Dracula at Litfest

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Every year on Halloween we undoubtedly see more than a few Dracula costumes – at least, we see popular culture’s version of Dracula. But this year at Lancaster’s annual Literary Festival (more lovingly known as Litfest), Catherine Spooner wiped the cobwebs from the dusty pages and revisited the original vampire of Bram Stoker’s Dracula.

April this year marked the centenary of Stoker’s death, the author of arguably the most famous Gothic novel of all time; after all it has inspired countless books, films and TV series. Thus the King of vampires was an extremely fitting subject at this year’s festival. What started out as a nightmare, (Stoker allegedly woke up in the night and scribbled down his vision on a piece of paper beside his bed) has had a huge impact on popular culture, although at the time of its publication in 1897 it was only of moderate success.

Photo by Shri Kansal

The reason for this, according to Spooner, is that Dracula is a visually dramatic novel, and therefore translates well into film. But these filmic portrayals, she argued, are not the real Dracula: “Too many people get the text wrong, as it’s been reproduced too many times.” In a thoroughly engaging and insightful talk, tucked away in Lancaster Library on a juxtaposing crisp and sunny Wednesday afternoon, Spooner took her audience back to the “Dracula that has been divorced from both novel and context” in contemporary culture and has taken on a life of his own.

Using remarkably skillful voices for each character, Spooner alternately read passages from the text and discussed the key themes and hidden meanings behind the chilling prose, bringing the real Dracula into sharper focus. The talk was ideally suited for both beginners of Gothic Literature to hardcore enthusiasts, as Spooner covered a wide range of themes and criticism within the hour slot, without ever overwhelming her audience. Speaking with her after the event she voiced her hope, “that [the audience] will have thought about things in a slightly different way to what they expected, or considered something that they otherwise might not have come across. I hope that they feel inspired to find out more!”

Despite the substantial marketing for Litfest however, such a full and inviting program, and reasonably priced tickets, the talk was less than half full and the majority of the audience were middle-aged or over. When quizzed about the reasons why, Spooner also expressed her disappointment over numbers; “it is difficult to fill cultural events [in Lancaster]. I’m not sure whether that’s because people don’t know about what’s on, or are apathetic, or too busy, or can’t afford it. But it does mean that it’s difficult to recoup the price of events through ticket costs, and that means that in the current climate of funding cuts there will inevitably be less to go to in future,” which would be a crying shame.

So what has this experience taught us; who is the real Dracula and what is he like?

Well it seems that even after a fairly comprehensive dissection of character, a definitive interpretation of Dracula still eludes us. He is quite possibly a werewolf, a degenerate criminal or a masturbator – perhaps even all three – and in the view of several recent critics reading the novel from an anti-Semitic point of view, a Jew.

But despite all his vagaries, there is one thing I am convinced of: Dracula is a real vampire – an evil, twisted fiend – unlike these brooding, romanticised adolescents in Twilight. Take that Robert Pattinson.

Catherine Spooner is the author of three books on Gothic fiction and was involved with two events at Litfest this year, both the Lunchtime Dracula talk and the Young Adult Gothic Fiction panel as part of an on-going project in which she is exploring some of the ways in which Gothic has been revived and adapted within twenty-first century culture.”

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