Bram Stoker would scarcely be called by our modern sensibilities a “superhero,” yet in life his deeds could scarcely be called unre-markable either. Superficially, Stoker bore Dracula’s height (at well over six feet) and seemingly as well nearly Dracula’s strength. Stoker was even a hero once. The proverbial story: in 1882 he leapt from a steamer into the Thames in an attempt to rescue a suicide victim (Fig. 1), a man of between sixty and seventy who apparently, authorities would later ascertain, had been a soldier (from the “D” for “Deserter” that marked his body).1 Stoker, according to witnesses, struggled to bring the man back on board the ship, where unfortunately attempts to resuscitate him failed. His limp body was carried to Stoker’s home, and Stoker’s brother, a medical doctor, was sent for; but all was to no avail. For his act of bravery, Stoker was afterwards awarded a medal by the Royal Humane Society.
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It is in this vein that we have the privilege of reprinting a previously unknown, undocumented sketch, “To the Rescue,” which Stoker published during the final years of his life. The earliest printing we have so far been able to locate appeared in the United Kingdom in the Westminster Gazette (London) on 22 April [End Page 299] 1908, appearing again three months later in Australia under the title “To the Rescue: The Engulphed Horse, An Italian Sketch,” in the Colac Herald (Victoria, Australia) on 3 July 1908 and in the West Gippsland Gazette (Warragul, Victoria, Australia) on 14 July 1908. The years during which these printings emerged vis-à-vis the context of their frequency alongside other of Stoker’s periodical writings of this period underscores William Hughes’s astute notion that while “Stoker’s reasons for writing and publishing early on in his career were not purely economic,” John Edgar Browning explains, “this may well have changed for an author who, following Irving’s death in 1905, was in the decline of his literary prominence.”2 Stoker’s productivity in 1908 alone led to the publication of interviews with William F. DeMorgan, Arthur Conan Doyle, W. S. Gilbert, A. W. Pinero, and Winston Churchill, and critical writings on “National Theatre” and censorship.3
Written in the first-person plural, “To the Rescue” takes place in Italy, a country that has significance in Stoker’s personal life. Stoker’s parents wintered there in the 1870s to aid in the health and recovery of Stoker’s aging father and namesake, Abraham. Stoker later visited Italy during his family’s stay there, and even after Abraham’s death near Naples in 1876 Stoker’s mother and sister remained.4 Up until that point, Stoker had worked, as his father before him, in the Irish civil service, where Stoker’s income was, according to Elizabeth Miller and Dacre Stoker, “necessary to supplement his father’s pension at a time when three of [Stoker’s] brothers were being educated in medicine.”5 It is telling of Stoker’s true aspirations that just months after attending his father’s funeral in Italy, he abbreviated his name to the flashier “Bram” and left behind his father’s chosen life for him as a civil servant in order to work for Irving in the theater and pursue on the side a life of writing.6
A cursory glance over “To the Rescue” reveals in places several typical Stokerian tropes, from physiognomy (the diligence driver, whom the narrator calls “an old soldier”7) and Romance dialects to a particular emphasis on carriage (and train) rides. But among the more striking, if curious, features of this sketch is its articulate opening passage. Here Stoker’s description of the Italian countryside mingles the subtleties of his “Gothic sensibility” with the same variety of “excessively descriptive … flowery language” he displayed four decades earlier in his earliest recorded example of creative prose, an unpublished sketch entitled “Night Fishing...