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
Almost a year ago, old friends gave me a big fat Portugese novel I’d never heard of, which promptly burrowed its way under a stack of old New Yorkers and stayed hidden until a month ago. It was a buried treasure. To get an idea of The Crime of Father Amaro, by Eça de Queirós, imagine a Trollope novel—early 1870s, cathedral town, church politics, Tories v. Whigs—except that everyone’s super Catholic, and sex crazed, and with the added difference that the author can’t ever quite decide whether he’s writing a bawdy comedy or a satirical tragedy, and so ends up writing both. This wavering tone must have been hard to translate, but Margaret Jull Costa’s 2002 translation makes it look easy. The Crime of Father Amaro is the best novel I’ve read this year. —Lorin Stein
Biblioasis is reviving an apparent tradition of reading ghost stories at Christmastime through a quintet of booklet-size publications, each containing a spooky story and designed and illustrated by the cartoonist Seth. It’s a lovely little set, with tales by Dickens, Wharton, A. M. Burrage, Marjorie Bowen, and M. R. James, but I haven’t saved them for Christmas (no one tells me what to do). I’ve already torn through the Burrage and Bowen, and while they aren’t bloodcurdling, they’re lots of fun. Burrage’s One Who Saw relates the tale of a man lured by the specter of a desolate woman in an ominous hotel garden. He describes his irresistible attraction to her as being akin to “starting on a voyage, feeling no motion from the ship, and then being suddenly aware of a spreading space of water between the vessel and the quay.” Bowen’s tale, The Crown Derby Plate, involves a dumpy, smelly spirit who won’t relinquish his beloved china collection. It’s not exactly a nail-biter, but Bowen manages an eerie description of wasted wintry marshes—“olive-brown broken reeds were harsh as scars on saffron-tinted bogs”—that bears the uncanniness of a Charles Burchfield landscape. —Nicole Rudick 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
Seeking out spirits in one of New York’s spookiest bars.
You’d think it’d be relatively easy to pin down a ghost in this town, with all of its historic buildings and unsettled scores. Most of the haunts frequented by the city’s cognoscenti are said to have an apparition or two knocking around, if you believe in that sort of thing. There’s the shadowy figure that paces the shore of Rockaway Beach. A young girl’s screams are sometimes heard coming from within McCarren Pool. And from the stories told about the Brooklyn Bridge, you’d think its walkway would be incandescent with floating orbs and strange lights.
After hearing that a glamorous specter often manifests and smokes sullenly in a corner of the women’s restroom at the Astor Room in Queens, I drank far too much wine and drifted in and out of the bathroom stalls a few weekends ago, but to no avail. And returning home in the early hours that morning, I thought of the original owner of my apartment building, who hanged himself from the front-door frame in 1890. He, too, has yet to materialize.
So I stopped by the perennially spooky KGB Bar in the East Village after work one night last week to see if Dan Christian, the longtime bar manager, might act as my spirit guide. I’d always heard that the bar was very haunted. Read More
In Canada today, Home Depot announced that it was pulling a Halloween decoration called “Scary Peeper Creeper” from its shelves. Shoppers were deeply perturbed by the Peeper’s pockmarked, rubbery visage, and for good reason—he’s designed to scare the living shit out of people. “Realistic face looks just like a real man is peering through the window at you,” boasted the description on Home Depot’s website; all that’s missing is the labored mouth-breathing. The manufacturer advises sticking him “on the passenger side of a car window, in a bedroom window, basement window, kitchen window, bathroom window, or garage window … We’d love to hear where you’ve gotten good results with your Scary Peeper!”
The debacle brought to mind Herschell Gordon Lewis, cinema’s very own Scary Peeper, who got very good results with his pictures. He died yesterday at ninety. (It’s been a bad week for voyeurs.) In his forty-one turns as a director, he did more to popularize gore, splatter, and willful puerility than a Peeper in every window could do. His films range from the out-and-out depraved (Blood Feast, Blood Feast 2: All U Can Eat, Miss Nymphet’s Zap-In) to the merely lascivious (Boin-n-g!, Living Venus, The Adventures of Lucky Pierre), but—per the Peeper Code of Conduct—they were always, always in poor taste. Read More