A Story with a Bite: Henrietta McKervey's 'A Talented Man'

Henrietta McKervey's book A Talented Man is set in January 1938, the story is about disillusioned author Ellis Spender who, struggling to stay ahead of his creditors, decides to forge a sequel to one of the most famous novels of all time: Bram Stoker's Dracula. Here Henrietta writes as Ellis Spender, giving us a insight into the Dracula era.
A Story with a Bite: Henrietta McKervey's 'A Talented Man'

Bram Stoker, author of 'Dracula'.  Photo: www.findmypast.ie/PA Wire N
Bram Stoker, author of 'Dracula'. Photo: www.findmypast.ie/PA Wire N

- Henrietta McKervey's book 'A Talented Man' is set in January 1938.

The story is about disillusioned author Ellis Spender who, struggling to stay ahead of his creditors, decides to forge a sequel to one of the most famous novels of all time: Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Here Henrietta writes as Ellis Spender, giving us an insight into the Dracula era.

'A Talented Man'

This article was first published in the London Literary Times, May 26th 1938

"The Mystery of The Un-dead’s Return To Life" by author Ellis Spender:

Readers may find it incredible that a dead man retains power over the living, yet today it is proven, for a long-forgotten sequel to Dracula is to be published twenty-six years after its author’s death.

Bram Stoker died believing his secret manuscript destroyed, but like a phoenix from the ashes, Count Dracula rises from the flames! The Un-Dead Count is a remarkable novel which will force a new reckoning with Stoker’s work and legacy.

A man of huge talent, Stoker died in 1912 having endured years of peevish sales and the wretched lack of interest shown in his novels by literary critics.

However, the intervening years have reckoned with him afresh: Dracula finally ascended to the heights it deserved thanks to wildly popular theatrical productions both here in London and in New York. Actor Bella Lugosi was an utter triumph in the role – three women fainted in fear on the first night alone!

A writer myself, I feel as though I have known Bram Stoker my entire life, yet never met him. My mother Virginia, her brother Freddie, and Stoker’s wife Florence were close friends since childhood.

I was not quite four when Stoker died, yet my mother spoke of him with such affection that I found myself believing I too knew him well enough to mourn his passing.

My single memory of the man is slight and flickering: mother and I were in St James’s Park, and I was pulling at her to hurry to the duckpond when we happened across Mrs Stoker pushing him, slumped and dazed following a series of strokes, in a Bath chair.

Bram Stoker
Bram Stoker

A decade earlier my late father, the renowned society artist Sir Sidney Spender painted Stoker’s portrait for a series called Greatest Theatrical Figures.

In his painting, Stoker is seated but kinetic, as though pushing his chair from the desk.

Bearded and broad-shouldered, his jacket strains across his strong chest and stomach. He fizzes with energy, as though desperate for liberation from the stillness of my father’s brush.

It is incredible to me that the ruined creature in the Bath chair and this vibrant man are one and the same in heart and brain; that only time has separated them. My mind snags on the impossibility of this truth.

For years antiquarian booksellers had heard rumours of a sequel to Dracula, but no-one had seen so much as a single sheet. Mrs Stoker sold his literary effects not long after this death, and there was no such manuscript among them. She died in May of last year.

However, my uncle the impresario Freddie Broughton – theatre-going readers will surely recognise his name! - recently moved to America, and while packing items he left behind for storage I uncovered a letter from Mrs Stoker referring to the possibility of a lost manuscript.

Her husband claimed to have burnt it, she noted, yet such rash action was entirely out of character. My imagination fired to life… a manuscript that may never have existed was missing! Why, such a puzzle would have confounded even Mrs Christie’s Poirot.

Yet scraps of clues existed, and in time these led me to the Lyceum Theatre. Sir Henry Irving and Stoker had turned the Lyceum into one of London’s foremost theatres, their partnership running for nearly thirty years. Stoker penned Dracula in his office during snatched breaks between shows.

A movie poster for the 1958 on-screen adaptation of Dracula
A movie poster for the 1958 on-screen adaptation of Dracula

But Stoker left the Lyceum four decades ago, leaving nothing behind. I explored nonetheless, in the company of a dear friend employed there.

Following a narrow, damp-smelling and windowless passage into the basement of the building, we found ourselves in his former office, a ghostly and lonely spot unworthy of its former occupant.

For decades, it has been nothing more than a forgotten junk-room housing an assortment of broken props and furniture. Mismatched chairs sat in front of an old-fashioned mahogany desk as though a ghostly meeting was in progress.

One grubby wall was lined with empty shelves and the plaster around the gas jets flaked and peeled. Dirty stuffing spilled from a torn and broken armchair. I searched nonetheless, exploring every inch - behind shelves, under the worn carpet… and then!

Trapped beneath a ream of mildewed paper I made the most incredible discovery: a thin sheaf of typewritten pages, marked up in Stoker’s distinctive hand.

A single chapter of The Un-Dead Count! It existed! I thought my heart would cease to beat as my trembling fingers turned each sheet, for in addition to his own persona, in this sequel Count Dracula also inhabits three creatures, each crueller and more vicious than the last: the first has the talons and strength of an eagle; the second the savagery of a wolf; the third the venom of a bat.

May 26 marked forty-one years since Stoker published Dracula, thus launching a villain unencumbered by morality upon the world.

The Count is an unforgettable incarnation of cruelty and malevolence. In fifty, a hundred years’ time, Dracula’s power will not have waned. How could it? His is the story of goodness reckoning with evil - the story of humankind.

But where did I uncover the rest of the remarkable tale The Un-Dead Count, readers may ask? Ah, that is the story of A Talented Man…

  • A Talented Man by Henrietta McKervey is published by Hachette Ireland, out now, €13.99.

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