Saturday, 20 June 2015

Writing instruments in Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Bram Stoker writing
Evil and a foreigner coming from eastern Europe where else would Dracula set up house than in London's East End, an area associated in the mind of the Victorian reader with poverty, crime, depravity, and immigrants. Deprivation and depravity threatened middle-class aesthetics and morals, untrammelled immigration caused fear. Not surprisingly Bram Stoker placed Dracula's lairs in Whitechapel, the area of the 1888 Jack Ripper murders, and  Bermondsey, the "very capital of cholera" and notorious crime hot spot made famous by Dickens' Oliver Twist. But perhaps in an allusion to Dr Jekyl's double life (Stevenson's gothic novel had been published almost 10 years earlier), Dracula kept a house in affluent and prestigious Piccadilly too where he could enjoy fine dining as a respectable member of society and still have time to retreat to the shadows before sunrise.

The Count's effects as found during the raid of his Piccadilly house by Van Helsing and company included a clothes brush (Dracula was meticulous about his garments); comb and brush (it wouldn't do to face the London high society with an unkempt mop) and jug and basin (to rinse off excess blood from his nightly feed) - a true dandy. Some writing implements (notepaper, envelopes, pens, and ink) were also reported and these the Count took care to cover in thin wrapping paper to keep them from the dust. What an unnecessary and yet touching detail about the vampire who cared about his pens and paper. 

After a cursory glance at the rest of the rooms, from basement to attic, we came to the conclusion that the dining-room contained any effects which might belong to the Count and so we proceeded to minutely examine them. They lay in a sort of orderly disorder on the great dining-room table. There were title deeds of the Piccadilly house in a great bundle; deeds of the purchase of the houses at Mile End and Bermondsey; notepaper, envelopes, and pens and ink. All were covered up in thin wrapping paper to keep them from the dust. There were also a clothes brush , a brush and comb, and a jug and basin - the latter containing dirty water which was reddened as if with blood.

Dracula's writing implements paled in comparison to the sophisticated devices of the civilized Victorians: the phonograph and the typewriter. The phonograph, a recording device, invented by Thomas Edison in 1877 was brought to Britain in the late 1880s by the Edison Bell company. Dr Seward in Bram Stoker's Dracula must have used the Edison Bell Commercial phonograph

The arcane pens of Count Dracula are no match for Mina's Traveller's typewriter, a portable invented by George Blickensderfer in 1892, some 5 years before Bram Stoker's novel was published. In this portable typewriter in place of individual bars with letters on the end was a cylindrical wheel with letters embossed on it. Mina must have used the Columbia portable.

Edison Bell Commercial phonograph
Source: The City of London Phonograph and Gramophone Society

Dr Seward complains that he misses his phonograph and that writing a diary with a pen is irksome. Mina declares herself "grateful to the man who invented the 'Traveller's typewriter and to Mr Morris for getting this one for me" for how could she possibly do the work if she had to write with the pen. The Victorians were embracing automation and revelling in the newly discovered wonders of technology. An arcane figure like Dracula had no place in this new brave world. It was only a matter of time before he would become obsolete and perish: "It was like a miracle; but before our very eyes, and almost in the drawing of a breath, [his] whole body crumbled into dust and passed from our sight."


Bram Stoker's Dracula was first published in 1897.

1 comment:

  1. Palimpsest always gets me worked up. It's been weeks since I last looked at P. Before that, many months I think. I'd wanted to say something about Camus and "The Stranger", how I was shaken when I read it.

    I didn't know anyone, except for specialists, had ever heard of Blickensderfer. He seems to have been some sort of mechanical genius. I guess IBM adapted his idea to make the typeball on its Selectrics. If my memory's okay, his aluminum housing gave the appearance of a 21st century gadget. Jack/USA