Possibly something spooky was not the best choice of reading material…
I’m reading Dracula, by Bram Stoker. Re-reading it, in fact – it’s a favourite of mine. I first read it when I was thirteen, and on a family holiday in Wales. We were staying in a little fishing village, close enough to the sea that I could hear boats creaking – which really added to the atmosphere. I stayed up all night to finish reading it, and had to leave the light on, which seemed to attract seagulls – well, something was tapping at my window all night – I hope it was gulls…
Another weird experience this time. I’m in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and once more I’m at the Waverley Inn. Usually I love the atmosphere in this place – though I’ve never stayed in this room before. It’s very pretty, a picture hanging over the fireplace – but I’ve not been in the room long before I start feeling uncomfortable – very uncomfortable. I feel like I’m being watched, like there’s someone behind me – that horrible hairs on the back of your neck feeling. I realise that the lights are starting to flicker – then they start flickering wildly. As I look up at the lights, there’s a frighteningly loud BANG! I jump, and turn to find that the picture above the fireplace is now on the floor. It’s landed hard enough to break a chunk of plaster out of the frame – and it’s knocked over a vase of flowers, so there’s a puddle of water on the floor.
I head down to the lobby, and tell the guy on the front desk. He says they’ll send someone to tidy up, and asks for my room number. When I give it, his face freezes.
“We’ll give you a different room.”
A different room? Because a picture came off the wall?
Then I remember the atmosphere, and the lights – and a tour of Halifax I once went on, the tour guide saying this place was haunted – although as he said it was the ghost of Oscar Wilde, who’d had his head cut off in Paris for being homosexual(?!), I didn’t take that too seriously.
I’ve never felt any bad vibes here – quite the opposite, in fact – but I have to ask.
“This sort of thing – lights going crazy, paintings jumping off walls – does it happen often?”
“Erm – sometimes.” He coughs, tries to look busy with the register.
So – a haunted hotel room. That’s a first for me, unless there really was something in Charlottetown. (I later asked the hotel if they were happy for me to mention this in my blog – they laughed, and said it wasn’t a secret, and that they’d already had one of those ghost chasing shows filming there). I don’t change rooms. My room is tidied – and the painting removed. From then on, the atmosphere’s normal and the lights behave themselves, so I can go back to reading my book.
Everyone knows Dracula, right? The vampire from Transylvania who comes to nibble necks in Victorian London. But hardly anyone I ask seems to have read it – they’ve seen a movie. And most film adaptations really don’t do it justice. A lot of them try to make Dracula almost romantic (rather than a rapist), which means the women don’t seem to do much except wander around in period costume. That’s a shame, because Mina Harker in the book is a real heroine. She has no fears about going to Budapest alone, at a time when a lot of women were wary of catching a train to London on their own. She memorises train timetables, learns shorthand and typing – it’s her idea to type copies of the journals of the characters in the story, and put the entries in chronological order so that they can figure out what’s happening. It’s also her idea to have Van Helsing hypnotise her to get a better idea of Dracula’s movements. She does not want to become a vampire, and fights every step of the way.
The movies also don’t usually reflect just how much travelling there is in the book: Harker going to Transylvania, Mina and Lucy going to Whitby, Van Helsing flitting between London and Amsterdam, the journey of the Demeter, Quincey’s travel stories, Mina going to Budapest to collect Jonathan, and then everyone catching the Orient Express and racing to Dracula’s castle at the end. The amount of detail makes it hard to believe Stoker never even set foot in Transylvania – he would have made a good travel writer. He did visit North America, including Toronto, but I don’t know if he ever visited Halifax.
Interesting how the characters in the book are using all the latest hi-tech gadgets of their day – travel typewriters, phonograph recordings – while in contrast, I’m travelling low-tech – no laptop, I-Pod, CD player, dictaphone. The only electronic gadget I’ve brought is my camera, which (although slightly more sophisticated) is still something those characters might recognise – Jonathan Harker has a Kodak camera.
It’s hard to imagine now what it would have been like to read this when it was first published. We’re used to vampires in horror movies and cartoons (and even Sesame Street!). We already know, even without reading the book, that Dracula is the vampire, so it does seem to take our heroes ages to figure it out. And when Dracula breaks Jonathan’s mirror (because it doesn’t show his reflection), it’s hard to believe that Jonathan’s main concern at that point is wondering how he’s going to shave himself.
But it’s still a brilliant book. Yes, Van Helsing’s mangled English is frustrating to read, but that’s my only complaint. It wasn’t the first novel to be presented as extracts from letters and journals, but the style is used really effectively here. And it wasn’t the first vampire novel, but Stoker clearly got something right, creating a template for hundreds of imitators. I still live in hope of someday seeing a totally faithful film adaptation – I’d love to hear the line “Why, this beats even shorthand!” in a horror movie.
I leave the paperback in the hotel’s bookcase, for a future visitor to discover – hopefully without any spooky distractions!