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Friday, November 08, 2013

Happy Birthday Bram

Going back to a Rosen-post of a few weeks ago on ink blots, today's Google Doodle is for Hermann Rorschach, in honor of his 129th birthday.  November 8 is also the birthday of Bram Stoker; he would have been 166 today--he had his own birthday Google Doodle last year for his 165th.

Of course the Rosenbach is famous for having Stoker's working notes for Dracula.  Below is an early character list in which Stoker has crossed out the name "Count Wampyr" and replaced it with "Dracula."

Bram Stoker (1847-1912), Dracula: autograph note, EL3 f.S874d MS p. 1. Roenbach Museum & Library

But the Rosenbach also has a few items that remind us about Stoker's non-writing career. Stoker became Acting Manager of Henry's Irving's  Lyceum Theatre in 1878 and worked there for 27 years. In a typically Rosenbachian coincidence, our collection of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) materials includes several playbills from the theater.

Lyceum Theatre, bill for The Cup and The Belle's Stratagem. 1881. EMs 1187/23. Rosenbach Museum & Library

Lyceum Theatre, bill for The Cup and The Belle's Stratagem. 1881. EMs 1187/23. Rosenbach Museum & Library

If you look at the center of the playbill's back cover, you'll note that Mr. Bram Stoker is listed as Acting Manager. The paragraph at the top also mentions Stoker. It indicates that "The Bill of the Play will in every part of the House be supplied without charge.No Fees of any kind will be permitted, and Mr. Irving trusts that in his endeavour to carry out this arrangement, he may rely on the co-operation of the Public, who are requested, should there be any cause of complaint or especial satisfaction, to refer to the Acting Manager, Mr. Bram Stoker." The practice of charging for programs (with the price apparently often set by the usher's estimation of the customer's ability to pay) and for cloakrooms was common at some theaters and I guess keeping an eye on the ushering staff must have fallen under Bram's purview.

The Lyceum began playing the double bill of  The Cup and The Belle's Stratagem in April 1881; previously The Cup had been paired with a piece called Corsican Brothers. The Belle's Stratagem is an 18th-century play written by a female playwright, Hannah Cowley, who was the daughter of a bookseller. The Cup is by Tennyson and The Poetry Foundation's website explains that of his plays,  "On the stage only The Cup had any success, and that was in part due to the lavish settings and the acting of Irving and Ellen Terry."

In his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, Stoker writes about the lavishness of The Cup, describing how the production consulted experts in ancient art (including staff at the British Museum) and detailing the beauty of the set, which included some "scenes worthy of Turner," the colorfulness of the costumes, and the grandness of the pagan ceremonies, which involved "something like a hundred beautiful women...for Vestals" and "gorgeously armoured Roman officers." He notes, however, that one critic took issue with the proportions of the columns in the temple setpiece, not realizing the "difficulty... in adhering to fact in fiction" or that the proportions of the columns were necessary in order to make them look right in the space. One of their experts also complained that a prop amphora was decorated red on black rather than black on red and "after that [he] could enjoy nothing." I guess you just can't please everyone.

Kathy Haas is the Associate Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library.

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