Modern vampires are often found in middle school romance novels and cable dramas, but this month the origins of the cultural phenomenon reside at the Rosenbach Museum of the Free Library of Philadelphia.
Bram Stoker’s original handwritten notes from his classic Gothic horror novel, “Dracula,” are currently housed at the Rosenbach. This month, as part of the Hands-On Tours series, the museum is offering guests an exclusive look at pages of Stoker’s research notes and outlines for his most famous novel, as well as a copy of the first edition.
The tour this Friday will allow participants to interact with Stoker’s notes under the guidance of a member of the Rosenbach collections or education staff.
Elizabeth Fuller, a librarian at the Rosenbach, said the museum has about 120 pages of Stoker’s notes, dated from as early as 1890 to 1897, just before the book was published. The documents include outlines for the book, notes regarding the content of each chapter, notes from Stoker’s visit to Whitby—where part of the book takes place, lists of characters and vampire characteristics, notes from his research and a log of the novel’s events.
“They document Stoker’s process in writing the novel,” Fuller said. “The sources of many of his ideas, the way he shaped and re-shaped its structure and the characters and events he considered but decided not to put in.”
Fuller said the exact pages featured in the tour will vary, “partly to avoid exposing the same pages to light and handling all the time, partly because some pages are at times in use for exhibitions or research, and partly just based on what the presenting staff member finds most interesting at the moment. There’s so much in them we can never say it all every time, so we like to change it up periodically.”
Presenting staff members try to include pages from all of the different categories of notes they have available, so guests can expect to see everything from general outlines to notes about early vampire books and articles that Stoker used for inspiration.
While Stoker did not invent the vampire, “Dracula” defined modern vampire fiction and influenced the horror genre in the literary, film and theatrical worlds.
Stoker’s notes provide a glimpse into the creation of the modern vampire.
“[The notes] show how he gathered ideas for his vampire not only from the traditional vampire lore of Eastern Europe, but from descriptions of other supernatural beings at far distant times and places,” Fuller said.
According to Fuller, the notes, as well as other items from Stoker’s personal library, were sold after his death in 1912. Bookseller James F. Drake was the first to bring the materials to America, and they changed ownership several times until 1970, when the Rosenbach purchased them from the firm of Charles Sessler of Philadelphia.
While there is currently no exhibition on display during regular hours, visitors will have another opportunity to view Stoker’s notes, along with other “suitably scary” materials, on Halloween at the Rosenbach’s Literary Costume Party. Due to the larger number of guests and presence of refreshments, partygoers will not have the same hands-on experience, but can get a close-up view of the materials and ask curators questions.
Erin Moran can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.