- Bram Stoker and the Late Victorian World ed. by Matthew Gibson and Sabine Lenore Muller
edited by Matthew Gibson and Sabine Lenore Muller;pp. 256. Clemson UP, 2018. $148.58 cloth.
To say that Bram Stoker is predominately remembered for his novel Dracula (1897) is somewhat of an understatement. From F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu (1922) to Bela Lugosi in 1931, Christopher Lee’s incarnations of Dracula during the 1950s–70s, Gary Oldman in 1992 and more recently in Dracula Untold (2014), and Castlevania (2017–present), it is evident the name Stoker is synonymous with Dracula. Yet, as Matthew Gibson and Sabine Lenore Muller astutely note in the preface to this collection, “Interest in the fiction he [Stoker] wrote besides Dracula has been steadily increasing over time” (1). This is due, in part, to the attention given to Stoker’s wider body of works in William Hughes’s Beyond Dracula (2000) and Carol Senf ’s Science and Social Science in Bram Stoker’s Fiction (2002). Given this increased level of interest, the question remains, What new insight or discoveries are there to be gained from another study of Stoker?
In the brief and somewhat underwhelming preface, Gibson and Muller attempt to answer this question, noting “The aim has been to ground the study of Stoker’s fictional and nonfictional work empirically against the background of the late Victorian world” (2). The book is divided into three sections, “Professions,” “Science, Technology and Ideas,” and “Politics and Society,” and each chapter approaches Stoker’s life and works from a seemingly different perspective. However, the numerous examples taken from art, literature, journals, and letters provide many interesting connections that illustrate that “almost all Stoker’s novels are capable of reflecting the topical zeitgeist” (5) and expose the contradictory nature of Stoker’s beliefs.
In part 1, Terry Hale’s chapter is noteworthy for its scrutiny of Stoker’s legal education and its impact on the shaping of Dracula. Asserting that Dracula is a “novel that only a barrister could have written” (11), Hale briefly outlines Stoker’s reasons for reading for the bar, the nature of his training, and several areas in which his legal knowledge proved essential for his work at [End Page 336] the Lyceum. In his comparative discussion of The Snake’s Pass (1890), “The Man of Shorrox” (1894), and the case of Regina v. Dudley and Stephens (1884), Hale demonstrates with ease that Dracula, like English common law, can initially be read as leading “readers through a nihilistic impasse” (13), while it is more akin to a reforming and visionary legal novel. In his exceptional chapter, Gibson turns his attention to Stoker’s relationships with scenic arts, paintings, and painters. Initially, Gibson examines Stoker’s focus on colour, light, shade, and the symbolism associated with the Old Masters and different theatrical productions in reviews for the Dublin Evening Mail as a way of contextualizing his analysis. In his informative discussions of The Shoulder of Shasta (1895), The Mystery of the Sea (1902), and The Man (1905) (also published as The Gates of Life ), Gibson reveals Stoker’s sensitive incorporation of the styles of Turner, the Picturesque, and the Pre-Raphaelites, to name a few, in constructing the appearance of his characters and scenes. Moreover, in his analysis of “Lies and Lillies” (1881), Gibson demonstrates that Stoker understood “the pitfalls of the artist’s mindset and the results of their education, as well as its potential advantages” (67).
Part 2 opens with Anne DeLong’s timely probing into the uses of technology in Dracula from the perspectives of dystopian dehumanization and utopian democratization, which neatly engages with current debates concerning the proliferation of technology in daily life. The highlight of this section is Rebecca E. May’s exploration of medical expertise, specifically the practice of coroners. Providing a detailed examination of John B. Carey’s The Oddities of Short-Hand, or the Coroner and His Friends (1891) as a way of contextualizing the narrative form of Dracula, May asserts that the novel “is a failed inquest, and it enacts both the features and failures of Victorian...