|11-16-2021, 10:46 AM
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Format: Short story
Author: Karl Heinrich Ulrich
Synopsis: We’ve had the first female vampire, the first black vampire and even the first transgender vampire. Now, a hundred years before Anne Rice (almost) comes the very first gay vampire. Despite my expectations, the title does not refer to an old, crumbling house around which vampires shuffle and stalk, but is the name of the protagonist, a sailor who saves another one, Har, from drowning, and the two become friends, and in time, more than that. Manor leaves on a whaling voyage, and to Har’s dismay is drowned when the ship founders. But later Manor comes to Har and sucks his blood, as they develop a curious kind of homosexual relationship.
The village isn’t having that. Not the gay liaison; they don’t mind that. But they draw the line at vampires, and set out to destroy Manor. He’s not so easy to kill though, being strong and vital even if he is pale and ghostly-like. He’s restricted to nocturnal roaming, and stays in his coffin during the day, when the “community”, as they’re described in the summary I’m reading, try to stake him but the attempt fails because the stake needs to have a head, like that of a nail, to work, in a departure from traditional vampire lore. Also slightly different, Manor sucks the blood from Har via his nipple, rather than from his neck, and it seems too that Har is aware of, and willing to deal with the vampire, as long as he loves him.
The matter-of-fact way the villagers deal with the news that there is a vampire in their midst is quite amusing:
“To the people of Wagoe she [Har’s mother] said, "The insecurity of your graves has exposed one of us to danger. A man here is leaving his grave every evening, coming over to us and sucking his fill of blood from this poor youth."
"We'll try to secure it properly," the people of Wagoe said.
Well that’s all right then. Also hilarious is their reaction upon opening Manor’s grave (with, I should also mention, a stake “as tall as a man” - what were they going to do with it, pole vault over him??)
"One of the people of Wagoe said, "Look, he hasn't moved since the day we buried him."
"That's because he gets into the same spot each time he returns," the wise woman replied.”
Ah, the wise woman! Two things, me lord, must ye know about the wise woman, First, she is…. A woman! And second…
Har’s frantic entreaty to his vampire lover is also side-splitting.
"Manor, Manor," he cried, his voice quivering. "They're going to drive a stake into your heart. Manor, wake up. Open your eyes. It's me, your Har."
What, did he think that if the vampire woke up this would be looked on as a good thing? “Oh look, he’s awake. Throw away that stake, we don’t need it now.”
In the end they nail that sucker, and poor Har dies, but whether from blood loss or a broken heart is unclear. He asks to be buried in the same grave as Manor, and for the stake to be taken out of his lover’s body. His mother says she’ll do that, but I wonder? Still, with Har now dead and presumably with Manor forever, what reason would the vampire have to trouble the living? Or maybe they both end up haunting the village. It doesn’t say.
I guess for its time the story couldn’t be too graphic - it’s not graphic at all - and there’s actually no mention of sex in it, so perhaps it’s more implied than shown. Still, even the implication would have got Ulrichs into trouble, so it’s a brave effort to create the world’s first homosexual vampire. It is unintentionally funny though.
Title: The True Story of the Vampire
Format: Short story
Author: Count Stanislaus Eric Stenboch
Synopsis: And now the first Scandivanian account, written by a Swedish author, of a vampire, which appeared apparently in Stoker’s later collection, Dracula’s Guest, published in and seems to be the second homosexual vampire story. Count Vardalek visits the castle of Baron Woopsy sorry I mean Wrondki (those nobles must stick together) and develops a passion for the younger Gabriel, who wastes and sickens under Vardelek’s attentions till he dies.
The opening lines of the story seem to mock Stoker, though his seminal novel would not be published for another three years:
“VAMPIRE STORIES ARE GENERALLY located in Styria; mine is also. Styria is by no means the romantic kind of place described by those who have certainly never been there. It is a flat, uninteresting country, only celebrated by its turkeys, its capons, and the stupidity of its inhabitants. Vampires generally arrive by night, in carriages drawn by two black horses.”
Although the story is narrated by a female, it also seems that the Count (the real one, the author) is referring to the public’s perception of his widely-known eccentricities when he says (or she says) “It is to tell how I came to spend most of my useless wealth on an asylum for stray animals that I am writing this.” Take that, polite society!
Count Stanislaus’s vampire seems to be a reluctant one, one who cannot die though he wishes to, and who seems to regret taking life, as he says about Gabriel (playing the piano): “My darling, I fain would spare thee; but thy life is my life, and I must live, I who would rather die. Will God not have any mercy on me? Oh! oh! life; oh, the torture of life!” Or perhaps, more accurately, oh the torture of having to read this! Yeah, it’s a very basic story, and if you know vampires there are zero surprises, twists or deviations from the legend. The only difference being that, as I say above, this vampire seems tortured by what he has to do.
The author himself was strange. As already mentioned, he kept a menagerie of animals, and also always travelled with a dog and a monkey, as well as a life-sized doll, which he seemed to think was alive, and his son. No, seriously. When he hadn’t got it with him, he would enquire about its health, and the rumour was that he had paid a priest a fortune to “educate” it. He was also said to sleep in a coffin, though how true this is I don’t know.
But as far as writing vampire stories goes, I’ve read his, and, no pun intended, it sucks.
Author: George MacDonald
Synopsis: Tres weird. In the synopsis I can find no mention at all of a vampire; this seems to be a fantasy/horror novel with plenty of disparate elements, many of which are taken from Christian belief (hence the title I guess) but I can’t see a simple undead creature anywhere. Not sure why it’s included. Look, it’s a novel: I’m not going to go reading the whole thing in the hope there may be a vampire or vampires lurking somewhere, but it does concern me that MacDonald uses as the medium of his protagonists’ passage from one world to the next a mirror, when a rather more famous novel had already used this only twenty years before.
Title: The Blood of the Vampire
Author: Florence Marryat
Synopsis: Published the same year, this novel was inevitably going to suffer from comparison to Dracula, which would ride head and shoulders over all vampire novels and stories written to that point, and many after it. Its protagonist is Harriet, a female Jamaican vampire, who comes to Belgium and meets two English women, one of whom, Margaret, is dubious about allowing her to hold her baby, and finds herself drained. Baroness Gobelli invites her to England; meanwhile she spends more time with Margaret’s child, who gets progressively more ill. Eventually the baby dies, and the doctor summoned to investigate the cause can’t figure it out. It does transpire though that he knew Harriet’s father.
When Harriet gets to England she has the same effect on the Baroness’s young son, who also sickens and dies. Baroness Gobrelli accuses her of having “black blood” and “vampire blood”, and Harriet, having met and falling in love with a man, is frightened and returns to Belgium to seek the advice of the doctor. He tells her that her mother was a slave and her father performed medical experiments on his own slaves (whether or not that includes her mother I don’t know) until they revolted and killed him. He warns Harriet never to marry, but of course she is in love and goes ahead anyway. When she wakes up on her wedding morning to find her new husband dead, she is overcome with grief and takes poison.
Is this the first vampire novel or story without a self-aware vampire, I wonder? I’d have to check back, but whether deliberate by their own hand or made by another, I think every other vampire so far as at least known and recognised what they are. Harriet does not, and is horrified by the possibility she could be responsible for these deaths. She has to face that when she is presented with the still-warm corpse of her husband of a few hours on the morning after their wedding, and is so grief-stricken that she kills herself. But is she even a vampire? Well, we assume so, and it’s postulated that it’s a hereditary thing, unlike many or most of the vampires we’ve read about up to now. It’s also allied, rather uncomfortably, to her black heritage, which surely says something about racism.
The delight of the little Harriet whipping the slaves on the plantation “as a treat” is grossly disturbing, but of course meant to be so. I’m reminded of the episode “Chain of Command” in Star Trek: The Next Generation, when a Cardassian child asks his father - who is torturing Captain Picard - about the human, and the officer smiles that humans do not love their children as Cardassians do. The parallel is obvious: reduce the object of your violence to beneath the status of human and it’s no longer wrong to punish them. You’d beat a dog (well, I wouldn’t but some people would) and have no problem with it, but beating a man or a woman? Might be a little more reluctance there. The fact that slaves have been reduced to the status of mere property means there’s no need to worry about whipping them; in fact, it’s the right thing to do.
Although Harriet is of mixed-race, it’s odd how she refers to the slaves as “niggers”, obviously not including herself in their race, believing herself above them, even though she has clearly black blood in her veins and her own mother was, as she finds out later, a slave, but being brought up on the plantation she was no doubt told she was nothing like them. Quite how she can be a vampire and not know it I don’t understand: does she go into a trance or something, lose her human identity like a werewolf, only regaining it when her hunger is sated? I haven’t read the novel, but I wonder if it says or if Marryat leaves it open to conjecture?
I feel the comparisons made with Dracula and Carmilla are unfair. These two novels bookend the latter half of the nineteenth century, written within twenty years of each other and towering like two colossi over early - and indeed, later - vampire literature, so they would of course be used as a yardstick for anything that came after (or in the case of Dracula, at the same time), but I don’t see, from the admittedly short synopsis, that many similarities between the three books. Carmilla is a female vampire, yes, but seems well aware of what she is, almost glorying in it, while Dracula is, well, male, and seems to bear no real resemblance to the vampire here, nor are the events taking place in a similar location. I wonder if those two books had not been written, and assuming Marryat doesn’t use them as inspiration (which I don’t know) would her novel have been better received?
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|11-16-2021, 10:58 AM
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Yes, let the trumpets ring out in glorious fanfare! We've finally reached that moment!
Roll out the red carpet!
Let the tickertape parade begin!
Watch this space (and your back)!
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|12-13-2021, 03:57 PM
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
We interrupt our timeline to bring you the sad news of the passing of a legend in vampire fiction. Anne Rice, author of The Vampire Chronicles, has died aged 80 in a hospital in California from complications following a stroke. We now present our own little tribute to this remarkable woman.
Queen of the Undead: A Tribute to Anne Rice (1941 - 2021)
While it would not be fair or accurate to say Anne Rice created the genre unofficially known as vampire literature or vampire horror, she certainly was one of the first, if not the first to drag the well-worn tropes into the twentieth century, reviving the genre at a time when really all there was were novels about Bram Stoker’s most famous creation. Her first vampire novel - in fact, her first novel - was published in 1976, only a year after Stephen King’s horror masterwork Salem’s Lot, but whereas King focussed on the evil, monstrous, terrifying aspect of his vampires and made them not in the least sympathetic, Rice took a different approach with her vampires. Indeed, in the very first book, Interview with the Vampire, in which we are introduced to her star Lestat de Lioncourt, through the recollections of his protege, Louis de Pont du Lac, there’s an immediate effort by Rice to allow us to see the world through the vampire’s eyes, to realise he’s not only the monster Stoker, LeFanu and others have painted the undead as, and most importantly, he hates what he has become.
Up to now, what vampire writing there had been had mostly concentrated on presenting the vampire as a monster, something to be destroyed, and something that wanted to destroy us. Anne Rice, while never allowing us to lose sight of the fact that vampires are evil creatures, helps us understand there is more to them that lustful blood-drinking and hunting. She shows us a species, if you will, who adore art and music, love company, travel and literature, and who enjoy the finer things life has to offer, while yet at the heart of it loathing what they have become. Even Lestat, the “brat prince” of vampire literature, who revels in his debauchery and power, becomes, over the course of five novels, bored with immortality and finally reaches a revelation about his existence which even he cannot ignore.
Anne Rice was born Howard Allen Frances O’Brien on October 4 1941, to Irish Catholic parents in New Orleans, almost two months to the day before America was attacked by Japan and drawn into World War II. Her father in fact served in the navy, and did write one novel, while her mother - who had given her the unusual name of Howard because “she was a bit of a madwoman” according to Anne herself - was a badly-sinking alcoholic and would die before Anne was fifteen. Another source claims it was her father who gave Anne her name, but in 1947 she legally changed it to Anne O’Brien. After her mother passed in 1956, her father wasted no time replacing her, and also farming out his children to the local private school for girls, St. Joseph Academy, which she and her sister hated, and which may have influenced some of the claustrophobia of later novels such as Queen of the Damned and Lestat’s incarceration at the end of Memnoch the Devil.
A year after remarrying, her father moved the family to Texas, where Anne would meet her future husband, Stan Rice. After studying at the University of San Francisco and working at an insurance firm, Anne married Stan in 1961 and they moved back to San Francisco the next year. Though they lived in the heart of the Haight-Ashbury district and it was “the summer of love”, Anne did not get involved, her strict Catholic upbringing leaving her writing while outside “everyone was dropping acid and smoking grass. I was known as my own square”. Her refusal to get involved in the drug scene paid off (though she was emulating her mother, as both she and her husband were now alcoholics) and she graduated from San Francisco State with an M.A. in creative writing in 1970. Her first child, Michele, born in 1966 was diagnosed with leukemia and only lived six years, dying in 1972, surely the inspiration for Claudia, the frustrated vampire child in her first novel.
However, the uncompromising attitude of the Catholic Church, and its inherent hypocrisy so angered and affected Anne that she officially left the Church around this time, declaring herself an atheist. She would maintain this stance well into her fifties, and her, if you like, release from the bonds of Christianity was to characterise her novels and allow her to people them with creatures who mocked God, even hated God, also loved God but many of whom refused even to believe in one. It was only in Memnoch the Devil, the final book in the original Lestat story, that she would approach the subject head-on by doing something no other writer to my knowledge has ever done, and have her character speak face-to-face with God himself. And the Devil.
When her second child, Christopher, was born in 1978, she and Stan made the decision to give up the booze, Anne afraid that her son would suffer the same life she had done, and determined this would not be the case. When she first wrote Interview with the Vampire she says herself that she did not do much research, but based the idea on the horror movie Dracula’s Daughter, still managing so far as I can see to be the first author to present vampires as sympathetic beings the reader could relate to. After many rejections the novel was finally picked up and Anne was on her way. Two more vampire novels followed (in between some risque adult writing under pseudonyms) as The Vampire Chronicles began to grow and take shape. Eventually the series would run to ten novels, moving away from its central character to tell the stories of others, such as Marius, Pandora and Armand. She also diversified into other areas of horror, writing a trilogy about witches, a novel about a mummy and, later, religious novels based on the life of Christ.
She wasn’t an overnight sensation though. Critical reaction to Interview with the Vampire was mixed, and mostly negative, which caused her to question her choices and change tack for a few years. It was the sequel, The Vampire Lestat (which, it has to be said, is a far superior book and my favourite of the original trilogy) that changed the critics’ minds, and by the time the conclusion of what was at that time a trilogy, The Queen of the Damned was published, it made the New York Times Best Sellers list, going right to the top and staying on the list for a third of 1988. That year she and her family moved back to New Orleans, where they would remain and where most of her novels would be set. In 1998 she returned to the Catholic Church, though still disagreeing with many of its core stances, such as homosexuality and abortion rights, and this year too she had her first brush with death.
In truth, Anne Rice almost died twice, the first time being as above when she fell into a diabetic coma (unaware she even had diabetes) and then again in 2004 when she had a gastric bypass and almost died from an intestinal blockage. Whether this had any impact on her writing or not, she now chose to devote her remaining creative energies to praising God in her writing, though she didn’t by any means dismiss or disavow her supernatural works, those that had made her the famous figure she had become.
“I had experienced an old-fashioned, strict Roman Catholic childhood in the 1940s and 1950s ... we attended daily Mass and Communion in an enormous and magnificently decorated church.... Stained-glass windows, the Latin Mass, the detailed answers to complex questions on good and evil—these things were imprinted on my soul forever.... I left this church at age 18.... I wanted to know what was happening, why so many seemingly good people didn't believe in any organized religion yet cared passionately about their behavior and value of their lives.... I broke with the church.... I wrote many novels that without my being aware that they reflected my quest for meaning in a world without God.
"In the moment of surrender, I let go of all the theological or social questions which had kept me from [God] for countless years. I simply let them go. There was the sense, profound and wordless, that if He knew everything I did not have to know everything, and that, in seeking to know everything, I'd been, all of my life, missing the entire point. No social paradox, no historic disaster, no hideous record of injustice or misery should keep me from Him. No question of Scriptural integrity, no torment over the fate of this or that atheist or gay friend, no worry for those condemned and ostracized by my church or any other church should stand between me and Him. The reason? It was magnificently simple: He knew how or why everything happened; He knew the disposition of every single soul. He wasn't going to let anything happen by accident! Nobody was going to go to Hell by mistake.”
Without meaning to speak ill of the dead, especially someone I truly respected, I have to say this comes across as the next best thing to apologism for the Church and all the horror and evil it has presided over, even orchestrated down the centuries. It’s a blase, incredibly naive and in some ways insulting viewpoint to say “oh it’s all right cos God knows everything.” Bullshit.
But as I say, I don’t want to speak ill. I just wanted to say I completely and categorically disagree with and do not support her view expressed above.
After the death of her husband in 2002 Rice left New Orleans in 2005, with remarkable foresight or just pure dumb luck managing to miss Hurricane Katrina by months or weeks, and followed Christopher to California. In 2010 she had again had it with Christianity, as she explained the difference she saw between being a Christian and following Christ:
"Today I quit being a Christian.... I remain committed to Christ as always but not to being 'Christian' or to being part of Christianity. It's simply impossible for me to 'belong' to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else." Shortly thereafter, she clarified her statement: "My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me. But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been, or might become.”
In contrast to her 1998 statement, it’s hard not to applaud and agree with this. Far too many so-called Christians don’t know what it is or what it is meant to be to be one, and have no intention of following any of the teachings of Jesus other than those that suit their own agenda. Makes me thank God I’m an atheist.
For me personally, Rice was a window into the world of horror, vampire horror and somewhat historical fiction, as I had not been a horror fan and had not seen or read Salem’s Lot, and I think I may have read Dracula beforehand, but I’m not sure. If I did, it was the only vampire novel I had read. Once I began Interview with the Vampire I was hungry for more (sorry) but at the time I read it, though it was far from its original publication date (1986 I think) it was the only one available by her, so when I saw a sequel (technically a prequel I guess) bearing the name of the anti-hero of that first novel, I didn’t need any further prompting to grab it excitedly from the shelf at Eason Book Shops and shell out my hard-earned on it. Incidentally, for those interested, I found Interview with the Vampire almost by accident, after having listened to the Sting song “Moon Over Bourbon Street” and reading that he had based it on the novel, which I then went out to find, so thanks, Sting: you did at least one good turn for me in your life.
The film adaptations of her work had a mixed reception. Even the box-office draw of Tom Cruise in the title role couldn’t win the movie of Interview with the Vampire an Academy Award, though it did very well in the box office and was a hit; it’s poorly remembered though and was quickly drowned out by movies such as the seventh in the Star Trek franchise, Generations and the truly awful The Santa Clause as Christmas approached. It did win two BAFTAs (British Academy of Film and Television Awards) and Kirsten Dunst in her first role did well out of it, as did Brad Pitt and Antonio Banderas, but few people will cite it now who are not fans. Personally I thought Cruise did a very good job, considering that Rice had slated him as “about as much my Lestat as Edward G. Robinson!” It might, though, be telling that the film’s lack of enduring appeal may have prevented Cruise from reprising the role in The Queen of the Damned, which fared much worse.
After much opposition by Anne the plan was to merge the two novels in one, which was crazy given how much ground there is to cover in one of them, never mind two. The central theme of the twins was dropped, again a ridiculous decision, and basically the movie was a mess. It barely made back its budget, making a paltry ten million as compared to the first one which almost quadrupled its initial outlay. Queen of the Damned ironically lived up to its name, receiving almost universally negative reviews, triggering a poor 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and resulting in Rice advising her fans to “forget it” as it “mutilated” her work. Even the death of its other star, Aaliyah as Akasha, the eponymous queen, a few months prior to its release, could not save the movie’s reputation. After this bomb, Rice decided television was the way to go (I could have told her that) and she and Christopher were working on a series based on The Vampire Chronicles only months before her death.
I will be the first to admit I have not read all Rice’s material. Some of her novels did not resonate with me at all. I hated Violin, was not interested in Pandora and did not read any of her non-vampire novels at all. In fact, I really only read the first five of the Vampire Chronicles: Interview with the Vampire, The Vampire Lestat, The Queen of the Damned, The Tale of the Body Thief and Memnoch the Devil, which for me placed a perfect seal on the story of Lestat, including Rice’s own touching little farewell to her creation, and his personal bowing out of the story. I have not read Prince Lestat yet, though I do have Blackwood Farm: I have yet to open it though.
If Rice had not written anything beyond those five novels, I think I would have been satisfied, and perhaps so too would she. Between them, they cover all but the entire story of Lestat, her central and most important figure, from his birth through his “birth to darkness” and on to his eventual redemption, even his return to mortality. It’s hard to think of a more perfect coming of full circle in literature, and to my mind she might have been better to have left it there, but that’s just my personal opinion.
What is not in doubt is that, whether she directly influenced them or not (or whether they will admit it) Rice surely set the groundwork and prepared the road for future writers of vampire fiction, such as Charlaine Harris, L.J. Smith and Stephanie Meyer, as well as already-established authors like Brian Lumley and Tanith Lee. Of course, her treatment of the vampire as an intensely sexual (and usually bisexual or homosexual) being has led to something of a glut of what can only really be described as “vampire porn”, but I suppose that will happen with any genre, especially one so rooted in sensuality and sexuality. Whatever the result or the side-effects though, it can be hardly disputed that the woman named Howard as a girl set the blueprint for the modern vampire novel, and for the fanged monsters and debonair villains to make their way from large screen to small, kicking off a vampire craze not really equalled in popularity until the sudden obsession of the public with zombies. Anne Rice taught us that vampires aren’t just monsters and, hey, they need love too.
Rest in Peace, Anne. Your work is done.
Or to paraphrase the end of Memnoch, the Devil:
Believe me, in my words, in what I have said and in what has been written down. I am here, still, the hero of my own dreams, and let me please keep my place in yours.
I am Anne Rice.
Let me pass now from fiction into legend, and from legend into history.
Adieu, mon amour.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|12-13-2021, 05:10 PM
Zum Henker Defätist!!
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Beating GNR at DDR and keying Axl's new car
Her parents named her Howard?!
|12-13-2021, 07:26 PM
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
They did. There's varying stories as to who was responsible, both stories give pretty damn stupid justification for saddling a girl with such a name:
About her unusual given name, Rice said:
Well, my birth name is Howard Allen because apparently my mother thought it was a good idea to name me Howard. My father's name was Howard, she wanted to name me after Howard, and she thought it was a very interesting thing to do. She was a bit of a Bohemian, a bit of mad woman, a bit of a genius, and a great deal of a great teacher. And she had the idea that naming a woman Howard was going to give that woman an unusual advantage in the world.
However, according to the authorized biography Prism of the Night, by Katherine Ramsland, Rice's father was the source of his daughter's birth name: "Thinking back to the days when his own name had been associated with girls, and perhaps in an effort to give it away, Howard named the little girl Howard Allen Frances O'Brien." Rice became "Anne" on her first day of school, when a nun asked her what her name was. She told the nun "Anne," which she considered a pretty name. Her mother, who was with her, let it go without correcting her, knowing how self-conscious her daughter was of her real name. From that day on, everyone she knew addressed her as "Anne", and her name was legally changed in 1947
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|02-25-2022, 08:30 PM
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
That takes us, a little later than intended, to the big one, the mother of all vampire novels, the one anyone who is at all familiar with or interested in vampires will have read, or at the very least know about, and which formed the basis for countless Hollywood adaptations and many TV interpretations of his story of an ageless, immortal, evil monster who lives alone in a castle until one unsuspecting human gives him a chance to unleash his evil on the world, as Chris de Burgh once nearly wrote, far beyond those castle walls.
But before we dive - and we will dive, and deeply - into the novel that set the standard, how much do we actually know about the author, the man who could, in many ways, almost more than John Polidori or Sheridan LeFanu or James Malcolm Ryder, be said to be the father of vampire fiction, or if not, at least the one who brought it all together? How well do we know this man, what do we know of his life, what drove him to write one of the seminal novels of the nineteenth century, and one of the most important Gothic novels in human history? Well, not much I must admit.
Let’s fix that before we go any further.
Bram Stoker (1847 - 1912)
Beyond the Forest and Into the Dark: A Short Biography of Bram Stoker
Abraham “Bram” Stoker was, as probably everyone knows, an Irishman. This of course gives me a certain sense of pride, but not only that, he was also what we call a northsider, being born in Clontarf, on the north side of Dublin. Though Clontarf was and is an affluent suburb of the city, where property prices are far higher than, oh let’s take an example at random and say Darndale (!) and where the great and the good like to live - when they’re not on the southside that is - it is still on the north side of the city. Clontarf fronts onto the sea, is only literally a walk away from Fairview Park, and, incidentally, not that you care, a short distance from where I went to school. Stoker was born to a Protestant family, the third of seven children, a sickly child who spent his first seven years in bed. There is no information on what the illness was that laid him low, but his enforced time bedridden allowed his mind, if not his body, to fly free, and he thought about many things, the seeds of an embryonic writer perhaps already germinating in his mind.
Whether fate decided to make up for ruining his childhood, or whether his being restricted to bed had a positive effect on his growth, Stoker grew to be a giant, standing six two at a time when the average male height was about five foot five. He was huge, and not just tall: a real bear of a man, and excelled (no surprise) in sports and athletics. He was born at what could be described as an auspicious time, the same year as Edison and Alexander Graham Bell, two more men who would go on to make their indelible mark on history, though in different fields to his. 1847 also saw the publication of two important Gothic novels, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, which provided some source material for Stoker’s later research.
And let’s not forget what was, at the time, the first real glimpse ordinary readers, through the agency of the Penny Dreadful, were able to experience vampires, as James Malcolm Rymer’s lurid but morbidly popular Varney the Vampire, or The Feast of Blood, was published, serialised in (sorry) bite-sized chunks for the easier digestion by the public, and to whet the appetite for more, more, more. All right, that’s all the food metaphors I’ll use for now. It’s quite clear that Stoker borrowed from this first popular vampire story, though he imbued what he appropriated with a sense of macabre majesty and grandeur, and true, dark but lower-key horror than had the excitable Rymer.
Ireland has always been a land of superstition, somehow treading a careful line between being the “land of saints and scholars” and being “land of the fairies and wee folk”; Irish people are, not uniquely but unusually, adept at believing strongly in Jesus Christ while at the same time firmly crediting the existence of spirits, fairies and other supernatural entities. The famous crying spirit, the banshee, is named from the Irish words for woman (bean, pronounced as "ban") and fairy (sidhe), so literally, woman of the fairies, and this notion has been exported well beyond its borders. Leprechauns, while nobody these days believes in them (unlike banshees) are also a product of the readiness of Irish people to believe in such beings - and, much later, to profit off and benefit from a nonexistent so-called feature of Ireland in a way few other countries have managed.
Death was a constant companion to the Irish, or any, poor in Stoker’s time. Life expectancies were low, mortality rates were high - more often than not, half or more of a family’s children would fail to survive to adulthood - and burials were, to be blunt, basic and hardly safe, with stories of bodies in a grave having to be disinterred in order to fit another one in, with the resultant noxious odours and sense of creeping terror such things engendered. So it’s not too hard to see why the young Stoker would have been fascinated - horrified maybe, but certainly drawn to the idea of death, and through ancient Irish beliefs, the notion too of rebirth of the soul. While vampires per se never had much of a hold in Irish folklore, there was no shortage of creatures who would go around stealing souls, or carrying victims off to fairy forts and castles where they would return, if at all, to find hundreds of years had passed.
This is only my own, more than likely wrong idea, but I consider the possibility that Stoker, a staunch Protestant, seeing the rise of Catholics in Ireland as the Penal Laws began to be relaxed and then repealed, may have even presented Dracula as an image of the unwanted power of the Papists rising like a horrible spectre from the dead to again threaten the living. But as I say, that’s based on nothing more than my own notions.
As if all that wasn’t enough, the young Bram entered the world in the midst of the worst famine Ireland had ever seen, or would ever see again, as the potato crop failed and people starved to death, the population of Ireland dwindling by a quarter as a million people died and a similar number fled the country. Though the Stokers survived the horror, a report in the Mayo Constitution, issued around the time of Bram’s birth, made clear how ghastly the scenes around the country were: “In Ballinrobe the workhouse is in the most deplorable state, pestilence having attacked paupers, officers, and all. In fact, this building is one horrible charnel house. . . . The master has become the victim of this dread disease; the clerk, a young man whose energies were devoted to the well-being of the union, has been added to the victims; the matron, too, is dead; and the respected and esteemed physician has fallen before the ravages of pestilence, in his constant attendance on the diseased inmates.”
It’s easy to see Stoker later anthropomorphising the dread spectre of death and hunger and disease into the stalking figure of Dracula, the grim reaper bringing death to all of London, misery where he passed, darkness falling, the killing of hope and joy, the silence of the grave. Whether he would personally remember the Famine or not is debatable, as he would only have been a child at the time, but no doubt the recollections of his older brother and sister, and those of his parents, to say nothing of neighbours, then newspaper reports and later research would have brought home to him how, to the people of Ireland at the time, it must have looked like the end of the world was nigh. Like Europe under the Black Death five hundred years earlier, there would have seemed no hope, and people would have just been waiting for death to take them, as helpless as Stoker’s vampire’s victims would become, transfixed, not by Dracula’s penetrating red eyes, but by despair, horror and hunger.
Victorian times of course continued the medieval practice of blood-letting, as it was firmly believed by the medical community (who were, unlike now, completely and utterly trusted and never argued with, nor would they accept any such criticism from a mere patient, whom they surely regarded as a much lower life form) that an excess of blood was the cause of many illnesses. The idea of someone taking his blood (since he was sick for seven years it seems likely he was bled frequently) and the natural revulsion to, and horror of such a procedure, may have been seen to have contributed to Stoker’s development of Dracula as a character. Given that one of the preferred methods was to use leeches, and that he later describes the count as a “filthy leech, exhausted in his repletion”, this seems a good bet.
To some degree, reading Stoker’s biography and all about his life is like seeing the genesis of his dark masterpiece coalescing in his mind. So many elements point to what would influence his later writing. His father worked in the ancient castle that housed the oppressive (though not to him of course) seat of the British government in Ireland, Dublin Castle, which would have been looked upon by many of his fellow Catholic Irish as a place of darkness and revulsion, an unwelcome outpost of the enemy in their own land, a cruel, arrogant, uncaring edifice that sneered down on the city of Dublin and whose masters made of its people their slaves. You can almost imagine a Catholic coach or omnibus driver stopping short of the dread structure, eyeing it with resentment and fear, and muttering “This far will I go, and no further.”
That scene, too, takes in Irish folklore, as allied to the banshee already mentioned was the tale of the Dulann, a headless horseman who was said to ride a huge black coach, carrying a coffin and drawn by four black headless horses past houses at the wail of the banshee, and that if it stopped at your door and you opened it a basin of blood would be thrown out at you. Though I’m familiar with the legend of the former I must admit this is new to me, but I will bow to the author’s superior knowledge on the subject, and assume he has done his research. Oh, and he quotes W.B. Yeats, so that settles it obviously. Charlotte, Stoker’s mother, is said to have heard personally the wail of the banshee on the passing of her mother, and the tales she told of growing up in the Cholera epidemic of 1832, which claimed over 25,000 lives, would also have struck a chord with him when he came to flesh out his novel.
Not only that, he would have (very young and second-hand) memories of the disease himself, as another epidemic struck as a result of the Famine, taking almost twice as many lives as the one his mother had lived through, raging across Ireland from 1847 into 1848. The spectre of disease, famine and death would have been a formative image in young Bram’s life, and the sight (or reports of) skeletal figures, more dead than alive, stumbling through the streets or collapsing on roads or in doorways or in fields, or anywhere they fell, would have affected him greatly when he grew up and remembered those times. Some might even say, given that he was born in the year that became known as “Black ‘47”, and later gave birth to the blackest, most evil figure ever to stride through the pages of literature and through the minds of men, that his birth could be in itself seen as a bad omen, a harbinger of death and misery.
Tales of the “coffin ships” that carried desperate Irishmen and women and children to the hoped-for safety of the New World, and on which many died, thus giving rise to the name, almost presage the situation aboard the Demeter, when the count stalks and hunts his prey on the ship as it heads for England. “[30 April] The fever spreads and to the other horrors of the steerage is added cries of those in delirium. While coming from the galley this afternoon, with a pan of stirabout for some sick children, a man suddenly sprang upward from the hatchway, rushed to the bulwark, his white hair streaming in the wind, and without a moment’s hesitation, leaped into the seething waters. He disappeared beneath them at once.”
[13 May] . . . I saw a shapeless heap move past our ship on the outgoing tide. Presently there was another and another. Craning my head over the bulwark I watched. Another came, it caught in one cable, and before the swish of the current washed it clear, I had caught a glimpse of a white face. I understood it all. The ship ahead of us had emigrants and they were throwing overboard their dead.”
While Bram was born into a time when women were supposed to be silent and subservient, submissive and obedient to their husbands, and take second place in all things, it’s quite clear that Charlotte wore, figuratively if not literally, the trousers in the relationship. She was certainly one of the old breed of strong matriarchal figures so prevalent in the Gothic fiction popular at the time; a woman whose word was law, who the family looked up to, perhaps even feared, and against whom not even her husband dared go. As such, hers was the mind that shaped that of her young sickly son, and she had very clear ideas about education and language. “A man’s mind without language”, she wrote, “is a perfect blank; he recognizes no will but his own natural impulses; he is alone in the midst of his fellow-men; an outcast from society and its pleasures; a man in outward appearance, in reality reduced to the level of brute creation.”
So she would have very much encouraged - even forced - learning in her son (about her daughters she could care less, snapping that she “didn’t care tuppence” about their education) in the hope he would, perhaps and probably, rise to far more ambitious heights than her husband, his father, who worked almost all of his life as a clerk in Dublin Castle, only attaining the dizzy heights of senior clerk twelve years before he retired, having spent a total of forty years as junior and then assistant clerk. Charlotte surely wanted better for her sons, and was determined they should not disappoint. In the event, her hopes were realised, as Bram’s elder brother Thomas became 1st Baronet and a famous and respected surgeon, while her second son would literally write his name in the annals of history, a name never to be forgotten or unknown.
Although Ireland was by no means known as a place of learning, outside of the monasteries and state-run schools, with over half the population unable to read, the hammer blow of the Great Famine pushed this as a necessity, as while you could be a farmer without having ever to read a word in a book, the over-reliance on that way of life had been partly responsible for there being so much death and hunger, and people began to wean themselves off the agricultural path and into those which not only promised better money and prospects, but allowed them to leave behind the dependence on the humble potato crop. These pursuits though - the law, medicine, the sciences, government, and even less salubrious posts such as shopkeepers or teachers - all required at least a basic working knowledge of the printed word. Luckily for Charlotte - and Bram - they were Protestants, and so no real avenue of education or advancement was closed off to them, unlike the poor Catholics, who were still banned from holding many positions by the Penal Laws.
But Ireland has a rich tradition of folk tales, mostly told in oral form, and by the mid to late nineteenth century there had begun a rising interest in such things, as, along with the resurgence in popularity of the Gothic novel and Penny Dreadfuls, books of fairy-tales, translate from French, German and even Arabic, began to crop up in bookstores and in the carts of wandering pedlars for sale. Stories like Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella all made their way to Irish shores, where there was a ready market for them from people already familiar with tales of sprites and fairies. As he lay abed, Bram’s mother is likely to have read these stories to her sickly son, further firing his imagination with accounts of fantastical adventures, magic, evil and strange lands.
Unlike Irish and English fairy tales, which, while they preached cautionary tales, were more concerned with the idea of straying over to the dark side of paganism and a move away from God, German ones in particular seemed to take visceral delight in describing in gleefully graphic detail what happened when children - always children - didn’t do as they were told. One of the stories which may have had the most effect on the young Stoker is that of Oswald, the Night Wanderer, who is transformed into a bat and flies away. Uh-huh. This idea, while surely at least partially responsible for the linkage of vampires with bats, could also have given rise to the “children of the night” description Dracula gives the howling animals outside his castle; those who were seen to disobey, rebel or fight against the innate goodness and obedience their parents or other authority figures tried to instil in them were destined to be lost, cast out, wandering the trackless depths of the night, forever bemoaning their fate and, just maybe, plotting revenge on those who had abandoned them.
Another major influence on Stoker was the pantomime, performed at Christmas and featuring disparate characters drawn from lore, fairy tales, other stories and mythologies. One prominent character in these was often the demon king, and of course there were, as has already been laid out, numerous plays in circulation based mostly on Polidori’s The Vampyre, all of which would have given shape to Stoker’s later vision of his own demon king. Considering the change in him after his illness, it’s of course ridiculous but nevertheless intriguing to think that he had somehow drained the life-essence out of some doctor or other ministering person, as his count would drain Jonathan Harker, changing from a wizened, fragile and ancient figure into a powerful, strong, handsome and virile young man.
His mother, though, was to be disappointed if she expected him to gain academic honours. He barely scraped in through the entrance examination for Trinity College in Dublin in 1864, and once there proved a poor student, leaving in 1866 to join his father in a clerical post at Dublin Castle, but returning one year later and, while still no brainiac, excelled in sports and athletics, becoming one of the college’s most successful athletes, winning trophy after trophy, and also seeing the fruits of his imagination and interest in literature blossom in his presidency of both the Historical Society and the Philosophical Society, the only man ever to hold both posts.
In 1867 he met the man who was to have such an effect on his life - almost literally hold him in his thrall - and it’s interesting that a quote from him about actor Henry Irving could almost be read as one about his most famous creation, with the removal of one word: “a being of another social world.” Irving certainly wove a subtle spell around his new acolyte, and it’s hard not to see the genesis of Count Dracula in the tall, inspiring actor who would take him on as his protege. Other phrases in the same quote echo his future creation too: “(whose ridicule) seemed to bite; shrouded and veiled; handsome, distinguished and self-dependent (though of course Dracula, when Harker encounters him first, is none of these things, save perhaps the middle one); slumbrous energy; patrician figure; supreme and unsurpassable insolence; fine of manner.”
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|02-25-2022, 09:01 PM
Zum Henker Defätist!!
Join Date: Jan 2011
Location: Beating GNR at DDR and keying Axl's new car
Alright I haven't read all that post but I will but **** do I love Dracula. As a lover of travelogues the beginning is precisely what I would want of an English fop descending into the dark and superstitious Carpathian mountains, everything in the castle is basically making Lovecraft look bad, and even if the rest isn't as focused it's sill part of one my all-time favorite books.
|02-26-2022, 06:27 AM
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Yeah it's the quintessential English travelogue, isn't it: rife with xenophobia, racism and colonialism, but all of that makes it even more poignant when Harker is left trapped in Castle Dracula, pining for home and his lover. It also shows how people - including Stoker - of the day saw "foreign" lands such as Austria and Romania and anywhere ending in -ania: real "darkest Africa" kind of stuff.
It's a wonderful novel, there's no doubt, even if hardly original (as you can see from the other entries) and it just caught the balance, I think, between serious Gothic horror, romance and adventure stories, and a kind of English triumphalism that really struck a chord with the public.
The powers of Dracula are so enhanced here that I bet some people reading it for the first time were checking outside their windows at night if they heard a scratching sound, or waking up in a cold sweat. It seemed the Count could be anywhere, any time.
As it goes, this is merely the beginning of the article. I have a lot more to say about the man before we even get to discussing the novel in depth so, like they say, stay tuned!
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|02-26-2022, 10:22 AM
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
All of these words could refer to the count, and surely when Stoker began putting together his most famous character, Irving must have been on his mind as some sort of role model, his vision perhaps of the ideal man, a man even too good (or evil) to be merely human, a man, a figure, a creature above all others. His association with Irving, and his perceived lack of coverage of the actor’s talents, led Stoker to become a drama critic for the Dublin Evening Mail, through which offices he became known - though writing anonymously - as one of the great voices and authorities on the Dublin arts scene. His next major influence was the notorious writer, poet and all-round bad boy Oscar Wilde, with whom he developed a friendship, and the practice of Oscar’s mother, Lady Wilde, of drawing the curtains even during the day and seldom emerging till evening, as she tried to hide her fading beauty, surely influenced Stoker’s portrayal of the enigmatic count as a being who shunned the light and moved about only by darkness.
Oddly enough, it seems Stoker was almost as reclusive (or is seen to have been) a figure as his character, shunning the spotlight and releasing only the very barest details of his life - not that during his life anyone even wanted them, as he lived in the titanic shadow of Irving - making future attempts at writing his biography problematical at best. We can point to about three major influences/acquaintances that impacted upon his life, other than his mother. First is Walt Whitman, with whose poetry he was enthralled, and with whom, it is postulated, he first fell in love, even if he did not either recognise, admit or properly articulate his feelings for the man when he wrote to him. Second then is Irving, who would have so much control over his life that it’s really quite hard to see him as anything other than the model for Dracula himself, with Stoker playing the role of the hapless, impotent and powerless lawyer who gets trapped and slowly begins to die in his castle. Third then is Oscar Wilde. Other than these three, for a man who moved in literary and artistic circles, there aren’t any other major figures in his life to talk about.
He did marry, in fact the original sweetheart of his friend Oscar, but his marriage to Florence Bascombe, though it yielded one daughter, was always characterised as cold and passionless, the possibility being offered that his working for - some might say, and have done, slaving for Irving came between them, though if he was harbouring any sort of homosexual feelings (which, despite countless attempts in countless books on the subject has never been definitively proven) then his marriage may merely have been a typical Victorian show one, a duty, the thing to be done, or even a way to cover up his homosexuality.
Unable any longer to bear the cost of living in Ireland, with Abraham in deep debt and surely also wishing to put behind them tragic events such as the Famine and the cholera epidemic, Bram’s family divided - his father, mother and sisters going to live in Europe in 1872 and Bram, Thornley and his other brothers remaining behind. Bram’s literary talent, honed on the articles he had written for the paper, began to manifest itself more personally and directly as he wrote short stories, the first of which, “The Crystal Cup”, was published in London Society magazine the same year he was separated from his parents and sisters. It was a dark, gloomy, fatalistic story owing much to the work of Edgar Allan Poe, and utilising the kind of grim, forbidding imagery he would later harness in his masterpiece.
The following year he secured another job (in addition to working full time in the civil service and as drama critic for the Mail) with the Irish Echo, which allowed him to pour more of his literary imagination and even humour into the reports he wrote for the paper, and even a short story he had written, “Saved by a Ghost”, which saw publication on December 26 1873, continuing a tradition if not started by, then certainly popularised by Charles Dickens, of Christmas ghost stories. And it was during this time, while working for both papers and also writing his own fiction (and holding down a day job at Dublin Castle) that he met one of the few females who would figure in his life.
Actress Genevieve Ward was an American, perhaps the first he had ever met, and after reviewing her performance one night he made her acquaintance, later becoming fast friends with her. There are suggestions among some biographers of a romantic liaison with her, but there is no evidence to prove this, or indeed disprove it. She was, in any case, already married, to the dashing and surely jealous Count Constantine de Geurbel of Nicolaieff, aide-de-camp to the Russian Tsar, and who could also be seen as contributing, in Stoker’s mind (had he met him) to the character makeup of Count Dracula. Constantine’s own biographer wrote that his “personal power with both men and women was something inexplicably great. He was able to embarrass and lethargize the reasoning faculties, while intensifying the emotional.” Sound familiar?
Further evidence that de Guerbel may have provided some fodder for Stoker’s imagination comes when we read that he essentially jilted his bride, failing to be married for some time in a Russian church, the only way to legalise the marriage, and that when he was eventually ordered to by the Tsar, the bride’s father brought a gun to the ceremony and she herself wore black, her mother calling it not a marriage but a funeral, her daughter’s reputation and social standing seen to be already in tatters. But Genevieve reinvented herself, losing her singing voice to a bout of diphtheria and so concentrating on her acting, dropping her now-dead husband’s name and reverting to her own, and it was under these circumstances that she met Stoker. There was, however, no hint of anything other than friendship in their relationship, her letters to him headed “Dear Mr. Stoker.” His affections, if he had any for a woman, were reserved for one who was tacitly promised to another.
Again, the dearth of information about Stoker stymies any attempt to find out when, or how, or under what circumstances he courted Florence Balcombe, and whether this was with the approval of or under protest from Oscar Wilde, but by about summer 1878 they were engaged. However his marriage, due to take place a year from then, was hastily rushed forward when he received an offer (order really, command) from Henry Irving to join him in London, where he had bought the Lyceum Theatre which he wanted Stoker to run for him. It seems no discussion was had, no opinion elicited from his fiancee, and no argument (if there were any) would be accepted: he, and she, were going to London, and that was an end of it. Henry Irving had spoken, and Bram Stoker, with an almost Renfieldesque servility, rushed to his master’s side.
It’s an interesting aside that when Oscar requested the return of a gold crucifix he had gifted Florence when they had been together, it may have occurred to Bram that he could despatch the now-unwelcome presence of his now-wife’s former suitor by banishing him with the holy artifact, or, to quote the article directly: There were ample reasons for Stoker to think Oscar was unsavory, or somehow unclean. If you threw a crucifix at him, perhaps he would just go away. In the event he did not, exactly: Wilde moved to London, seeming to be following Stoker, but it wasn’t so. He had merely outgrown, in his own estimation, the confines of parochial (by comparison) Dublin and wished to move to a larger, more appreciative stage. Of course, while he for a time accomplished this, becoming the toast of London society, it was England which would be his ruin, as history shows us all too plainly.
But we’re concerned here not with Oscar Wilde but Bram Stoker, and less than a year after moving to London - and with no honeymoon, for Irving demanded all of his time, like the very vampire it is postulated he would be created into, sucking all of the energy and attention out of his young protege as he could - he and Florence had a son, their only child. To nobody’s surprise (and possibly above Florence’s objections, though this isn’t recorded) he was named Irving Noel Stoker, though he dropped the first part of his name as soon as he could, and was ever after known as Noel Stoker.
Somehow, among all this slavedriven workload, Stoker managed to put together a collection of dark fairy tales called Under the Sunset, in 1881, in which a passage seems to be almost reproduced later at the beginning of his classic novel, for which he would begin taking notes a decade later.
Pass not the Portal of the Sunset Land!
Pause where the Angels at their vigil stand.
Be warned! And press not though the gates lie wide,
But rest securely on the hither side.
Though odorous gardens and cool ways invite,
Beyond are the darkest valleys of the night.
Rest! Rest contented.—Pause whilst undefiled,
Nor seek the horrors of the desert wild.
The next year, as Irving began to talk of plans for an American tour, Oscar Wilde would achieve something Stoker could only at that point dream of: he met Walt Whitman in person, and the two got on very well. A year later Stoker would finally meet his idol. It was a great joy for both men, and Whitman made him promise to come visit him at his home, as he originally met them at the residence of another acquaintance. In 1883 he did so, and enjoyed the great poet’s company, making a fine impression on the man himself, as they talked of such subjects as the tragic killing of Abraham Lincoln.
Bram Stoker began taking notes for his new novel in 1890, when he visited the southern Yorkshire town of Whitby, which would become the point in the book where the old world and the new met, where Dracula would finally set foot (or, as it happened, paw) on English soil. He researched diligently for the next seven years, and this was a man who knew what research meant! From reading geographic travelogues about Romania, noting descriptions of buildings and people, to confirming the exact times of the arrival and departure of trains, so as to be accurate. Previous treatments of the vampire myth, as we have seen, mostly if not not all based on Polidori’s The Vampyre, had set the story in Styria, now in modern Slovenia (had this anything to do with the word hysteria? I don’t know, but you’d wonder), as a strange, unfamiliar, dark and largely backward country where superstition held sway and where such things as vampires could be seen to exist, at least for literary purposes. Stoker more or less followed this rule.
He chose Romania though as his setting, settling on Transylvania - literally, the land beyond the forest - as the location for the count’s castle, and where the action for the first part of the book would take place. He never personally visited the country, but gained all the information he could through books, as I said, and anyway, so little would have been known of such places by mostly insular Britons that it really is unlikely to have mattered how accurate or realistic his description was. In addition to that, it was after all fiction, and Gothic horror fiction at that. He wasn’t trying to write a detailed travelogue on the country.
The novel, originally to be called The Un-Dead, but its title changed at the last moment, hit the shelves in 1897, and was a hit, however it did not establish him as the respected author he had hoped it would. His “friend” (read, master) Henry Irving is said to have dismissed it in one disdainful word: “dreadful”. Then again, Irving was a vain, egotistical, mean bastard who probably hated anyone else to get attention or notice, or indeed credit, much less Stoker, whom he would have seen as little more than a servant, so he probably never even read the thing. Reaction to the novel though was mixed, and Stoker came in for a lot of criticism, many people not taking it seriously, dismissing it as Irving had done, or tearing it to pieces in an almost symbolic imitation of the actions of the count himself on his victims.
Stoker continued to write, but none of his novels after his opus gained much attention either, and he died, not penniless but certainly not celebrated, in 1912 at the age of sixty-five. A man who had been born into death and tragedy, he ended his life the same way, passing four days after what was the biggest maritime disaster and loss of life when the RMS Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. None of the obituaries mentioned his seminal work; in fact, most referred to him only in the same breath as Irving, allowing the dread master of his fate to retain his control over him even in death (he had died a few years previously) and drag him down into the abyss after him.
Of course, like many writers, his genius was only acknowledged long after his death, and now he is celebrated the world over as very much the father of not only the world’s most famous and enduring vampire, but of almost all vampire fiction that followed. It is universally agreed that he wrote one of the nineteenth century’s greatest works of literature, on very much a part with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and authors such as Edgar Allen Poe.
In death, it seems, Stoker achieved what he never did in life, which was to establish himself as his own man, speak with his own voice, not as the mouthpiece or puppet of another, more controlling one, and though his name is still linked with Henry Irving, it is today the man who created Dracula whom we remember most. The weakling boy from Dublin, had come back to life via the Carpathian Mountains, and looms large over a multi-billion dollar industry that might never have been born had it not been for him.
Trollheart: Signature-free since April 2018
|03-17-2022, 12:26 PM
Born to be mild
Join Date: Oct 2008
Location: 404 Not Found
Author: Bram Stoker
Written: 1890 - 1897
Synopsis: Who does not know this story? If you haven’t read the novel then you’ve surely seen the movies, but here’s a quick rundown. Solicitor Jonathan Harker is sent by his law firm to oversee the final preparations and have papers signed by the mysterious Count Dracula, who lives in Transylvania and wishes to move to England. Once he arrives, Harker finds himself trapped in the mouldering castle, where strange women seem to seduce and then attack him, and he gets weaker and sicker while his host, the eponymous Count, originally an old, frail and wizened man when he met him, gets younger and more virile and stronger by the day. Harker’s stay is extended by the Count, who seems unwilling to allow the lawyer to leave. Meanwhile, back in England, his fiancee, Mina, awaits news of her husband-to-be anxiously, and is troubled by strange dreams, as is her best friend, Lucy Westernra.
Leaving Transylvania and his ancient castle behind, Dracula takes a ship, the Demeter, to England, on board which mysterious deaths occur as he stalks the crew, and on its arrival a storm whips up, driving the ship towards Whitby and wrecking it. Dracula comes ashore in the form of a huge dog, and Lucy, who has joined Mina there on holiday, begins to sleepwalk. Her health also deteriorates, and her admirer, Quincy Jones sorry Quincey Morris - one of three - calls in his friend Dr. John Seward (also an erstwhile suitor for Lucy’s hand) and Arthur Holmwood, whom she has chosen. Despite the rivalry between the three, it’s all good English gentlemen together (even though Morris is an American) and they remain friends, all desperate to do everything they can to help the woman they all love.
Mina, having received information that her fiance, escaped from Castle Dracula, is recuperating in a hospital in Budapest, goes to join him, while Seward calls in his old teacher, Abraham van Helsing. He believes he knows what is wrong with Lucy, but refuses to divulge this to the others for fear of their ridicule. In the event, despite his attempts to ward off the vampire, Lucy is taken by Dracula and though buried, she returns to stalk the town, gaining the horrific reputation of the “White Lady” who haunts the graveyard and eats children. Van Helsing, confiding to the others what he knows, goes with them to where Lucy is buried and they stake her, behead her and that’s the end of her.
Harker and Mina return from Budapest and join the hunt. Mina is attacked by Dracula and cursed to become a vampire unless the boys can kill him. They close off all avenues of escape to him - by rendering the coffins of earth he brought with him useless, and van Helsing reveals that the vampire must lie in the soil of his own country to survive - and basically chase him back to Transylvania for the big confrontation scene where they kill him. Harker slashes him across the neck and Quincey stabs him in the heart, but he dies of wounds already inflicted upon him by the vampire. Dracula turns to dust, probably cursing the fact that he ever left home, and the spell over Mina is broken.
An entire industry, almost, has arisen to tackle the examination, criticism and exploration of this seminal book, with so many theories and themes that it’s almost impossible to take it at face value, which is, as a horror/Gothic novel. So many subtexts have been either woven into the narrative (or been perceived as having been) that to some extent it’s lost its original meaning, and stands for everything now from Victorian sexual repression to comments on, I don’t know, consumerism and nationalism. But while I will explore many of these, I will try to also form my own ideas of what I feel the novel may represent.
One thing it is most certainly not, despite what Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 movie would have you believe from its strapline, is a love story. Stoker didn’t do love, at least, not love between a man and a woman, as evidenced by his joyless, almost sexless marriage. He would not have had either the courage to directly speak of, or even realised perhaps the nature of, attraction between two men and if this is part of the subtext then it has to be very much hidden. Such ideas would be frowned upon in Victorian society, and while Oscar Wilde might have been a braver man than Stoker, look what it cost him. So on the surface it’s a horror, adventure story which brings in elements from folk belief and the inherent heroism of the English (and one American, who gets killed off) and taps into some of humanity’s greatest fears, with the bad guy defeated and the good guys triumphant.
But it can also be looked upon in some ways, I believe, as a deeply misogynistic story, or, to be fair to Stoker, reflecting accurately the prevalent attitude towards women at the time he wrote it. It’s hard, given his believed aversion to relationships with women (he had female friends, as we’ve seen, but never attempted any sort of deeper intimacy with them, so far as we know) to see this as anything other than a sort of punishment from God on loose women, kind of Jack the Ripper style, if his motivations are to be accepted. The women in Dracula are all weak. Lucy is the worst. Yes, she becomes a vampire and therefore strong for a time, but only under the aegis of the vampire who has made her so; she must surrender totally to him - surrender as totally as anyone can, giving up their very life - before she can be the nightstalking killer she becomes. And she doesn’t last. The - exclusively male - party deals with her, doling out the ultimate punishment, and can a stake through the heart be seen as anything other than a form of rape when applied to a woman? A long, hard, rigid stick penetrating her very core?
Mina is allowed to live to the end of the story, but only really as a motivating force for Harker and as a kind of echo-locater for the men to track down Dracula and kill him, and she takes no part in the killing herself, leaving it to the men to rescue her immortal soul. She is no stronger than Lucy, submitting to the vampire and allowing her life-force to be drained by him. She shows a certain strength in rushing to Harker’s side when news comes that he is in a Hungarian hospital, but in a way that’s just what’s expected of any Victorian fiancee, so it’s nothing terribly special. She never joins the fight, never tries to get Dracula back for what he has done, and spends most of the book pining over Harker and offering glib advice to her friend as to her romantic inclinations.
Lucy is seen as a very loose woman, her initial inability to choose between the three - count ‘em, three! - suitors and her sigh that she wished she could choose them all (surely a shocking comment to make in strait-laced Victorian times) marking her as a woman of dubious morals, and again weak, in that she can’t make a decision; slightly spoiled, too, as she wants to have her own way, have her figurative cake and eat it too. And by characterising her thus, I feel Stoker makes us as the readers unsympathetic towards her, it being reasonably clear what’s going to happen to her. The message here surely can be nothing other than that bad women get what they deserve; bad girls get punished. Had Lucy been of stronger moral fibre, perhaps she could have (in theory at least) resisted the advances of the vampire, but as she has already had her will weakened in being unable to decide who she will marry, she’s a perfect target for the fiend, and goes down as easy as water down a plughole.
There are, I think, no strong female characters in the book. It’s very much a male-driven story, with essentially one major male bad guy and four male good guys, chums bonding together to take on the evil one, with along the way some totty for eye candy and narrative purposes. It’s telling that, Harker himself aside, Dracula only targets women for his unearthly lusts. There’s very much a sense of the establishment of the dominance of the male over the female, with the latter utterly helpless to resist, and even aside from the vampire, the men dominate the women in every way, taking the lead, taking charge and eventually saving one of them while releasing the soul of the one they couldn’t save by, um, slicing her head off and stabbing her. And filling her mouth with garlic. Was Stoker figuratively shutting up all womankind by stuffing up Lucy’s mouth? I’m sorry; it looks like our time is up. Same time next week?
Anyway, I’m no psychoanalyst, so anything I say here probably doesn’t carry much weight, but it seems to me that there are definite undertones of violence towards women and a sense of almost revenge from Stoker: this is what you get for not letting me express myself as I should! Even Lucy’s mother is killed off, and as for the three vampire brides in Dracula’s castle, well, they don’t last either, slain by van Helsing near the end of the book. You could possibly consider them strong female characters, as Harker is helpless before them, but again their power comes from a male figure, the male figure, and when Dracula commands them to leave Harker alone - “This man is mine! I want him!” - they shrink back in terror, so what real power have they?
It strikes me too that there’s a certain sense of xenophobia here. Dracula, the ultimate outsider, the quintessential foreigner, comes to English shores and quite literally takes our women. He is a threat, an unwelcome visitor, and he brings with him his dark, evil ways, corrupting and warping England (more than it is already corrupted) and eventually is dealt with as in most pogroms down throughout history. The distrust of the foreigner is written large in this novel; from the first time Harker arrives in Romania he is aware of being different, of being watched and suspected, and he feels the same sense of unease and disquiet towards the Romanians, wishing he was home in England. It’s hard not to see Dracula’s arrival in, and almost immediate rampage through good old Blighty as an invasion, an attack on English morals and values, evil being literally imported - or importing itself - onto our shores. The cry could easily be raised for the vampire to “go back where you came from”, not that he’d take notice.
As has been endlessly discussed, and reading his biography you’d have to give it some credit indeed, the relationship between Henry Irving and Stoker can be seen to be mirrored in that between Dracula and Harker. The lawyer is imprisoned by the vampire in his castle, called there by him (through the law firm) in a very similar way to how Irving called - ordered - Stoker to come to London and run the Lyceum theatre for him, ensuring he was at his beck and call whenever he needed him. In a very metaphorical way, Irving fed off Stoker the way Dracula feeds off Harker, draining him of all resistance with absolutely no regard for or interest in his own welfare. While Dracula stands in the way of Harker and Mina’s marriage, Irving prevented them from having a honeymoon and it must be said drove a wedge between them that killed any chance they had of having a proper marriage as effectively and brutally as the stake driven through Lucy’s heart. Florence once accused her husband of being more likely to mourn the death of Irving than that of their son, to which the author snapped that they could always have more children, but there was only one Henry Irving!
Irving, despite his callous and offhand manner with almost everyone, his superinflated ego, his contempt for all and his arrogant belief in his own superiority, nevertheless attracted just about everyone he interacted with, as if they were under his spell. He was a dark, malignant presence that nobody seemed proof against (other than perhaps Florence, and she didn’t count as she had no sway over her husband, least of all where Irving was concerned). He seemed, from what I’ve read about him, to have little or no moral code beyond satisfying his own needs, and almost comes across as something other than human. Surely Stoker, even subconsciously, must have been thinking of him and the relationship they shared when he created the character of Dracula?
A seeming fallacy that has persisted is that Stoker based the count on Vlad III Dracul, known as the Impala, sorry Impaler, but the research I’ve done seems to show general agreement that this is not the case. While doing his own research it appears he came across the story and took the name because he liked the sound of it, but it looks just to have been coincidence that the man whose name he gave to his greatest creation was also an evil one who had a thing about cruelty and blood. In fairness, there’s very little of Vlad III in Count Dracula. He doesn’t impale people, he doesn’t dip his bread in their blood, and he’s not a prince guarding his realm. He may not even be a count; for all we know, this could be one of many assumed identities the being known as Dracula has assumed on down the centuries, or even longer. No information is given, no hint offered to how old the vampire may actually be (though when he crumbles to dust at the end it may be inferred that he was only keeping his body together by magic and sheer force of his evil will, and by utilising the life energy of others), or where his title came from.
So really, when you look into it, there’s no reason to believe Stoker based Dracula on the Wallachian prince. It’s far more likely he’s an amalgamation of the legends, beliefs and fears of the folk of eastern Europe, a distillation of the vampire myth shaped to Stoker’s purposes. As I wrote in another section, vampires in folk belief were meant to be monsters, shambling, sub-human creatures with no real brain and no goal other than wanton destruction, and were restricted to the graveyard wherein they had been buried. This would never have done for Stoker, so he had to change the myth, borrowing liberally from Polidori, Rymer, Le Fanu and even Byron to come up with the archetypal vampire. Dracula begins as a feeble, weak, pathetic old man - who yet has the power to inspire dread and terror - and metamorphoses into a strong and vibrant messenger of evil, the perfect synthesis of power and darkness. It’s undeniable that his intention, his nature never changed, but now he has the strength and the shape to carry out his evil will to its fullest, and slake his eternal thirst.
And how did Stoker see himself in the novel, or did he? I don’t think it’s any great stretch to see him in the role of Harker, initially weak and cowed, bowing to the demands of his new master, trapped in a cycle of death, violence and heady lust from which he can’t escape, though when he does, he is able to take his revenge on the creature who had made his life such a misery. But I personally see him more in the revolting and yet somehow pitiable figure of Renfield, Dracula’s true slave, who sits and eats insects and other things in an asylum, waiting, praying, begging for his master to come and deliver him. How can you look at this mockery of a man, crouching in filth and ignorance, longing to be debased and used and humiliated and even killed if it suits his master’s purposes, and not see the willing form of Stoker, inviting degradation and contempt from Irving? And in the end, Dracula treats his faithful slave as Irving did, by using him to his own ends and casting him aside.
I don’t intend to go too deeply into the sexual themes within the novel, not because I don’t want to broach such a subject, but because men and women far cleverer than I, who have studied the novel far more deeply than I have (I think I’ve read it through twice, maybe three times) have already done this idea to death. Nevertheless, any appreciation or review of Dracula would be incomplete without at least acknowledging the element of sex in it. It’s pretty carefully hidden, so that the average reader, certainly at the time, could either ignore it and pretend it wasn’t there, or (rather unlikely but I guess possible) miss it altogether. But when you have a dark monster entering women’s bedrooms and sinking his teeth into their necks, draining them of their will as well as their blood, and claiming them, and the reaction from these women to these assaults, it’s definitely a form of rape, even if tacit approval is given. If you, as a woman, are hypnotised into allowing a man to make love to you, do you consider it consensual?
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