LATEST | FEATURES | INTERVIEWS | NEWS | FRIGHTFEST | REVIEWS Exclusive Interview With Scholar Leslie S. Klinger
By James Whittington, Sunday 11th January 2009
Leslie S. Klinger is a prize-winning Victorian scholar who wrote the critically acclaimed, best-selling book The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes. He has recently turned his attention to one of the most famous novels ever written, Bram Stoker's Dracula so we decided to track him down and ask him how he came about to creating what will probably become regarded as the final word on the Count.
ZH: When did you first encounter Bram Stoker’s Dracula?
LSK: I read it as a freshman in college (in 1965), although not as an assignment. I remember finishing it in a darkened hallway at night, because my roommate was sleeping.
ZH: What were your initial thoughts on the piece of work?
LSK: I was thoroughly scared and quite surprised at my own reaction. After all, I said, this is a dusty old Victorian book—how could it be so scary? Fortunately, the Leonard Wolf Annotated Dracula hadn’t been published yet; otherwise, I might have gotten as hooked on Dracula as I did on the Annotated Sherlock Holmes a few years later (1968)!
ZH: How did the idea to write an annotated book come about?
LSK:When I was done with my New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, even though the study of Holmes had been a passion for almost 40 years, I realized that I also really enjoyed the process of annotating those stories, and I wanted to write another annotated work. My wife suggested Dracula, and as I thought about it, it was obvious that this was the right choice. I love the book, and it was contemporary with the Holmes adventures. Therefore, I already had some of the research material!
ZH: The research in your book is incredible; did it take longer than you first thought it would?
LSK: Yes, it did, and it involved much more travel than the Holmes books. For those, 99% of my research involved looking at materials in my own (very) extensive collection of books about Holmes and the Victorian age. For Dracula, I travelled to Philadelphia, to study Stoker’s notes (at the Rosenbach Museum), to London to track down historical information about the English parts of the book, to Seattle to spend a few days with the original manuscript (owned by billionaire Paul Allen), and to Transylvania to check out the geographical aspects of the narrative. I also acquired all of the books that Stoker himself had used in researching Dracula. Unfortunately the original papers of the Harkers are long-lost!
ZH: Yourbook is truly wonderful, a consistently interesting read but did you leave anything out so it didn’t have “too much” information in it?
LSK: The process of selecting what to annotate and what not to annotate is hard to define. It’s not about “too much” information—it’s more about whether the information I’m adding is interesting. There has to be a certain “that’s cool” factor for the notes, or else the reader starts to see them as a chore.
ZH: You highlight many subtexts; do you think you could be accused of “looking to hard” at the story, maybe reading into themes that aren’t there?
LSK: It’s not me who introduced the subtexts. In fact, I deliberately set out to avoid discussion of the sexual, psychological, religious, technological, cultural, etc. I relegated these analyses to an appendix about Dracula in academia, because I felt that they weren’t interesting (to me)! However, in defence of the academics, because the book is such a good mirror of its times, of course those subtexts are all there—they’re part of the richness of real life. Certainly the Victorians were experiencing a change in the role of women, were afraid of the invasion of Eastern Europeans (and the Irish), and were struggling to accommodate both science and religion. I don’t think Stoker set out to write a book about those themes, but in writing a realistic book, they were unavoidably dealt with.
ZH: One of the highlights of writing this book surely must have been the moment you held the original manuscript for Dracula; can you explain what that moment felt like?
LSK: It was amazing. We don’t know who actually typed the “manuscript,” although I incline to think that it was Stoker. He appears to have typed up portions of the notes, so I think he typed this as well. There are numerous handwritten changes, insertions, and deletions in Stoker’s hand; there are many in the editor’s hand; and there are marginal notes in some places in the hand of Stoker’s brother Thornley, a physician, whom Stoker had read the manuscript for medical vetting. However, the most interesting and surprising parts were the “paste-ups”—sections where Stoker literally pasted new typed material over old. By holding the manuscript pages up to the light, I could read the material that had been “pasted over” and hidden from view. No facsimile of the manuscript will ever be able to reproduce this. And, as you can see from my extensive notes on the manuscript, there were some surprises hidden away there!
ZH: Dracula is filled with atmosphere; do you have a favourite scene or situation?
LSK: My favourite scene is the seduction of Mina and the confrontation between Van Helsing and Seward on the one hand and Dracula on the other. What did Mina actually suck? And her “unclean, unclean” speech is the most powerful moment in the entire narrative.
ZH: Do you have a favourite actor who has portrayed this infamous character?
LSK: I’m partial to Jack Palance in the Dan Curtis/Richard Matheson television film “Count Dracula” (1973) for the combination of horror and rugged good looks. The script is interesting. My favourite script is the BBC production with Louis Jordan (1977), but Jordan is too good-looking for the part, in my opinion.
ZH: If Bram Stoker were alive today, what question(s) would you like to ask him?
LSK: How did you really meet Jonathan Harker? Was it (as I guessed) while you were both studying for the Bar? And am I correct that it was Dracula himself who made you change the true story?
ZH: Would you like to dissect any other classic novels?
LSK: My wishlist is very long, but unfortunately commercial considerations make most impractical: The Moonstone, The Woman in White, Kim, War of the Worlds, Treasure Island, Jekyll and Hyde, King Solomon’s Mines, and the Martin Hewitt stories are just a few.
ZH: What projects are you busy working on at the moment?
It’s down to two projects, both very exciting annotated works, and I expect to make a decision just before I come to England—ask me again then! I can’t take on more than one major project at a time, because I still practice law full-time! I’ll continue to do smaller projects simultaneously. I enjoy writing the occasional book or film review, I’m lecturing at a symposium on Arthur Conan Doyle in May (and wrote a major paper for publication), and I hope to teach a course on Dracula this year. I’m also serving for one more year as the Chapter President for the Southern California Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America, so I have a full plate!
ZH: Leslie S. Klinger, thank you very much.
The New Annotated Dracula edited by Leslie Klinger, with an introduction by Neil Gaiman, is published this month by WW Norton (£28) www.wwnorton.co.uk
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