Uncovering the myth of Count Dracula

By Meryl Fulinara

As children get ready for Halloween trickery by making costumes and dressing up as the legendary Count Dracula, one writer can explain the history behind the character in his new annotated book.

Leslie Klinger, lawyer and editor, recently published The New Annotated Dracula, an annotated version of Bram Stoker’s popular book Dracula, that was released Oct. 13.

Klinger said his annotated version gives more cultural background information about the Victorian era than any other writers thought to add in the past. His book not only gives readers access to the original manuscript, but there are also extensive notes on Stoker’s book edits and Dracula’s alternate ending.

Klinger knew he wanted to do a second book, and when he searched the Victorian Era for inspiration, he realized that Dracula was another prominent figure of the time.

Raised in the Chicago suburb of Park Forest, Ill., Klinger decided to move out West and attend school at the University of California, Berkeley, where he received William S. Baring-Gould’s early 1968 Annotated Sherlock Holmes and first read Dracula.

Fascinated by the footnotes of the book and the cult following of Sherlock Holmes, Klinger was inspired to look further into the Victorian Era, when he published his first annotated book, The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, which ultimately led him to Dracula.

“In many ways Dracula is the polar opposite of Holmes; it is good versus evil, supernatural versus physical,” Klinger said. “They are both enduring characters. There are more films about Sherlock Holmes than any other person ever, and the second is Dracula.”

The idea of annotating the stories with copious notes outlining characters, themes, period context and other details was challenging, Klinger said, especially with characters as popular as Holmes and Dracula.

“Whenever you are dealing with fantastical creatures, you want to keep them from being otherworldly,” said Sarah Odishoo, who teaches a Mythology and Literature class at Columbia. “You place them firmly within the culture, so it’s not a fantastical creature; it’s real.”

Culture itself and the people in it, especially young people, feel close to the character of Dracula, Odishoo said. Young people feel a connection with those monsters because they feel as though their world is being threatened, like they are outsiders.

William Veeder, a gothic literature professor at the University of Chicago, said figures like Dracula can be traced back to Lord Byron, British poet and leader of the romanticism movement who turned the outcast and loner into a romantic hero.

“We are fascinated with outsiders because we are really so bored with being insiders,” Veeder said. “To romanticize it is to further defend ourselves from the savagery that Dracula is enacting; he isn’t such a bad guy, he is just misunderstood.”

It took Klinger about two-and-a-half years to compile research and annotate the book.

“I had a lot of the Victorian material for the book. That was only a matter of [going] to my bookshelf and pulling out my Britannica or travel guide,” Klinger said. “The research that took a lot of effort was traveling to Philadelphia, looking over the notes that Stoker took over the seven-year period he wrote the book; a trip to Seattle to spend two days looking at the manuscript of the book owned by Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen; and a 10-day trip to Transylvania where the book takes place.”

Klinger also set out to prove Dracula’s authenticity.

“I placed a lot of effort in fact-checking and looking into the detail of the book,” Klinger said. “Like does the sun really rise at the time Stoker said it did? [And if one could] really take the train to the places in the book.”

In Klinger’s new annotated version, he tries to prove that Dracula didn’t really die at the end of the book.

“For chapter after chapter, the hunters are told that to kill a vampire you take a wooden stake, stick it through the heart of Dracula, cut off his head and stuff his mouth with garlic,” Klinger said. “But what do they do when they attack Dracula at the end of the book? They use steel knives and he just vanishes [he doesn’t turn to dust].”

After years of research, Klinger said, he did not want to comment whether or not Dracula was real or fictionalized.

“The only truths are the things the heart believes are true,” he said. “So is Dracula real? Your call.”