Bram Stoker: The Life of a Irish Gothic Novelist

Bram (Abraham) Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847. He was the son of a civil servant, and later followed reluctantly in his father’s footsteps, becoming a clerk at Dublin Castle. Unhappy with his menial job, he pursued a career in writing, starting with the publication of The Chain of Destiny which appeared in four serial parts. In November of 1878, he became business manager for Henry Irving, an up-and-coming actor who had just purchased the Lyceum Theater. Many biographers have inferred that Irving was the model on which he based his most famous creation Count Dracula.

At the age of 30 he was married to Florence Balcombe and shortly after went on tour with Irving. In 1879 Florence gave birth to Bram’s only child Noel.

Bram managed Irving’s first American tour in the fall of 1881. While in Philadelphia he met his long time idle Walt Whitman to whom he had written several letters of admiration. He returned to see Whitman in the winter of 1886.

Bram Stoker’s relationship with Whitman is well documented, and his letters are a major source of information on his life and give insight into his character, especially in his early years where little biographical information exists. The letters give an account of a lonely, repressed young man looking across the ocean for a friend of similar tastes and views. He is unabashed in his admiration for Whitman, and begs him to come to Ireland to speak.

In 1890 he begins notes on what will become his seminal work Dracula, though at this time he is working under the title The Un-Dead. The work is published in June of 1897 to critical acclaim. In 1905 Bram’s long time friend and colleague collapses and dies while on his farewell tour of Sheffield. The same week Bram suffers the first of a series of strokes that will eventually lead to his death in 1912.

Bram Stoker was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium, where his ashes still remain.

Bram Stokers best known novel is of course the classic Dracula, which was a best seller at the time of it’s writing, and is still in print to this day. The novel was written as a series of fictitious correspondence and journal entries, known as the epistolary style. As Bram Stoker points out in his introduction, this lends an air of believability to the work, as well as giving the reader several different character’s viewpoints “given from the standpoints and within the range of knowledge of those who made them.”

Throughout the novel Bram examines the sexual nature of man, and the fear associated with controlling lust and desire. The real fear in the book is not just Dracula propagating a race of monsters to terrorize human beings, but the fear that they themselves will become bloodthirsty fiends. As Van Helsing puts it “…we henceforward become foul things of the night like him.”(p. 305)

Though vampire novels had been written before, and many have followed, Dracula stands out as the distinctive and timeless work in this genre.

Sources and References:
Lenard Wolf, A Dream of Dracula:In search of the Living Dead (Penguin, Harmondsworth 1992)
Harry Ludlam, A Biography of Dracula: The Life Story of Bram Stoker (Foulsham and Co., London, 1962)
James B. Twitchell, Dreadful Pleasures: An Analysis of Modern Horror (Oxford & New York, 1985)
Bram Stoker, Dracula (Doubleday and McClure 1899) Introduction by the Author.

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