Barbara Belford, Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula (NY: Knopf 1996), xv, 381pp.

Introduction: ‘Stoker divided the world into good women and brave men [...] such pastoral thoughts were archaic as the nineteenth century lurch to a close [...] Dracula celebrated Stoker’s final quest to safeguard embattled Victorian values from modernism, to preserve the romance of the family. (p.xii)

‘He was many things but naïve was not one of them [...] He was fully aware of the subtexts in his horror tale (p.xiii); Note that Belford specifically identifies the passage in which a ‘sperm’ of wax from the candle falls upon Lucy’s coffin, and comments that Stoker ‘chose to mask the erotic as the supernatural’; and further, that ‘by eliminating the author’s voice he distanced himself from the unspeakable’ (p.xiii); calls Dracula ‘the only novel he took within himself’ (p.xiv); errs. Incl. Werbaugh St for Werburgh St.; remarks that ‘Thomas Carlyle’s “On Heroes, Hero-Worship” (1841) impressed his generation (p.39)

‘[Stoker] wrote fast and never shed his journalistic speed’ (p.54); Belford remarks that Gladstone ‘spent most of his public career trying to avert an Irish calamity and saw the Protestant ascendancy, from which Stoker sprung, as “some tall tree of noxious growth, lifting its head to Heaven and poisoning the atmosphere of the land”. Stoker supported Home Rule but never spoke out loudly for it, probably because the apolitical Irving - playing devil’s advocate - mocked him about it. (pp.131-32)

‘Stoker used echoes from his favourite Shakespearean play [Macbeth] to fame Dracula and to create the consummate villain to tempt Henry Irving into a new role. When he cast Irving as Dracula, Stoker understood there was little difference between the Macbeth of the ruling world and the Draculas of the supernatural’ (p.209)

Belford reads the characters of Dracula in terms of Tarot cards, taking Harker as ‘The Fool’, Van Helsing as ‘The Magician’, Mina as ‘The Empress’, Lucy and Arthur as ‘The Lovers’, Seward as ‘The Hermit’, Dracula as ‘The Devil’, and Quincey Morris as ‘The Hanged Man’ (214)

Stoker consulted Francis Kildale Robinson’s A Glossary of Words Used in the Neighbourhood of Whitby for Swales’s dialect [in Dracula]’; William Wilkinson, author of An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia (Whitby Library call No. 0.1097), by representative of English Levant Co., contains the text: “Dracula in the Wallachian language means Devil. Wallachians were accustomed to give it as a surname to any person who rendered himself conspicuous by courage, cruel actions or cunning”; Florence deemed “one of the three most beautiful women in London” (p.228)’

Cites Nina Auerbach’s view that Dracula was born from Svengali in Du Maurier’s novel Trilby; Gladstone read The Snake’s Pass; Stoker told Gladstone that he “was both angry at and sorry for Parnell’s attitude”, and Gladstone replied, “I am angry, but I assure you I am even more sorry.” (p.230)

holds that the parental deaths of Mr Hawkins, Lucy’s mother, and Arthur’s father in Dracula ‘symbolise the recent deaths of McHenry, Whitman, and Tennyson’ (p.232); on the claims of Slains Castle: ‘As he travelled through Ireland as inspector for Petty Sessions, there were many magnificence examples, particularly County Antrim’s Dunluce Castle. But Stoker needed no granite muses: turrets and towers had been imprinted on his memory since childhood.’ (p.234)

‘Stoker wove this iconoclastic character [the New Woman], an important shift into the literary portrayal of women, into Dracula - stopping short, however, of giving her authentic independence. Was Stoker for or against the New Woman. Contemporary feminists debate the question. If Lucy’s death ended the noel there would be a strong case for calling Dracula an anti-feminist novel. But the second half introduces the complex and charming Mina Murray Harker, who survives Dracula’s vamping and is largely responsible for his entrapment and destruction.’ (p.236)

‘Stoker’s feelings about Wilde [i.e., his disgrace] went unrecorded’ (p.246); ‘For decades there was speculation as to whether the coincidence of Irving and Thornley’s knighthoods and Wilde’s imprisonment put Stoker over the edge, triggering his vampire story. Clearly no one event, conversation, or personal frustration motivated Dracula. The novel’s genesis was a process, which involved Stoker’s education and interests, his fears and fantasies, as well as those of his Victorian colleagues. He dumped the signposts of his life into a supernatural cauldron and called it Dracula.’ (p.256)

Cites Stoker’s son’s assertion that the plot came in a nightmare after consumption of dressed crab; Belford indicates that ‘the one constant - the pivotal dramatic point - through the working notes is Jonathan Harker’s dream of passive seduction. “Young man goes out sees girls [...] one tries to kiss him not on lips but throat; Old Count interferes - Rage and fury diabolical - This man belongs to me - I want him - a prisoner for a time […”] (p.256)

Underscores ‘some of my sex’ in Van Helsing’s account of the allure of women for men (p.256); ‘When Stoker plotted Dracula, he planned a mythic power struggle between two men which eventually symbolised the struggle for domination among all men’ (p.257)

Relates the origins of the first Dracula in English, John Polidori’s; Polidori was Byron’s physician and sometime lover, who died mysteriously at 25; his version of the tale, originating in the celebrated evening at the Villa Diodati nr. Geneva, written as ‘The Vampyre’, featuring Lord Ruthven (taken from Caroline Lamb’s roman á clef) , appeared in The New Monthly Magazine (April 1819), and was initially attributed to Byron and praised by Goethe as the poet’s finest work (p.257)

Stoker’s most successful innovation was to set the core of his story in Victorian England, a world immediately recognisable’ (p.257); also cites James Malcom Rymer’s Varney the Vampyre: or, The Feast of Blood (1847), in which the central figure is a Restoration nobleman, Sir Francis Varney; other sources of motifs and elements include Goethe (‘The Bride of corinth’), Coleridge (‘Ancient Mariner’), and Southey (‘Thalaba the Destroyer’), as well as Shelley, Byron, Scott and Keats and Irish succubi and incubi; French stage versions inc. those by Charles Nodier and Achille Jouffrey (Le Vampire), adapted in English by J. R. Planché; also Othello (‘was this fair paper, this most foodly book/Made to write “whore” upon?’), and Cymbeline; also cites Arminius Vambéry and Emily Gerard, author of The Land Beyond the Forest [i.e., Transylvania], and who spent two years living there with her Hungarian cavalry husband; Belford notes that Dracula dies of knife wounds, not the stake, because his staking would be a counterpart to Lucy’s orgiastic death - except male to male - ‘something too overtly suggestive for a novel in any genre’; Belford explains the cryptic biographical notice that Stoker wrote for Who’s Who (under recreations, ‘pretty mucht he same as those of the other children of Adam’) in terms of the Whitman poem ‘Children of Adam’, in which ‘those wo know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle, shoot, run, strike, retret, resist, defend themselves - they are ultimate to their own right - they are calm, clear, well-pssoess’d of themselves.’ (p.282); discussed aversion to seductive females and preference form platonic unions (p.317)

In Jewel of the Seven Stars, the hero says that a woman can “unman” a man if he becomes too physically attached (p.317); in The Lair of the White Work, the hunters vow, ‘our strong game will be to play our mascuine against her feminine’ (p.317); tried to demonstrate that Queen Elizabeth was a man in Famous Imposters (1910)

In The Lair of the White Worm (1911), Lady Arebella (the worm), is eradicated by the hero Adam Salton, with much vaginal symbolism; ‘the symbolism point more to Stoker’s preparation for the arc of darkness from womb to grave than a literary orgasm avoiding the dangers of sex.’ (p.318; i.e., his imminent death); Belford argues against syphilis as the cause of Stoker’s death, alleged by Farson on the basis of ‘locomotor ataxy’ appearing in the certificate (p.320)

ON COMPOSITION METHODS OF DRACULA: ‘it was obsessional, not to say unusual, for him to spend six years plotting Dracula’ (p.260); notes dates from 8 March 1890 to 17 March 1896; Belford prints a page of Dracula “diary” with a caption, ‘Stoker organised the book in a diary with days and dates corresponding to the year 1893’ [viz., Monday May 1; Sunday May 28; the page of the diary in question has printed week days of four months, with dates added by hand, and the year “189- ” at top awaiting the user’s hand to fill it (p.263); a first chapter, dated March 16 and dealing with correspondence from Dracula to the London solicitor Hawkins, together with a second in which Harker travels to Transylvania, seeing a performance of The Flying Dutchman en route, were dropped - the latter becoming a separate posthumous story as Dracula’s Guest; ‘In Stoker’s mind, Dracula was the devil’ (p.264)

‘Also known to Stoker was the resonant Celtic phrase dhroch fhola [...] meaning “of bad blood” (p.264); ‘Harker vaguely recognises the fair-haired vampiress because she is Countess Dolingen in the deleted second chapter, an inconsistency not caught in the editing process (p.265)

Typescript not included in Sotheby’s sale of 1913, but discovered in American ‘according to one story’, and sold by a Dickens scholar to a private collector in California; a ribbon copy organised by cut and paste; three holographs, Stoker’s, and editor’s blue pencil, and Thornley’s notes on blood transfusions and autopsies; dramatic copyright protected by an advertised reading at Lyceum on morning of 18 May 1897; Stoker purchased the American copyright to Dracula, but never registered the required two copies, so that Dracula has always been in the public domain in America (p.272). Belford provides extensive information on the copyright history of Dracula as book and film at the hands of Stoker’s widow.

[ back ]
 
[ top ]