Prose Travel

Bram Stoker and the Genius Loci of Whitby Abbey

As a teenager I went through a Clark Ashton Smith phase. Smith wrote fantasy horror stories like his friend H.P. Lovecraft and employed an ornate vocabulary. Being foxed by his vocabulary  forced me to learn the meaning of words such as ‘atavistic’ and ‘gibbous’. One of his collections was called Genius Loci and other tales. I had to look up Genius Loci too, and found the idea of a spirit of a place established itself in my head. It gave the name to spooked feeling I regularly used to experience in my grandmother’s 16th century granite cottage in Guernsey.

I’m just back from a family break in Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast, in preparation I’d been rereading Dracula by Bram Stoker. Stoker stayed in Whitby in 1890, and enjoyed the ruined Abbey and set some of the action of his famous novel there. Count Dracula, in the form of a werewolfish black dog, leaps ashore from a wrecked Russian ship, Demeter, to wreak chaos in the town. Visiting Whitby Abbey, it’s easy to see how the genius loci of the place might touch an author planning a horror classic. I loved Whitby. It’s well worth a visit.

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