Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Victorian sources—another lead?

Redmond McWillams recently posted an interesting article by Andrew Gough on our forum, The Highgate Cemetery Vampire Appreciation Society. What fascinated me about it, was its allusions to Victorian era sources concerning supernatural activity at Highgate Cemetery.

Readers may be familiar with the lengths I've gone to try and validate reports of sightings from this era, with only uncited claims and speculations to go on. For instance, I queried David Farrant on the following statements he made in 1975:
Some interesting facts came to light. Firstly, it became apparent that stories of an apparition in Highgate cemetery had by no means begun with the then current sightings. Indeed, similar tales dated from the Victorian Era and interestingly enough more of them had "vampiristic" connections. One of the common tales of that time told of a "tall man dressed in black" who used to disappear mysteriously through the cemetery wall.1
That Bram Stoker was influenced by the Highgate Vampire when he wrote "Dracula" . . . is almost certain. In his book – written with typical Victorian authority – he makes direct reference to Highgate Cemetery (or at least, an area in the vicinity of Highgate Cemetery) as being the last resting place of one of Count Dracula's disciples.2
These statements are not 'out of date', either, as they're echoed in his recent writings. But rather than provide sources for these claims, I was repeatedly stonewalled. A reading of J.A. Brooks' coverage of the case, also turned up bupkiss. 

At the very least, I can establish that the second statement is inherently flawed. The resting place of the Count's 'disciple'—Lucy Westenra—was not formally identified as Highgate Cemetery in the novel, despite common presumption. Indeed, keeping in tune with Stoker's work as a novel—not historical treatise—it's likely her burial place was also fictional

As no writings prior 1970 equated Westenra's resting place with the cemetery—at least, none I'm aware of—it's also likely the association was made because of the Highgate Vampire case's Draculesque elements, not the other way round.

I digress. Let's get back to Gough's article. What fascinates me about it, is that not only does it allude to Victorian era sightings in the vicinity of the cemetery, but also features a Stoker connection:
The mother of Bram Stoker, author of the horror classic, Dracula, lived nearby and often recounted the legend of a tall, dark, supernatural-looking figure that roamed the area before the cemetery was created. 
The Bram Stoker Estate
A missing link! I knew Stoker's mum, Charlotte Stoker (1818–1901), told her son horror stories, but ghost sightings near the cemetery? That was news to me! 

Yesterday, I sent Gough a message, via Facebook, asking him what his source was. But soon after that, alarm bells started going off. I started thinking, did Stoker's mum even live in that area? I thought she remained in Ireland all her life. Indeed, Stoker, himself, didn't move to London till 1878. She didn't go with him. 

The cemetery, itself, opened in 1839—39 years before his move. If Gough was right, Charlotte, herself, must've had a secondhand source.

I decided to contact The Bram Stoker Estate: 'Good morning, I have a question concerning Charlotte Stoker. Did she remain in Ireland all her life?'

To my surprise, I was answered by foremost Dracula scholar, Elizabeth Miller: 'No. She moved to Italy in 1872 with her husband and 2 daughters. She returned to Dublin in 1886 (by this time her husband had died). She died in Dublin in 1901.'

After alluding to Gough's claim that she lived in the area of Highgate, Miller noted the speculative nature of such things, 'Of course, between 1886 and 1901, she "may" have visited Bram in London, and "maybe" he took her for a walk around Highgate, and "maybe" he explained to her that this was where Lucy was interred.... ad nauseam.' However, Gough's account is pretty clear: she lived there.

I then quoted the passage in question from Gough's article. Her response? 'Balderdash! Double poppycock! Utter garbage! Unmitigated claptrap!'

Miller's word on the subject was pretty substantiate in itself, but the Estate took my query on Charlotte's residency seriously enough to provide an official answer:
Very good question. We know Charlotte Stoker was a great influence on young Abraham Jr; not only did she tend to him while he was bedridden as a child, but it is speculated that her eloquent yet dark storytelling certainly had an influence on the future author of Dracula.

In the years after Bram left home, the Stoker family- composed then of Abraham Sr, Charlotte and their daughters Matilda and Margaret- moved about Europe. They lived in France, Switzerland and Italy, where Abraham Sr died in 1876. Several years later Charlotte returned to Dublin where she lived until her death in 1901.

Strong willed and with a keen intellect, Charlotte Stoker was more than a wife and mother. Through her life she was a staunch advocate for the rights of the disabled. Among her many works, in 1863 she published this paper on the need for state-funded education of the deaf and dumb. Charlotte Stoker's achievements may have been overshadowed by her son's but they certainly should not be overlooked.
So, there we have it. She never lived there, ergo, she didn't hear such stories during her supposed residency. But if that's the case, where'd Gough pull his account from? The ball's in his court on that one, but, at least we can debunk that element of the story.

1. D Farrant, 'Invoking the vampire', New Witchcraft, vol. 1, no. 4, 1975, p. 34.  
2. ibid.

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