The Irish author Bram Stoker would be 170 years old today, a respectable age approaching that of his most famous creation, the alpha vampire Count Dracula. Published in 1897, the novel ‘Dracula’ would eventually be counted as one of the greatest gothic novels ever, on a par with Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ or Radcliffe’s ‘The Mysteries of Udolpho’.
So it was a delightfully dark pleasure to attend a discussion of the man himself by his great grand-nephew, Dacre Stoker. Dacre has committed to extensive investigation of his famous relative’s life and career and I am grateful to Northumbria University for accommodating him during his tour, lecturing on Bram Stoker and making available his latest book Dracula: The Un-dead.
Dacre, a Canadian-American, speaks with confidence, charisma and a treasure trove of trivia from Bram’s life. He has scoured the globe for written relics from the creation of Dracula, as well as evidence of the life outside writing his great grand-uncle led. He even tailored his presentation to acknowledge the Newcastle connection!
— EngLitCW Northumbria (@EnglitCWNU) November 7, 2017
I learned much I did not know about the author, such as his illness-haunted childhood which may have been treated with the Victorian vogue for ‘bloodletting’ followed by claret to ‘restore the blood’. When one considers the imbibing of the vital fluid by the Count and the following mental trauma described in the novel, it’s hard to discount the influence this must have had.
The sober and responsible Stoker worked for some time in the Petty Sessions at Dublin Castle, and compiled a manual of the duties for this low-tier court process which remained the handbook until as recently as the 1960s, an odd accolade for a writer more associated with the Count than the Court!
I was amazed at the associations Stoker had made, from Oscar Wilde – a past suitor of his wife Florence – to Arthur Conan Doyle, who praised the novel in a letter. He visited America, visited the White House twice, met Walt Whitman and lived next-door to Mark Twain, even working as the American writer’s agent for a time.
It could perhaps be the influence of Sherlock Holmes’ creator, who resurrected the Great Detective for sequels ten years after ‘killing’ him, that influenced Bram Stoker to amend the original ending of Dracula. The manuscript has a whole lengthy paragraph – scored through – that relates to the Count’s castle, inhabitants and all, sinking into a violent volcanic eruption.
In the revised version, Dracula is dispatched to a pile of dust by the application of steel blades. As any vampire aficionado knows, only stakes or sunlight can permanently fell a blood-sucker – so Stoker insured the Count could return to threaten humanity again!
An opportunity seized by his descendant Dacre, whose new novel now rests on my teetering ‘In’ pile of books to be read. I’ll be sure to include a review once complete on my blog, but in the mean-time I encourage any fan of Dracula, Bram Stoker and gothic fiction to attend one of Dacre Stoker’s illuminating, amusing and eerie presentations on a giant of literary fiction.
My thanks again to Dacre, his UK agent Kirstin, and Northumbria University academics Dr Mel Waters and Dr Claire Nally for a very enjoyable evening.