The existence of Bram Stoker’s Journal was virtually unknown to the world of Stoker/Dracula scholars and fans alike; it remained in obscurity until recently. About ten years ago, while completing From the Shadow of Dracula: A Life of Bram Stoker (2004), Paul Murray (who appeared at Dublin’s recent Bram Stoker Festival) sent a researcher to visit my cousin, and Bram’s great grandson, Noel Dobbs at his home to look through the Journal; subsequently he incorporated several references to it throughout his biography. Only now, however, are the full contents of the Journal being made available, thanks to Noel’s decision to grant us the rights to its publication, which in effect transforms this private, family treasure into a piece of literary history, and I thank him for allowing me to be part of that transformation. How appropriate that we are bringing this material to light in 2012, the centenary of Bram Stoker’s death. The process has been enriching on so many levels, certainly humbling, and at times overwhelming.
Surviving ledgers from the Lyceum Theatre illustrate Bram’s obsessive organizational skills at work. Throughout eight trans-Atlantic tours to America with the Lyceum, besides handling the press for Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, Bram kept tidy records of travel schedules, hundreds of people on the payroll, train cars full of costumes and stage sets, hotel reservations, and countless other decisions to be made every day, all the while meticulously tracking expenses in order to turn a profit. The ability to balance the books (no pun intended) carried through to his son Noel Stoker, as well as his great-grandsons in their careers as chartered accountants.
Literary dissection and research of this Journal, exploring this ‘virgin territory’, has given me a deeper understanding of Bram than I thought might be possible. Prior to immersing myself in this project, I relied on information gathered from others: family stories, biographies and Bram’s published work. Over the years, I recognized that certain inaccuracies have been circulated as facts. Biographers are unclear on dates, while some family stories told in North America don’t line up with the British versions. Theories have been tossed around about the nature of the man, Bram Stoker; these I have taken with a grain of salt, and the majority have been discounted. The opportunity to read Bram’s notes first-hand, and draw my own conclusions, has been an unparalleled experience.
There was no question that I would need help to properly decipher and interpret the material, and my friend Elizabeth Miller was the obvious choice, both for me and for Noel, given her recent involvement in the publication of Bram’s Notes for Dracula. Considering the earlier impact of the ‘discovery’ of those 124 pages of notes, I wondered whether this Journal could have equal significance. There were important issues to be resolved. Posthumous copyright laws are complicated. Which country’s laws could protect the notes from public domain? What type of publisher would appreciate this work, and be able to best guide us towards presenting it most suitably for public consumption?
Glancing through the images of the 310 entries, I felt a measure of relief, as I realized that with the zoom feature on my computer I could actually read some of the handwriting. I settled in to read a few of the entries very closely. At that point I was struck by a sobering thought: these were the pure, unfiltered and private thoughts of my great granduncle, entrusted to me 140 years later. It would be up to me to prepare and present the material to the world, a huge responsibility considering the author. Although known universally as Dracula’s creator, Bram Stoker himself has remained a stranger to most of the people who have read and enjoyed Dracula. I knew that was about to change.
Because these notes were written for his use only, Bram took no great care with his penmanship. According to his ‘time stamp’, memos were written late at night, by candle or lamplight – and on some pages Bram’s handwriting is little better than chicken scratch. As I read lines over and over again, I began to get a clearer understanding of the words, but the idioms, the stories in dialect, the nineteenth-century slang were all daunting. Why did Bram record so many seemingly random occurrences? And who were the people he mentioned?
Bram’s system of recording his notes suited his purpose, and he had given no consideration to our plight. He used little punctuation, and unless he was quoting someone else, or transcribing from another source, i.e. his diary or ‘pocketbook’, the notes were often cryptic. Initially, it was somewhat disappointing that many entries merely recorded sights and sounds, but that was shortsighted. Gradually, it dawned on me; I was really getting to know Bram in the context of his world in Dublin. I began to appreciate the significance of the Journal, not only in what it reveals about the author, but as a time capsule of sorts, a slice of life in Dublin in the 1870s, seen through his eyes. And just as important was the realization that a great deal of Bram’s fiction was drawn from his own experiences and surroundings. The parallels were obvious.
I was eager to formulate an amateur character profile of Bram from his notes: not only the who, what, when and where of growing up as Bram Stoker in Dublin, but also to understand his humor, inspirations and personal values. I have long known he was much more than just the man who introduced Dracula to the world of gothic literature and the horror genre. Bram provided us with some very interesting stories about his early childhood, but between age seven and when he moved to London in 1878, very little has been known, other than where he lived, worked and went to school. He revealed some of himself in his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, but that covered the London years. As I would soon see, the missing Dublin years were laid out here, recorded in his own hand.
I became an amateur sleuth: Bram wrote in pen and some in pencil, he either used his memory or had another pocket book to record thoughts or observations on the spot, then later at a convenient time he would record these “keepers”.
Fortunately, Bram was also a prolific and methodical note taker, thorough and meticulous in everything he did. For Bram’s father, Abraham Sr, and Bram himself, note taking and record keeping was de rigueur at Dublin Castle, and for Bram as clerk of court.
What was it about these particular incidences that made him want to remember them? I began to visualize situations, as I imagined he would have observed them: interactions on the street, at work in the Petty Sessions court proceedings, or for that matter anywhere during his normal daily routine. It is impossible to know whether his notes were embellished, or if was recording accurately. His ability to seamlessly blend reality with fiction was one of his strongest skills as a writer, perfected in Dracula. This Journal seems to have been his training ground.
The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker is available at Amazon.