Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Gilbert and Sullivan Meet Dracula (A $194,000 Bite)

by Stephen J. Gertz

London: Archibald Constable and Company, 1897.
Listen to them, the children of the stage; what music they make. Light opera is the blood of the life, Mr. Renfield.

In the midst of a malevolent storm a  shipwrecked schooner, H.M.S. Pinafore, drove upon the sands at Tate Hill Pier, just below East Cliff outside of Whitby. It was bereft  of crew, save for a dead man lashed to the spokes of the wheel. Tied to one of his hands was what appeared to be a moldering, miniature casket but on closer inspection was an ancient drop-back clamshell box. Within it was an old book resting in black, fetid soil. Inside the book a note was found:

"To Mrs. W.S. Gilbert with Bram Stoker's very warm regards, 12/7/[18]97."

It seems that Mina Murray and Lucy Westerna have competition.

It turns out that W.S. Gilbert, the librettist, and Bram Stoker,  stage critic, general  manager  of Henry Irving's Lyceum Theater, and author of Dracula, and their wives, were good friends, so much so that while Stoker was at work, Gilbert escorted Florence Stoker (a bright, intelligent beauty who, before her marriage to Stoker, was courted by Oscar Wilde) around town; she loved his mordant wit. The Stoker marriage was, it seems, one of Victorian convenience; Gilbert was, evidently, a special friend of  Florence. The Stokers were frequent guests at the Gilbert country home.

Gilbert married Lucy Blois Turner (1847-1936) in 1867. She was not his first love; they courted for three years after he was rejected by Annie Hall Cudlip, née Thomas, a "prolific, advanced novelist with a keen sense of humor" (Oxford DNB) he was mad for. The Gilberts did not have any children. After the madness, boredom in the Gilbert boudoir? Poor Little Buttercup.

As for Bram, "the demands of his theatrical post undoubtedly strained Stoker's marriage. The long working days of the theatrical season preceded months spent on tour in the English regions and the United States" (Hughes, Bram Stoker's Dracula: A Reading Guide, p. 3). He had '"intense relationships with men" (Cook, London and the Culture of Homosexuality, p. 118). The homoerotic aspects of Dracula need not be addressed here. Florence Stoker appears to have made a private life for herself.

This seems to have worked out for all concerned.

Gilbert's partner, Arthur Sullivan, is no where to be found in this domestic tableau. Gilbert and Sullivan pretty much hated each others' guts, their partnership strictly professional. Sullivan has little to do with Bram Stoker and Dracula but this is a Hollywood adaptation and we play loose with the fact. Our marketing department thinks an Abbott Meets Frankenstein Without Costello variant leaves the marquee with something to be desired. What's Ko-Ko without Yum-Yum?

Despite Sullivan being absent with Gilbert's good riddance and leave, this marvelous and extremely scarce first edition, first issue (without ads), association copy of Dracula inscribed in the year of publication, is currently being offered for £125,000 ($194,000). It was last seen at Dreweatt's & Bloomsbury Auctions on May 21, 2010, lot 653, when it sold for $63,800, at the time a world record for this book.

In January of this year a very good copy of the first edition, later issue sold at auction for $1,500. The last first/first to come to auction, a soiled copy with bumped corners, fell at Sotheby's, October 28, 2010, lot 124, for £8,000. ($12, 720). This is an extremely desirable copy. Stoker signed only a handful of first edition, first issue copies, and few with such a strong association  with warm back-story.

Green blood in the bank is the life, Mr. Renfield.

Images courtesy of Peter Harrington Rare Books, with our thanks.


  1. The notion that Gilbert and Sullivan did not get along is often repeated but entirely wrong. They were social friends from about 1870 to 1890. They then had a real falling out, but even afterwards, Sullivan was invited to the Gilberts' home until about 1897.

    Sam Silvers

  2. Entirely wrong, no. The two had successful, independent careers before and during their partnership. This created mutual resentment that festered over the years. And Gilbert's overbearing control of the G&S productions drove Sullivan batty. Yes, they remained social for propriety's sake but, as you point out, by 1897, the year of Dracula's publication, the blood had been sucked out of their personal relationship.


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