Following the initial flurry of interest in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries, provoked in particular by the German printed pamphlets, Vlad Dracula faded into relative obscurity.
His re-emergence as a national hero coincided with the revolutionary fervour that swept through Europe in 1848 and which culminated in the formation of a Romanian state in 1859 (the union of two of the three principalities – Transylvania would not join the union until the realignment of Europe after the First World War).
Vlad made several appearances in the nationalistic literature of the period, as a number of writers, swept up in the fervor of a revolutionary movement that culminated in the formation of a Romanian state in 1859, looked back to him as a symbol of independence and nationhood.
Ion Budai-Deleanu’s epic poem iganiada (though actually written in the last decade of the eighteenth century) was published in 1875: here, Vlad Tepes is presented as one of Romania’s first great national heroes, fighting against the Turks, the boyars and the legions of evil.
Poet Dimitrie Bolintineanu, in his “Battles of the Romanians,” also praised Dracula’s military exploits.
But the most famous is the oft-quoted The Third Letter (1881), by the late nineteenthcentury poet Mihai Eminescu, who called on the Impaler to come once again and save his country:
You must come, O dread Impaler, confound them to your care.
Split them in two partitions, here the fools, the rascals there;
Shove them into two enclosures from the broad daylight enisle ’em,
Then set fire to the prison and the lunatic asylum.
But another picture was also emerging. In 1874, Romanian poet Vasile Alecsandri wrote a narrative entitled “Vlad Tepes and the Oaktree,” which reprimands the harshness of Vlad, particularly with respect to the impalements at Târgoviste.
However, the chief challenge to the “Vlad as hero” concept came from renowned historian Ion Bogdan, whose treatise Vlad Tepes (1896) questioned the traditional image of Vlad by presenting him as a bloodthirsty tyrant whose cruelty could only be accounted for in terms of mental aberration, a sick man who killed and tortured out of sadistic pleasure.
Bogdan even went so far as to depict Vlad as a politically weak leader. Needless to say, the publication sparked a vigorous debate. That book appeared just one year before Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula, which would immortalize Vlad’s sobriquet in a completely different way.
This raises a fundamental question: to what extent is Stoker’s vampire a literary reincarnation of the voivode? Were Vlad and his reported atrocities the inspiration for the horror tale that haunted the collective imagination of the twentieth century?
How much did Bram Stoker know about Vlad?
Before considering these questions, we need to backtrack and discover the roots of the legend of the vampire and the literary ancestors of Count Dracula.
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