The graphic elements highlight the textual time
The three experiments are unified by the slipcase
Type is understated in the book cover
Photographs of the sky represent the precise textual time
The sky photographs are placed as if drop caps
The strip of blue/black color represents day and night
Text time is made apparent in the colored strip
Mapping time through typographic characters
Narrative’s expansion and
compression of time

Temporality in Bram Stoker’s "Dracula"

In this project I developed typo/graphic systems for charting the passage of time within Bram Stoker’s 19th century Gothic novel “Dracula”. The novel comprises a series of fictional diary entries, letters and documents ‘written’ by the novel’s central characters. Many of these texts relate to one another through their description of events and locations from each participant’s view point. My intention was to add information relating to temporality in order to enhance the experience of reading the novel, and to leave the body of text intact as in the original story.

My initial interest in “Dracula” was sparked by three essays I read whilst researching the horror genre. “Dracula” has been interpreted using a variety of literary theories and together they add rich layers to a well-crafted and enduring story. For example Stephen D. Arata [1] outlines the historical and cultural context the novel was written in. Breaking down elements of the genre and text he reveals the Victorian anxiety about the decline of the Empire and fear of the foreigner, the “Other”, which the Count represents. The different modes of writing and the fragmentary structure of the novel are also key to the theories surrounding “Dracula”.

Researching the history of the Gothic genre revealed a wealth of other literature that had influenced Stoker. Related to this line of enquiry was a detailed study of narratology, the branch of literary criticism that deals with the structure and function of narrative themes, conventions and symbols. The practical research included reviewing a range of editions of “Dracula” including the first edition from 1897, with its yellow cover and Victorian typography.

I selected chapter eight as the focus for the project because it exemplified the layering of voice, text and temporality. Count Dracula sails from the East to Whitby in the North of England. He generates a violent storm to drive the ship onto the beach, and taking the form of a large dog, he disappears into the night. The female protagonists, Mina Harker and her friend Lucy Westenra are staying in Whitby at this time.

The history and geography of this town are exploited by Bram Stoker in this chapter. He based the shipwreck on an actual event that happened off the coast of Whitby that was reported in a local newspaper. The Abbey, built on the east cliff overlooking the Esk and the town, and the steep stone steps leading to it, provide a powerful ‘realistic’ gothic backdrop for the development of the novel. The text was analysed in a number of ways; through the mapping of timelines, locations, characters and events. Visiting Whitby allowed me to test some of the timelines that appear in this chapter, for example how long it takes to run up the 199 steps to the Abbey.

Throughout the project the reoccurring question was: How many ways can time be shown? Early ideas involved photographing the sky at different times of the day. During the visit to Whitby the sky was photographed at hourly intervals in a particular direction, throughout a 24 hour period. From this initial starting point other, more graphic elements were developed. For example, a continuous strip of light blue to dark blue/black along the page edges represent day and night in relation to the narrative content of the text. In narrative theory this is known as text-time. This can be defined as the amount of lines or pages given over to a text or an event. It is a ‘spatial dimension’ [2]; it is the text itself. Another method of showing time was the development of a graphic notation system that pinpointed the temporal references within the text. Elements found in diaries were also integrated and a range of experiments in composition and form were conducted using combinations of these different elements.

One of the priorities in finishing the project was to keep it simple. The final outcome for the project comprised a slipcase containing a set of three books. Each book presents an alternative system for mapping the passing of time within this chapter of “Dracula”. Each book uses a common format, grid structure and typeface (Thesis, a large typeface family designed by Lucas de Groot). These formal decisions were worked through as part of the project. A wide range of papers and printing techniques were tested in order to evaluate the contrast between type, ground and the colour reproduction. The paper I selected for the slip case and covers are the same stock in different red hues. Red makes an obvious reference to blood, though the treatment of the covers is intentionally unexpressive; no imagery appears and the typography is understated. The three experiments are differentiated by the use of the different hues, and unified by the slipcase and simple treatment.


[1] Stephen D. Arata, “The Occidental Tourist”, in Ken Gelder (Ed.), “The Horror Reader”, Routledge, 2000.
[2] Shlomith Rimmon-Kenan, “Narrative Fiction: Contemporary Poetics”, Routledge, 1983, p16.

Read the complete essay here

Comments (1)

Es un proyecto con una investigación detrás realmente muy interesante. Por otra parte, la solución gráfica para mostrar la relación entre textos y los diferentes sucesos temporales es muy atractiva. ¡El resultado es excelente!

Hector C. Aspano

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