The Book of Renfield A Gospel of Dracula

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  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2005-06-02
  • Publisher: Touchstone

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When we first meet Renfield inDracula,he is a tortured soul in decline, a fly-gobbling, Scripture-quoting lunatic who acts as a haunted harbinger of Dracula's arrival in England. At the novel's climax, readers discover that Renfield, under restraint in the asylum of Dr. John Seward, has been in psychic communication with Dracula all along, acting as his eyes and ears in expectation of unspeakable rewards.Now, in an ingenious work of fiction, author Tim Lucas at last brings Renfield's own story to light.The Book of Renfieldis a collection of the long-lost private diaries, professional journals, and wax-cylinder recordings that comprise Dr. Seward's obsessive study of Renfield. Featuring appearances by many of the characters from the originalDracula,Lucas's novel takes on the frighteningly realistic tone of a textual documentary as it illuminates the warped consciousness of Renfield and reveals, through a series of stories from his childhood, how this poor unfortunate was predisposed to become the ideal portal for evil.

Author Biography

Tim Lucas is the author of the acclaimed novel Throat Sprockets and the mammoth critical biography Mario Bava-All the Colors of the Dark. The editor and copublisher of Video Watchdog, the award-winning monthly review of fantastic cinema, he lives in Cincinnati, Ohio.


Chapter One: Dr. Seward's Diary.

21 March 1885.-- I was apprehensive about attending to-night's dinner party at the home of Lord and Lady Remington, but one does not reject such an invitation out of hand. After much trepidation (doubtless brought on by over-work) and cajoling by Art, I made up my mind to attend -- if only for a short time.

The evening began much as I expected, as I found myself standing with Art and our host in the company of some other men of their social station, who were discussing the usual rot: business, politics, the colonisation of West Africa -- subjects which hold not the slightest interest for me. Such conversations, which one gets trapped into simply by virtue of one's sex, are one reason why I have long since ceased to look forward to such gatherings as doorways to opportunity and adventure, yet this is precisely what the evening became.

As it happens, my seating assignment at the dinner table placed me next to Mrs. Lillian Westenra, a convivial, dove-like woman whose eyes sparkled with intrigue as I was introduced to her as the founder and chief superintendent of Carfax Asylum. Many are the women who would turn to their other nearest dining companion by reflex, at the mere mention of an asylum, but Mrs. Westenra was refreshingly curious and open-minded, asking about my work with interest and sensitivity. Not once did her fascination abate long enough for me to balance our conversation with polite enquiries about herself, nor did she try to coax "colourful" gossip from me about my most tragic patients. As a result, a delicious meal went down very well, and with a slight immoderation of red wine.

As I rose to join the other gentlemen in attendance for the usual amenities in Lord Remington's spacious den, Mrs. Westenra gently took me by the arm and guided me to an adjoining room, where I was introduced to her charming daughter Lucy, who had been seated elsewhere at table, unbeknownst to me, in conversation with Art. The poor fellow was himself dragged away to the smoking room, but the combined charms of Mrs. Westenra and her daughter persuaded me to forgo my brandy and cigar in favour of their continued good company.

In the course of our conversation, we discovered many acquaintances in common and Mrs. Westenra began to speak of me to her daughter with an enthusiasm I might have found embarrassing in any other circumstance. However, the more glances I stole at this young woman, I felt a peculiar gratitude at receiving such endorsements of my good works and character. Miss Westenra listened with a most becoming placidity and sly humour; it was my observation that the natural and quite charming effusiveness of Mrs. Westenra has taken a good deal of demonstrativeness out of her daughter. Miss Westenra spoke very little when her mother was near, but once her mother excused herself to converse with our hostess, the daughter's manner transformed, blooming in a most beguiling way.

From the moment we two were first left alone in facing chairs in a corner of the drawing room, Miss Westenra became more forthcoming.

"Tell me, do youalwayslook at young women that way, Doctor Seward?" she enquired with a wry smile.

"And which way is that, Miss Westenra?"

"You have been looking at me with an expression of great resolution. Your gaze has been most direct."

I felt quite disarmed. "Please accept my apologies," I stammered. "To be perfectly candid, I have been working much too hard of late, and I'm so accustomed to speaking only to my patients, probing their faces for answers to questions they cannot or will not articulate...Well, I am well to be reminded that not everyone I meet is a riddle to be solved."

"Oh, I'll bet you couldn't solve the riddle of a face like mine," she challenged.

A woman takes a terrible risk when inviting a man to drink as deeply of her beauty as he dares -- and a man dares to risk all, should he accept. Indeed, Miss Lucy Westenra presented to me a most inscrutable face. She has a sweet, bubbly character and a vivacious hauteur that is at once knowing and yet utterly naïve. This combination of opposites has the uncanny effect of making her look as candid as she is mysterious. This is a conundrum that would take even a husband a lifetime of happy effort to solve -- but foolishly, I accepted her dare.

It was rather like the blinking contest which children play. She presented her face to me, and I leaned forward, granted permission to peer as deep as I dare through the windows of her soul. What I beheld there made me jittery in its unflinching candour, and I began to finger the lancet chain -- I believe that's what it's called -- that secures my grandfather's pocket watch to the fob pocket of my waistcoat, to steady my nerves. Several moments passed in which the room and world around us ceased to exist.

One of us had to bow to the other first, and Miss Westenra wasn't about to give me the satisfaction of flinching, so finally I did the gallant thing and broke our silence.

"You afford me a most curious psychological study, Miss Westenra," was my unfortunate choice of words.

She giggled and shot back, "Oh, I should be quite certain of that, Doctor Seward!" (Would she have spoken so provocatively had she not intended to encourage me, wished me to remember her?)

With this episode in mind, I am retiring early in full expectation of pleasant dreams.

22 March.-- My first thoughts as I rose this morning were of last evening. Must focus on work.

29 March.-- As if in answer to my prayers for something to occupy me, this has proved a most eventful Saturday evening -- Sunday morning, rather!

A new patient has been installed here at the asylum, quite a bizarre and interesting case. He was brought to our care by two police constables who chanced to spy, in the light of the Moon, his shadow moving about in the rubble of the Carfax estate. This festering property, formerly an abbey, has long been for sale, but no one will go near it. There is something foreboding and worrisome, almost supernaturally so, about a holy place that has fallen to ruin. It stands there in the midst of our street like the Devil's triumph.

Approaching the vagrant stealthfully from behind, the constables initially thought he must be deep in prayer, as he was kneeling and in a bowing posture, but as one of them signalled their presence by stumbling over a stray bottle, he whipped around to face them and they saw his mouth bespattered with fresh, wet blood.

Hanging from his hands were the limp remains of a rat -- its abdomen scooped out by a single bite. The constables, perhaps weakened by their revulsion, found the man's resistance unexpectedly strong. They said it was not their counter-action of strength that finally subdued him, but rather that the remains of the rodent slipped from his hands during their struggle, which broke his concentration. To be separated from this unspeakable rag of hair and flesh seemed to bring him the most unbearable, inconsolable sorrow. He pleaded with the constables for the carcass, promising them his co-operation, but when it was denied him, he shrieked, "Give it back to me! It was promised me! It ismine!"

The constables assumed him to be one of my patients, gone over the wall, and they brought him here. They turned him over to the strong arms of my ready attendants, but even they could control his violence only with the greatest difficulty -- and these are big, burly men! Soon enough he was packed into a strait-waistcoat, which made him easier to manage. My initial impression was that this hellion should be assigned one of our isolated cells below-stairs, if not the padded one. However, as we were guiding him in that general direction, the fellow happened to catch sight of an open room on our main floor whose window looked out upon the ruins where he was apprehended. I was standing in a position to see what he saw; the abbey was like a black moonscape whose pock marks were stencilled against a blue-black sky. It is a regrettable view, unwholesome and hardly a tonic for the morbid of mind, which is why that particular room was un-occupied. But as we passed that open door, his behaviour changed so dramatically that we all took notice. He was becalmed like the sea after a great storm, so suddenly that the attendants later told me they thought it might be a trick to get them to loosen their grips, that he might scurry away. To me, his transformation seemed to be perfectly sincere.

"No, here!" he exclaimed. "I must stay here!" He looked inside the un-occupied room with all the joy and surprise of a child looking into a room where a birthday cake with all its burning candles awaits. He turned to me, sensing that I was in charge, and showed me the more reasonable and conciliatory sides of his nature."Please, Doctor,"he begged, hissing slightly through teeth still stained with the disgusting remnants of his last meal. "I beg you -- I beseech you -- I promise you, sir, that your kind indulgence will be greatly rewarded!"

It was a bit over-done, but his very peace of mind seemed to depend on this accommodation, so I granted his wish -- on the condition that he remain chained to the wall nearest the room's cot, in his strait-waistcoat, throughout the initial observation period of twenty-four hours.

As he was being introduced to his quarters, I stood by to take stock of our new resident. He is a husky, middle-aged man, pear-shaped though not quite stout, with a great mop of unkempt grey hair on his head, tiny white hairs sprouting along the edges of his fleshy ears. He wears narrow spectacles, which were not broken, despite the scuffle. These may offer a clue to his past as they are the kind worn by people associated with close -- perhaps clerical -- work; they were not very clean, and he looks over the top of them more than through them. He is a nail-biter, but so meticulous in this fixation that his attentions rather improved the look of his stubby, dirty hands, which are dimpled along the knuckle line like a child's. He was given to my care in a shabby suit, stained with dirt and dust and dried blood and semen. The latter may have derived naturally from nocturnal emission, as he exhibits no signs of satyriasis or inclination to self-abuse. No further clues to his identity were found on his person, though in one of his pockets a handkerchief was found in unspeakable condition; it was monogrammed rmr and wrapped like a burial shroud around the skeleton of a large rodent.

As his arms were led into the sleeves of the strait-waistcoat, the patient recited a passage of biblical scripture, which one of the attendants later identified for me as coming from the Book of Revelation:"Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the Devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."

My first religious fanatic!

30 March.-- Our new guest's first night passed peacefully enough, which caused me to think he might be removed from his irons. However, with the sunrise, angry moans -- which rose into yells and finally screams as the sun reached its noon peak -- were heard coming from his room. Worried that he had somehow used his chains to deal himself a serious injury, the attendants raced there and found him cowering from the sunlight that was streaming through his window. When the men tried to intervene, the patient leaped at them like some kind of rabid animal, but was held firm to the wall by his shackles. His wails were most disruptive to the serenity of our house and disturbing to the other patients.

I was looking forward to our initial interview, but this being quite impossible under the circumstances, I decided to take an extended walk around the gardens to soothe my ears and clear my head...during which my thoughts returned once again to Miss Westenra -- to Lucy -- as they now tend to do, however much I ought to be concentrating on my professional duties.

Returning in-doors one and a quarter hours later, I recorded some letters, treated myself to a small cordial and a short nap on the leather sofa here in my office, then rose again to conduct my evening tour of the patients' cells. I was met by [the attendant Carlton] Watkins, who apprised me as usual of his observations while standing guard. He reported that the vociferous agonies of the new patient, which had no physiological impetus, had subsided as the sun began to go down. His exact, amused words: "His spirits went bright as the sky got dark." (Possible allergy to light? Unfortunately, it is not possible to appease these anxieties by curtaining the window, as any material could be taken down and tied together to form a noose.) I instructed Watkins, for the sake of experiment, to have the strait-waistcoat removed from the patient for the balance of the evening, that he might enjoy a comfortable night's sleep, but to make absolutely certain he was returned to full safeguards by cock-crow.

Before recording this entry, I looked in on the poor fellow, who had been thoroughly washed and dressed in a pair of clean, loose-fitting pajamas; he was kneeling on his cot and looking out the window of his room, his hands folded in front of him. He appeared to be deep in prayer. I did not wish to disrupt his moment of peace with the questions I was burning to ask, or with a simple hello -- so I withdrew, saying nothing.

Copyright © 2005 by Tim Lucas

Excerpted from The Book of Renfield: A Gospel of Dracula by Tim Lucas
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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