Who is Bram Stoker?
Abraham Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) was an Irish author, best known today for his 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as the personal assistant of actor Sir Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre, which Irving owned. Before writing Dracula, Stoker worked as a theatre critic for an Irish newspaper and wrote stories. He married Florence Balcombe and had one child with her. Stoker also enjoyed travelling, particularly to Cruden Bay where he set two of his novels. In travelling, Stoker went to the English coastal town of Whitby which, in part, inspired his famous work Dracula. He died on 20 April, 1912 of “Locomotor ataxia 6 months” and was then cremated.
Stoker visited the English coastal town of Whitby in 1890, and that visit was said to be part of the inspiration for Dracula. He began writing novels while working as manager for Irving and secretary and director of London’s Lyceum Theatre, beginning with The Snake’s Pass in 1890 and Dracula in 1897. During this period, Stoker was part of the literary staff of The Daily Telegraph in London, and he wrote other fiction, including the horror novels The Lady of the Shroud (1909) and The Lair of the White Worm (1911). He published his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving in 1906, after Irving’s death, which proved successful, and managed productions at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
Before writing Dracula, Stoker met Ármin Vámbéry, a Hungarian-Jewish writer and traveller (born in Szent-György, Kingdom of Hungary now Svätý Jur, Slovakia). Dracula likely emerged from Vámbéry’s dark stories of the Carpathian mountains. However this claim has been challenged by many including Elizabeth Miller, a professor who, since 1990, has had as her major field of research and writing Dracula, and its author, sources, and influences. She has stated, “The only comment about the subject matter of the talk was that Vambery ‘spoke loudly against Russian aggression.'” There had been nothing in their conversations about the “tales of the terrible Dracula” that are supposed to have “inspired Stoker to equate his vampire-protagonist with the long-dead tyrant.” At any rate, by this time, Stoker’s novel was well underway, and he was already using the name Dracula for his vampire. Stoker then spent several years researching Central and East European folklore and mythological stories of vampires.
The 1972 book In Search of Dracula by Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally claimed that the Count in Stoker’s novel was based on Vlad III Dracula. However, according to Elizabeth Miller, Stoker borrowed only the name and “scraps of miscellaneous information” about Romanian history; further, there are no comments about Vlad III in the author’s working notes.
Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic but completely fictional diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which added a level of detailed realism to the story, a skill which Stoker had developed as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, Dracula was considered a “straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life. “It gave form to a universal fantasy … and became a part of popular culture.”
Stoker was a deeply private man, but his almost sexless marriage, his admiration of Walt Whitman, Henry Irving, Hall Caine, and Oscar Wilde, as well as the perceived homoerotic aspects of Dracula, have led to scholarly speculation that he was a repressed homosexual who used his fiction as an outlet for his sexual frustrations. In 1912, he demanded imprisonment of all homosexual authors in Britain: it has been suggested that this was to disguise his own vulnerability.
According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Stoker’s stories are today included in the categories of horror fiction, romanticized Gothic stories, and melodrama. They are classified alongside other works of popular fiction, such as Mary Shelley‘s Frankenstein, which also used the myth-making and story-telling method of having multiple narrators telling the same tale from different perspectives. According to historian Jules Zanger, this leads the reader to the assumption that “they can’t all be lying”.
The original 541-page typescript of Dracula was believed to have been lost until it was found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. It consisted of typed sheets with many emendations, and handwritten on the title page was “THE UN-DEAD.” The author’s name was shown at the bottom as Bram Stoker. Author Robert Latham remarked: “the most famous horror novel ever published, its title changed at the last minute.” The typescript was purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
Stoker’s inspirations for the story, in addition to Whitby, may have included a visit to Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, a visit to the crypts of St. Michan’s Church in Dublin, and the novella Carmilla by Sheridan Le Fanu.
Stoker’s original research notes for the novel are kept by the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. A facsimile edition of the notes was created by Elizabeth Miller and Robert Eighteen-Bisang in 1998.