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Vampires, Victorians and chasing the shadows of the past

May 1, 2009 |  5:35 am


Is there a vampire walking the halls of Microsoft, thirsty for blood? Not that we know of (although Mac types may disagree), but the corporation does boast one serious vampire fan at the top.

Writer Leslie Klinger, after telling antiquarian book collectors that he was searching for the original manuscript for Bram Stoker’s "Dracula," was approached by a minion of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The famous entrepreneur, the minion explained, would allow Klinger to view his prized possession but only under supervision.

Several weeks later, Klinger was sitting at a desk, watched with polite hawkishness by another Allen trustee, with the original typed pages of what he excitedly called “the greatest horror novel of all time.” Klinger, who recently published "The New Annotated Dracula," described the manuscript as "550 pages typed by Stoker with extensive hand-corrections."

Stoker had even employed a primitive version of cut-and-paste; when Klinger lifted a page to the light, he could see text underneath where Stoker had affixed his latest corrections.

At the LA Times Festival of Books Sunday afternoon panel "Victorian Shadows," it was all about reveling in the juicy discoveries of the research process, the bedrock for authors Klinger, Michael Sims and Selden Edwards, each happily obsessed with the era of corsets, top hats and steam-engine trains. Led by L.A. Times deputy books editor Nick Owchar, the panelists got to the bottom of their love of the time: It’s escapism from our troubles — and a way to put them into perspective. (The Victorians had their plagues and prejudices too.)

But in the present day, nothing can give a writer pains like the publishing gantlet, which rejected Edwards' "The Little Book" for some 30 years... read more after the jump.

... before Dutton finally relented, publishing the time-travel novel in 2008. Perhaps it was a blessing in disguise; the debut novelist, now well into his 60s, used the rejection years to add layers to his tale of Wheeler Burden, a rock idol who suddenly finds himself wandering in fin de siecle Vienna. Edwards kept researching what he calls a magical year, 1897, the birth year of Freud’s Oedipus complex, for one, but also a time of great poverty and disease.

For a man rejected countless times, Edwards gave off an air of irrepressible cheer. It just goes to show that good reviews can heal all wounds.

Sims, who most recently edited “The Penguin Book of Gaslight Crime,” a collection of Victorian short stories about con artists, burglars, rogues and the like, has a new project taking his attention: an anthology of stories about lady thieves of the fop and dandy years, a delicious theme for bedtime reading. It makes us want to don a feathered hat and a pair of opera gloves before stealing the jewels of our local millionaire. Paul Allen, lock up that manuscript!

-- Margaret Wappler

Photo: Bela Lugosi as Dracula in the 1931 film / Universal