Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Victorian Texts Tuesday: Bram Stoker's Dracula

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to state that Abraham "Bram" Stoker loved sensational fiction. Even at university, as a member of the University Philosophical Society, he wrote a paper on "Sensationalism in Fiction and Society."

Like most authors, Stoker conceived Dracula based on a number of influences. Whitby, the northeastern coastal English town, which serves as Dracula's port of entry in the novel, was a place that Stoker knew well, being the favored site for his summer holidays. He researched European folklore in the library at Whitby and was particularly drawn to a book about the principalities of Wallachia in modern day Romania. Stoker likely drew the name Dracula from these accounts. It is a derivation of the name, Dracul, based on the chivalric Order of the Dragon, used by Vlad II and his son, Vlad III, also known as Vlad Tepes, the Impaler. He was Dracula, or son of Dracul.

Stoker also befriended Armin Vambery, a Victorian traveler, who shared stories of the Carpathian region with the Irish author. Some even speculate that Stoker's character Van Helsing may have been based on Vambery, but as appealing as the notion may be there is little proof to substantiate such a claim.

The novel itself is a rich, complex text, still studied, read, and beloved today, perhaps more influential now than it was in its own time. Told in epistolary format, the novel doesn't just follow the letters or journal entries of one character, but several, and it even utilizes fictional newspaper accounts and ship's logs to move the story along. Such a technique gives me the sense, each time I re-read the novel, that I've happened upon a treasure trove of written clues that I must piece together to draw closer to the mystery of Stoker's vampire.

Though the novel remains in print and continues to inspire films, books, and even a new, lushly produced television series starring Jonathan Rhys Meyers, it did not make Stoker a wealthy man at the time. Bram was so poor near the end of his life that he asked for assistance from the Royal Literary Fund. However, the novel was critically appreciated, even upon its release, and many recognized it for it's iconic qualities and the enormous talent of its author.

Whether you love or hate the novel, or have never experienced the story except through film and television adaptations, Stoker's Dracula has made an undeniable and indelible impact on popular culture and continues to feed our ongoing fascination with vampires.

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