All the latest news, ideas, and opinions from Denver's Independent Literary Center: lighthousewriters.org
By Corey Dahl
This Thursday is St. Patrick’s Day, the one day each year when we honor our Irish friends by drinking green beer and wearing plastic leprechaun hats. But what if you’re sick of artificially colored alcohol? Look horrific in green? Don’t worry. We’ve got you covered.
This week’s Art + Lit will feature Dracula, by famous Irishman Bram Stoker, and The Nightmare, by Henry Fuseli (who was Swiss but cool, so it’s okay). Lighthouse instructor John Cotter and Raz Seri of Art Students League Denver will discuss not only why the two works matter but also what each piece can tell us about the other.
I recently caught up with Cotter to get a preview of his talk and learn a little more about vampire pamphlets, sexy Counts, and the things Dracula has in common with the TV show Girls. (Really!)
Q. The Dracula story is fairly well known—but is there anything that some people might be surprised to learn?
A. For my own part I was surprised by just how many vampires floated around English literature long before Dracula leapt from his box. Popular serials like Varney the Vampire: A Romance of Exciting Interest made the rounds in cheap pamphlets throughout Bram Stoker’s childhood. Varney was a low sort, but there were plenty of vampire aristocrats: John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven from The Vampyre was a loose copy of his friend Lord Byron, and you don’t have to squint very hard to see a good deal of both Byron and Varney in our Count.
Q. What gets lost in translation from book to movie/cartoon/pop culture?
A. The novel has never been filmed all that strictly, but then it couldn’t be. Like most novels, it’s too long for a direct adaptation, so corners have to be trimmed and shortcuts beaten. This has been true since Nosferatu, the first of the screen adaptations, and one specifically written to hew as closely as possible to Dracula’s plot without infringing on Stoker’s copyright. Of course, since it was made in 1922 by Germans, it reflects elements of Teutonic culture and expressionist aesthetics that can’t be found in the book. Most subsequent versions have reflected the times and places in which they were made to one degree or another. For example, the Dracula we know is a good deal more American than Stoker’s Count: he’s more masculine and less mannerly. He is also—since Frank Langella’s 1979 version—sexier. Stoker’s was a fin de siècle Victorian romance, and it bears that world in its bones, but his is not the only Dracula. That particular vampire is whatever a new artist makes of him.
Q. What other things would pair well with Dracula: foods? Music? TV shows?
A. Food: blood sausage. Music: Carmina Burana—because, like our novel, it’s not an original piece of Gothic or Gothic Revival, but rather a late pastiche that somehow comes off more convincing than the original. As for TV shows … well, Stoker plays a good deal with sexual politics, addressing both the “new woman” of the 1890s and—a first for the genre—something resembling actual female sexual agency. So, Girls?
Q. Anything else people should know about your talk?
A. Yes! If they attend they won’t have to listen to me go on about Vampires all the while! I’ll be partnered with Raz Seri, a brilliant figurative painter who’ll be onstage with me, shedding light on the gothic, the erotic, and the demonic, as manifest in Henry Fuseli’s The Nightmare, an eerie artwork that predated Dracula by more than a century yet shares with its antecedent any number of strange and sinister designs. So come! If you dare!