Dracula is a late Victorian novel that created the enduring archetypal vampire and one of the most popular characters in literature. Yet, how much do you know about the Count and his creator Bram Stoker (1847-1912)? Here are ten fascinating facts.
10. Stoker the Dubliner:
Bram - short for Abraham - Stoker was born in 1847, in Clontarf, Dublin to parents who had come from the north west of Ireland. He graduated from Trinity College and became a civil servant, working for the Irish courts service for 13 years. Although he emigrated to London when he was in his thirties, he never lost his Irish accent.
9. Stoker’s mystery childhood illness:
For the first seven years of his life, Stoker suffered from a mystery illness which left him confined to bed and unable to walk. What caused this illness has been much speculated on but never solved. It meant that young Stoker was mostly in the company of his mother Charlotte who told him stories of her childhood in Sligo. Thankfully, Stoker was cured of his illness as he grew to adulthood. It had no lasting effects on him as he went on to become a champion rugby player and athlete in his college years.
8. Stoker the ‘blogger’:
When Stoker worked in Dublin castle he wrote theatre reviews for the newspapers in exchange for free tickets to the shows, a bit like a modern-day blogger. He was quite pioneering in that he introduced next-day theatre reviews to the Dublin papers for the first time.
7. Dracula could have been called The Undead:
It took Stoker seven years to write Dracula and during that time the working title for the novel was ‘The Undead’. It was changed by the publisher at the very last minute, just before publication in 1897.
4. Heroic doctors:
In Dracula, two of the heroes are doctors: Dr Van Helsing and his former student Dr Seward eventually lead the hunt to defeat Count Dracula. There has been much speculation that Stoker’s real-life brothers, both doctors, were the inspirations for these characters. Stoker’s older brother Sir Thornley Stoker was a successful neurosurgeon who served as president of the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland. Bram’s younger brother Dr George Stoker was a surgeon the British army who later became a pioneer in ozone therapy. It is apparent that Bram sought advice from his brothers on matters relating to medicine in his fiction.
3. Stoker’s invented the archetypal vampire:
Stoker’s novel Dracula was the book that certified the author’s place in literary history. There had been vampire stories and novels before, but it is in Dracula that the archetypal rituals surrounding vampires first appeared. For example, the bite on the neck that passes vampirism on to the victim and the use of garlic to repel a vampire attack were invented by Stoker. The inability of a vampire to reflect in a mirror, shapeshifting into a bat, the fear of running water and the cloak and protruding teeth of the vampire were also first used in the novel. The novel codified vampirism in a way that has profoundly influenced the horror genre ever since.
2. Stoker had a vampiric boss:
Bram Stoker moved to London to manage the Lyceum theatre, which was owned by a famous actor named Henry Irving. Stoker also managed Irving’s private life. Although Irving was narcissistic, self-absorbed and manipulative, Stoker hero-worshipped him. However, Irving’s exploitative work-demands meant that Stoker had to spend much time away from his own wife and family. It is widely assumed that Dracula was based on Irving, Stoker’s energy depleting boss.
1. The most successful literary character:
After it was published Dracula sold well, but by the time of Stoker’s death in 1912 it was nothing near as popular as now. After the novel was portrayed in film it became wildly successful, especially after the Hungarian actor Bela Lugosi gave the Count his distinctive look with red lined cape and slick black hair in the movie of 1931. Today, Dracula is the most portrayed movie character, having appeared in almost 300 films and inspired countless similar vampiric characters and stories.
This article by Sligo Dracula Society's Marion McGarry appeared on RTE Brainstorm October 30th 2018.
Many are unaware of the Irish origins of the creator of Dracula, the 1897 novel that codified vampirism and profoundly influenced the horror genre. The author Bram Stoker was born in Dublin and attended Trinity College and worked as a civil servant in Dublin castle. He moved to London in his thirties and never lost his Irish accent. Yet although middle-class, he was not shielded from the horrors that people living in nineteenth century Ireland often witnessed. It has long been suspected that he wove metaphors for these real-life revulsions into his famous novel which has been endlessly mined for metaphors ever since, especially in the context Stoker’s Irishness. It is possible to view the Count as Irish, or influenced by the Ireland of Stoker’s time, in many ways.
Below: page one of Charlotte Thornley Stoker's essay on Sligo's cholera epidemic.
Dracula and the Famine
Stoker’s parents saw at first hand the effects of many famines which wrought havoc on the Irish poor. Stoker himself was born in 1847 (known as Black ‘47), which was the very height of the Great Irish Famine when around a million people died of starvation and another million emigrated. The effects of the Famine were witnessed by all levels of society: Dr Daniel O’Donovan memorably wrote of seeing one of his emaciated patients "crawling" along the road to visit his dispensary "as if the grave had that moment vomited her forth".
The Famine period is one which was cloaked in shame for many Irish who became imbued with a sort of "survivor’s guilt" and silence on the subject. When Stoker moved to London, he may have incorporated such real-life disturbing imagery into Dracula.
Dracula and Sligo’s cholera epidemic
Stoker’s parents were from the north-west of Ireland and his mother Charlotte lived through the Sligo cholera epidemic of 1832. She wrote a credible account describing the disease which killed around 1,500 people in the small town in less than two months. She explained how people at that time believed cholera came from the sea and travelled overland like a mist, just like her son would later write of Count Dracula.
Charlotte witnessed people being "accidentally" buried alive in mass graves, along with other chilling events. She noted that the local catholic clergy seemed immune to the disease while continuing to tend to victims, with one priest armed with a horsewhip guarding cholera patients from murderous staff at the local infirmary. Charlotte’s essay has parallels to Dracula in so many ways that Count Dracula himself can be read as the personification of Sligo’s cholera epidemic.
Dracula and Irish landlords
Many see Stoker’s vampire as a metaphor for the absentee landlords of large estates in Ireland, whose poor management aggravated the Famine. Many of these were English and seen as a predatory plague on poor Irish peasants. Count Dracula is technically a landlord who buys many properties and, like them, he is a foreign intruder who plans to take over a native population with the contagion he carries.
Dracula and Parnell
Paradoxically, it has also been noted that the agitator for tenants’ rights Charles Stuart Parnell (1846 –1891), may also have influenced Stoker’s creation. Like Dracula summoning the "creatures of the night" to help him, the charismatic and influential Irish MP might potentially summon the Irish peasant masses to rise up in a febrile time of Land Wars and rural unrest.
Parnell supported the cause of Irish Home Rule (as did Stoker) and became known as the "uncrowned king of Ireland" because of his popularity. Naturally, he was disliked by the British establishment and was painted as the "Irish Vampire" by Punch in 1885. Dracula as both absentee landlord and Parnell is a testament to how the novel can be interpreted and ‘read’ in many different, often opposing ways.
Dracula and Irish folklore vampires
When Stoker lived in Dublin he frequented the home of Oscar Wilde’s parents, whose salons were a haven for enlightened discussion. The Wildes were well known for their knowledge of and interest in such Irish folklore topics as banshees, fairies, old magic and even vampires.
At one such gathering, Stoker may have heard the tale of Abhartach, the 5th century chieftain who kept coming back from the dead demanding a bowl of blood from his terrified people. They managed to finally slay Abhartach the vampire by stabbing him in the heart with a timber sword and burying him under a cairn of stones. The stones remain in Derry, the home county of Stoker’s father’s family.
Was Dracula's castle a metaphor for Dublin castle? The plot of Dracula involves a legal clerk imprisoned in a castle by what gradually is revealed to be a vampire. Stoker had a real-life experience of being trapped in a castle as he worked for 13 years in a government job as a legal clerk in Dublin Castle. As a creative soul, he found the job stiflingly boring with duties he would later describe as "dry as dust".To liven up his existence, Stoker wrote theatre reviews for the newspapers in exchange for free tickets to shows. This made him valuable connections in showbusiness and eventually allowed him to escape to a job in London managing the famous Lyceum theatre.
Yet Stoker never forgot his time in the castle. Legend has it he suffered nightmares while working there about "damned, headless corpses". It wasn’t until the late 20th century, and long after Stoker had died, that archaeologists excavating the foundations of Dublin castle would discover many decapitated skeletons from the medieval period buried beneath.