For All Hallows Eve I am writing about Whitby for its connection with Bram Stoker’s Dracula. This Gothic horror story was written in 1897, well outside my usual period, but the tale would have greatly appealed to readers of Gothic novels in the early part of the century and the ruins that inspired Stoker certainly had a spookily romantic effect on an earlier visitor.
Prince Hermann Ludwig Heinrich von Puckler-Muskau travelled extensively in England during his visits and left detailed diaries. In 1827 he found the little fishing town of Whitby picturesque, but dirty and “miserable”. He did admire the abbey “…now the property of some private individual…[whose] cattle feed among it mouldering walls” just as they do in William Daniell’s illustration (above) in his A Voyage Round the Coast of Great Britain…(1814).
von Puckler-Muskau visited the ruins of the abbey “..by the light of the young moon, and was enchanted by the romantic effect – lofty columns, darting up into the air like the slender trunks of pines; long rows of windows in good preservation, and many finely executed ornaments about them, still as perfect as if the wind of the first autumn now played among their ample arches. Other parts were quite altered and decayed, and many a frightful face lay scattered about, grinning at me in the moonlight.”
Perhaps it was those “frightful faces” that played on Bram Stoker’s imagination when he visited the abbey. Certainly its ruins, high on the cliff, would have been the first thing that was visible when the doomed ship bearing Count Dracula in his coffin full of Transylvanian earth sailed towards the coast. When it crashed to the shore the crew was found to be missing or dead and a great dog leapt ashore to vanish into the darkness…
Even in broad daylight the sight is impressive from the sea as I found earlier this year when I sailed into Whitby!