Monday, August 9, 2010

A Strange and Macabre Collection, From Bram Stoker's "Lair of the White Worm," 1911

...He had, in Castra Regis, a large collection of curious and interesting things formed in the past by his forebears, of similar tastes to his own. There were all sorts of strange anthropological specimens, both old and new, which had been collected through various travels in strange places: ancient Egyptian relics from tombs and mummies; curios from Australia, New Zealand, and the South Seas; idols and images--from Tartar ikons to ancient Egyptian, Persian, and Indian objects of worship; objects of death and torture of American Indians; and, above all, a vast collection of lethal weapons of every kind and from every place--Chinese "high pinders," double knives, Afghan double-edged scimitars made to cut a body in two, heavy knives from all the Eastern countries, ghost daggers from Thibet, the terrible kukri of the Ghourka and other hill tribes of India, assassins' weapons from Italy and Spain, even the knife which was formerly carried by the slave-drivers of the Mississippi region. Death and pain of every kind were fully represented in that gruesome collection.

That it had a fascination for Oolanga goes without saying. He was never tired of visiting the museum in the tower, and spent endless hours in inspecting the exhibits, till he was thoroughly familiar with every detail of all of them. He asked permission to clean and polish and sharpen them--a favour which was readily granted. In addition to the above objects, there were many things of a kind to awaken human fear. Stuffed serpents of the most objectionable and horrid kind; giant insects from the tropics, fearsome in every detail; fishes and crustaceans covered with weird spikes; dried octopuses of great size. Other things, too, there were, not less deadly though seemingly innocuous--dried fungi, traps intended for birds, beasts, fishes, reptiles, and insects; machines which could produce pain of any kind and degree, and the only mercy of which was the power of producing speedy death....
This quotation is drawn from chapter 11--entitled "Mesmer's Chest"--of Bram Stoker's 1911 publication Lair of the White Worm which went on to inspire Ken Russell's suitably over-the-top film of the same name.

You can read this book in its entirety by clicking here. You can purchase a print copy by clicking here. You can find out more about the film by clicking here. You can also come visit my copy of Lair of the White Worm at the Morbid Anatomy Library, where it resides in the "gothic" section.

The image you see above is sourced from the exhibition catalog Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins which was published to accompany an exhibition held last year at the Frankfurt museum Schirn. The photo is captioned: "View into the Zoological and Anthropological section of Gabriel von Max's 'Scientific Collection,' circa 1892." To check out (and purchase) the catalog for the exhibition (highly HIGHLY recommended!) click here. To watch musician/performance artist Momus (!!!) giving a tour of the exhibition--including the installation of the von Max collection--click here. For a more traditional walk through the exhibition, click here.

Special thanks to Christine Edmonson of the Cleveland Museum of Art for turning me onto this wonderful book and exhibition.

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