November 8, 1847– Bram Stoker:
“I want you to believe… to believe in things that you cannot.”
Bram Stoker‘s novel Dracula paved the way for the vampire lore in our popular culture. He wrote 12 novels, including Dracula and The Lair Of The White Worm, The Jewel Of Seven Stars, and also published several collections of short stories. Dracula was originally titled The Undead. In the novel Dracula says: “My revenge is just begun! I spread it over centuries, and time is on my side”. He’s still with us; more than 1000 novels and 200 films have been made about a vampire named Dracula.
Born Abraham Stoker in Dublin, he had an ancient Irish lineage, including being related to the legendary Sheriff of Galway, who hanged his own son. The inspiration for Dracula was Vlad the Impaler, the 15th-century Transylvanian prince also known as Vlad III Dracula of Wallachia. But, the story was also influenced by Irish history, especially his own ancestor Manus the Magnificent, who once ruled Ireland. Stoker was the third of seven children. In his memoir, Stoker writes:
“In my babyhood I used, I understand, to be often at the point of death. Certainly, till I was about seven years old I never knew what it was to stand upright.”
His earliest memories were of being carried somewhere to the couch, to the bed, to a patch of grass outside. Later in life, Stoker suggested that his illness, which remains a mystery, helped foster his interest in writing:
“I was naturally thoughtful and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.”
As a youth, Stoker was an excellent student and he also focused on improving his health and strength. The sickly boy who had to be carried everywhere turned into a tall, strapping, handsome young man who loved long walks and everything athletic. At Trinity College, Ireland’s best university, he was named Top University Athlete in 1867, winning awards for weight-lifting and endurance walking. He was a member of the University Philosophical Society, Trinity’s most prestigious club, and the Drama Club.
Stoker became interested in the theatre while a student, and after graduating he became the theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail. He gave a rave review of the great actor Henry Irving‘s Hamlet. Irving invited Stoker to dinner and the two men became good friends.
Stoker moved to London to work as business manager for Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, a position he held for 27 years. In 1878, Stoker married Florence Balcombe, a celebrated beauty who had also dated Oscar Wilde. Stoker had been close to Wilde in his student days. Wilde was angry about the marriage, but who was jealous of who? Stoker later resumed their close friendship, and after Wilde’s fall, he stood by the great writer with support and money.
Stoker moved easily in London’s high society. His buddies included the painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler and the Sherlock Holmes writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Working for Irving, the most famous actor of the era, and managing one of the most successful theatres in London made Stoker a mover and shaker in London. He was dedicated to Irving and his memoirs show he idolized him.
In London, Stoker also met Hall Caine, at the time a popular author of 15 novels that looked at the subjects of adultery, divorce, domestic violence, illegitimacy, religious bigotry and Women’s Rights. Caine was an international literary celebrity, selling ten million books. He became one of Stoker’s “special” friends; he dedicated Dracula to Caine. Stoker often did editing for Caine when not busy with the theatre. I doubt either could have guessed that in the future, Stoker’s Dracula would be a household name and live on forever while Caine’s books are now mostly forgotten.
Stoker loved the USA and he was a frequent visitor, meeting Presidents William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. He also met one of his idols, Walt Whitman.
From all my research, it seems that Stoker was probably gay, or at least bisexual. Stoker was enamored of the openly gay Walt Whitman. They enjoyed an especially close relationship. Stoker was very involved in both the theatre and literary world so he knew many of the celebrities of his time.
Stoker’s relationship with Henry Irving is fascinating. He was never Irving’s lover, but he was his worshiper. Stoker was a big strong, athletic man, over six feet tall, and yet, because he was probably bisexual, he felt the need to hero worship another powerful man. Irving was a tough taskmaster, and Stoker was clearly a workaholic, putting his own interests on the side in favor of Irving’s. Irving was rough on Stoker, and Stoker, a bit of a masochist, felt gratification from this treatment.
Wilde was always a sort of presence in Stoker’s life. Remember, Wilde had been interested in marrying Stoker’s wife. She probably considered what her life would have been like had she married Wilde instead, the pain of his trial and imprisonment, but also how she might have benefited from the royalties of his plays when Stoker was not as successful a writer. She probably knew and was disgusted by her husband’s bisexuality. She hated the novel Dracula. Yet, after his death, she fought to protect her rights to the book, even suing the makers of the film Nosferatu (1922) for making an unauthorized film based on the novel. Stoker kept detailed diaries that mentioned Wilde that she destroyed.
Filmmakers, playwrights and novelists have reworked Dracula since it was published. The actor Hamilton Deane was the first to wear a high-collared black cape in a theatre production in 1924, which made the cape standard for all Draculas.
The language in Stoker’s Dracula can read as evidence of a perverse sexual interest by Dracula for young Jonathan Harker when Dracula chastises his “brides”:
“How dare you touch him, any of you? How dare you cast eyes on him when I had forbidden it? Back, I tell you all! This man belongs to me!”
Set in the world of 1880s London, Dracula takes place at just the same time when Wilde came onto the literary and social scene. Wilde’s destruction because of his gayness adds a gay sensibility to that subplot.
There is a lot of mystery about what killed Bram Stoker in 1912, at 65-years-old. Stoker’s nephew, Daniel Farson, published a biography in 1975, where he suggested that the death certificate stating the causes of death was “Locomotor Ataxy Sic Month”, simply a euphemism for Syphilis. Stoker’s cremated remains can be found at Golders Green Crematorium in London.
I wonder what the real Bram Stoker was like, and not surprising, how the secrets of his sexuality went with him to the grave.
The original 541-page manuscript of Dracula was thought to have been lost until it was found in a barn in Pennsylvania in the early 1980s. It was purchased by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen for one million dollars.