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LAST UPDATED 24.06.08
Bram Stoker’s Notes for Dracula to be published this autumn - Click here for more information.
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Biography

Bram Stoker 1847-1912

Abraham `Bram’ Stoker was born, one of four brothers, in Clontarf , Ireland three miles north of Dublin where his father Abraham Snr was a Civil Servant. A sickly child Stoker spent his formative years mainly bedridden and was unable to walk until he was seven years old. His mother, Charlotte, would sit at his bedside and regale him with Ghost Stories, tales of folklore and the very real Cholera epedemic of 1832 in her native Town of Sligo. She told of dead or infected victims of this Plaque-like contagion. How bodies were pushed into Ditches or shallow Graves with Long Poles. She recounted how the ensuing famine forced people to drink the Blood from their own Animals and Livestock. This rather gory imagery made a big impression on Stoker. His imagination, Stokers only faculty in his years of incapacity, was fired. This is generally acknowledged to have kindled Stokers interest in the macabre and terror fiction directly influencing his short story `The Invisible Giant’. Not necessarily because of all this Stoker went on to make a complete recovery from his strange and largely unexplained malady eventually excelling in Athletics and becoming a `Genial Giant’ at 6’ 2” in height.

He was born, one of four brothers, in Clontarf , Ireland three miles north of Dublin where his father Abraham Snr was a Civil Servant. A sickly child Stoker spent his formative years mainly bedridden and was unable to walk until he was seven years old. His Mother, Charlotte, would sit at his bedside and regale him with Ghost Stories, tales of folklore and the very real Cholera epedemic of 1832 in her native Town of Sligo. She told of dead or infected victims of this Plaque like contagion. How bodies were pushed into Ditches or shallow Graves with Long Poles. She recounted how the ensuing famine forced people to drink the Blood from their own Animals and Livestock. This rather gory imagery made a big impression on Stoker. His imagination, Stokers only faculty in his years of incapacity, was fired. This is generally acknowledged to have kindled Stokers interest in the macabre and terror fiction directly influencing his short story `The Invisible Giant’. Not necessarily because of all this Stoker went on to make a complete recovery from his strange and largely unexplained malady eventually excelling in Athletics and becoming a `Genial Giant’ at 6’ 2” in height.

The year 1863 found Stoker successfully studying Mathematics and Sciences at Trinity College, Dublin where he also became a lively member of the College Philosophical Society. This eminent and highly esteemed Student fraternity discussed wide ranging Topics from Poetry, sensationalist issues in Society , works of fiction and aspects of Women’s Liberation then fiercely coming in to vogue. Stoker eagerly joined and even initiated various debates within the society eventually becoming its President. It was around this time that Stoker first became aware of the American Poet Walt Whitman whose book `Leaves Of Grass’ was garnering a somewhat divided critical appraisal within the College. Whitman’s Poetry, which dealt with themes of Sex and Friendship, was heavily censored and highly controversial for the time. In spite of this a faction of Trinity students began championing Whitman’s Poetry and Stoker jumped on the Bandwagon becoming a devoted Fan of and entering into a lasting correspondence with the Poet which lead to them eventually meeting. Stokers letters to Whitman were incredibly soul bearing and personal with a homoerotic element leading future biographers to speculate on his sexuality. The relationship has parallels with modern day Pop Star fan culture as did his subsequent career with Henry Irving. Challenged with the allegation of Homosexuality Stoker would have been horrified and outraged.

Stoker graduated in 1870 and followed in his Fathers footsteps and became a Civil Servant at Dublin Castle. The work was dull and repetitive but it was here that Stoker wrote his first book `The Duties Of Clerks Of Petty Sessions In Ireland’. Basically the Book is a manual detailing procedure and the do’s and don’ts of his own occupation. While collectable it is fair to say that this tome is not quite as riveting a read as Dracula.

As an antidote to the drudgery of the nine to five day job Stoker began to frequent the Queens Theatre in Dublin as a freelance writing and submitting reviews to the Dublin Evening Mail. One such review, in 1876 , was for a performance of Hamlet starring a touring Henry Irving. The gushing appraisal caught the eye of Irving who, suitably flattered, asked to meet its author. Stoker and Irving met for dinner and a firm friendship was struck. At a further meeting Irving decided to impress his new friend by reciting Thomas Hoods poem of Murder and Revenge `The Dream Of Eugene Aram’. The performance was so apparently overpowering that at it’s end Irving fainted and Stoker collapsed into a fit of hysterics. This cemented the relationship and within two years Stoker had resigned his post at Dublin Castle and was working for Irving in London.

Henry Irving, real name John Henry Brodribb, was born in 1838 and grew up in Cornwall. Starting work as a Clerk in London he went on to become the first actor to be Knighted. Sir Henry Irving was one of the long line of `Grand Actors’ , the Laurence Olivier of his time, whose head was always above the clouds. He deemed every other profession, art form or vocation beneath him and aspired to be treated like royalty. Such was Irving’s conceitedness that his one marriage to Florence O’Callaghan abruptly ended, after a triumphant first night performance of `The Bells’ when she dared to ridicule his profession.

Irving had big ideas. Not content with being the greatest Actor of his generation he wanted to own his own Theatre. He took the Lease out on the Lyceum and asked Stoker to be his Acting Manager. This was a big decision for Stoker who had just got married to society beauty Florence Balcombe an ex-girlfriend of Oscar Wilde. Not only would he be giving up a secure position with the Civil Service but also the Pension that went with it. The ever impressionable Stoker , however, was besotted with Irving and the Actor was able to woo him into compliance. Stoker with his new Wife in tow moved to London and a new life. It was the fall of 1878 and Stoker would work for Irving for nearly twenty seven years.

Stoker threw himself into his new occupation. Irving abrogated all his administrative responsibility for the running of the Lyceum Theatre leaving it all to Stoker. His duties were copious including Letter writing, sometimes up to 100 a day, the Theatre accounts, salaries and even a hand in selecting prospective plays with suitably hammy roles for the Grand Actor to play. Stoker even made all the arrangements for national and international tours dealing with the logistics of transporting Stage sets, Costumes and the Cast and Crew of the not inconsiderable Lyceum company. All of which left Irving free to stroke his enormous ego.

There were compensations however. All the London Glitterati, the `Beautiful People’ of the day flocked to the Lyceum open nights. Poets like Alfred Lord Tennyson , politicians like former Prime Minister William Gladstone and the writer Oscar Wilde to name but a few all rubbed shoulders with Stoker. After the performance Irving, Stoker and whatever visiting luminaries would adjourn to the Beefsteak Room at the Lyceum Theatre to eat, talk and make merry long into the early hours of the morning. Occasionally Stoker would remember that he had a Wife and family and go home, if he could recall where home was.

Amazingly Stoker found the time to do a bit of writing on the side and published nine books in the years he worked for Irving. The first was a collection of weird short stories for Children called `Under The Sunset’ (1881) and was followed by a series of novels such as `The Snakes Pass’ (1890), `The Watters Mou’(1895) and `The Mystery Of The Sea’ (1902). These like all Stokers fiction were routine romances featuring Gallant men coming to the aid of Maidens in peril written in a rather laboured prose none of which are considered classics. There was one exception to the rule however and it came out in 1897. Originally intended to be called `The Undead’ the title was changed at the last minute just prior to publication and was renamed `Dracula’.

Researched and written over a seven year period (1890-1897) this novel became the Horror novel to which all other Horror novels are judged. The story of a Vampire, Dracula, struggling to find victims in his native superstitious Transylvania who relocates to London in search of fresh blood works on several levels. A typical Stoker romantic adventure which contains scenes steeped in wildly sexual innuendo lost, pre Sigmund Freud, on most Victorians. Stoker consulted books on Folklore, Werewolves and even European Rail timetables to give his book verisimilitude. There is also the sense of the old meeting the new as Stoker imbues the novel with the latest technology such as the first voice recording Phonograph and an early Typewriter. `Dracula’, although well received on initial publication, would not come into its own until the advent of the Twentieth Century Movie Industry where along with Mary Shelleys `Frankenstein’ it would become establishment itself and the subject of at least two hundred Films. Perhaps coming to a Cinema near you soon is `King Kong versus .Dracula’ or even `Alien versus Dracula`.

Henry Irving died in 1905 and effectively forced Stoker into Retirement. Their relationship had become strained after Irving had sold the Lyceum Theatre against Stokers advice. The occupation that Stoker had lived for was now over. Nowadays most of this aspect of his life is now forgotten as most discussions about Stoker revolve around `Dracula’, `Dracula’, and `Dracula’.

Although suffering a Stroke in 1906 Stoker continued writing. A Biography of Irving came first followed by the novels `The Lady Of The Shroud` and the very bizarre `The Lair Of The White Worm’. Stoker died in 1912 the same week that the Titanic sank.

While the name Bram Stoker is still relatively unknown his fictional creation `Count Dracula’ un-lives on and remains one of the most popular cultural icons of modern times. On the surface the novel appears to be a typical good guys versus bad guys yarn with the cliché of a damsel in distress thrown in. More in depth reading reveals, like a Palimpsest, layers of eroticism and dreamlike imagery of Sex and Death that border on the Pornographic. All of which was probably lost on Stoker himself. Maybe he saw it as just another romantic adventure of tragedy and Gallantry with a Large role, if staged, for Irving to sink his Teeth in (forgive the pun). If he read it today, post Freudian analysis, would he be horrified and withdraw it from publication?

 

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