“Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker, 1914 (Posthumous)

“To his original list of stories in this book, I have added an hitherto unpublished episode from Dracula. It was originally excised owing to the length of the book, and may prove of interest to the many readers of what is considered my husband’s most remarkable work.”

— Florence Stoker, from the preface of the original edition of Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories

Two years after the death of Bram Stoker, his wife Florence attempted to secure any financial advantage she could get from her late husband’s writings.  Not terribly successful in life, neither could have guessed the ongoing success of his vampire, spurred on by the most unlikely of situations.  At this point, Mrs. Stoker was simply struggling to make ends meet, otherwise she might have been tempted to bury these stories with her husband.

“Dracula’s Guest” is the first short story in the posthumously released collection of Stoker’s work, and certainly the most famous due to the notoriety of the title character.  It’s widely believed to be an otherwise lost first chapter for the original novel.  If this is so, it’s almost certainly from an earlier draft.  Dracula is alluded to, though never mentioned by name.  The narrator, presumed to be Jonathan Harker, is likewise never named, and seems to be a completely different character than his counterpart in the novel.  Nor do the events of this story line up to the existing material in the novel in any way satisfactory to a cohesive narrative.  Indeed, the entire writing style is completely different.  Without being told this is what we’re reading, the most avid enthusiast would be able to say it’s a Victorian era vampire story, and little else.

Being different from Dracula doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not worth the read, however.  If anything, this little story offers a glimpse into what might have been and some insights into what else that world offers.

The story opens on Walpurgis Night, which is essentially the “other Halloween” for those not familiar with it.  The narrator is an Englishman on his way to Transylvania who has stopped in Munich.  In spite of warnings from his native companion, the young man leaves the carriage, curious to wander a lonely path towards an abandoned village.  Of course, the native tells him it’s unholy and is frightened out of his wits, prompting our protagonist to want to explore further.  The frightened native takes off in the carriage, and a mysterious stranger scares the horses at the top of a hill.

The Englishman trudges on for hours, reaching a desolate valley as a storm gathers and snow begins to fall.  He takes shelter in a grove of trees.  By moonlight, he finds himself in an old cemetery near a marble tomb.  Perhaps it’s cliché to us now (ok, it is), but to put a fine point on the scene being set, Stoker tells us the tomb has a large iron stake driven through the roof.  Subtle, no?  The tomb belongs to Countess Dolingen of Gratz, apparently died in 1801, no doubt inspired by J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla.  Inscribed in “great Russian letters” on the back of the tomb, it reads: “The dead travel fast.”  Dracula fans will recognize this phrase from the original novel, as well as numerous film adaptations.  It originates in the German ballad “Lenore,” written in 1773 by Gottfried August Bürger.  The character that returns from the grave in this poem isn’t considered to be a vampire, but the poem’s influence on vampire literature cannot be denied, as evidenced by Stoker’s reference to it.

Returning to the story, our narrator is in a lonely cemetery with some supernatural undertones, under moonlight, in the middle of nowhere, as a storm is brewing.  Understandably, he wants nothing more to do with the place, but he’s forced into the shelter of the tomb’s doorway when hail begins to pelt at him.  The tomb’s bronze doors open, and the obligatory flash of lightning shows him what’s inside: “a beautiful woman with rounded cheeks and red lips, seemingly sleeping on a bier.”  Thunder forces him inside as though “being grasped by the hand of a giant” as lightning strikes the iron stake.  The tomb is destroyed, and with it the woman inside, who screams out her death-throes.

The narrator regains his senses, with a feeling of loathing, a warm feeling in his chest, and a licking at his throat.  He struggles with semi-consciousness, opening his eyes to discover a giant wolf with fiery eyes.  Cavalrymen chase the wolf away and remark that that the animal is “a wolf – and yet not a wolf.”  Always a good sign in a story like this.  The narrator’s neck is not bloodied, though in pain, and the cavalrymen suggest the wolf was lying on him to keep his blood warm.

Once back at the hotel, the narrator discovers that the horsemen are in the employ of his host, presumably Dracula, who has sent word via telegram that his guest is to be unarmed and seen safely to him.

I read Dracula quite frequently, being one of my favorites, but I don’t read this short story nearly so often.  In fact, it’s been years since I last read it, and in the course of my life, I’ve maybe read this three or four times.  That’s a considerable oversight on my part.  As vampire stories go, it stands on its own as an enjoyable tale.  Connected back to the original story, as I say, it’s some fascinating insight on what might have been.  It opens up Dracula‘s world to even more possibility.  And this is such a quick read, so it’s not like it’s a great hardship to spend some more time with this, especially as often as I read the original novel.  I think from here on, I’ll read the two stories in conjunction.  It seems only right.

4 stars

 

4 thoughts on ““Dracula’s Guest” by Bram Stoker, 1914 (Posthumous)

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