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Abraham “Bram” Stoker (November 8, 1847 – April 20, 1912) was an Irish novelist and short story writer, best known today for his 1897 Gothic novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known as personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.
Stoker was born on 8 November 1847 at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, on the northside of Dublin, Ireland. Stoker became interested in the theatre while a student through a friend, Dr. Maunsell. He became the theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail, co-owned by the author of Gothic tales Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. Theatre critics were held in low esteem but he attracted notice by the quality of his reviews. In December 1876 he gave a favourable review of Henry Irving’s ‘Hamlet’ at the Theatre Royal in Dublin. Irving invited Stoker for dinner at the Shelbourne Hotel, where he was staying. They became friends, and Stoker became acting-manager and then business manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, London, a post he held for 27 years.
In 1878 Stoker married Florence Balcombe, on 31 December 1879, their only child was born, a son whom they christened Irving Noel Thornley Stoker. The collaboration with Irving was important for Stoker and through him he became involved in London’s high society. Working for Irving, the most famous actor of his time, and managing one of the most successful theatres in London made Stoker a notable if busy man. He was dedicated to Irving and his memoirs show he idolised him. In London Stoker also met Hall Caine who became one of his closest friends – he dedicated Dracula to him.
While manager for Irving, and secretary and director of London’s Lyceum Theatre, he began writing novels beginning with The Snake’s Pass’ in 1890 and Dracula in 1897. During this period, Stoker was part of the literary staff of the London Daily Telegraph and wrote other fiction, including the horror novels ‘The Lady in the Shroud’ (1909) and ‘The Lair of the White Worm’ (1911). In 1906, after Irving’s death, he published his life of Irving, which proved successful, and managed productions at the Prince of Wales Theatre.
Before writing Dracula, Stoker spent several years researching European folklore and mythological stories of vampires. Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as a collection of realistic, but completely fictional, diary entries, telegrams, letters, ship’s logs, and newspaper clippings, all of which added a level of detailed realism to his story, a skill he developed as a newspaper writer. At the time of its publication, it was considered a ‘straightforward horror novel” based on imaginary creations of supernatural life. “It gave form to a universal fantasy . . . and became a part of popular culture.”
According to the Encyclopedia of World Biography, Stoker’s stories are today included within the categories of “horror fiction,” “romanticized Gothic” stories, and “melodrama.” They are classified alongside other “works of popular fiction” such as Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’ which, according to historian Jules Zanger, also used the “myth-making” and story-telling method of having “multiple narrators” telling the same tale from different perspectives. “‘They can’t all be lying,’ thinks the reader.” The original 541-page manuscript of Dracula, believed to have been lost, was found in a barn in northwestern Pennsylvania during the early 1980s. It included the typed manuscript with many corrections, and handwritten on the title page was “THE UN-DEAD.” The author’s name was shown at the bottom as Bram Stoker. Author Robert Latham notes, “the most famous horror novel ever published, its title changed at the last minute.”
After suffering a number of strokes, Stoker died at No. 26 St George’s Square in 1912.
The first film adaptation of Dracula was released in 1922 and was named ‘Nosferatu’. It was directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and starred Max Schreck as Count Orlock. Nosferatu was produced while Florence Stoker, Bram Stoker’s widow and literary executrix, was still alive. Represented by the attorneys of the British Incorporated Society of Authors, she eventually sued the filmmakers. Her chief legal complaint was that she had been neither asked for permission for the adaptation nor paid any royalty. The case dragged on for some years, with Mrs. Stoker demanding the destruction of the negative and all prints of the film. The suit was finally resolved in the widow’s favour in July 1925. Some copies of the film survived, however and the film has become well known. The first authorized film version of Dracula did not come about until almost a decade later when Universal Studios released Tod Browning’s ‘Dracula’ starring Bela Lugosi. There have since been many film versions bearing the name Dracula, of which more later…
November 8, 2011 | Categories: Biography, Biography: AUTHORS | Tags: Bela Lugosi, Christopher Lee, Dracula, Gothic, Hammer, Max Schreck, Nosferatu, The Lair of the White Worm, Tod Browning, Vampires | 7 Comments