The Green Book: Writings on Irish Gothic, Supernatural and Fantastic Literature Issue 22 (Swan River Press, Samhain 2023)

In January 2010 Swan River Press published a booklet Four Romances by Bram Stoker, introduced by Paul Murray. Now they have included these stories and Murray’s introduction in The Green Book 22. Murray – author of From the Shadow of DRACULA: a Life of Bram Stoker – says of the stories; ‘They… tell us a great deal about an author who has languished in obscurity for much of the time since his death in 1912, while his undead creation, Dracula, looms ever larger in the global consciousness.’

Along with the stories we find, ‘Rules for Domestic Happiness,’ attributed to Stoker’s mother, Charlotte. Of these, Murray writes; ‘To me they were a marvellous insight into the middle class, Protestant, meritocratic world from which Stoker sprang and the values which infused his fiction… In Charlotte’s world, the greatest disaster that could befall man was to lose his soul to the Devil, the most pressing of all anxieties underlying Dracula…’

‘Greater Love’ opens with a man called Joe telling of how he and his friend were both in love with a girl called Mary. Stoker’s enduring fascination with the sea comes to the fore here, with a description of the moon rising over the waves. The idea of two men being in love with the same woman is a common theme in Stoker’s fiction, as with ‘The Coming of Abel Behenna.’ In Dracula Lucy has three men proposing marriage to her! Could the fact that Stoker’s wife Florence was informally ‘engaged’ to Oscar Wilde before deciding to marry Bram have planted the seed of this idea?

Bill says; ‘[A]s she can only love one of us, it might pain her to think that when she was marryin’ one man she was leavin’ a hole in the life of his comrade.’ In Dracula Lucy writes to Mina; ‘Being proposed to is all very nice and all that sort of thing, but it isn’t at all a happy thing when you have to see a poor fellow, whom you know loves you honestly, going away and looking all broken hearted…’ ‘Greater Love’ put me in mind of The Watter’s Mou’. (It also reminded me rather of the ‘Golfing Story’ from Dead of Night!) It was published posthumously in The London Magazine October 1914.

‘Our New House’ is again in the first person. The narrator mentions how he used to; ‘take my holidays at Littlehampton, partly because I liked the place, and partly – and chiefly, because it was cheap. I used to have lodgings in the house of a widow, Mrs Compton, in a quiet street off the sea frontage.’ As in ‘The Tractate Middoth’ by M. R. James, the story involves a will and a fortune, with certain conditions attached to its discovery, plus a romance. As in ‘Greater Love’ the narrator falls for a girl called Mary! This time, Mrs Compton’s daughter.

The ‘New House’, which is ‘just about as old and rickety as a house supposed to be habitable could well be’ is near Sloane Square. Our narrator sets about putting the house in order. He mentions that the landlord, Mr Gradder, ‘was the very hardest man I ever came across.’ A couple of weeks after the young couple have moved in, they are very surprised when Mr Gradder offers to do up the rooms himself. The narrator refuses and the landlord goes off in a rage. He won’t take no for an answer. ‘I began to get annoyed myself, for there was evidently some underlying motive of advantage to himself in his persistence.’ (In making his exit, Mr Gradder nearly collides with a young man. Stoker writes; ‘The youth remonstrated with that satirical force which is characteristic of the lawyer’s clerk.’ Having been a barristers’ clerk for some years when I first started work, I found this remark especially amusing!)

The former tenant of the house turns out to have been a Master Mariner ‘Formerly of Whitby’ – so Whitby was already in Stoker’s mind long before Dracula – who banks with Coutts. Readers of Dracula will be aware that the Count also banks with Coutts, as did Stoker. (Insert your own Nigel Farage anecdote here). This story appeared in The Theatre Annual 1886.

In several of histories and novels, Stoker features people who come into money. Murray mentions; ‘Stoker’s characters became progressively more grandiose as he grew older’ and Stanhope in ‘A Yellow Duster’ is no exception. Stanhope and his wife have a collection of beautiful objects; ‘[A]n enormous gold scarab with graven pictures on its natural panels… a carved star ruby from Persia, a New Zealand chieftain’s head wrought in greenstone… a Borgia ring, a coiled serpent with emerald eyes… and many other such things… And yet in the very middle of the case was placed a common cotton duster, carefully folded.’

If you would like to learn just why this duster of ‘crude and vulgar’ colours is valued so dearly by its owner, you will have to read the story. As with Stoker and Florence, the husband is several years older than the wife. ‘A Yellow Duster’ was published in Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper 1899.

The fourth of the ‘Four Romances’ is ‘The Way of Peace’. Again this is written in the first person. Stoker goes back to his roots with this tale, which is set in Ireland with much of the speech being in dialect. Engaged to be married himself, the narrator asks an old couple who have just celebrated their Golden Wedding the secret to their happiness. Michael and Katty then go on to tell him. Katty speaks of when Michael proposed to her and she went to tell her mother, who said, ‘ “You to be married that has no more to yer feet nor yet yer back than a flapper duck on the bog…” ’ This is the year of ‘the potato-rot’ and scores of people are dying of hunger as a result. Despite being poor, Michael and Katty are married.Everybody’s Story Magazine 1909.

Modern day readers may be shocked when they learn just why they live so peacefully and happily together. Katty compares women to children; ‘ “They want to get the hard hand now and again…” ’ A man, it seems, must be master in his own home. No doubt it was intended that this story should be a moving and humorous one, but it does Stoker no favours with a 21st century readership. We can only hope that the narrator doesn’t treat his wife as Michael does Katty.

In the ‘Rules for Domestic Happiness’ Charlotte says of God; ‘His blessings can make even the bitterness of life wonderfully sweet.’ This seems to have struck a chord with Stoker, especially in the writing of Dracula where the comparison between bitter and sweet is used on more than one occasion.

Also in this issue of The Green Book are Brian’s ‘Editor’s Note’, ‘Bram Stoker and I’ by Mike (Hellboy) Mignola, ‘A Mystery of Bram Stoker’ by Leslie Shepard, ‘Bram Stoker as Amanuensis for Henry Irving’ by Douglas A. Anderson, ‘Black Spirits and White’ by Henry Irving, ‘Bram Stoker and Another Dracula’ by Brian J. Showers, ‘Bram Stoker: A Biographical Note’ by Ralph Shirley, ‘In Memoriam: David Lass’ by Albert Power and ‘Notes on Contributors’.

The cover design is ‘by Meggan Kehrli; with artwork from The Lair of the White Worm by Pamela Coleman [sic] Smith and from The Jewel of Seven Stars’.

Pamela Colman Smith is today best known for her designs for the Rider-Waite tarot deck, but she knew Stoker and he called her by the nickname Pixie. In 2018 a biography Pamela Colman Smith, the Untold Story by Stuart R. Kaplan el al was published by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. (USA)

This includes not only her illustrations for The Lair of the White Worm, but sketches of Stoker, Irving and Ellen Terry as well as designs for stage costumes. Colman Smith was a fascinating woman and this lavishly illustrated biography is a thing of beauty in its own right.