Friday, 6 April 2012

Whitby

I went to visit Whitby, North Yorkshire, this week and, inspired by James’s photos of Burrishoole Abbey at Behind the Couch, I took some photographs of some of Whitby’s iconic sights.

Whitby is, of course, famous as the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, written in 1897. Stoker was taken by the mood of the place after staying there on vacation and it is easy to see why – the imposing abbey which overlooks the quaint seaside town, accessed by 199 steps along the side of the cliff, makes for a unique and atmospheric location. Romantic and brooding, but quite beautiful.
The town has retained much of its Victorian age character, so it is easy to see why it is the meeting place for Goth weekends twice a year, and the setting for the wonderful Bram Stoker Horror Film Festival each October. Strangely enough though, very few adaptations of Stoker’s novel have actually filmed here. In fact the only film adaptation to have used Whitby as an actual location, to my knowledge, is the BBC’s 1977 Louis Jourdan version, which featured a few location shots around St Mary’s Church (which also sits atop the cliff next to the remains of the abbey).

‘T’is a pity, as Stoker used this remarkable location so well; indeed some of Whitby’s features, such as the aforementioned steps and St Mary’s graveyard are an integral part of the novel and its narrative. They are cinematic indeed.
In the novel Dracula comes to Whitby from Transylvania aboard a ship, the Demeter, which crashes in to the rocks on Whitby’s headland.  Dracula escapes the wrecked ship and is sighted as a black dog running up the step to St Mary’s Church. Here, the novel’s heroines, Mina and Lucy, take their daily walks, enjoying the views from the churchyard. When Dracula spies Lucy, she becomes his willing victim…


7 comments:

Wes M said...

Those are fantastic pics Jon, and timely too, Stoker is 100 years dead on April 20th. If you had printed those pics in b/w one might easily think they were from another century. I think the Whitby section of the novel is one of the most successful in the book, perhaps because as you pointed out in your post, Stoker actually visited there (he never made a journey to Romania). I think readers of Dracula will find these photos of Whitby a delight - they seem so strangely familiar. I re-read the book last year and despite some things that still bother me (the altogether too fussy epistolary style of storytelling), I remain proud that an Irishman was responsible for one of the most instantly recognizable fictional characters. I do actually like Todd Browning's film even if the new fangled thing called sound is awkwardly handled, and I enjoy Coppola's film as well (despite a dreadful, cringe-worthy Keanu Reeves), but the best adaptation is still Nosferatu, and I will be celebrating Stoker's anniversary with a screening of Murnau's film - I'm sure the ghost of Stoker's widow will be rattling her chains in protest...

Jon T said...

You are absolutely right, Wes, I was reading Christopher Frayling's account of how Stoker wrote Dracula (in his book The Birth of Horror)and Stoker quite literally strung together the real places, people and events in Whitby for that section of the novel. And the stuff on Romania he researched in the Whitby library! Still, it is a place (like the Bronte's home village of Haworth in Yorkshire)that just has a kind of electricity in the air, very inspiring.
I love the novel too, and you are rightly proud that it was written by a fellow countryman - although Stoker was only half-Irish, wasn't he? ;-)
RIP Bram.

Wes M said...

Pah! - a half, a quarter - we'll claim anyone for ourselves !

All this Whitby business has given me the idea to pick up a Stoker biog I bought last year - I've always been interested in the fact that Dracula is something of a fluke - Stoker's other novels, and I haven't read any of them, are meant to be quite mediocre. I wonder did he make some Faustian pact with the Devil ? Interestingly, Stoker's pal, London stage actor Henry Irving was said to be the inspiration for the Count, and Irving did play Faust in 1886. Hmmm...

James Gracey said...

Some wonderful photos here, Jon! I especially love the ones of the Abbey perched atop the cliffs; so moody and haunting looking. Whitby itself looks so quaint and untarnished. I'd love to visit it someday. Have you ever been to the Bram Stoker Film festival? Sounds like it would be a fun experience, especially as its located in such an atmospheric location. Thanks for sharing these! :)

James Gracey said...

PS Yes, I also read somewhere that Henry Irving was the inspiration behind the character of Dracula; he was apparently quite domineering and formidable. And a ‘vampire’ in the sense that he demanded so much attention, just being around him could be quite, erm, draining. ;)
There's also been some interesting speculation about the relationship between Stoker and Irving; perhaps it was something a little more than professional, or indeed platonic. There's so much stuff in Dracula that could be identified as stemming from sexual angst.

PPS Wes, are you a native of the Emerald Isle?? :)

Jon T said...

Thanks, James. Yes, I love Whitby. I want to live there! Haven't been to the Stoker Film festival yet but hoping to go this October...

Wes M said...

I sure am James, I'm way down south in Cork... I was in a bookstore a few days ago and I spotted a new edition of Dracula, made to resemble the original 1897 Archibald Constable and Company edition, using the same cover design and typeset. It's quite a beauty.