The Stephen Copley Research Award allowed me to spend four days in London attending a conference and conducting archival research at the British Library. The Open Graves Open Minds (OGOM) conference was held at Keats House in Hampstead and was entitled ‘“Some Curious Disquiet”: Polidori, the Byronic vampire, and its Progeny’. The event was prompted by the bicentenary of The Vampyre and featured papers on topics ranging from contemporary adaptations to the vampire’s folkloric and Byronic roots.
My PhD thesis concerns dramatic adaptations of Gothic novels, namely Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein(1818) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula(1897): two iconic texts which are frequently paired together in adaptations. The repeated coupling of two narratives with such vastly disparate publication dates is intriguing, as the texts deal with very different cultural contexts and social concerns. My thesis attributes this in part to Lord Byron’s ghost story competition at the Villa Diodati in 1816, the ‘year without a summer’, from which both Frankenstein’s monster and the first literary vampire originate. Attending the OGOM Polidori conference allowed me to learn more about the literary history of the vampire pre-Dracula, while simultaneously updating myself on emerging scholarship within this area. The event itself was holistic in its approach and covered a wide range of themes which will serve to inform my future readings of vampiric texts and, subsequently, the next chapter of my thesis. Particular highlights included Sir Christopher Frayling’s keynote, Marcus Sedgwick’s discussion of the links between vampirism and tuberculosis, and a paper on the stage effects used in vampiric drama by Ivan Phillips.
The latter half of my trip was spent in the British Library reading rooms, in which I passed the first day reading Bram Stoker’s manuscript for Dracula: Or, The Un-dead – a 47-scene-long dramatic reading that was performed prior to the publication of Draculain order to secure dramatic copyright. This script consists of a mixture of Stoker’s own handwritten notes interspersed with cut and pasted extracts of the publisher’s proof copy. Having the opportunity to read this document not only gave me a fascinating insight into late-Victorian theatre, but also allowed me to explore how Stoker originally envisaged his eponymous Count for the stage.
I used my second day to examine early nineteenth-century playbills of dramatic adaptations of Frankenstein and The Vampyre. I was particularly interested in specific actors’ portrayals, as some individuals represented both monsters. This trend is seen in cinematic adaptations, with actors such as Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney Jr., and later Christopher Lee playing both Frankenstein’s monster and Count Dracula throughout their careers, but is yet to be identified in early dramatizations. I had established that nineteenth-century adaptations had featured the same actor playing both monsters. However, through my scrutiny of early playbills, I have been able to determine that the two roles were not only played by the same actor, but also, for a short period of time, played by the same actor at the same time on alternate days of the week. This piece of information will serve to reinforce my application of theatrical theory to the two texts, and further establish links between Frankenstein’s monster and the vampire.
I’m extremely grateful to BARS for this award. Without their assistance, my visit – which has proved invaluable to the progression of my thesis – would not have been possible. I would also like to thank the OGOM team for organising such a fantastic conference, and the Reference Desk team at the British Library (especially John) for all of their helpful suggestions on how to use the library’s resources to their full potential.
– Eleanor Bryan (University of Lincoln)
Read more about the latest OGOM conference via their Twitter feed, here.