Carfax


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Carfax

(pop culture)

In Bram Stoker‘s novel Dracula, (1897) Carfax was a residence purchased by Dracula prior to his leaving his castle. The purpose of Jonathan Harker‘s visit to Transylvania at the beginning of the novel was to complete the transaction by which Dracula secured a somewhat secluded home for himself relatively close to London. (Other firms were employed to secure his London residences and carry out various business transactions. Thus, neither Harker nor any other single person would know more than a small portion of what Dracula was attempting to accomplish.) Carfax was a fictional estate of some 20 acres located by Stoker in Purfleet. While modern London has almost reached out to Purfleet, in the 1890s Purfleet was a secluded village some ten miles from the edge of London’s East End, on the northern side of the River Thames in Essex. Stoker described the estate as being surrounded by a high wall built of stone. It had been abandoned for some years and was in a state of decay. He continued, “There are many trees on it, which makes it in places gloomy, and there is a deep, dark-looking pond or small lake, evidently fed by some springs.” It was located adjacent to an old church on one side and a lunatic asylum (the one run by Dr. John Seward) on the other.

Dracula’s boxes of native soil were shipped from Whitby, where Dracula landed in England, to London. From there they were transported to Carfax. Carfax served as Dracula’s “headquarters” from which he launched his attacks upon Lucy Westenra, Mina Murray, and R. N. Renfield, the resident of the asylum next door. Later Dr. Abraham Van Helsing and the cadre of men dedicated to destroying Dracula entered Carfax and sanitized the boxes of earth with a eucharistic wafer thus rendering them useless.

In the rewritten script for Universal Pictures’ Dracula (1931) movie with Bela Lugosi, Carfax and the church next door were combined and called Carfax Abbey. That change seems to have been the idea of screenwriter Louis Bloomfield, who had been hired to rework the John L. Balderston version of the Hamilton Deane play, the basis of the movie’s script. Carfax “Abbey” initially appeared in the preliminary “First Treatment” submitted by Bloomfield to Carl Laemmle, Jr., at Universal, on August 7, 1930. That document was then rewritten by Bloomfield and Dudley Murphy, the first screenwriter assigned to the movie. Their work was finally revised by Garrett Fort. Bloomfield and Universal parted company, and his work was not acknowledged in the final credits for the film. However, the idea of Carfax Abbey continued through both the Murphy and Fort revisions into the final movie. From the movie, it passed into the popular culture and reappeared in later movies which relied more on Universal’s production than any rereading of the book.

Carfax, like Seward’s asylum, was pure fiction. As Leonard Wolf noted, there was a Carfax Road and a Carfax Square in London, but neither were near Purfleet. Raymond T. McNally and Radu Florescu seem to have confused Carfax estate and the later idea of Carfax Abbey and searched for a possible reference to the latter in Purfleet. Based on information supplied by Alan Davidson, they accepted the idea that Lesnes Abbey, originally founded in 1178 C.E., but on the opposite side of the Thames River from Purfleet, might have inspired Stoker’s Carfax. The Abbot’s House, part of the Lesnes complex later used as a manor house, still existed in the 1890s. However, if Lesnes Abbey (on the south side of the Thames) was the historical reference to Carfax, then there would be no reason for Dracula (as a bat) to fly south across the Thames (as he did in chapter 23).

Sources:

Riley, Philip J. Dracula (The Original 1931 Shooting Script). Atlantic City, NJ: MagicImage Film-books, 1990.
Stoker, Bram. The Annotated Dracula. Edited by Leonard Wolf. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975. 362 pp.
———. The Essential Dracula. Edited by Raymond McNally and Radu Florescu. New York: Mayflower, 1979. 320 pp.
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