Bram Stoker

Bram Stoker (1847-1912), Irish theatre critic and author of the Gothic horror novel Dracula (1897).

Abraham “Bram” Stoker was born on 8 November 1847 in Clontarf, a suburb of Dublin, Ireland,. He was the third of seven children–William Thornley, Mathilda, Thomas, Richard, Margaret, and George–born to Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornely (1818-1901) and Abraham Stoker (1799-1876), Civil Servant. Stoker was a sickly child, spending great amounts of time bed-ridden, barely able to walk. However, having fully recovered, in 1864 he entered Trinity College, Dublin to study mathematics, and despite his earlier years of illness became involved in athletics, winning many awards.

Stoker was also elected President of the college’s Philosophical Society. After graduating with honours in 1870 he followed in his father’s footsteps and joined the Civil Service and worked at Dublin Castle, which inspired his  pieceThe Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland (1879). From his great love of the arts Stoker also started to write theatre reviews for the Dublin Evening Mail.

One particular review of a performance of William Shakespeare’s Hamlet with actor (Sir) Henry Irving (1838-1905) in the lead role led to a great friendship between the two men. In 1878 Irving asked Stoker to be the manager of his Lyceum Theatre in London;  a position Stoker held for almost thirty years.

Later Stoker would publish Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (2 volumes, 1906) and Snowbound: The Record of a Theatrical Touring Party (1908) which includes such theatre-based stories as ‘The Slim Syrens‘, ‘Mick the Devil‘, and ‘A Star Trap‘.

In 1878 Stoker married actress Florence Balcombe (1858-1937) with whom he had a son, Irving Noel Thornley (1879-1961).  Stoker left his job in Dublin and the couple settled in London. It was here that Stoker became acquainted with many famous actors and such other notable authors of the time as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Oscar Wilde, and William Butler Yeats.

While involved in the theatre Stoker traveled with them on tours in Europe and North America. The latter trip inspired his work A Glimpse of America (1886).  Stoker started to write novels, including The Primrose Path (1875), The Snake’s Pass (1890), The Watter’s Mou (1895), The Shoulder of Shasta (1895), Miss Betty (1898) and short stories collected in a book called Under the Sunset (1881).

In 1890 Stoker holidayed in the Northeastern coastal fishing village of Whitby in Yorkshire, where it is said he gleaned much inspiration for his novel Dracula. Other works by Stoker include The Mystery of the Sea (1902), his Egyptian mummy-themed The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), The Man (also titled The Gates of Life, 1905),  Lady Athlyne (1908), The Lady of the Shroud (1909), Famous Impostors (1910), and The Lair of the White Worm (1911) which also includes elements found in Dracula like unseen evil, strange creatures, inexplicable events, and supernatural horrors.

Bram Stoker died in London, England on 20 April 1912. His ashes were later mingled with his son’s and they now rest in the Golders Green Crematorium in London, England. His wife Florence survived him by twenty-five years, and she had Dracula’s Guest and Other Weird Stories published in 1922. Some claim that the story Dracula’s Guest was actually supposed to be the first chapter for his novel DraculaOther Weird Stories also includes such titles as ‘The Gipsy Prophecy’, ‘The Burial of the Rats‘, ‘A Dream of Red Hands‘, and The Secret of the Growing Gold’.

Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc.  Copyright Jalic Inc. 2008. All Rights Reserved.

Dracula, and other works..

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 1872. 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)