Bram Stoker. For horror fans the name immediately conjures up images of Dracula and perhaps “The Lair of the White Worm” and “The Jewel of Seven Stars”. In The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker, the emphasis is on the author’s softer side; a side that is revealed to be a profound aspect of the nature of the man. He is depicted as a devoted friend; a fierce defender of those he admires; a romantic sentimentalist. All this is based primarily on his own writings and reflections, as well as documents from the period in which he lived. The big question for the horror aficionado regarding this book is: If Stoker’s gothic/horror fiction isn’t the focus, what interest is there? The answer lies in the degree to which the reader is a Stoker-phile. The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker illuminates and elucidates Stoker as a person. The assembled short stories overall exhibit his predilection for affairs of the heart and pat happy endings. There is much ado about his theatre associations. All are extremely well presented and scholarly without being stuffy. Still, what is the bottom line? Editor John Edgar Browning provides Stoker enthusiasts with a book that will pique their zeal and round out their collection. Those exclusively enamored of Dracula and horror will find this a less than satisfying read.
There is, however, a taste of the macabre that may well whet the appetite of those of the Hitchcockian persuasion. One of the compiled stories, “Old Hoggen: A Mystery”, has elements in which Alfred Hitchcock would revel. A browbeaten bloke dominated by a household of females goes seaside to bring home crabs for dinner. He does find crabs, as well as a corpse. While trying to carry the body during a storm, his efforts are hampered by a dissembling: “What added to the aggravation of the situation was that the wear and tear began to tell on the person of the defunct. Thus while I was lifting the upper section, an arm came away, and from the lower a foot.”
The tale is a wonderful whimsical confection, a shaggy dog story laced with gallows humor. “A Baby Passenger” is a yarn that has genre potential, but goes in a different direction. Consider this passage from the narrative: “The baby was a peculiarly fine specimen of its class. It seemed to have no compunction whatever, no parental respect, no natural affection, no mitigation in the natural virulence of its rancor. It screamed, it roared, it squalled, it bellowed. The root ideas of profanity, of obscenity, of blasphemy were mingled in its tone.” Anticipating the spawn of hell? Sorry to relate that the tale develops along a more benign trajectory.
Like many writers, Bram Stoker composed his work during his spare time. Much of the biographical enlightenment in this volume deals with his paid position as Henry Irving’s business manager. Irving was a prominent actor-stage manager with whom Stoker formed a creative bond. Bram attributed Irving’s artistic success to a “tenacity of purpose.” The same phrase can be applied to John Edgar Browning with his skillful and detailed editing of The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker. There is a great deal to admire in terms of delving and data, and the bonus information that Dracula was published in serial form is a fascinating footnote concerning the novel.
Dracula as footnote, though, is an anemic affair. For readers longing to sink their teeth into vampiric delights, The Forgotten Writings of Bram Stoker won’t get you where you want to go. Stoker’s “forgotten” compositions certainly don’t have the impact of his famous novel, but they do add to the understanding of the author. In summation, editor Browning is to be commended for extensive and resourceful research, but the appeal of his book’s subject matter appears geared to a rather limited audience.
– By Sheila Merritt