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BRAM STOKER by Barbara Belford


A Biography of the Author of Dracula

by Barbara Belford

Pub Date: April 10th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-41832-6
Publisher: Knopf

 A very, well, anemic account of the life of the man who wrote the ultimate vampire tale, from the biographer of Edwardian novelist Violet Hunt (1990). The thinness of this biography isn't totally Belford's fault: Bram Stoker cast himself in a supporting role to the innovative actor Henry Irving. Stoker, a tall, genial, redheaded Irishman (he married the woman who was Oscar Wilde's first love), served with great flair and efficiency as the actor's manager at the Lyceum Theatre. He venerated Irving, and the sorrow of his life was the egocentric actor's failure to acknowledge Stoker's role in his success. But the dearth of primary documentation about Stoker--even his journals seem to record Irving's doings more than his own-- force Belford to strain to work her subject into a narrative that centers heavily on Irving, his leading lady, Ellen Terry, and the theatrical life of the era. Belford ends up reading the author's life as a gloss on his one lasting work of fiction, dully tracing every element of the tale to some fact of Stoker's life: The great white mane of Stoker's other idol, Walt Whitman, becomes the white hair of Dracula; the safe where Stoker stored the Lyceum's financial records becomes the safe where Mina's typescript is locked away; Dracula himself is Irving, who sucked the life out of his ``servant'' with no recompense. Yet aside from Stoker's penchant for the occult and doppelgÑngers (the latter shared with his friend Mark Twain), the true sources of the novel in his creativity and emotions remain obscure. As for Dracula itself, it remains a conundrum of violation, rapacious desire, and death under the cloak of Victorian civility. It mirrors the fundamental conundrum of Stoker's life, as posed by a journalist of his time: How could this ``great shambling, good-natured overgrown boy'' have been the author of Dracula? Belford doesn't manage an answer. (87 photos and illustrations)