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Covering for Dracula

I have five different editions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, each one of which I treasure and pick up according to the mood I’m in — and depending on whom I’m showing them (off) to, writes Indrajit Hazra.

india Updated: Jul 12, 2008 22:25 IST

I also judge a book by its covers. Apart from the image that lies right on top of a book that decides whether I pick it up and read it, I also find pleasure in possessing good multiple book covers of the same book — which, of course, means picking up the same book many times.

I have five different editions of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, each one of which I treasure and pick up according to the mood I’m in — and depending on whom I’m showing them (off) to. If it’s someone with a literary bent of mind, then out comes my Broadway Press edition. The cover shows a bearded man with a Victorian top hat and a face that is a pool of shadow, sitting in the background and looking on at the blurred shape of two hyperactive Victorian girls in skirts. Nothing overtly suggesting a bloodsucking count in this image. The black and white 1862 photo titled ‘Visitors to the International Exhibition, London’, gently suggests the tale of a predatory gent lying inside the pages of the book.

Then there is one of the multiple Penguin Classic editions with Edward Munch’s painting ‘The Vampire’ on the cover. While Munch’s painting might sound like the most obvious image to have, it isn’t. It shows a woman with flaming red hair bent over a man who seems to be taking solace in her embrace. Visually, the red hair echoes rivulets of blood. But the usual positioning of a (male) vampire riveted to a (female) neck is overturned. It seems that it is the lady who has gone for the man’s jugular. Munch’s painting and its title refer to the betrayer of love in whose arms the man now lies crumpled. This cover is perfect for arty moments of reading Stoker’s erotically charged love story.

Then there’s the fun cover of the same book — the Penguin Popular Classics edition of Dracula that shows a still from the 1931 horror movie: Bela Lugosi as the Count with his Halloween cape’n’slick combed back hair combo is carrying a petite blonde who is riveted to his hypnotic eyes. There’s an element of slapstick as Lugosi looks more startled than the girl whose neck will be punctured. Dracula’s victim, clearly plucked out from her bed, has her high heels visibly intact. This is the edition I take out for those fun moments when I read out lines to my friends like: “I felt in my heart a wicked, burning desire that they would kiss me with those red lips. It is not good to note this down, lest some day it should meet Mina’s eyes and cause her pain, but it is the truth.”

I also like the Vintage Classic edition of Dracula that I have, with its simple blotchmarks of blood on its otherwise stark cover. This is perhaps the most stylish cover of the lot.

Another Penguin Classic Dracula I have is for my theatre-cinema friends. It shows a close-up of Victorian bushy eyebrowed stage actor Henry Irving as Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, looking remarkably like Christopher Lee, who in the next century would become the most recognisable actor to play Dracula (and later, Jinnah).

But the one edition of the book I don’t have and would like to possess is the not-easily-available Penguin Classics edition (with the same introduction and notes by Maurice Hindle as the editions with the ‘Munch painting’ and ‘Henry Irving’ covers) that has the drawing of French Symbolist painter Albert Pénot. It shows a voluptuous woman without a stitch of clothes with one leg raised like a gymnast before a floor exercise somersault and both her hands raised like Halle Berry in Catwoman. Interestingly, she has bat wings — and thus the title of the painting, ‘Bat-Woman’. It’s kitschy. But with her anti-gravity features and black hair trailing like a wisp of chimney smoke, there’s something alluring about this cover image.

All this sounds oh-so esoteric and is. But do take a look at the cover of a book released on Thursday. The cover of Left Stand On the Nuclear Deal: Notes Exchanged in the UPA-Left Committee on the India-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation has a staggeringly bad cover. Bare tacky lettering trying to project some kind of Spartan aesthetics.It’s just plain ugly. So I’ll never read the book. My loss.