Tags

,


What seems like centuries ago, waiting one summer to start high school,
I read Dracula by Bram Stoker. The book had a lasting impact on me. The
novel's use of different types of narratives — letters, diaries, newspaper
clippings — I had never encountered before. I had of course seen movies
that had a Gothic atmosphere. But this was my first exposure to Gothic
novels.

Well last month I came upon a web site devoted to author Bram Stoker.
The site includes all of his novels in text and/or PDF form. So after
getting an application for my Blackberry that would allow me to read
PDF documents, I downloaded Jewel Of the Seven Stars. The novel was
originally published in 1903. Several years later, in 1912, a new edition
was released with Chapter 16 deleted and with a revised ending. I am
learning that this type of butchery was applied to several of Stoker's
novels, especially Lair Of the White Worm, which on being issued after
Stokers death was cut from 40 chapters to 28. In any case Stoker seems
to have agreed to change the ending of Jewel. Faced with making changes
and getting the book reissued or leaving the novel alone to die, he went
for the changes. I certainly can't fault him for that. I'll say more about
the changes to the novel later in this post.

As the novel opens we find Malcom Ross, a young London attorney, in
bed after having awakened from a strange dream featuring a woman he
had met on a couple of social occasions. Realizing that he had been
awakened by an incessant pounding on his door, he goes downstairs to
answer it. The middle of the night disturbance brings a man who hands
him a letter. As it happens, the letter is from the young woman he has
just been dreaming about — one Margaret Trelawny. The letter indicates
she is in dire straits, and she asks him to come immediately to help.
Having a definite crush on her, he is all too willing to comply.

When Ross gets to her house he finds the police have already been
called. Margaret, pleased that Ross has arrived, clings to him for
emotional support as the police investigate an attack on her father
that had occurred a few hours earlier. Margaret, hearing some strange
sounds from her father's room, had found him laying on the floor, his
arm wounded and the carpet stained with blood. He is alive, but is in
a somnambulistic state and cannot be awakened. Also called to for aid
is a young doctor, who tends to Mr. Trelawnly, although he admits to
being mystified by her father's trance.

Thus the novel sets up quickly many of the hallmarks of Gothic literature
— a woman in distress, high emotion, mysterious and possibly supernatural
goings-on, and even — at least by the end of the novel — a dark and remote
castle. The pace of Jewel is a slow one. The novel builds ever so gradually
across its chapters.

Once well underway, it is revealed that the mysterious attack on Miss
Trelawny's father is most likely connected with his avocation as an
Egyptologist. Decades before, following clues from an old Dutch narrative,
Trelawny had discovered a previously unknown Egyptian tomb belonging to
a heretical Queen of Egypt, Queen Tera. Trelawny and his archaeologist
partner, Corbeck, entered the tomb and removed a good number of its
contents, including the mummy of Queen Tera. Most of those artifacts
have been stored in Trelawy's house during the subsequent years, adding
an interesting and yet unsettling atmosphere to the narrative. The jewel
of "seven stars" is one of the artifacts — a large ruby-red stone from
which seems to emanate seven bright points of light.

It is evident that Stoker had a great interest in Egyptology and did his
research thoroughly. He seems to have been up to date on much that was
known about Egypt circa 1902. In fact the novel contains one of the
clearest summations of the various forms of the soul in the religion of
Egypt that I have ever read — no simple task as it is a complex subject.
Among archaeologists mentioned is Sir Wallis Budge, known still today as
one of the pioneers in the study of the Egyptian language (hieroglyphics).

As I mentioned, the novel builds slowly. And it is odd — and obviously
planned — that as a few mysteries are solved in its course that nothing
is gleaned as to exactly what is going on. The heading of the last chapter,
"The Great Experiment," is duly named inasmuch the characters in the book
are at that point still wandering in the darkness a bit, still trying to find
their way through many mysteries. And of course we as readers are in no
better state.

Of course I can't go into the ending. But what I can say is that it is
apparent at the close what Stoker, like the story's Queen Tera, has been
planning this novel to do all along. I can well understand why the 1912
editors thought that it might shock Edwardian audiences. Here there are
no concluding chapters that might provide readers assurance that all is
in fact still right with the world, or even some minimal consolation. The
final chapter of Jewel Of the Seven Stars comes like the end of a tragic
opera — dark, bleak, the quick fall of the curtain.

Advertisements