Posted on May 26, 2015
The novel that made Bram Stoker’s name was inspired by a trip to the English north-eastern seaside town of Whitby, where he came across a history of Wallachia and Moldavia and its mid-fifteenth century ruler Vlad Dracula also known as Vlad Tepes (“Impaler”).
A typewriter on display at Le Musée des Vampires in the quiet neighbourhood of Mairie des Lilas in Paris, France, and attributed to Stoker, is frankly a bit of a disappointment …
I was hoping for something a little more Gothic …
A vampiric Blick!
I did find a link between Bram Stoker and the Blickensderfer typewriter: Following the July 2012 closure of the Phillips Book Store in Bozeman, Montana, after 115 years of trading, the store’s last owner, Rick Radovich, put things into historical perspective …
“When Sherman Phillips first opened the store to sell Blickensderfer typewriters in downtown Bozeman, Montana, in 1897, Thomas Edison patented his movie camera, the first shipment of gold from the Yukon arrived in Seattle, William McKinley had just been sworn in as our 25th president, and Bram Stoker was 10 days away from publishing his novel, Dracula.”
The link is not as tenuous as you might think. The late-nineteenth century typewriter (although not necessarily a Blickensderfer) is central to Stoker’s novel, since the novel is told in epistolary style as a series of collected, first person documents-journal entries, letters, memoranda, and newspaper articles.
In Gramophone, Film, Typewriter, (Friedrich A Kittler, Stanford University Press, 1999) Kittler sums up the novel as “… that perenially misjudged heroic epic of the final victory of technological media over the blood-sucking despots of old Europe.”
In a research paper written by Leanne Page: Phonograph, Shorthand, Typewriter: High Performance Technologies in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the typewriter is described as “hypermediating media”: the technology through which all other technologies in the novel (stenography, phonographic records, telegraphed messages) are produced and made accessible to the characters and to the reader …
When Dracula sees the strange symbols of stenography in a letter Harker had intended for Mina, he burns the letter, and when Dr Steward records his observations concerning a patient, Mr Renfield, he burns the phonographic cylinder, leaving only a copy of the typed manuscript behind. It is only the proliferation of copies, enabled by the manifold function of Mina’s typewriter, that saves information from total erasure.
In Stoker’s novel, a failing of the phonograph is noted after Mina listens to Dr Steward’s recordings:
“This is a wonderful machine, but it is cruelly true. It told me, in its very tones, the anguish of your heart. […] No-one must ever hear them spoken again! See, I have copied out the words on my typewriter, and none other need now hear your heart beat, as I did.”
Here the typewriter performs the act of removing the speaker’s soul from the recorded information, a process that prepares the text for wider dissemination. (TIP: If you do find that your typewriter is “removing the speaker’s soul”, my advice is to drape a string of garlic over the carriage.)
In the novel, Mina writes in her journal:
“I feel so grateful to the man who invented the “Traveller’s” typewriter … I should have felt quite astray doing the work if I had to write with a pen.”
In the late nineteenth century, typewriter companies in England, France, Germany and the United States vied to produce the most efficient, affordable and versatile machine.
At the time Dracula was written, the Hall typewriter proclaimed itself to be the only portable typewriter available. However, similar claims were made in a Hammond Typewriter ad dated 1897.
An 1896 advertisement for the Williams typewriter indicated that their typewriters had a ‘capability for speed unequalled in comparison with similar products’ and noted that the machine made more and clearer carbon copies than its competitors.
An 1897 ad for the Empire typewriter stated emphatically: “If you wish to be with the times, use a typewriter. If you wish to lead the times, use an Empire.”
The Blickensderfer was marketed as “an entirely new departure in typewriter mechanism”. Like shorthand, it was one of the new technologies Stoker describes in his novel as:
“… nineteenth century up-to-date with a vengeance. And yet, unless my senses deceive me, the old centuries had, and have, powers of their own which mere “modernity” cannot kill.”
Looking back on the century past, I expect that’s why the typewriter shows little sign of being killed off, not easily anyway …