Within, stood a tall old man, clean shaven save for a long white moustache, and clad in black from head to foot, without a single speck of colour about him anywhere….
His face was a strong – very strong – aquiline, with high bridge of the thin nose and peculiarly arched nostrils; with lofty domed forehead and hair growing scantily round the temples, but profusely elsewhere. His eyebrows were very massive, almost meeting over the nose, and with bushy hair that seemed to curl in its own profusion. The mouth, so far as I could see it under the heavy moustache, was fixed and rather cruel-looking, with peculiarly sharp white teeth; these protruded over the lips, whose remarkable ruddiness showed astonishing vitality in a man of his years. For the rest, his ears were pale and at the tops extremely pointed; the chin was broad and strong and the cheeks firm though thin. The general effect was one of extraordinary pallor…Background photo created by yingyang – www.freepik.com, Video by eikira from Pixabay
Bram Stoker, the author of Dracula, was born in Clontarf near Dublin, Ireland, in 1847. A sickly child, he appears to have spent much of the first seven years of life in bed. During this time his mother filled many of his hours with stories and legends from her native Sligo, including narratives of a cholera epidemic. His early imagination was thus shaped by tales of the supernatural and of death.
It was there that he published his first book, The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland (1879), a book that was by his own later admission “as dry as dust.” During his Dublin period, he also published occasional short fiction, including a ten-part serial “The Primrose Path” in 1875 and wrote theatre reviews for a Dublin newspaper. One of these, a review of Henry Irving’s Hamlet, led to a meeting with the famous English actor and a subsequent friendship and business relationship that was to last until the actor’s death in 1905.
But most significant was the influence of Irving himself. Stoker would write at length about his idol in Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906), a glowing tribute to the man for whom he felt affection and loyalty. Of their first meeting, Stoker wrote: “From that hour began a friendship as profound, as close, as lasting as can be between two men” (1:33). In spite of speculation to the contrary, existing evidence confirms that what Stoker felt for Irving was essentially hero-worship: “my love and admiration for Irving were such that nothing I could tell to others nothing I can recall to myself could lessen his worth” (2:341). Though he is best known for Dracula, Bram Stoker was the author of several other novels and collections of short fiction, including Under the Sunset (1882), The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), The Lady of the Shroud (1909), The Lair of the White Worm (1911) and Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories (published posthumously in 1914). In addition to Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving, his non-fictional publications included A Glimpse of America (1996) and Famous Imposters (1910). He died in 1912, just five days after the sinking of the luxury liner, Titanic.
Thanks to the discovery of Stoker’s working notes for Dracula, it is possible to trace some of the origins of his masterpiece of gothic horror. Auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1913, these papers were acquired by the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia in 1970.
Stoker’s original choice of name for his vampire was Count Wampyr. He found the name “Dracula” in the summer of 1890 in the town of Whitby, a seaside resort on the northeast coast of England. His source was a book he borrowed from the Public Library, William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (1820).
In spite of many assertions to the contrary, Wilkinson’s rather vague account is Stoker’s only known source of information about the historical Dracula. Significantly, Dracula is never referred to in Wilkinson as “Vlad”; indeed, the term “Dracula” is used interchangeably for both father (Vlad Dracul) and son (Vlad Tepes). There is no reference to Vlad’s fondness for impalement and no hint of his numerous atrocities. What seems to have attracted Stoker was the footnote. What better name for a vampire who, as a reading of the novel will confirm, was to be associated with the devil, than the mysterious and foreign sounding “Dracula”? He supplemented the scanty material from Wilkinson with scraps of historical facts gleaned from a variety of other sources and forged a “history” for his Count. For example, Count Dracula (unlike Vlad) was one of the “Szekelys” who, according to Johnson, who claimed to have been descended from Attila and the Huns (in Johnson p205). That such detail does not apply to the historical Dracula is immaterial. Bram Stoker never intended his Count to be based on Vlad the Impaler.
It was Dracula that firmly entrenched the vampire in literature. So influential has this novel been that to this day, every author working in the genre is conscious of writing in its shadow. What Stoker succeeded in doing was to bring together many disparate threads from folklore and legend, the Gothic novel and earlier vampire fiction into a novel that resonates with the fears and anxieties of his time as well as our own.
His notes show clearly that he had intended to write a vampire novel from the outset, even before he settled on the name “Dracula” and the Transylvanian locale. Even though his Count Dracula was to become the most famous of all vampires, the vampire had already been well established in literature. Possibly Stoker was familiar with Polidori and Rymer, and may have read Richard Burton’s translation of the Arabic tale Vikram and the Vampire (re-issued in London in 1893).
Nowadays, Romania is the centre of Dracula tourism. But this has created an interesting dilemma for Romanians: how to accommodate this demand while at the same time keeping clear the distinction between the fictional vampire and their own national hero. It is no easy task. Confronted with hundreds of Western tourists who visit Transylvania because of an interest in Count Dracula, Romanians are faced with a challenge: how to cope with the invasion of a “native son” who was never theirs to begin with. Sometimes confusion results.
It was, of course, a figment of the Irish author’s imagination, augmented by an obscure notation on an old map. But today, especially for those tourists who want to experience the fictional Dracula, the Castle Dracula Hotel awaits them. Opened in the early 1980s, it offers a panoramic view of meadows, forested slopes and distant mountains. More important for Western tourists on the Dracula trail, it is located in the region selected by Bram Stoker.
Many Romanians are concerned about promoting their country as “Draculand.” And with good reason! Tour guides have to contend with uninformed tourists who insist that Vlad Dracula was a vampire and that Count Dracula is buried at Snagov. This, however, can be handled by providing informed tour guides who are well versed in both Draculas.
Romania is not the only destination for Dracula enthusiasts. For those whose interest focuses more on Bram Stoker and his novel, the town of Whitby is a major attraction. Not only was Stoker familiar with the town (he conducted some of his research for Dracula while there), it plays a prominent role in the novel. Whitby is where the ship bringing Dracula to England runs aground; Whitby is where the Count comes ashore in the form of a large dog; Whitby is where Lucy Westenra first encounters the vampire in the graveyard. Today, with the impressive ruins of Whitby Abbey in the background, the town looks much as it did in the 1890s…
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