Thursday, 19 February 2009


My review of Leslie Klinger's New Annotated Dracula is up at Crime Time (here) and I've also posted it below, followed by a slightly revised version of the review, mentioned in the current piece, of Klinger's New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, also published by Norton, which I wrote for Crime Time 44, way back in 2005.
edited by Leslie S Klinger
Norton £28.00 ISBN 9780393064506
When I reviewed Klinger's New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (in Crime Time 44) I mentioned how, in following in the footsteps of William S Baring-Gould and treating Holmes and Watson as real people, and Doyle as merely their chronicler, Klinger managed to walk the fine line between anorak and humourist. He manages the same feat with Dracula, treating the vampire as a real being, and Stoker as his mere chronicler, heavily influenced by his undead editor. As with Holmes, Klinger follows in footsteps, in this case Leonard Wolf's 1975 Annotated Dracula, but by reprising the conceit of reality, he manages to bring a much newer approach to Dracula than he did to Holmes. I've never read Wolf's volume, but I find it interesting that it apparently contained any number of authentic recipes for dishes mentioned in the novel; Klinger follows suit, at least as far as paprika chicken is concerned.

As with his Holmes book, there are times the footnotes seem elementary, if not redundant in the extreme. Any number of basic fixtures of British life warrant exegesis, like explaining the Derby is now known as the Vodafone Derby, and is a horse race. He also explains commonly used Latin phrases like mirabile dictu and cum grano. And though it doesn't get a footnote, in one of the appendicies, about to discuss Stokes pastiches, he actually launches into an explanation of 'pastiche' itself. I'm still wondering why he would annotate 'dusty miller' if he couldn't actually explain what it meant in relation to tea with a curate. Is it a local cake? Does it hark back to Chaucer?

Where the annotation is most valuable is in pointing out the many inconsistencies and illogicalities in Stoker's own text, most notable of course the fact that, having explained how Dracula can be killed only by a stake through the heart, he is then dispatched with steel knives. This is a godsend for Klinger, of course, because it provides a rationale of internal logic on which he can hang his assumption that Dracula lived to direct Stoker in his writing. The notes also provide him with some opportunities for dry humour. Although he doesn't pursue the issue of Victorian sexuality too deeply, he does point out there is no hidden meaning when Seward, referring to Renfield, says 'so I took the hint and came too'.

Actually there is hidden meaning, and lots of it. Part of the appeal of the best popular fictions is that they tap instinctively into the audience's collective unconscious; this was a Jungian concept I first noticed when studying The Shadow. But when we examine our ideas of the repressions of the Victorian era, an era where a woman ruled the most powerful empire in the world, Dracula fits into a neat continuum with Jack the Ripper, and dare I say Holmes himself has a place. In the appendix on academic approaches to Dracula, Klinger and the professors touch on this, but obviously it is a rich vein to be mined, if not sucked.

I've also believed that part of the appeal of Dracula is its structure; the epistolary (and documentary) approach lends it both suspense and reality, and allows for multiple viewpoints that render Dracula himself more mysterious and thus more frightening. This doesn't receive much attention, but one thing Klinger's notes do help us realise is that Stoker 'padded out' his text by using Baedeckers, and other travel guides. This was a time when continental travel was just coming into its own for the British, and the Transylvanian origins of Dracula are not only one of the first warnings about traveling abroad, but also of allowing too much immigration from Eastern Europe.

Edited by Leslie S Klinger
Norton 2005, £35.00, ISBN 9780393065947

I was probably 16 when my parents gave me William Baring-Gould’s original Annotated Sherlock Holmes, to which this is a worthy, if sometimes over-worthy, successor. I have to confess that even then I was shying away from a position of anorakia in my devotion to the great detective, and my then-evident delight in all things English has since been dissipated by prolonged residency here. Though I still marvel at Holmes’ ability to receive post the same day, get a cab whenever he walked out into the street and travel by train without delay, impoverishment, or considerable risk to his life, none of which is actually possible in today’s Britain.

The reason I said over-worthy is that many of Klinger’s annotations seem designed precisely for 16 year old Americans like me, except that nowadays your basic 16 year old American probably won’t go near a book like this, and his relative ignorance about Victorian England would apply to most adults from my home country, and far too many from this one as well.

Klinger follows in Baring-Gould’s conceit of treating Holmes and Watson as actual persons, and Conan Doyle as a mere editor; thus the canon becomes a primary record, however inaccurate or incomplete. Although this was, and is, great fun, the problem with taking fictions as truth, as illustrated by Holmes, is that there are so many internal contradictions, and so many illustrations of the ‘record‘s‘ errors, over most of which Klinger loves to linger. And then there are those annoying things, facts. No snake can do what the eponymous viper in The Speckled Band seems able to do, likewise geese do not have crops, hence the eponymous Blue Carbuncle cannot have been hidden in one. Addressing the latter, Klinger quotes Peter Blau, who sees it as a simple printer’s error, rather than Holmes’ or Watson’s mistake, substituting an ‘o’ for the correct ‘a’, which would render the stone rather more visible. As I said, it is all great fun, in the end.

We love Holmes partly for the element of the superman in him; adolescents of all ages thrill to his abilities of ratiocination, which we have all dreamed, usually at the wrong time, that we possess. But he is also the definitive Victorian character, and the stories tell us more about Victorian life and mores than all the works of Thomas Hardy. I thought of this while watching Mike Leigh’s Topsy Turvy, but I am not aware of anyone producing similar academic work on the real effect of Yum Yum on 19th century England. Or Japan. More’s the pity.

What is frightening is the ever-growing alternate universe of Holmes pastiches. What’s next, a similar volume of exegesis for them? But console yourself with the idea that even if you don’t enjoy this book’s facsimile editions of the original Strand Magazine presentation, you can always use these two handsome slipcased volumes as the foundations for an extension at the back of your Victorian cottage. Elementary…
originally published in Crime Time 44

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