- Stoker & the Stage:Two Volumes
Bram Stoker was associated with the theatre for most of his adult life, first as an unpaid reviewer for the Dublin Evening Mail (1872 to 1878) and later as acting manager for Henry Irving's Lyceum Theatre (1878 to 1900), when Irving signed it over to a syndicate. Because his fiction is full of allusions to the theatre and his essays often comment on the theatre of his day, I've argued for years that someone should undertake a book-length study of Stoker's relationship to the theatre. I also knew that, despite my enthusiasm for Stoker as a writer, I was not the person to work on this particular project. While Bram Stoker and the Stage is not precisely what I had in mind, Catherine Wynne has set the stage for that study by collecting virtually all Stoker's writings on the theatre: reviews, short stories, excerpts from his memoir of Henry Irving, and essays on various aspects of theatre, including "The Art of Ellen Terry," "The Censorship of Stage Plays," and "Irving and Stage Lighting." Wynne's two-volume collection is also an excellent resource in its own right.
Some of the material included in Bram Stoker and the Stage, such as Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving and Snowbound, is available elsewhere as reprints, but almost all of the early reviews from Stoker's Dublin days are published here for the first time. The project is the result of a great deal of archival research as well as Wynne's effort to identify some of the early unsigned reviews as Stoker's work, and Wynne's generous acknowledgements recognize the libraries and institutions who assisted her.
In addition to describing her archival sleuthing, Wynne's introductions help to put everything that Stoker wrote on the theatre into perspective. Her introduction to volume one observes that these reviews, which were written in the 1870s before he went to England with Irving, [End Page 532] demonstrate "the range of theatrical entertainment" available in Dublin as well as reveal "how Stoker's absorption in and commitment to the theatre emerges." These reviews were anonymous, but Wynne argues convincingly that Stoker wrote all the reviews that she includes. Volume two focuses on the longer works that he wrote after moving to London. Including both the early reviews and the later essays and fiction shows Stoker's development over the years.
The two volumes were obviously assembled to show the development of Stoker's mind, but the material in the first volume is more interesting. These reviews, which begin on 21 November 1871, are transcribed from the Dublin Evening Mail. They introduce the actors and acting styles of the day, describe the scenery, familiarize readers with both new dramas and new interpretations of established works, summarize the plots of plays with which readers might not be familiar, and demonstrate Stoker's knowledge of the history of the stage. The reviews also confirm Stoker's familiarity with a number of plays that are echoed in his novels and short stories, provide evidence of certain influences on Stoker, and demonstrate Stoker's genuine love of the theatre in all its guises. In addition, some of these reviews may open new lines of inquiry. Reading his review of 27 December 1872 makes me want to track down a copy of The Vampire, which he describes as "a ballet of action of great cleverness and novelty" to see whether it might have influenced Stoker's "A Star Trap," a story that also features a harlequinade but apparently takes a darker turn than The Vampire.
Contemporary readers will definitely appreciate Stoker's attention to minute details about the plays that he is reviewing. Specialists in the Long Nineteenth Century are of course likely to be familiar with Wilkie Collins's The Woman in White while all scholars of the theatre will know Hamlet. Relatively few are likely to be familiar with Eileen Oge, My Awful Dad, or King Turco the Terrible, and Stoker...