DRACULA, ROSSETTI & ARMADILLOS

In 1869, the Pre-Raphaelite painter-poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti famously had his wife Elizabeth exhumed in order to recover poems he had buried with her. The tale was first publicised by Rossetti’s friend Hall Caine in Recollections Of Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1882), a book produced just six months after Rossetti’s death. As Caine told it…

Rossetti’s Beata Beatrix, depicting his wife Elizabeth

  

…a fire was built by the side of the grave, and then the coffin was raised and opened. The body is described as perfect upon coming to light. 

The nocturnal exhumation of the allegedly ‘perfect’ Elizabeth, then seven years dead, is often said to have inspired (or at least influenced) a key scene in Bram Stoker’s Dracula – the midnight staking of the undead Lucy in her coffin.

Now, Hall Caine was also a close friend of Bram Stoker, who dedicated Dracula (1897) to him under his family nickname ‘Hommy-Beg’ (Manx for Little Tommy, Caine’s actual first name). Some people even suspect Caine edited the final draft, although proof is lacking.

About a year or so after meeting Stoker, Caine moved in with Rossetti to become his factotum and confidante during the painter’s final years. Caine wrote in detail about Rossetti’s rambling bohemian mansion at 16 Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, struck by how it veered between shabby and splendid.

He found the exterior dusty, cobwebbed and overgrown with ivy, surrounded by a wild garden. The marble-floored interior was likewise equally magnificent and shambolic; Caine describes it as having crooks and corners as to bewilder the most ingenious observer to account for its peculiarities. In former days Rossetti had stocked it with exotic creatures such as wombats, peacocks, kangaroos, raccoons, a bull, and, among others, armadillos.

Dracula (1931)

Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Fast-forward fifty years to the first legitimate Dracula film, in 1931 – the very year Hall Caine died, by the way. Here the vampire’s domain is unmistakeably Rossetti-esque. Bela Lugosi’s Dracula lives (or is that un-lives?) in a rambling, cobwebbed castle stocked with various exotic animals including, by a curious coincidence, the armadillos so beloved of Rossetti.

To add another layer of coincidence, Stoker and Rossetti were near-neighbours when Caine knew them – Stoker at 27 Cheyne Walk and Rossetti at 16. Yet I have never seen any evidence they met, despite the mutual friendship with Caine. If anyone has, please let me know.

As another way-out Victorian wrote, curioser and curioser…

 

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