Tucked into the mouth of the river Esk on Yorkshire’s rugged coast is the town of Whitby. It’s a place that many from outside of Great Britain might not have heard of, yet it is a place steeped in history and literature. It was, for example, the place from which Captain James Cook learned the ropes (literally and figuratively) as a merchant navy seaman. In fact, the ship on which he completed his first great voyage to the Pacific Ocean (1768-1771), HMS Endeavour, was originally a Whitby “Cat” collier (called the Earl of Pembroke). It is a town overlooked by the ruins of a once great Abbey that, in 664, hosted a synod called by King Oswiu of Northumbria, in order to set fast the rule that his kingdom would calculate Easter and observe the monastic tonsure according to the customs of Rome.
In terms of writing and literature, Whitby was the home to the first known Anglo Saxon monk, Cædmon, who resided at the Abbey during the abbacy of St Hilda (657–680). It was also visited by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, whilst the likes of Elizabeth Gaskell, Lewis Carroll and G.P. Taylor all used it within works of fiction and short stories. And most famously of all, in terms of literature, it was in part the inspiration of, and setting for, Bram Stroker’s masterpiece of Gothic fiction (although arguably, it is far more than that): Dracula.
All of which acts as a long way of introducing the latest public build by Hera (zee9): Whitby: Birth of Dracula, opened as a part of the Halloween season in Second Life, and which is reached via her “Neverland X” landing point, sharing the space with the teleport to Drune Gotham, which I wrote about in September 2021. Now, given I am a huge fan of Hera’s work (and oft wish my photographs could do it real justice), when I say this is yet another superb build, some might opt to see my words as fangirl fussing. However, as one explores Whitby: Birth of Dracula, slowing peeling open its layers of composition, then it becomes obvious that it really has been cleverly brought into being.
The first thing to note about the setting is that it is not intended as a representation of Whitby past or present. Nor is it entirely the Whitby glimpsed through the pages of Stoker’s novel. Rather, it is a rich melding of elements, from the actual locations that feature in the story and are present in Whitby to this day, to representations of the things that are said to have influenced his ideas for the story and elements of Victorian life with which he would have been familiar, through to interpretations as to how Stoker might have imagined scenes from his story as he walked through Whitby’s streets, attempting to thresh out the tale he’d been working on since well before taking a family holiday to the town.
Thus it is that visitors arriving in the setting (DO make sure you have your viewer set to Use Shared Environment via World → Environment) find themselves on the east bank of the river Esk, a stylised version of Whitby’s waterfront hugging the feet of the coastal hills behind. Caught in a brooding night, these streets offer clever little points of interest for those who walk them. There is the bookshop, for example, displaying a large volume on Vlad the Impaler, a touch that evokes both the idea (now regarded by scholars as mistaken), that the character of Dracula was inspired by the infamous Wallachian prince, and the reality that Stoker first came across the name “Dracula” whilst perusing Whitby’s library. Across the street sits a tavern – pubs being very common in Whitby, it being a sailor’s town – that both suggests a place with Stoker himself might have partaken the odd tipple and a place where, within the novel, rumours of night terrors might be softly spoken by frightened townsfolk.
Further along the streets visitor will come across the place of business of Madame Blavatsky, offering both funeral services and occult / spiritual services. It offers a clever linking of many of the underpinning themes within Stoker’s novel on matters of religion, life, death, and afterlife with the life and work of Madame Helen Blavatsky. Whist Stoker may not have met her, her thinking did much to elevate matters of the occult, spiritualism and life and death amongst Victorians, which may also have influenced his writing.
Then there are the famous Whitby steps. While the ones within this setting may not count 199, they do wind up to the headland where sits Hera’s interpretation of both St. Mary’s Church and the ruins of the Abbey that formed such a backdrop to Stoker’s tale. The church, carefully aligned east-to-west, as one would expect, is furnished within and sits with gravestones without. The real St. Mary’s offered further inspiration for Stoker; whilst walking through the graveyard, he came upon a headstone bearing the name “Swales”, which in turn became the name of Dracula’s first victim, after he came ashore at Whitby thanks to the ship he was travelling board ran aground close to the town’s East Cliffs.
The wrecking of Dracula’s ship within the novel actually draws upon a piece of local legend from Stoker’s time: the beaching of the Russian vessel Dmitri. Within Whitby: birth of Dracula, Hera directly references Dracula’s arrival, a sailing vessel lying aground just off the headland, bloody bodies of her crew on her decks, victims of his insatiable appetite, and her precious (to Dracula, at least) cargo still in her hold.
Up on the headland is a further building, representing the manor house said to have been erected in the 1500s in part using stone from the ruins of the Abbey (which fell to the Danes in a series of raids along the coast between 867-870). Here, the building is offered as a combination of potential settings from the book. The hearse and gargoyles to the front suggest it is the place of shelter for Dracula, as do some of the pictures on the walls inside. However, the interior with its large, uncurtained conservatory, mirrored washrooms and comfortable bedrooms, perhaps also suggest it to be the house in which Mrs. Westenra, her daughter Lucy and Lucy’s friend Mina stay whilst holidaying in Whitby; whilst the placement of certain items on tables and within carry cases suggest it might also represent the living quarters for Dr. John Seward at his asylum, the place from which he, Harker and others used to execute their hunting of the vampire under the guidance of Professor Abraham Van Helsing.
To the rear of this house is a garden that extends out to a crypt. This offers further echoes of Dracula, although the glass coffin within the tomb itself is perhaps suggestive of the resting place for fair Lucy, after her being turned, but before her final fate befell her after death. Or, perhaps, it is presented as a place for Mina, once her fate is sealed (unless Dracula is first killed).
And therein lies the magic of Whitby: birth of Dracula. Just is the novel has no singular protagonist, but is instead presented as an epistolary novel, speaking with multiple voices, so does Hera’s setting speak in many voices, each whispering a different interpretation of the places we come across whilst visiting, with some telling the story in their own words and those telling a broader tale of Stoker’s relationship with the town. Different they may be, but together they nevertheless offer the harmony of a setting that perfectly encapsulates the atmospheric essence of Stoker’s novel whilst living our imaginations free to call forth all of the characters within its pages – and even Stoker himself as he vacated in the quiet town of Whitby in the 1980s.
- Neverland X Landing Point (Cloud Lake, rated Adult)