I traveled to Dublin last week for Spring Break (read my first post on library-hopping in Dublin), and decided to make this my first literary-themed vacation when I found out I was visiting a UNESCO City of Literature. Previously, I wrote about my top 3 favorite libraries, but I spoke too soon – for, on my last day there, I had the absolute most amazing experience at Marsh’s Library, the first public library in Dublin established in the early 18th century.
The building is hidden beyond an alleyway of gorgeous greenery (even more beautiful in the spring), and hides in the shadow of the magnificent St. Patrick’s cathedral, which is steps away. So it doesn’t get many visitors, and the majority of those who tread up the steps decide not to pay the €3 entrance fee when they arrive. Which was a boon for me, because I got the librarians all to myself.
And WOW – just WOW. I had the pleasure of speaking with the curator of the current exhibition (The Rising Centennial Celebratory theme of course, as pretty much everything else in Dublin last week – ‘1916: Tales from the Other Side‘) as well as with two other librarians, and they welcomed me with open arms. They seemed so excited to answer questions about their collection, about the Rising, book preservation, Bram Stoker* (him, they brought up; but I’m Romanian so I have my own strong opinions on the matter, which of course got us going for another bit). And the experience was that of attending a more-or-less-free (private!) seminar from some of the best librarians in Ireland (1-3 student-teacher ratio! I’ll probably never see that again). A quite eclectic, quirky, and fascinating lesson that covered everything from how urine was used to tan the leather covers of most books in the collection to how the buildings and some books were bullet-ridden after the 1916 rising because of their proximity to a rebel stronghold – the Ireland National Archives.
All other libraries I visited and named in my prior post are, in retrospect, more like museums, at least for casual visitors like myself. But Marsh’s Library is such intimate a setting. Real live learned librarians are there on-site (unlike at the others), and their job/ passion seems to be solely to educate and to get people excited about bookish things. Which, if you’re into that, is the best €3 you will spend in Dublin (much more worth it than the €10 fee that you pay at the Trinity Library – which covers simply a moment’s worth of breathtaking beauty and some quick pictures that of course fail to capture the surreal magnificence of the place).
What I learned about Dracula and how I made my peace with Bram Stoker: Ah, Dracula, one of my favorite ranting topics. Let’s see how short I can keep this. He’s based on a historical figure, Vlad Țepeș (born 1431 in Sighișoara, Romania – pictured to the left, one of the places I visit each time I go home, and not the location of the now tourist-trap attraction “Dracula’s Castle”). But there was very little, if any, oral tradition or history of stories about vampirism in Romania.
The legend was created by Stoker from afar (he never traveled to Transylvania), as he spent spooky nights alone in Marsh’s library amongst urine-soaked books, writing tales of imagined horrors in an exotic, backwards, far-away land. It is said, if you believe in such things, that Marsh’s library is haunted. It’s easy enough to understand why, at a dark and dreary hour, with nothing but a candle for company, one may experience such emotions in this place (stunning by daylight, certainly, but also in retrospect, could pass as the set of The Ninth Gate…)
Still, I couldn’t begrudge Stoker much as a guest in his writing corner of Marsh’s Library. Already, my Dracula-grudge wasn’t seriously tethered to any strongly held anger, it’s always been one of principle (why just randomly pick Romania as the most “backwards” like setting you can think of? Oh well. Romania doesn’t even get the worst of how Westerners have depicted ‘others’ so I shouldn’t complain).
I won’t become an apologist for Stoker and say that, whatever, he was just following tradition and picked the next ‘unknown-to-the-West’ place that hadn’t been written about yet. But I can definitively say that I’m now over whatever personal distaste I held for the man, and that feelings of overwhelming tenderness and appreciation for Irish history and literary traditions have fully replaced prior negative vampiric associations.