The Delayed Telegram

“(Sent to Carfax, Sussex, as no county given; delivered late by twenty-two hours)” (130)

Can you believe that if this telegram had gotten to Dr. Seward in time he might have been able to save Lucy?

I found this event completely interesting for two reasons.

First, it speaks of the new technologies of the time so predominant in Dracula. As an epistolary novel Dracula is not only a compilation of journals and letters but it also includes telegrams and recordings from a phonograph transcribed by Mina on her typewriter. Not only this, of course, but blood transfusions? All of these amazing inventions are just such an important part of this narrative. I mean think for example of Lucy’s response in August 30th (101) to Mina’s letter sent August 24th from Buda-Pesth (98). I mean when I send letters to Mexico City via regular mail they take two weeks to get there!

Anyway! What also captured my attention was how the materiality of these documents has a lot to do with the narrative itself. Something that I found very fascinating was that, compared to other texts like Ovid’s Heroides or the Letters of Abelard and Heloise, in Dracula we don’t just get letters telling a story (like Frankenstein too!) but the letters and other important documents are actually part of and participants, as in the case of the telegraph, of the events of the novel.

It is all thanks to Mina who typewrites everything and in “manifold” therefore making “three copies of the diary, just as [she] had done with all the rest” (198). Moreover, she organizes the documents chronologically so that, seven years after the events related in the documents, John can look back and remember. As he does so he reflects that “there is hardly one authentic document; nothing but a mass of type-writing, except the later notebooks of Mina and Seward and myself, and Van Helsing’s memorandum” (326). If we visualize what John is holding in his hand (the typewritten stuff) it doesn’t look so different from the book we are holding today, it doesn’t have character, like handwriting, marks from being folded by the sender, and fancy seals broken by the receiver. And then, what is an “authentic document” (326)?

I strongly believe this text is concerned with the importance of keeping records. And not just because something fascinating like having a close encounter with a vampire might happen to you, but for the art of remembering, and having others remember you. Jonathan said goodbye to Mina in his journals while in Castel Dracula and there’s an idea there (at least in his mind and probably Stoker’s) that your writings will remain with you after death until found by someone or sent to your significant other; someone will always find them.

But then, there are documents that weren’t delivered like the note left by Van Helsing to Seward (181), and letters to Lucy that she didn’t open (140 & 143). I wonder what Derrida would make of that…

Thanks for reading the ramblings of your humble blogger,

Andie

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7 thoughts on “The Delayed Telegram

  1. You bring up a number of fascinating points, Andie, but I want to focus on the “archival” aspect of the novel. It is striking to learn that the “editorial hand” that first translates, types, and organizes this material is Mina. I find it haunting when she writes, “I shall get my typewriter this very hour and begin transcribing. Then we shall be ready for other eyes if required” (161). Isn’t it creepy to think that we are, to some extent, those “other eyes”? It is a brilliant novelistic technique that forces the reader “in” to the novel, as more than a voyeur. I also love this question you pose, Andie: “If we visualize what John is holding in his hand (the typewritten stuff) it doesn’t look so different from the book we are holding today, it doesn’t have character, like handwriting, marks from being folded by the sender, and fancy seals broken by the receiver. And then, what is an “authentic document” (326)?” This is directly related to Burt’s claim that for Derrida, burning is publication. After all, the moment it is physically written, which I think could be argued is synonymous with publication, Derrida suggests that an author must disavow any real claim to its authorship – s/he burns it. Thus, “authenticity” cannot exist, at least in the sense that a document has the “mark” of the author. All texts are therefore mediated, leading to the archive fever afflicts Mina.

  2. I am so fascinated by the question you bring up of what is an “authentic document”(326)? I’m not sure I could ever answer this but I think speculating on it would produce some interesting ideas. I’m just not sure how we are to define what is authentic and what is not. I don’t have an answer for this I am just interested in this question in relation to what makes the epistolary form so popular for this type of novel and genre of a horror/murder mystery/detective novel. I think the aspect of something being labeled as epistolary makes it authentic on its own and we, as readers, think that we are reading something that is authentic and personal; these are letters and recordings and notes of an authentic nature from someone. Just as Alex mentioned, it is a bit creepy to think that we are the “eyes” required for reading these transcriptions. We are this intricate part of the story, therefore possibly making these various writings seem more authentic because we have become a part of them and the many transactions they went through. I’m note sure if this makes any sense but essentially, I am just trying to say that I’m not sure you can identify something or a piece of writing as authentic, but when the reader becomes a part of the transcription it then seems more authentic…Still unsure what that means. Anyways…

    The other point mentioned of the letters or diary entries, or however we are to label the various forms throughout this novel, always being found is very interesting. Yes, it does seem like someone will always find your writing and it further outlives you. It seems that while Jonathan is unsure of what will happen to him and whether or not he will ever be found or escape, he does seem to think that his writings will be found. Regardless of the fact that Dracula seems to have utter control over him and his possessions, his writing is the one thing, or his diary is the one place, where he can write down his honest and most personal thoughts. So, Dracula wouldn’t find his diary and burn it, (or publish), it? Someone would find these writings and therefore know what “happened” to him. Also, in terms of the post that didn’t reach Dr. Seward, wasn’t it still found by us, the readers and the “eyes”? It seems that these records, recorded in various epistolary forms, have this immortal quality to them; that these characters think that by writing down what they see, what happens and what they think, it becomes recorded and therefore permanent with the capacity to last throughout time. We, and the characters, write in these forms so as to remember clearly what happened and document it for ourselves and for others so it’s as if we give the epistolary form a kind of immorality…like Dracula but also not.

  3. Thinking about being those “other eyes” as Alex puts it is indeed creepy. I did not think of that and it makes me reconsider how I read the novel overall. It seems as if the reader should feel privileged to be able to read the accounts because if Mina would have not transcribed and organized them we might have never been able to read the story. Well, we would because not Mina wrote Dracula but Stoker did and somehow that confuses me a little bit. Yes, we read an epistolary novel, or some like Dracula where diaries and other documents are features, but in the end they all originate in the author’s mind, or do they not? But, especially in this form of writing, the lines seem blurred.

    I am glad Andie brought another point up that I was also interested in. Could some of those letters reach the recipient in time? One that jumped out to me was a letter from Van Helsing to Mrs. Harker sent on September 25th at 6 o’clock (position 2839, kindle ed.) and the answer arrived thirty minutes later at 6:30 pm on the same day (position 2847). How does that work? I would understand it if we were in the year 2014 and could use email or other electronic communication, but if Van Helsing and Mina were in such a close proximity to each other couldn’t they just talk to each other?

  4. I had thought a little about the phonograph, blood transfusions, etc. being new technologies, but I hadn’t quite thought about the implications of the manuscript itself as being technologically “new” — although Mina’s first letter to Lucy (and the corresponding Norton footnotes) mark her as being unusually skilled and interested in the new technology of the typewriter. I wonder whether a Victorian audience would have felt even more distance between the handwritten pages and the organized, transcribed, archival copy. Perhaps a interesting parallel would be the way we think of digital copies today: multiple times in discussions we’ve talked about the current state of communication and dismissed electronic copies, Internet interactions, etc. as less tangible, bearing less weight and in some ways less “meaning,” than a paper equivalent. I think its a fair claim that technologies in general always feel more alienating, more distancing, when they are new to us: didn’t we see in Phaedrus anxieties about the deleterious effects of the “invention” of writing itself? So with that in mind, would Victorians have felt similarly about these new technologies — would they have a similar distancing effect? And maybe then we could argue for Mina Harker as a proto-digital native due to her impressive comfort with the form.

  5. Interesting again how we are concerned with archival evidence that isn’t there. A “mass of type-writing” is all that is left–nothing per se for the archives. Mina’s deft hands, as the editor, puts it all together. (Although I’d question her ability once she had come under the Counts spell). It is she who transfers Dr. Seward’s phonograph tubes. She writes “It was like a soul crying out to almighty God. No one must hear them spoken ever again!…none other need now hear your heart beat, as I did” (197). But Is that true? Are emotions lost in good writing?

    Then there is the practicality of those tubes as well. Dr. Seward himself acknowledges that it was “a good thing Mrs. Harker put my cylinders into type! We never could have found the dates otherwise…” (199). I was almost going to call the Doc out on this when I had to laugh. I notice Ann-Katherine citing page numbers from her Kindle and I have listened to a lot of the book by an audio source, both these cases makes it an effort to find a page in say the Norton Edition. So it seems that as tech davy as we are, there are still drawbacks.

    Alex mentions “Derrida suggests that an author must disavow any real claim to its authorship – s/he burns it.” Tech today, we burn CD’s to store and record. In an ironic twist, burning has a whole new meaning.

  6. Andie,
    I find even more interesting than the concern of archiving in Dracula (sorry can’t figure out how to italicize here) is the opposite of the archiving. As you may have noticed in my Facebook post, I am really fascinated by the moment in the novel where Dracula burns the manuscript. I am also fascinated by what Alex brought up in the Facebook post, why is it that we value a person’s writing as “truth” only if it is handwritten? This scene makes me question why a handwritten archive is more authentic, or truthful, than one that has been type written or transcribed. This scene also does so much more for me outside the context of the novel. All I can see when I think of that moment, is Derrida dressed as a vampire burning his letters and manuscripts. On a more serious note, this scene rooted me back into the second part of the Burt reading, where he is trying to make sense of Derrida’s pyromania. If we feel that an archive is so important, why would one (namely Derrida and Dracula) feel that the archive need not be archived? I think the Count’s reasoning for that can be assumed, but what about Derrida? Why would he encourage the dis-archiving of the archive? On page 176 of The Post Card (Burt uses this passage too) Derrida writes,

    I am reflecting upon a rather rigorous principle of destruction. What will we burn, what will we keep (in order to broil it better still)? The selection (tri), if it is possible, with in truth be postal: I would cut out, in order to deliver it, everything that derives from the Postal Principle…And we burn the rest. Everything that from near or far touches on the post card (this one, in which one sees Socrates reading us, or writing all the others and every post card in general), all of this we would keep, or finally doom to loss by publishing it…

    Burt calls Derrida’s “rigorous principle of destruction” a “paradoxical relation between destruction and publication” (70). He goes on to say that Derrida does not pay any mind to this paradox at play, except for when Derrida notices that “the writer will be criticized whether he publishes the letters or burns them”(76). I stopped reading here for a moment, and ruminated for a while on all that I have just presented you with. The count burns the manuscript, Derrida burns his biographical material (according to Burt, but probably more than just that), and Burt sees this burning as an attempt by the writer to avoid the inevitable criticism that these materials would bring forth for the simple fact that they were written. I do agree with that to a certain extent, but I feel that there is more than integrity lost with publication. When writing that is intended by the writer to be private (whether they be letters, journals, essays, biographical information, etc…) is published for whatever reason, for the greater good of posterity or what have you, what is lost is the authenticity of the writing. If the writing is used for a purpose other than what it was intended by the author, then the writing can never be deemed authentic because it does not authenticate the auth-or’s intended purpose for the writing. This is what I find fascinating about all this burning, dis-archiving, and rigorous destruction. I am not sure if any of this will make sense to you, but that is okay, because after you all read this I want you to burn it. Burn it in your memories, and dance around the fire and chant! That is my intended purpose of this comment… YOU MUST OBEY!

    -S

  7. There is a really interesting vein in the loss of authenticity in transcription being discussed here. There is certainly a drive, at least in me, to consume a piece of literature ‘as it was intended,’ and there is always that lingering doubt in the back of my mind that I am missing something vital when I read a text outside of that form. The most common way I see this is when working with translation, as a second person needs to exert their influence on the source text, but I can see Mina’s work as transcriber as somewhat analogous to that of translator. She would have had to employ a similar sort of decision making over the letters/journals as a translator would have to do. Any of those annotations or marginalia that were mentioned above would have to be incorporated/omitted on her decision. I also wonder how much different we would be experimenting this text if we were given a facsimile of the original letters/journals stitched together, rather than Mina’s transcription. Somewhere in one of these discussions House of Leaves was brought up – has anyone experienced Nabakov’s Pale Fire? It is a novel told through the extensive end notes of a poem. Most people read the book published like a normal novel, but there is a special edition of the work where you get a stack of note cards alongside the poem and you have to piece it together yourself. Does this presentation make the work more or less readable? Is it ‘truer?’ or just more cumbersome?

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