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What’s Up With the Epigraph?

Epigraphs are like little appetizers to the great entrée of a story. They illuminate important aspects of the story, and they get us headed in the right direction.

"How these papers have been placed in sequence will be made manifest in the reading of them. All needless matters have been eliminated, so that a history almost at variance with the possibilities of later-day belief may stand forth as simple fact. There is throughout no statement of past things wherein memory may err, for all the records chosen are exactly contemporary, given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them."

This isn't an "epigraph," per se, but it stands as a prefatory remark on the text that we should probably talk about. The novel, Dracula, is composed of a series of first-person journals, letters, and statements, which means there are multiple narrators, and multiple points of view are represented. Stoker's prefatory statement explains this, and insists that the only "editing" that has been done is to cross out anything that isn't relevant to the story. All the journals and letters, otherwise, are exactly as they were originally written.

Obviously, the reader realizes that the entire book is a fictional composition of Stoker's imagination. But this little prefatory remark is there to give us a sense that we're reading non-fiction – that these are legitimate manuscripts, and that we are going to read them and judge for ourselves. Stoker got the idea, both for the style of composing a novel in the form of multiple first-person narratives, and for including a prefatory statement like this, from an earlier British novelist, Wilkie Collins, who pioneered the style in his popular novels, like The Woman in White and The Moonstone. What do you think of the prefatory remark? Even though you know it's fiction, does Stoker's claim that the manuscripts are legitimate change the way you approach the novel?

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