Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Found Manuscript

It was late in the Special Collections room at the National Library of Scotland on November 27th, 2015… I had been scrutinizing 17th Century MSS all day, examining the surviving works of Robert Kirk, the Minister of Aberfoyle, best known for his extra-ordinary monograph, The Secret Commonwealth of Elves, Fauns and Fairies – the heart of my PhD novel project at the University of Leicester since September 2014. I had wanted to see Kirk’s writings for myself. So much can be gained from beholding the actual handwriting of a historical figure – the minute emphasis of a particular word, a name say, can infer so much. And the marginalia discovered within manuscripts and notebooks – notes, dates, addendum and doodles – can reveal much about the personality of the writer, their thought processes, and their milieu. To actually hold one of Kirk’s notebooks, after reading, pondering and writing about him for so long, was thrilling; to behold his handwriting – like looking down the well of time.

Yet more wonders were to be discovered that day.

A Sense of scale (with permission from NLS)
If I had given up, downed tools, and returned to my domicile (more of that in a minute) before perusing the last of my stack of archive material – the least promising – then I might not have discovered what I did. I was tired, I was hungry. My eyes were sore, and my stomach was saying: dinner-time! But I dutifully persisted. I placed the last bound volume of 17th Century material upon the reader. Islandised within the circle of light from my reading lamp, the sole remaining scholar in the corner of the reading room, I carefully opened its fragile, foxed pages...

To complete the Gothic quality of this vignette – the trope of the ‘found manuscript’ which acts as the framing narrative for many tales of the genre – I must add that I was staying at a castle during my time visiting Edinburgh’s archives. In mid-November 2015 I had travelled to Hawthornden International Writers Retreat, as one of their 5 guests for a month. I had submitted an application for a residency, to allow me time to work upon the manuscript of my Kirk novel in suitably atmospheric surroundings: and Hawthornden could not have been more perfect.

Hawthorn Castle
The former home of the poet, William Drummond (1585-1649), Hawthornden is dramatically-situated on a crag overlooking the swirling waters of the Esk, close by Roslin Chapel, in Midlothian, 30 minutes from Auld Reekie on the bus. Since 1982 80s it has been an International Writers Retreat, with up to six writers staying for a month-long period to work upon their respectful projects in ‘peaceful ease’. Lunch is brought to your comfortable room (named after a canonical writer) is a Fortnum and Mason hamper. Apart from joining your fellow retreatants for a pre-prandial sherry before dinner, no socialising is expected. The castle is wifi free, and silence is maintained throughout the day. There is a well-stocked library, along with a dungeon and Pictish caves. One can feel the ambience of literary colloquy oozing from the walls. Les Murray, Alasdair Gray, Helen Vendler, Olive Senior, Hilary Spurling, Andrew Greig, Kathleen Jamie and many other writers of repute have stayed there. The Hawthornden Prize is administered from its fastness, and every summer a ‘literary salon’ with the winner (Colm Tóibín, Hilary Mantel and others of their calibre) is held there. Many splendid signed first editions grace its magnificent library – a bibliophile’s paradise.

To spend a month in such atmospheric surroundings, in the domicile of Kirk’s near contemporary (they overlapped by half a decade) could not have been more conducive to my project. I worked upon a 2nd draft of my novel, writing forty thousand words, and edited the whole 160,000 word MS during my stay. I also wrote a few poems, and, of course, visited the archives of Edinburgh at least once a week (making the most of my day out by enjoying the museums, galleries, cafes, cinemas and social life of the handsome city).

A Romantic Ruin: Hawthornden, the original tower
And so, coming from this castle to visit the Special Collections did not feel like a paradigm shift, but a continuation of a narrative, a Gothic one. It was winter too, and snow did fall while I was there. The light above the Lammermuir Hills had a fey quality to it as I set out early for the day in the archives. Roslin Castle was said to be haunted by a black shuck*, the Mauthe Doog. To complete the uncanniness, opposite Hawthornden there is the research station where Dolly the Sheep was cloned... I was only disappointed that throughout my time at the castle I never heard a single rattling chain, moan or bump in the night. After Mary the Chef’s legendary feasts prepared for us every night it was hard not to sleep soundly, especially after a wee dram or two (a fine malt bequeathed to us by the previous retreatants). The place seemed to have a spell of almost unnatural quietude cast over it.
Yet something of its magic must have rubbed off on me as I trekked to the bus-stop in Bonnyrigg, holding onto my hat in the hoolie that assailed Midlothian during my stay, because it was amongst some old papers once belonging to William Drummond himself  that I discovered a most remarkable find ... a bona fide found manuscript*[i], one that bore Robert Kirk’s name...

I cannot say more than that at this stage, as it research I have not yet published, so forgive me if I do not go into details here. Suffice to say, to come across such a find felt like such an affirmation, the ultimate seal of approval from Kirk (and Drummond). Their shades must have been looking over me that day – and I raise a glass to them both.


Kevan Manwaring is a writer and PhD Candidate at the University of Leicester. He is the author of The Long Woman, Desiring Dragons, The Bardic Handbook, Oxfordshire Folk Tales, Northamptonshire Folk Tales, and is the editor of Ballad Tales: an anthology of British ballads retold (The History Press). He blogs and tweets as the Bardic Academic. The Knowing – A Fantasy, published as an e-book 20th March, 2017, is available on Amazon.

[i] Authentic Inauthenticity: The Found Manuscript, Contemporary Scottish Gothic: mourning, authenticity and tradition, Palgrave Gothic Series, 2014: 54-88.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The ‘‘Bloofer Lady’’ in Bram Stoker’s Dracula: the bloodthirst of a child hunter

Any reader of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1897) remembers how Lucy Westenra transforms into a vampire after the continuous attacks of  the Count.  Her transformation into the so-called ‘‘bloofer lady’’ emphasises her new existence as an undead creature. Nevertheless, as Leslie Ann Minot examines, the ‘‘bloofer lady’’ has ‘‘received relatively little critical attention compared to the multiple, complex psychosexual analyses of other scenes of ‘‘vamping’’ in the novel’’ (207). But why this lack of interest ? And why did Stoker decide to change Lucy into this new beast? This blog post will try to find some answers to these questions.

Sadie Frost as the "Bloofer Lady" in Bram Stoker's Dracula (1992)
To begin with, I will explain the term ‘‘bloofer lady’’. Even though the OED (Oxford English Dictionary) does not recognise this expression, the Urban Dictionary describes it as ‘‘a (female) vampire; most probably from a child's mispronunciation of beautiful’’. It also gives a quote from the novel. Stoker may have employed the phrase after Dickens’s ‘‘boofer’’ for ‘‘beautiful’’ in his Our Mutual Friend (1864-65), adding the ‘‘l’’ to the word as a possible relation to ‘‘bloody’’. Therefore, with this term, we can imagine a connection between the vampire and her victims, the children of Hampstead Heath. This could be one of the reasons why scholars reject any further analysis on her figure, that is, Lucy’s unsavoury attacks upon children.

One of the main features of this new vampire is her maternal luring of children. Together with the obvious sexuality female vampires portray in Dracula, the image of Lucy as the ‘‘bloofer lady’’ holding a child in her arms to feed on it leads to unpleasant conclusions. Stoker insists on reminding us of Lucy’s depravity when the vampire hunters gather to kill her and she tries to seduce Arthur:

‘‘The sweetness was turned to adamantine, heartless cruelty, and the purity to voluptuous
wantonness…With a careless motion, she flung to the ground, callous as a devil, the child that up to now she had clutched strenuously to her breast…When she advanced to (Arthur) with outstretched arms and a wanton smile he fell back and hid his face in his hands. She still advanced, however, and with a languorous, voluptuous grace, said, ‘‘Come to me Arthur. Leave these others and come to me. My arms are hungry for you. Come, and we can rest together. Come, my husband, come!’’’ (196-197).

This juxtaposition of her desire of consumption of the child’s blood with her wantonness towards her suitor suggests that her means of ensnaring the infants can be sexual. Thus, was Stoker warning Victorian society against possible child abusers like the ‘‘bloofer lady’’? There is, I think, some evidence to support this point of view.

Illustration of the "Bloofer Lady" by comic artist Jae Lee

Perhaps thanks to his background as a journalist, Stoker introduces his creature ‘‘the bloofer lady’’ through articles in the Westminster Gazette: ‘‘The neighbourhood of Hampstead is just at present exercised with a series of events which seem to run on lines parallel to those of what was known to the writers of headlines as ‘‘The Kensington Horror’’, or ‘‘The Stabbing Woman’’ or ‘‘The Woman in Black’’’’ (165). However, he also takes advantage of the ‘‘developing conventions of crime and sex-scandal reporting in the English press into which the ‘‘Maiden Tribute’’ campaign fit’’ (Minot 209).  This scandal refers to the movement against adolescent prostitution exposed by the Pall Mall Gazette newspaper in 1885 by editor W.T. Stead, a friend of Stoker.  Stead claimed that ‘‘countless girls were being sacrificed to the insatiable ‘‘London Minotaur’’ in a horror far worse than those recalled in myths of ancient Greece’’ (Bingham and Settle).

One of the means of attracting girls into prostitution echoes the way the ‘‘bloofer lady’’ approaches her victims by luring them away. In the novel, it is mentioned that one child ‘‘wants to play’’ with the ‘‘bloofer lady’’(182), though we do not see what games they play together. This can represent how children and teenagers were chosen, followed and ensnared by a ‘‘nicely-dressed lady’’ of a gang who provided virgins to their clients. The ‘‘bloofer lady’’ can be compared to the ‘‘decoy girls’’ who ‘‘we know that they promise gifts, money, nice clothes, pony rides, and freedom’’ (Minot 213). Stead denounced this entrapping in his newspaper giving the experiences of some victims. Stead even ‘‘bought’’ a 13-year-old teenager, Eliza Armstrong, to condemn the ease to obtain those sufferers. He was convicted for it to a three-month term at Coldbath Fields and Holloway Prisons.

In Dracula, children not only like the ‘‘bloofer lady’’, but they also are familiarised with her: ‘‘It is generally supposed in the neighbourhood that, as the first for a walk, the others had picked up the phrase and used it as occasion served’’ (Stoker 165). Minot states that ‘‘through the representation of child victims in the Hampstead Heath scene, Stoker is able to tap into an ambivalent public discourse about victims, villains, and heroes that employs fear of and proactive use of imposture’’ (217). I agree with her: victims are afraid of but at the same time desire to be with the female vampire.

To sum up, I have attempted to answer the two central questions that the creature of the ‘‘bloofer lady’’ seems to pose. First of all, I consider it strange that no more attention has been paid to this important section of the novel. I consider the reason to be down the taboo nature of abusing an infant or teenager, which seems to have out critics off analysing these scenes. Moreover, this blog has tried to see why Stoker transforms Lucy into this dark seductive vampire whose prey are children. My conclusion is that the author was interested in portraying the social problem of children prostitution. Stoker’s friendship with the editor W.T. Stead, who fought strongly against this crime and published articles about it in his newspaper Pall Mall Gazette, encouraged the writer to include the issue in the novel.

Tatiana Fajardo Domench is currently studing an MLitt in the Gothic Imagination at the University of Stirling.

Works Cited:

Bingham, Adrian and Settle, Louise, ‘‘ Scandals and silences: the British press and child sexual abuse’’ (4th August 2015) in ‘‘History and Policy’’ (accessed 1st April 2017)

Kreisel, Deanna K. ‘‘Demand and Desire in Dracula’’ in ‘‘Economic Women: Essays on Desire and Dispossession in Nineteenth-Century British Culture’’ (ed. Lana L.Dalley, Jill Rappoport) (Ohio State University: 2013) (accessed 1st April)

Minot, Leslie Ann, ‘‘Vamping the Children: The ‘‘Bloofer Lady’’, the ‘‘London Minotaur’’ and Child-Victimization in Late Nineteenth-Century England’’ in Victorian crime, madness and sensation (ed. Andrew Maunder, Grace Moore)(Aldershot: Ashgate, c2004), ch.14.

Stoker, Bram, Dracula (First published 1897), Oxford World’s Classics (Oxford University Press: 2011)

Urban Dictionary, ‘‘Bloofer’’ (accessed 1st April 2017)

. Sadie Frost as the ‘‘ Bloofer Lady’’:
. Illustration of the ‘‘Bloofer Lady’’ by Jae Lee for Dracula (Penguin Classics:2006) :