Life in the Margins.
We’re marking Halloween, and things that go bump in the night, in this blog today, albeit in a literary fashion. Whilst the kids are out tricking and treating, grown-ups might prefer to curl up in the warm with a good, scary, book. And none better than Bram Stoker’s Dracula. In the 1890s, Stoker was the manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London. He liked writing in his spare time, but most of his writing was un-researched, spur of the moment, stuff that was regarded as unreadable by any who saw his manuscripts.
It was different with Dracula. For this book he regularly popped round to the London Library and ended up reading about forty books before putting pen to paper. We know this because he acknowledged most of his sources, such as The Book of Were Wolves, when Dracula was first published. What we didn’t know until recently though, was that he did not just read the books, he was the author of numerous notes in the margins. This was discovered by Philip Spedding, the library’s current development director, when he was leafing through one of the twenty-six books the library has kept in the knowledge that they were used by Stoker. No one had attributed the inky scrawling to him before, but their authenticity has now been confirmed by the University of Essex. Based on identical scribbles in the margins, the library has subsequently identified six more books, in addition to those listed in Dracula, that Stoker probably used for inspiration.
Libraries take a dim view of customers who deface books, but it seems Stoker got away with it at the time. Now the books have been removed from the shelves for aresearch student to go through all the annotations and try to link them with events in the story. Other defacers have not been so lucky – Joe Orton served six months in prison for defacing books. Mind – he did fill the margins with obscenities.
Well-known book defacers include Sylvia Plath, Ernest Hemingway, and Pierre de Fermat (him of Fermat’s last theorem fame). In 1637, Fermat wrote a complex theorem, in the margin of a copy of Diophantus’s Arithmetica. Underneath he wrote “Of this thing I have found a truly marvellous proof. The smallness of the margin will not contain it.” Seems he didn’t write it down anywhere else either, and it was nearly 360 years before Andrew Wiles, a British mathematician, came up with a satisfactory proof.