I was stressed out from impending deadlines. I was momentarily disenchanted with a post graduate course that, while incredibly useful and instructive, also seems to suck all of the happiness out of me at times when I really need to hold on to my positive attitude. I was tired and cross and more than a bit weepy, but talking to a kind friend helped me to realise that feeling like this, and talking about it, is not a failure. It’s a release.
It also made me realise how long it’s been since I’ve walked into my father’s study and looked at his hoard.
So I picked a certain book off one of the shelves as I emptied the dehumidifier we usually have running in there. (We’re terrified of moisture wreaking havoc on the books; it already affected one of the walls until we got the plasterer in.)
I think it’s safe to say that Dad was not a fan of vampires, in any shape or form. He really regarded them as a bit of a joke, terribly unsubtle; he was much more into ghost stories, especially M.R. James, who we shall get to in time. He used to irritate me so much by claiming how i always wrote about vampires and why couldn’t I write about nice, comic things, while I would loudly say that that was one time, I’ve moved on to other plots, just because I like read spooky things doesn’t mean I’m obsessed with vampires, would you please let it go?
I can’t ever remember seeing Dad read this book, but then that’s because wasn’t originally his. He owned a copy of his own – with a photography of Henry Irving as Mephistopheles on the cover!
But Dad was, quite frankly, a hoarder, and you’d be surprised at what I’ve found over the years in his study: books I’d assumed I’d lost or had simply vanished through the mysterious methods that a household and the appliances therein, like the odd socks in a washing machine or the items that fall down the far side of the bed.
And if you’re wondering why we saw fit to own more than one copy of a particular book, hah,oh you sweet summer child.
This particular copy was originally my sister’s, handed out to her when she was studying Gothic literature in Sixth Form. Her annotations, highlighted sections and the corners she folded back to mark her various places are all still there, more than ten years old. This was the book that introduced us both to the grim and villainous count who crawled down the sides of buildings, the motley team of heroes arrayed against her, Mina Murray – she of the type writer and being labelled a ‘bountiful wine press’ – the vampiric Lucy with the ‘voluptuous’ mouth, and Renfield, who ate mice and flies, ‘for the blood is the life.’
I say both of us, since one fine summer sport’s day I snuck it out of her bag and refused to stop reading it for the rest of the afternoon; it was just as well my sister had more or less finished with it, otherwise things could have gotten messy.
For years while my sister, and then I, went to university, this copy of Dracula sat first upon the shelves in her bedroom, before migrating to the book case that dominates most of one wall of our kitchen. And then, to quote a certain Tolkien, it made its’ way ‘step by step and mile by mile’ into Dad’s study, who knows how long ago, and never really left.
If Dad took things into his study, he generally read them and then put them away. I wonder if he ever took this one out to read again, smiling at my sister’s notes and her handwriting, perhaps a tiny bit appalled at how she’d bent the pages; wishing she were home more often, missing her, just as much as he enjoyed reading the story for all its unsubtle-ty and silliness.