ideas surrounding vampires and made them into an incredibly compelling novel that still holds up. It is also insanely problematic as most novels of its time are so easily outraged should tread carefully as with all these books really.
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle (1902)
Another childhood favourite of mine of which you are less likely to know the big twist. And you know what, like a lot of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes novels even if you have read it, the solutions are either so complicated and outlandish or unexpectedly pedestrian that the reader often has difficulty recalling the exact circumstances of the crime and the solution to the riddle. But that is a genius detective novel for you, their leaps of inductive reasoning (not deductive as any first-year critical thinking student will tell you) are incredibly entertaining but often don’t stand up to scrutiny. A fantastic story though, possibly the best in the Holmes canon.
Du Maurier, I would hazard to say is one of the great geniuses of gothic romanticism. Often eclipsed by her predecessors, the Bronte’s (for there are more than cursory similarities) she crafts books that paint a bleak, yet compelling picture of the world surrounding a young girl who is generally a damsel in distress. Her damsels in distress are often isolated without a clear ally. She uses tropes artfully, without letting them becomes cliches, and creates a few new narrative devices that will be deployed often and with great enthusiasm by her successors.
This is stretching the definition of gothic I know, and most people would turn to Collins’ other, more conventionally romantic gothic novel The Woman in White. I am ashamed to say I haven’t read it yet. The Moonstone is part detective novel, part romance, part scathing indictment on contemporary society and colonialism.
Yes, Jane Austen. This is possibly one of the most cleverly crafted gothic novels and yet, it started life as a parody of one of the most influential stories of gothic romanticism of its time; The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe. Catherine Morland, the hero of the piece, encounters many tropes of gothic fiction, but they are all overcome with a practicality and wit that is so uniquely Austen.
Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862)
We could easily call this sensation fiction narrative a proto-detective novel. If the style of dress and manner of speech were 70 years in the future you could easily see this novel fitting in with the detective noir genre. There is double-crossing, murder, mistaken identity, a femme fatale and private investigator of a kind.
If you are going to read a Bronte novel, might I humbly suggest this epistolary novel by possibly the least appreciated Bronte aside from Branwell? There are remarkably less awful people who you are supposed to sympathise with and decidedly less harmful relationships. It’s not a hugely popular opinion but I’ll take Anne Bronte over her sisters (and obviously Branwell) any day.
Before our podcast release next week I thought it might be a good idea to have a bit of a chat about Gothic literature and what exactly that entails. I am not assuming that everyone knows or doesn’t know about the gothic genre and this certainly won’t be a deep dive because I am simply not qualified. This is just to define the parameters of the initial genre we will be focusing on with Frankenstein and The Picture of Dorian Gray.
First up we need to acknowledge that the gothic genre is super problematic. There are stories that give a strong voice to people of all shapes, sizes, gender identifications, sexual orientations and nationalities but this progressiveness is a pretty recent development. Gothic literature can be racist, homophobic and is frequently classist and misogynist. Whilst we could dismiss these issues as being products of the time in which they were written I think it is important that we are aware of the problems in the things we love and to acknowledge them. The only way we can move forward is to understand the issues of our past. Frankenstein is classist, misogynistic and racist. It is my favourite novel of all time, but I completely acknowledge it’s flawed.
Let’s get into my barebones overview of Gothic Literature.
Particularly popular in the 18th and 19th century, Gothic literature typically draws on a spectre of evil
from the distant past that threatens to reach forward and destroy the present. Bram Stoker creates a particularly threatening creature who oozes ancient evil in Dracula. With vampire myths existing in every culture, some tied to the bible, some tied to ancient Egyptian mythology Bram Stoker had a wealth of ancient evil to draw from. His Count is descended from Attila the Hun and himself is a spectre of ancient or at the very least medieval evil, being virtually immortal. He has been around for centuries, but in Stoker’s narrative, he ventures into Victorian industrialised society to act all creepy around the ladies of London.
The Corruption of the Innocent
The predatory sexuality of Dracula is one of the most blatant examples of the corruption of the innocent, a trope that is revived again and again. He preys on young vulnerable and virginal women in the same way that monsters of his kind will again and again in the novels we cover. But the innocent does not have to be a young virginal woman. The good Doctor Jekyll is corrupted in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the innocent Dorian is corrupted by his own vanity, Sir Henry and a supernatural lack of accountability, but in the 18th and 19th centuries, it is usually a girl or a woman who gets shortchanged. Even in contemporary gothic tales, the innocent vs. the beast is trotted out regularly, look at Buffy and Twin Peaks. I promise this will not become a Twin Peaks podcast but that won’t be the last reference to the series.
Locked Doors and Secret Passageways
Often gothic literature features mysterious castles, decrepit houses or monasteries. Horace Walpole’s novel The Castle of Otranto (1764) is commonly cited as the first gothic novel, which is a whole ridiculous story that we will get to in another episode. The Castle of Otranto has a lot of the features that would come to be prevalent in the gothic novels that would come after it; an old castle, a family curse, the corruption of the innocent, the supernatural and the sublime.
The Other Goths
The word Goth does allude to a mysterious Scandinavian people who come into the verifiable historical record suddenly in the first century A.D. and this part of the story I am horrifically underqualified to talk about, even more than everything else I have been talking about. If you know a lot about the Goths, the Visigoths or the Ostrogoths please get in touch. Absolutely willing to revisit this! All I know is that as a teenage goth it was a source of very real and deep disappointment that the goths were not pale skinned eyeliner wearing robed people with black hair lounging about nonchalantly waiting for The Cure to be formed.
The Gothic became a pejorative term that was used to dismiss architecture as ugly or barbaric which is a little harsh not to mention more than a touch racist. I also know basically nothing about this aspect of the gothic so again… if you know your way around gothic architecture please get in touch. Gothic literature has a lot more to do with the emergence of the goth subculture as we know it today than the Germanic Goths and gothic architecture.
This architectural notion of the terrible, dramatic and brutal has carried over into the gothic as it pertains to literature. With gothic plots being frequently brutal and dramatic in their content. Gothic literature also blurs the lines between the natural and the supernatural.
The Indefinable Threat
The gothic does not require a ghost or a ghoul but needs an analogous threat. In fact, some of the most ambiguously supernatural gothic novels are the most troubling. Oscar Wilde’s protagonist does not have to wrestle with a literal physical monster, but with his own bargain with a malevolent force and we never conclusively find out if the governess of Henry James’ Turn of The Screw (1898) is actually experiencing a haunting or a psychotic break.
Stemming from the romantic supernatural gothic novel is the detective novel which dabbles in the macabre and the mysterious. These stories might start with a supernatural interpretation, as in the Sherlock Holmes novels, and a shown by the genius detective to be wholly natural, however improbable. The blurring of the gothic and the detective novel is particularly prevalent in The Hound of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle, in which we get an appearance of the moors which feature so heavily in gothic fiction, they are like naturally occurring labyrinthine castles full of mystery and unpleasant surprises.
The gothic film genre is closely tied to horror as it often features a lot of evil, death and destruction, however, it is also closely tied to the genre of period drama as the movies that draw inspiration from the classic gothic novel often keep their narratives within the same time and space as the original narrative. Most of the films we will focus on will have a Victorian or Vintage flavour, but the neo-gothic and gothic noir film has moved the gothic movie into the city and the modern world so there is a rich vein, no pun intended of material to work with.
So what makes Frankenstein gothic?
Well aside from the cliché that it happened on a dark and stormy night. Victor Frankenstein is beholden to a deep ancient desire to create life from whole cloth. The Doctor’s drive to emulate god has a lineage tracing back to ancient Greece. Mary Shelley even renders the curse of the doctor explicit in the title of the novel Frankenstein, or the modern-day Prometheus. The Prometheus myth is a huge thing to unpack so I might have to do that another time. The creature of the novel is not born of God, so while he is a creature of science and consequently science fiction he is also a supernatural innocent that seeks to find his way in the world. There is the corruption of the innocent, death and the fall of a great noble family.
So what do you ideally need for a gothic novel or film? Not all novels will have all these but these are the factors to look out for…
The Gothic Text Wish List
□ A Haunting
□ A Curse
□ A Challenge to the conventional
□ An Artefact imbued with magic or supernatural properties
□ The Corruption of the innocent
□ Creepy architecture
□ Preferably a labyrinth of some kind
□ And an Ancient Evil
*Bats and ambiguous shadows optional
I’ll see you next week with Brent to compare the 1931 movie Frankenstein and the 1818 novel in which we officially apply the concepts of galvanism to the unsuspecting creature that is our podcast.
How could this possibly go wrong?
You can watch the fall out from this act of hubris in real time @thefrankenpod on twitter and thefrankenpod.wordpress.com has all the resources I was diligent enough to include.
In the meantime hit up Project Gutenberg and Librivox for a free copy of Frankenstein and any other gothic tales in the public domain.
Smith, Andrew. Gothic literature. Edinburgh University Press, 2007.
My copy of many gothic texts discussed are drawn from:“A Gothic Treasury of the Supernatural: The Castle of Otranto; Frankenstein: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; The Picture of Dorian Gray; Dracula; The Turn of the Screw” 1981
The feature image, which was originally posted to Flickr, was uploaded to Commons using Flickr upload bot on 17 August 2008, 12:59 by Yuriybrisk. On that date, it was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the license indicated.
After the eerie subtlety of Henry James’s Turn of the Screw it has come as quite a shock to be confronted by the chilling, violence of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
A bit of context for this reading:
As a child nothing terrified me so much as vampires. The viewing of a 10 second snippet of Interview with the Vampire at the age of 7 was enough to keep me awake at night, and a Goosebumps book or two had me convinced that vampires were everywhere. I even became convinced on a holiday to visit extended family that our hosts were all vampires, particularly my tiny 4 year old cousin. Because if there was anything that my brief education of vampires had taught me, it was that they had no quarms feeding on the young. Even to this day, and I consider myself to be a skeptic, I still find myself hiding, unusually well for a less than petite, 6 foot oaf, under my doona and looking over my shoulder at night after reading or watching anything involving vampires.
So I may be more susceptible to this particular variety of gothic horror than others. I have tried to read Dracula several times with limited success.
In short I am a wuss so please remember that when reading this.
Back to the novel at hand:
I would describe Dracula as a brutish but inventive example of the genre. The mix of realism and horror, combined with the use of journals and letters rather than a more direct narrative approach gives the impression of the tale unravelling as you read, which is what you expect from a good story, but with Dracula the unravelling is a bit more like barbed wire than yarn cutting and catching the reader as it goes. Flawed metaphor… I totally get that, but hopefully you see where I’m going with it.
One of the revelations upon this reading of Dracula is the strength of the character of Mina for the time Bram Stoker was writing. Actually there are quite a few progressive gems to be found within the text that I only found this time around.
High point: Mina and the strength that she shows and is acknowledged for.
Low point: A few random acts of barbarism that serve no narrative purpose.
Grim moment: Renshaw replicating a sadistic food chain in his cell in the asylum
Funny moment: The old man saying that old legends, ghosts and superstitions are “nowt but air-blebs”