n a 1966 article that TLS reprinted in its always-interesting “From the Archives” section, John Russell Taylor begins with the observation that “It is Bram Stoker’s singular misfortune to be remembered by films which have little or nothing to do with his original literary creation, ‘No, but I saw the movie’ might be his epitaph” (38). Taylor adds that critics identified Dracula as “the last of the great Gothic novels,” such as The Mysteries of Udolpho, Frankenstein, and Wuthering Heights, but they paid little attention to his other works, some of which Tennyson and Gladstone had praised. Taylor points to what he describes as “his strange book of stories allegedly for children, Under the Sunset, and his Irish romance, The Snake’s Pass.”
The reason for Stoker’s neglect, says Taylor, lies in the charge that “he did not ‘write well,’” and he goes on to claim such a judgment demonstrates that we are “slaves of an intentional fallacy” that leads us to accept writers according to to their ambitions rather than actual achievements. Opposing him to George Moore, a would-be stylist, Taylor explains that
the accusation of not writing well usually turns out on examination to be a judgment of kind rather than quality, Though Stoker could, when he wished, write in a conscious, carefully wrought style, and uses one in Under the Sunset, his forte is the sort of writing in which the style is not noticeable at all. Brisk, strictly functional, sacrificing all evident graces to telling complicated and incident-packed stories with maximum efficiency.
In the final analysis, Taylor inquires, who writes better, the self-consciously artistic author who produces virtually unreadable prose or someone like Stoker? Although he does not say so, and perhaps does not realize that he is doing so, Taylor offers a defense of “well-written” genre fiction, such as detective stories and tales of horror, which in 1966 were not considered worthy of serious, academic attention. My wife reports that when she was in graduate school a few years before Taylor wrote this piece in TLS, she was interested in writing a dissertation on ghost stories, but the powers that be considered it beneath scholarly and critical notice, not real literature. How academia has changed!
Taylor, John Russell. “An Interest in Morbid Things [From the Archives].” Times Literary Supplement. (26 October 2018): 28.
Last modified 2 March 2019