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Bram Stoker is remembered today for just one book, Dracula, which introduced the world's most famous vampire, but this was only a small part of his life.
Bram (Abraham) Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847, one of the seven children of Abraham and Charlotte Stoker. A delicate child, he was partly educated at home, and was deeply influenced both by his father's interest in the theatre, and his mother's often gruesome stories of her childhood, particularly those concerning the great cholera epidemic of 1832. He entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1864, where he became a successful athlete and debater. He graduated in 1870 with honours in science, maths, oratory, history, and composition. Afterwards, he kept up his association with the College, and became friendly with Oscar Wilde's family when Oscar entered Trinity College in 1871.
Work as a Civil Servant
Bram obtained a post as a civil servant in Dublin Castle. He found the work dull, and continued to attend both college debating societies and the theatre as much as he could. He obtained an MA degree in mathematics during these years. He also began to write down ideas for articles and stories, and for a while was drama critic for the Dublin Evening Mail. He was efficient enough at work to be promoted to the post of Inspector of Petty Sessions1, and his first published book was actually Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland.
Friendship and Marriage
On a visit to Dublin, the great actor Henry Irving was so pleased with Bram's review of his Hamlet production that he asked to meet him. They became close friends, and over the next couple of years Irving stayed with Stoker on his visits to Dublin. Finally, in 1878, Irving invited Stoker to leave the civil service and become his manager. In the meantime, Bram met Florence Balcombe, who Oscar Wilde had admired and thought 'exquisitely pretty'. They were married in December 1878 and almost immediately emigrated to London, where their one child, a son Noel, was born in 1879.
Bram Stoker spent the rest of his life in London. He worked as business manager in the Lyceum Theatre for Sir Henry Irving, and was his devoted friend and secretary for nearly 30 years. He was called to the Bar (qualified as a barrister) in 1890, but never practised law. After Irving's sudden death in 1905, Stoker published his Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving in 1906.
While working for Irving, Stoker still found enough time to write a series of thrillers and supernatural stories. After Irving's death, the income from his books became more important to him, but even Dracula made him very little money. He died on 20 April, 1912.
Dracula was published in 1897, and is the only one of Stoker's books commonly read today. The first well-known full-length vampire novel, it has had an enormous influence on popular culture, inspiring over a hundred films, and a whole tourist industry, not just in Transylvania but also in Whitby in Yorkshire, where a number of scenes were set. No one can fully explain why this one novel of all Stoker's work struck such a chord with readers' imaginations.
Stoker may have been influenced by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu's vampire story Carmilla published in 18722. He spent some years researching the topic of vampires, and apparently began making notes for this work in 1890. Some of the parts that are least convincing may actually be the areas he knew best. The American accent of Quincey Morris makes many people wince, but Stoker had travelled to the US a number of times with Henry Irving, and met many well-known Americans. His blood transfusion scene is wrong by modern knowledge, and Professor Van Helsing is often seen as a caricature, but three of Stoker's brothers were doctors, and one, Sir (William) Thornley Stoker was himself a Professor of Anatomy at the Royal Irish College of Surgeons. On the other hand, the lengthy descriptions of Transylvania and its people were researched purely from books, and managed to sound quite convincing to the casual reader.
Modern commentators have produced a range of interpretations of Dracula, from the psycho-sexual to the outright peculiar. Some see the figure of Count Dracula as a version of Henry Irving, the taskmaster who exhausted Stoker and drained his vitality. Others see the frequent mention of 'purity' and 'tainted' blood as a reference to syphilis, the incurable plague of its day, which was claimed by one biographer to be the cause of Stoker's death. Most readers, however, will accept the book for what it obviously is, a supernatural adventure tale in a very Victorian manner, whose gripping story makes up for any petty faults in style.
Some other Published Works
- The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland (1879)
- The Jewel of the Seven Stars (1903)
- Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906)
- The Lady of the Shroud (1909)
- The Lair of the White Worm (1911)
- Dracula's Guest and other Weird stories (Published after his death) (1914)