In the past year, Lethe Press has “queered” Sherlock Holmes (A Study In Lavender, Joseph DeMarco, editor) and Edgar Allan Poe (Where Thy Dark Eye Glances, edited by Steve Berman) and this October turned their queer eye at the original prince of darkness, Dracula. Fourteen authors (some veterans of the earlier volumes and some new) set about exploring the possibility of gay characters in the world Bram Stoker created in his seminal novel, eschewing (for the most part) any version of the Dracula story outside of Stoker’s original.

Gay vampires have been a mainstay of speculative fiction for a long time now. Anne Rice’s Lestat and his peers captivated us in 1976 and moved romantic homosexual/bisexual vampires into the spotlight. The trend hasn’t wavered since. But very few authors have attempted to inject gay characters directly into Stoker’s narrative, which is what sets this new anthology apart.  The authors reveal hidden sides of major characters, give us greater insight into minor characters, and occasionally move beyond the bonds of the novel to explore Dracula’s—and Stoker’s—influence.

Whether the focus is on the hidden sexuality of major characters (Mina and Lucy in Elka Cloke’s “Bloofer Ladies,” Arthur Holmwood in William P. Coleman’s “The Powers of Evil”) or minor/tertiary characters (the crew of the doomed ship Demeter in Damon Shaw’s “Seven Lovers and the Sea,” the solicitor Billington in Jason Andrews’ “The Calm of Despair,” Dracula’s Szgany gypsy servants in Jeff Mann’s “Protect the King”), the strongest stories in the collection are those wherein the authors set their action during the events of Stoker’s novel rather than before or after.  The Cloke and Coleman stories adopt the novel’s epistolary style, and I could easily imagine reading these passages interspersed with Stoker’s words; the authors capture his style without emptily mimicking it.

As befits the state of gay relationships during the period of the novel, many of the stories share a longing, often wistful, that must be hidden. In Coleman’s story, Arthur Holmwood says of Jonathan Harker, “First, he is not—in an age when men cannot love men—the only man I have felt this way about,” and then “… among the men I have felt this way about, there is one who is really the only one. And he is John Seward himself.” [118] Boldo, the Szgany servant at the center of “Protect The King,” hides from his family and tribe not only his lust for men, but his adoration of a very particular Boyar lord. In the anthology’s lead-off story, “The Tattered Boy” by Lee Thomas, we get a glimpse into Van Helsing’s past and the fate of his wife and child, and his encounter with a poor boy at the edge of the city of Maastricht long before his encounter with Dracula.

Vampires entice us and fill us with dread at the same time, and several stories touch on that erotic revulsion. It’s present in the Thomas and Cloke stories. It’s there in Traci Castleberry’s “My Arms Are Hungry,” which explores what happened to one of Lucy’s child-victims from the short time she was a vampire and also has the only transsexual narrator of the collection. In editor Berman’s “The Letter That Doomed Nosferatu,” the narrator is smitten with, and repulsed by, a man who may be a vampire or simply a horrible human being, and those mixed feelings influence a letter he writes to Florence Stoker after seeing Murnau’s “Nosferatu.” Berman’s tale bookends nicely with Laird Barron’s “Ardor,” which may be the story most distinctly separated from the anthology’s stated theme. “Ardor” focuses on a man’s attempt to track down the star of a 1970s soft-core porn remake of “Dracula,” and it is classic Barron—which is to say, it’s a great story but has more of Lovecraft than of Stoker about it.

There’s also longing and revulsion and betrayal at the heart of Rajan Khana’s “Hungers,” which for this reader brought to mind the spectacular work Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan did on Marvel Comics’ “Tomb of Dracula” in the 70s (down to Harker’s stark white hair), in which Van Helsing’s son Isaac (whom Abraham had disowned as a teen because he was gay) and his boyfriend come to England to join Seward and Harker in a hunt for the rich people Dracula had turned to vampires before being driven from the country and routed by Van Helsing’s crew. This is the story most likely to be optioned for a movie or television; it reads like a summer blockbuster and makes me wonder if this is the type of thing Stoker would have written if he was alive now.

The volume closes with several strong stories that tie the themes and tropes of the earlier stories together. Sven Davisson’s wonderful “A Closer Walk With Thee” focuses on two men who don’t perhaps realize they are the descendents of Van Helsing and Quincy Harker and is told in a modern epistolary style (that is, emails and text messages). Seth Cadin’s “Unhallowed Ground” gives us the story of perhaps the most unlikely supporting character in Dracula to get his own story: the old man Swales that Mina and Lucy befriend and then find dead by a grave he visited every day of his life.

Suffered From The Night: Queering Stoker’s Dracula allows authors to play in Stoker’s world and explore characters in ways  the mores of Stoker’s time would not allow him to. It’s a collection well worth picking up.

 

Suffered From The Night: Queering Stoker’s Dracula
Edited by Steve Berman
Lethe Press
Paperback, 9781590213995, 239 pp.
October  2013


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