The first edition of Dracula by Bram Stoker became a horror sensation when it was published in 01897. Now, Matt Kirkland's Dracula Daily explores the temporal dimension of the story.

Dracula in Real Time

A new adaptation of Bram Stoker's horror classic turns the story into a six-month-long journey, playing with our expectations and time itself.

In certain corners of the internet, the hottest, most-talked-about piece of pop culture currently out there isn’t a recent Marvel blockbuster, a hyped-up crypto-art collection, or the latest album by a global pop superstar. It’s a novel from more than a century ago —  a story you’re probably familiar with from either high school required reading lists or its outsize impact on broader pop culture.

Yes, the most popular creative work on sites like Tumblr right now is none other than Dracula, Bram Stoker’s 01897 horror novel that invented the vampire story as we know it today. The recent resurgence in popularity of the book, which has been in the public domain since 01962, fifty years after Stoker’s death in 01912, can be attributed to Dracula Daily, a project by web designer Matt Kirkland that reimagines the text of the novel as a series of newsletter issues sent out via the newsletter service Substack.

In doing so, Dracula Daily plays with time, our cultural memory, and the very structure of the novel itself. In its original form, Dracula is an epistolary novel, consisting of letters, diary entries, and newspaper articles, written from the perspectives of a rotating cast of viewpoint characters and — most importantly for Kirkland’s project —  all with dates attached. As its name suggests, Dracula Daily allows readers to read the story in “real time,” from Jonathan Harker’s first missive, sent out on May 3, to the story’s climax on November 6. The book is transformed into a sort of long-term art project —  perhaps not on the scale of John Cage’s As Slow as Possible, which is currently unfolding over the course of more than 600 years in a church in Germany, but over a six-month scale that cleverly subverts the original text’s status as the foundational page-turners of horror literature.

Others have similarly serialized Dracula before.  Whitney Sorrow, a blogger and book-maker, used Blogspot for her (aptly-titled) Dracula Feed in 02009. The first American publication of the story was also in serialized form, as was common with novels of the nineteenth century and prior, although the Chicago Inter-Ocean, which published the novel between May and June of 01899, did not adhere to the novel’s dates in the way that more modern serializations do.

A typical Dracula Daily entry.

Kirkland ran Dracula Daily once last year prior to this year’s iteration, attracting an audience of just under 2,000 readers. The following for this year’s iteration has grown to more than one hundred times that size, with the associated tag trending on Tumblr in early May 02022 higher than topics like the Eurovision Song Contest and Dr. Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, the highest-grossing movie at the global box office for the weekend of May 6-8th, 02022.

Dracula Daily isn’t the first work by Kirkland, a self-described “huge Long Now fan”, to play with time and ephemerality in interesting ways. From 02011 to 02017, he “paleo-blogged” the essays of English writer Samuel Johnson 260 years after they first appeared, in a similar faux-real-time structure to Dracula Daily. In 02015, he launched Dumb Cuneiform, a service that offered to turn tweets, texts, and other bits of fleeting, “useless” communication into clay tablets, their text transliterated into Old Persian script circa 00500 BCE.

While these works were not made as intentional companion pieces, Kirkland noted in conversation with Long Now that he appreciates  “the sense of the past being different, but also just as rich and real as the present.” Dumb Cuneiform in particular “came out of learning that most cuneiform tablets are pretty banal — receipts, notes, bookkeeping,” with the project asking: “What would it look like if today’s ephemeral notes got frozen in time and fast-forwarded 3,000 years?”

The fan attention paid to Dracula Daily is remarkable. When asked, Kirkland can only guess why people have been fascinated by the project. He proposes that the “gap between ‘vampire cliche’ and ‘actual Dracula’” driven by Dracula’s long cultural legacy may play a role, as well as the communal nature of reading the text via newsletter and the sense that Dracula Daily gives a prospective reader “permission to experience a cultural work for the first time, without feeling like you’re late to the party.”

The project stretches Dracula out into a literary version of slow cinema —  the contemplative, real-time productions pioneered by Andy Warhol, whose Sleep (01964) featured poet John Giorno sleeping for 320 minutes, and made into a national pastime by Norwegian broadcasters, who in the late 2000s began airing complete cross-country train journeys and coastal cruises in full over the course of hours and even days.

By extending the experience of Dracula to half a year’s worth of reading time, Kirkland has allowed Dracula Daily’s fans to appreciate parts of the story that might otherwise be swept up in the rush of the story’s gothic horror. Where the original form of Dracula may seem cliché, a victim of its own success and omnipresence in pop culture, reading Dracula in slow, serialized form allows one to see its skillful storytelling anew. By slowing down the reading experience, Kirkland has observed that “shorter passages and delays” within Dracula’s text “give people time to read really closely.” These delays create an additional layer of suspense in each individual moment of waiting even if you know the broader arc of Stoker’s tale.

As of the publication of this article, Dracula Daily is only three weeks into its six month run —  there’s plenty of time to catch up to the newsletter. In addition to seeing the story through to its conclusion, Kirkland is working on a slew of other projects: a new edition of The Swiss Family Robinson (01812), a few local design projects, and a short story “in a cool format” that he couldn’t tell Long Now much more about.

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