For our previous column, we looked broadly at the evolution of the Vampire novel, from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Christabel to Stephanie Meyer's more recent Twilight series. Yet, despite the number of novels in the subgenre, there's one that consistently stands out above the pack: Bram Stoker's Dracula.
Abraham Stoker was born on November 8th, 1847 in Dublin, Ireland. The first seven years of his life were defined by a crippling illness that left him bedridden. Throughout the experience, he was privately tutored and was read Irish folk stories by his mother, undoubtedly imparting his interest in the fantastic. Completely recovered by the age of nine, he went on to attend the University of Dublin in 1864; upon graduating, he began writing on theater for the Dublin Evening Mail. Through this work, he befriended Henry Irving and became the manager of Irving's Lyceum Theater in London. Throwing himself entirely into work at the theater, Stoker often neglected his home life as he devoted long hours to his friend’s business. It was also during this time that he turned to writing, penning his first novel, The Primrose Path, in 1875, and his next, The Snake's Path, in 1890.
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The work that would become Dracula was started in 1890. In the years before, Stoker read Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's novel Carmilla, which likely influenced and introduced him to the major components of the Vampire mythos as he began to think about his own horror story. As early as March of 1890, he began to outline his novel and set about researching Eastern Europe and various Vampire myths to incorporate into the story. He visited the British Museum often, investigating Transylvania and its history, as well as Vlad the Impaler, a figure upon which Dracula is said to be based. As he was writing, he travelled around England and Scotland, noting the scenery and mood of the locations for use in his texts. During the time he was researching Dracula, Stoker would complete two additional novels: The Watter's Mou' and The Shoulder of Shasta. His research and writing lasted for seven years. In 1897, the story, titled The Un-Dead, was finished, re-titled Dracula and published.
The years of work produced a modern, realistic horror novel that followed in the tradition of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. While horrors in prior works in Gothic literature had been vaguely defined menaces, Stoker's monster was a tangible threat to his characters. The book was also the equivalent of a high-tech thriller in Victorian society: Technology was applied by Stoker’s in-story stand in, Dr. Abraham Van Helsing, to help treat Jonathan Harker’s wife after her encounter with the Count in the form of blood transfusions, while the last part of the story is in the form of a transcribed recording from Van Helsing.
While Dracula has never gone out of print, it was far from successful following its publication. Following the book’s publication, Stoker adapted his novel for the stage at the Lyceum Theater. It ran for a single performance, the only that he would ever see. Following Dracula, he published his next novel, Miss Betty, in 1898, and eventually published six additional novels through 1911, although none are as closely associated with the author as his vampire novel. On April 20th, 1912, Bram Stoker died of ‘exhaustion’ at his home in London, nearly penniless, but leaving behind a novel that would later explode in popularity. Following his death, a new stage adaptation of Dracula would become one of the longest running plays in England, becoming a standard blockbuster in the theater world in Britain and America.
An unofficial adaptation of the novel, Nosferatu, was filmed and released in Germany in 1922, with names changed around to avoid copyright issues. But the definitive movie version of Dracula was released in 1931, with Bela Lugosi reprising the role of the title character—he had previously taken on the role for the stage. From this point on, Count Dracula has remained ingrained in horror culture: a monster wrapped in the trappings of nobility.
Stoker’s creation would go on to remain one of the most important works of Vampire fiction, truly creating an immortal character.