Abraham “Bram” Stoker (8 November 1847 – 20 April 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel “Dracula”. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.
LIFE AND CAREER
Stoker was born on 8 November 1847 at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, on the northside of Dublin, Ireland. His parents were Abraham Stoker (1799–1876), from Dublin, and Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley (1818–1901), who came from Ballyshannon, County Donegal. Stoker was the third of seven children. He graduated with honours in mathematics. He was auditor of the College Historical Society and president of the University Philosophical Society, where his first paper was on “Sensationalism in Fiction and Society”. He became the theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail and also wrote stories, and in 1872 “The Crystal Cup” was published by the London Society, followed by “The Chain of Destiny” in four parts in The Shamrock. In 1876, while a civil servant in Dublin, Stoker wrote a non-fiction book (The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland, published 1879), which remained a standard work .
In 1878 Stoker married Florence Balcombe, daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel James Balcombe of 1 Marino Crescent. She was a celebrated beauty whose former suitor was Oscar Wilde. Stoker had known Wilde from his student days, having proposed him for membership of the university’s Philosophical Society while he was president. The Stokers moved to London, where Stoker became acting manager and then business manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, London, a post he held for 27 years. On 31 December 1879, Bram and Florence’s only child was born, a son whom they christened Irving Noel Thornley Stoker.
The collaboration with Henry Irving was important for Stoker and through him he became involved in London’s high society, where he met James Abbott McNeill Whistler and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (to whom he was distantly related). Working for Irving, the most famous actor of his time, and managing one of the most successful theatres in London made Stoker a notable if busy man. He was dedicated to Irving and his memoirs show he idolised him. In London Stoker also met Hall Caine who became one of his closest friends – he dedicated “Dracula” to him.
After suffering a number of strokes, Stoker died at No. 26 St George’s Square on 20 April 1912. Some biographers attribute the cause of death to tertiary syphilis. He was cremated, and his ashes placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium.
Before writing “Dracula”, Stoker spent several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires. “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 his story, a skill he developed as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, it was considered a “straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life.
The original 541-page manuscript of Dracula, believed to have been lost, was found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania during the early 1980s. It included the typed manuscript with many corrections, 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 notes, “the most famous horror novel ever published, its title changed at the last minute.”
“The Un-Dead” was one of Stoker’s original titles for “Dracula”, and up until a few weeks before publication, the manuscript was titled simply The Un-Dead. Stoker’s Notes for “Dracula” show that the name of the count was originally “Count Wampyr”, but while doing research, Stoker became intrigued by the name “Dracula”, after reading William Wilkinson’s book “Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia with Political Observations Relative to Them” (London 1820), which he found in the Whitby Library, and consulted a number of times during visits to Whitby in the 1890s. The name Dracula was the patronym (Drăculea) of the descendants of Vlad II of Wallachia, who took the name “Dracul” after being invested in the Order of the Dragon in 1431. In the Romanian language, the word dracul (Romanian drac “dragon” + -ul “the”) can mean either “the dragon” or, especially in the present day, “the devil”.
Following the publication of “In Search of Dracula” by Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally in 1972, the supposed connections between the historical Transylvanian-born Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia and Bram Stoker’s fictional “Dracula” attracted popular attention. During his main reign (1456–1462), “Vlad the Impaler” is said to have killed from 40,000 to 100,000 European civilians (political rivals, criminals and anyone else he considered “useless to humanity”), mainly by using his favourite method of impaling them on a sharp pole. The main sources dealing with these events are records by Saxon settlers in neighbouring Transylvania, who had frequent clashes with Vlad III. Vlad III is revered as a folk hero by Romanians for driving off the invading Turks. His impaled victims are said to have included as many as 100,000 Ottoman Turks. These numbers are most likely exaggerated.
Historically, the name “Dracula” is derived from a secret fraternal order of knights called the Order of the Dragon, founded by Sigismund of Luxembourg (king of Hungary, Croatia and Bohemia, and Holy Roman Emperor) to uphold Christianity and defend the Empire against the Ottoman Turks. Vlad II Dracul, father of Vlad III, was admitted to the order around 1431 because of his bravery in fighting the Turks. From 1431 onward, Vlad II wore the emblem of the order and later, as ruler of Wallachia, his coinage bore the dragon symbol. The name Dracula means “Son of Dracul”.
The first film adaptation of “Dracula” was released in 1922 and was named “Nosferatu”. It was directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and starred Max Schreck as Count Orlock. Nosferatu was produced while Florence Stoker, Bram Stoker’s widow and literary executrix, was still alive. Represented by the attorneys of the British Incorporated Society of Authors, she eventually sued the filmmakers. Her chief legal complaint was that she had been neither asked for permission for the adaptation nor paid any royalty. The case dragged on for some years, with Mrs. Stoker demanding the destruction of the negative and all prints of the film. The suit was finally resolved in the widow’s favour in July 1925. Some copies of the film survived, however and the film has become well known. The first authorized film version of Dracula did not come about until almost a decade later when Universal Studios released Tod Browning’s “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi.
VAMPIRES IN THE MOVIES
Forget Edward and the Twilight Saga… Here are the most famous and dangerous vampires of all time. Grab your crucifix and holy water. You gonna need of them.