Museums in books: Dracula

Bram Stoker’s Dracula was first published on 26th May, all the way back in 1897. The story of the infamous blood-sucking Count has been retold almost countless times since it was first written, well maybe not countless. According to The Telegraph, the eponymous vampire has made an appearance in over 1000 novels and 200 films.

Bram Stoker's Dracula
Bram Stoker’s Dracula

But I’m not here to witter on about the Carpathian Count. My main interest isn’t in the monstrous but rather the museological.

If you follow the British Museum on twitter, you may have seen them share Bram’s reading room pass. It’s really quite something.

But did you know the Reading Room also makes an appearance in the book? Before things kick off properly, with Jonathan Harker travelling to Transylvania, he stops by the British Museum’s library to do a spot of research.

“Having some time at my disposal when in London, I had visited the British Museum, and made search among the books and maps of the library regarding Transylvania; and it struck me that some foreknowledge of the country could hardly fail to have some importance in dealing with a noble of that country.” — Dracula, pg 1.

Inn my copy, the reference to the museum appears on the very first page. As you would expect, this makes me very happy. Let’s have a look at what Harker does – instead of making a study of the objects and artefacts relating to that part of the world, he heads straight to the books. Fair enough, as the British Museum of 1897 isn’t the same as the one we’re familiar with today.

Harker’s motives are also interesting; he seeks knowledge from a museum to impress the nobility. Museums, and the knowledge they provide access to, facilitate social mobility.

Now, considering the wealth of knowledge contained in the British Museum and its library, alarm bells should start ringing when we read that Jonathan “was unable to light on any map or work giving the exact locality of Castle Dracula.”

Why can’t he track it down? The lack of information makes the castle feel mysterious and outside the realms of civilisation. Surely one of the plethora of experts would be able to track down one morsel of information for hapless Harker?

Well, I might have an answer to why Jonathan couldn’t find anything.

A hundred years after Dracula was unleashed upon the world, we met the person keeping the Vampiric threat in check: Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her guide and mentor is a mild mannered Librarian, Giles. In the pilot episode we learn from Willow that Giles “was a curator of some British museum, hey maybe it was the British Museum.” Giles is more than just a Librarian, he’s part of the Watcher’s Council, an ancient group devoted to keeping supernatural threats at bay.

It’s conceivable that a member of the Watcher’s Council was working to keep Harker away from information about vampires in a misguided attempt to protect him.

Or maybe Stoker just wanted to  keep things as mysterious as possible?



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