By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 6 2020 02:00PM
Making a mistake in print, and being forced to acknowledge it publicly in the corrections column: It’s every journalist’s nightmare. And it’s happened to all of us. In my time, I have misspelled names, mixed up business deals, miscalculated sums, misstated a legal ruling. . . (Ugh. Do I have to keep going? Just thinking about it puts knots in my stomach.)
So I empathized late last month when the New York Times was forced to acknowledge a truly embarrassing mistake: “In an earlier version of this article, . . . the author of ‘Dracula’ was incorrect. He is Bram Stoker, not Jane Austen.”
OK, it’s also pretty funny.
The article in question was one of the Times’ much-loved Vows features, which describe the love story and wedding of a newly married couple. This time, the happy pair were actress/playwright Kate Hamill, whose madcap theatrical adaptations of Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice have been widely produced; and actor Jason O’Connell, who played Mr. Darcy to her Elizabeth Bennet in the New York premiere of her P&P.
Hamill’s newest project is an adaptation of Dracula, but given her success with Austen, it’s perhaps not surprising that a reporter, working quickly, might have experienced a momentary brain freeze. (In the olden days, before the Times shrank its copyediting staff, this kind of thing would likely have been caught before it made it into print, or – as in this case – onto the web. But we NYT aficionados have been complaining about the detectable increase in sloppiness for awhile now.)
Still, the error does encourage us to reflect upon the ways in which Dracula already resembles an Austen novel. It begins with a naïve visitor journeying to a house that holds unsuspected horrors: here, Jonathan Harker; in Austen, Catherine Morland. It continues with an unpleasant extended house party involving encounters with blood-sucking harpies and a strangely aloof host: Jonathan Harker at the Count’s castle, or Elizabeth Bennet at Netherfield.
Later on there’s a young woman ruined by a predatory male (Lucy Westenra, the Elizas in Sense and Sensibility); a virtuous woman torn between a safe, dull suitor and a dangerous, exciting demon lover (Mina Harker, Fanny Price); a desperate struggle over real estate (the Count’s acquisition of safehouses in England, the Dashwoods’ search for a new place to live) and a hapless patient with an attachment to his doctor and odd tastes in food (Renfield and his bugs, Mr. Woodhouse and his gruel).
I won’t get into how the climactic stake through the heart can be equated to the marriages that end Austen’s novels. We’ll leave that one to Dr. Freud’s Vows column.