Who’s journal is it anyway? Private vs. Public: On Reading Dracula

A Page from Samantha Baffoni’s Journal

29 March. Providence.— After leaving work last night, I was totally unsure about what could be said in this electronic journal entry. Then, I thought about journal entries. Why do people keep journals, and when these journals are made public (mind you it is a total invasion of privacy when journals are made public, but are journals written with the possibility in mind that it very well could be made public?), like Jonathan Harker’s journal, is information that is shared in the journals beneficial to the general public? In short, what I really am trying to say, why is it important to publicize the private journals of people, and do the people who keep journals feel that this publication is an invasion of their privacy? Is any writing ever really private (I wonder what Derrida would say about this)?

I am not sure I have any answers for the above questions, but what I have realized is a bit unnerving. In thinking about the tension between public and private, in regards to journals (or letters for that matter), I wonder if the diaries I kept as a young girl, detailing my most embarrassing and sacred moments of childhood, could some day be publicized for the simple fact that the journals re-count, re-tell, record, information that might be useful to the general public? Ah, there it is, that word record. It is that exact little word that brought me to think about why Bram Stoker decided to format Dracula into a series of journal entries and letters.

The journal, the diary, the letter, all personal and certainly private modes of correspondence all share one important commonality, don’t they? The written correspondence is a record, an archive, one that had the author’s intention (probably or in most cases) of remaining private. This intended privacy is exactly what I think makes the record of these correspondences so useful to the public. These intimate correspondences are often quite telling of the time and place in which they were written, because of the fact that they are intended to be private often the author is able to be totally open and honest when writing in this mode. As opposed to a historical text, the journal or letter is not intended to be publicized, whereas a historical text may not always be as reliable because it had the very intention of being published in order recount the events of a period of time.

I digress… Bram Stoker’s Dracula portrays the exact debate I am having with myself in this journal entry. Although, Dracula, is formatted as a series of different written correspondences, in which this debate plays out. The tension between private and public in regards to written correspondences is not lost on Stoker. Lucy and Mina discuss the privacy of Harker’s journal, and it is Mina who decides to respect the author’s intended privacy. Why then, does Van Helsing feel compelled to ultimately publicize the journal? And again, the only answer I have for this is that little word I mentioned before, record. Harker’s journal is a re-counting, re-telling, a record of his experiences at Dracula’s castle. Harker’s journal acts as an archive in which the public (Mina, Van Helsing, etc…) can acquire information that may benefit them. Although written correspondences, whether they be journals or letters, are intended by the authors or those who are corresponding to be private, the opposite is often true. I wonder now, are people who keep journals or share written correspondences aware of the fact that their privacy will likely be invaded and their correspondences publicized? Is that why we have resorted to publicizing them anyway? Do people keep journals any more, or do they just write in these open journal forums we call blogs? Is there a difference between a blog and a journal (I’m not sure there is)? Lastly, I wonder if many years from now historians or scholars will look back at these open journal forums in hopes of acquiring some beneficial information? I’m curious to hear what you all think about this.

Again, I apologize for being a “faux-bond” yesterday. As much as I wish I could rebuke all responsibility and live like Emerson in the woods, a girl has got to eat. I hope you all understand. Happy weekend. PS: Does this closing note addressing my audience destroy the fact that I tried to make this look like a journal entry? What’s so private about a journal anyway?

Cheers,

Samantha

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7 thoughts on “Who’s journal is it anyway? Private vs. Public: On Reading Dracula

  1. First, I don’t think your address at the end would take away from this post looking like a journal entry since journals are whatever you make them. I think this also the point which fascinates me the most about journals, they take on very different forms, they included times, be as specific or unspecific as you want, be addressed to someone etc. I, for example, had a journal when I was younger that combined letters and journals, basically my, then, best friend and I would write letters to each other in a journal and pass it to the other. Would this be considered a journal, even though it is not ‘private,’ or letters, even though they have never been sent?

    Right from the beginning we know that Jonathan Harker’s journal is kept in shorthand (27) and even the letter he tries to send to Mina is in shorthand, which he said “would puzzle the Count, if he did see it [the letter]” (37). Does it make a difference if a journal or letter is written in a different language or in a code, such as shorthand? Does it make it more private, since not everyone around you can read? Macht es einen Unterschied, wenn ich auf Deutsch schreibe?

    Then again, should one wish to keep their thoughts and secrets private, would they write them down with the (remote?) chance of someone finding and reading them? Or do we write in journals to not be forgotten and give someone else a glimpse into our head?

    Have a great weekend,

    Ann-Kathrin

  2. The discussion of whether or not writing is ever private is extremely interesting considering this novel, (if you can call it that), and the interactions between Dracula and Jonathan.

    On page 37, after Jonathan has realized he is essentially a “prisoner” in the castle, Dracula allows him correspondence via letters. However, Dracula insinuates that he will read the letters Jonathan writes and therefore, he should only include details of business and nothing else, i.e. being stuck in a vampire’s castle while simultaneously going mad. Dracula says, ” ‘I pray you, my good young friend,that you will not discourse things other than business in your letters. It will doubtless please your friends to know that you are well, and that you look forward to getting home to them. Is it not so?’ “. Jonathan then realizes that, “I should be careful what I wrote, for he would be able to read it”. This interaction between the two gives an example of how one will change what they write when they know, or are essentially told, it will be read by someone else. Considering Jonathan’s journal/diary entries specifically, he seems to be both writing to himself and to someone; it’s as if from the beginning he is recounting and documenting his travels in a diary but also as if it were for someone else to read. What is even more, is when Jonathan starts to realize or feel as if something is off in the castle his entries seem to be written much more for his own mind so as he can attempt to remember what happens and what he saw as well as a kind of documentation of information for the future.

    It is interesting to wonder how private or public a journal/diary entry is versus a blog post or some online forum. Whenever I write anything, I write with the intention of it possibly being read by someone, at some point. So, if I write thinking that someone will read it, can that even be considered a “journal” or “diary” entry, a place where you are supposed to write freely and honestly? It seems that once your thoughts reach the page, and are recorded in some format, they are no longer private.

    I’m not sure if this is making any sense or is just a discombobulated mess of my own journal/blog entry. Maybe I have been to enthralled in Dracula’s castle the past few days that my thoughts seems to be jumbled and I don’t know if I’m writing or responding properly or making sense…uh-oh. I hope everyone is enjoying this reading as much as I am! Have a good weekend!

  3. I think what fascinates me about blogs and diaries is that they can never be “private” in the true sense of the word. Even if you write a diary that you intend for no one else to read, the very fact that you produced it as a written record makes it available to others. On a very basic level, this is what Derrida seems to be suggesting about the archival nature of letters and their tendency to be put to uses for which they were not originally intended, such as research at the BPL, etc.

    And I’m glad that you each have brought up the “unreadability” of some letters, through the use of shorthand or other languages (such as German, Ann-Katherin!). If we don’t pay close attention, we can easily read Dracula as a traditional novel, ignoring the such references as “(KEPT IN SHORTHAND)” (9). However, if we do notice them, we have to recognize the role of their material form and their subsequent translation. Maybe this has already been done, but how awesome would it be to produce a multimedia edition of Dracula, in which the shorthand diary could be seen and the phonograph could be heard? In other words, there has been a silent intermediary at work in this novel that translates the epistolary archive into a cleaned-up, printed, easily consumable Gothic romance. It seems to me that this novel tries to “pretend” to privacy, while using that device (maybe a gimmick?) to create (and of course monetize) a very public work. In some ways, we have to think of this as an early form of the documentary style horror film, such as Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity. These also “pretend” to privacy, but use this intimacy to trick the audience into thinking it is more “real” and “authentic.”

    • And this silent mediation is echoed, of course, in the mediations that the characters themselves put forth on texts and/or draw attention to. I’m thinking specifically of, say, the moment when Dracula is talking to Jonathan Harker: “I would that you tell me when I make error, even of the smallest, in my speaking” (26) – the Norton at least notes this as a potential test, pointing out that Jonathan does not correct this idiomatic error despite promising “all [he] could about being willing.” But he does *transcribe* the error, and if we realize this idiomatic error as a test we have to wonder whether he does as well — and doesn’t this make us wonder how and why such a small grammatical slip made its way into the written record. If Harker hadn’t corrected it because he hadn’t noticed, it seems odd that he would reproduce it (rather than instinctively correct it); if he had noticed at the time, reproducing it in his account of the conversation without commenting on it is equally strange.

      In general, especially with a text that has such unsettling ethnographic and colonial points of inquiry, the epistolary form draws particular attention to incidents of dialectical Otherness, which occur with lower-class/regional British accents as well as with the foreign characters — Dracula, as seen above, but also, it should be noted, Van Helsing. In both written and audio forms of journaling it seems interesting how thoroughly non-Standard English syntaxes and accents are reproduced. What might make the characters seem true to life in a non-epistolary novel only draws attention to the issues of reproduction here. (With the written journals, perhaps this is meant to draw attention to Jonathan and Mina’s stenographic accuracy, and indeed she claims that practicing shorthand helps with memory, but…I’m trying to imagine why Dr. Seward would perfectly recall and repeat such Dutch-inflected oddities from Van Helsing as “Aha, my pretty miss, that bring the so nice nose all straight again.” (120) Does he do the accent too?)

  4. Sunday, March 30, 2014 1900hrs
    What is this diary/journal intended to be? A conversation with myself, happening at this moment, filtering through my body to where I can see it reflected back to me. A timely process as my fingers can’t keep pace with my thoughts. This “tranche” is like taking the letter out of the envelope and copying it to another format. And why? To record, to preserve, to leave behind one piece of my spirit knowing full well it may be shared or accessed at some point in the future for my own or someone else’s benefit…perhaps? Or, maybe to be argued, ridiculed, ignored and passed over as inconsequential. Regardless, at the moment whether one intends for the entry to be seen or not, one’s existence and a moment are preserved.
    Preservation is important, for who knows when “brain fever” may strike. Harker’s memory is lost to sickness only to be cured by his written words once he uncovers them. Professor Von Helsing advises Dr. Seward: “Remember my friend, that knowledge is stronger than memory, and we should not trust the weaker…put down in record even your doubts and surmises. Hereafter it may be of interest to you to see how true you guess” (112).
    So again, why do we write? To record! So in the future we (or someone) can playback, reminisce, reevaluate and reflect.

  5. Being a big fan of Gothic literature (as well as of journal writing), Dracula has always been one of my favorite novels. There’s something fascinating about reading fantastical events from someone else’s testimony or a combination of testimonies as opposed from a first-person narrative (or a third-person narrative). I might have brought this up before and if so forgive me for repeating myself, but I’m just interested in the appeal of this type of narratives. There’s something about invading someone’s privacy and reading someone’s testimony that adds to the “veracity” (or should I say suspension of belief?).

    I just wanted to mention the opening paragraph (I guess I may call it a Foreword) that tells the reader that these documents have been tampered with so that “all needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact” (5) and that “all the records chosen are exactly contemporary” (5), which suggest a sense of temporal immediacy, as the notes helpfully tell us. As I re-read Dracula after so many years I found myself relating it to my experience reading Wilkie Collins’s novels that emphasize so much that the narrative is collective testimony, which makes it more “realistic.” What is more, the reader decides whether or not to trust the narrator. If we only read Jonathan’s narrative by itself we could easily dismiss it as the ramblings of a madman, but because we have Mina’s letters as well as Lucy’s this just strengthens the fact that the events are actually happening.

    I’m rambling now, but I just love this idea of written testimonies or records. After all, even writing in our journals or diaries we are always aware that these documents can be found and read so that we might even go to extremes to protect our privacy. I mean Dickens burned most of his journals that told of his affair with a young actress, but he kept the rest of them. Ok. I’m sorry I’m all over the place. See you later at the BPL!

  6. One aspect of writing a novel in the fashion Bram Stoker did that I find somewhat fascinating is that, in doing so, you have to be conscious of how the audience’s suspension of disbelief is altered. When reading a story that’s just in first-person past-tense, I think we all immediately disregard the absurdity that is the narrator’s impossible ability to remember the conversations as they happened – validity in this sense is not really a pressing concern.

    But journal entries and letters add an interesting sort of veracity to the speaker’s voice, and we as a reader become considerably more conscious of point of view. When we read Jonathan’s journal in the beginning, we really need to wonder how much of the count’s words were transcribed verbatim, and how much of it is just Jonathan filling in an approximation of the conversation after the fact. In spite of his otherworldly horror (and impressive wall-scaling ability), the count seems like a rather civilized person. I’m not suggesting an inordinate amount of sympathy for the guy, but I do wonder how much different the story would read if we got to see, say, the count’s travel journal or something. I’m not really sure where I’m going with this, but I guess it’s something to muse over.

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