To celebrate Halloween, we’re publishing a selection of excerpts from David J. Skal’s Something in the Blood, a biography of Bram Stoker, out this month with Liveright. Today: letters between Stoker and Walt Whitman, published in full for the first time in Something in the Blood. Stoker, moved by Leaves of Grass, was an ardent fan of Whitman—he and his Trinity College peers called themselves “Walt Whitmanites.” He kept his first letter to the poet, a meandering and adoring document, in his desk for four years before gathering the courage to send it.
DUBLIN, IRELAND, FEB 18, 1872
If you are the man I take you to be you will like to get this letter. If you are not I don’t care whether you like it or not and only ask that you put it into the fire without reading any farther. But I believe you will like it. I don’t think there is a man living, even you who are above the prejudices of the class of small-minded men, who wouldn’t like to get a letter from a younger man, a stranger, across the world—a man living in an atmosphere prejudiced to the truths you sing and your manner of singing them. The idea that arises in my mind is whether there is a man living who would have the pluck to burn a letter in which he felt the smallest atom of interest without reading it. Read More
To celebrate the spookiest of holidays, we’re publishing a selection of excerpts from David J. Skal’s Something in the Blood, a biography of Bram Stoker, published this month by Liveright. Today: a love triangle between Stoker, Oscar Wilde, and Florence Balcombe.
On one of his visits or summer vacations in Ireland, Oscar Wilde made an acquaintance of an “exquisitely pretty girl” of seventeen, he wrote to a classmate. Though unnamed in the letter, she has generally been identified as Florence Anne Lemon Balcombe. Wilde described her as having “the most perfectly beautiful face I ever saw and not a sixpence of money.” He escorted her to an afternoon service, presumably at the ancient Christ Church Cathedral in central Dublin, which had only very recently been restored to a fashionable semblance of its medieval glory. It may have been there that he made her a Christmas gift of a small gold cross engraved with his name.
At five foot eight, the willowy Florence was a good match for the six foot two Oscar, at least for the purpose of Sunday promenades, and Merrion Square was a favorite outdoor location for regular romantic parading. The gated gardens, then accessible by key only to the adjacent residences, was a haven from the unpleasant sights and persons of Dublin’s city core. Read More
To celebrate the spookiest of holidays, we’re publishing a selection of excerpts from David J. Skal’s Something in the Blood, a biography of Bram Stoker, published this month by Liveright. First up: the origins of Dracula.
There are many stories about how Bram Stoker came to write Dracula, but only some of them are true. According to his son, Stoker always claimed the inspiration for the book came from a nightmare induced by “a too-generous helping of dressed crab at supper”—a dab of blarney the writer enjoyed dishing out when asked, but no one took seriously (it may sound too much like Ebenezer Scrooge, famously dismissing Marley’s ghost as “an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese”). But that hasn’t stopped the midnight snack of dressed crab from being served up as a matter of fact by countless people on countless occasions. While the nightmare aspect may well have some validity—Stoker’s notes at least suggest that the story might have had its genesis in a disturbing vision or reverie—it exemplifies the way truth, falsehood, and speculation have always conspired to distort Dracula scholarship. An unusually evocative piece of storytelling, Dracula has always excited more storytelling—both in endlessly embellished dramatizations and in the similarly ornamented accounts of its own birth process. Read More
In our Fall 1983 issue, The Paris Review published twenty years’ worth of Zelda Fitzgerald’s letters to her husband, Scott. This selection comprises her correspondence between the spring of 1919 and Easter Sunday, 1920, the day Zelda and Scott married. Zelda Fitzgerald was born this month in 1900. Note: Zelda was known for her quirks in punctuation (she was a particularly fond of the em dash), and these are retained in the text. As in the original printing, asterisks denote substantial editorial deletions and ellipses are used to indicate minor omissions. Each letter is addressed to Scott Fitzgerald. —C.L.
Mrs. Francesca—who never heard of you—got a message from Ouija for me. Nobody’s hands were on it—but hers—and it told us to be married—that we were soul-mates. Theosophists think that two souls are incarnated together—not necessarily at the same time, but are mated—since the time when people were bisexual; so you see “soul-mate” isn’t exactly snappy-stylish; after all: I can’t get messages but it really worked for me last night—only it couldn’t say anything, but “dead,”—so, of course I got scared and quit. It’s really most remarkable, even if you do scoff. I wish you wouldn’t, it’s so easy, and believing is much more intelligent. Read More
In 1924, Samuel Beckett, eighteen, lurked at a Sunday salon in Dublin, standing obtuse and silent against the wall, his head down as conversation breathed around him. Five years later, in 1929, in Paris, he sat silently on the edge of a circle of James Joyce’s acolytes, while “Shem” (Beckett’s affectionate sobriquet for Dublin’s literary master) held court. On a balmy afternoon, in 1932, he slouched into a corner during tea at Walter Lowenfels’s (a cheerful American—and failed publisher—in Paris’s literary society), where he sat “tall, thin, looking like a forest ranger in a Western.” Beckett’s dark form—I imagine him in the shadows of these parties, hunched, hawk-nose angled down, and blue eyes focused on a point—is a recurring image in the early chapters of Samuel Beckett, the 1978 biography by Deirdre Bair that I started reading this weekend. But these aren’t my only impressions of him. Bair was given unprecedented access to Beckett: the book was written while he was still alive, and though he didn’t give her any interviews, he allowed Bair to write to his friends and family, informing them that they should give her whatever they like. And so Beckett emerges—layered, brilliant, brooding, genius. —Caitlin Love
From the first page of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel Zama—in which the eponymous hero spies a monkey’s floating corpse “caught among the posts of the decrepit wharf … ready to go and not going”—a humid nimbus cloud of despair settles over the story, never to dissolve. Set in the Paraguay of the late eighteenth century, Zama follows a bureaucrat in his tortured efforts to secure a better position in far-off Buenos Aires, where he hopes to settle with his even-farther-off wife and children. Listless, phlegmatic, and increasingly horny, Zama wanders the lush country doing something close to nothing, watching almost distantly as he loses his moral compass. As a study in exile, paranoia, and the lonely tedium of quashed ambitions, this is great shit. But read it above all for the triumph of its style: Zama holds forth in deep, stewing paragraphs as pompous as they are incisive. It’s Sartre by way of J. Peterman, and in Esther Allen’s translation it still feels unique and alive. —Dan Piepenbring Read More