Picks and Pans Review: Dracula: the Connoisseur's Guide
by Leonard Wolf
As the title suggests, we are pretty far into “Get a life!” territory here. Wolf, a former literature professor at San Francisco State University who has published three books on Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula—which he extravagantly calls “a very great work of fiction”—is cocurator of a new CinemaDracula exhibition at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art.
This book, published on the centennial anniversary of Stoker’s celebrated work, offers a methodical, comprehensive guide to the novel, its creation and its author. But until a clever, playful conclusion, Wolf approaches his subject hyperearnestly, with all the humor of a stake through the heart. He even went so far as to consult a Catholic Church official to ask if Stoker was correct in writing that one of his characters (vampire hunter Van Helsing) could have received an indulgence for making an antivampire paste out of mashed Communion wafers. Wolf digresses, too. into details like this: a vampire bat can urinate in flight.
Wolf’s lack of perspective is as distressing as his credulity when it comes to the supernatural. He reports, without qualification, that “the bodies of murder victims are believed to bleed from their wounds when their killers are nearby.”
For the converted, there is some fun in Wolf’s chapter on the Gothic literature prior to Dracula, and Stoker’s personal life isn’t without interest—his wife was also courted by Oscar Wilde, and he himself was a fervent correspondent of Walt Whitman’s. But for anything less than a devout Draculaphile, this book is not only excessively bloody, it is bloody excessive. (Broadway, $16)