Vampires have become arguably one the top draws not only in literature, but also in TV, movies and every part of our social make-up. While the history of vampires dates back thousands of years and spans across many different cultural folk lines, the vampires we most closely associate with are from the 19th century and are basically the brain child of Abraham “Bram” Stoker. Born in 1847 and passing in 1912, he was basically bed-ridden as a child until the age of 7 with an unknown illness and was home schooled. He graduated from Trinity College (Dublin) with a BA in mathmatics and in addition to all of his writing, he was the personal assistant of actor Henry Irving and business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London. While the first true stylized version of the “gothic” vampire and his mannerisms (charasmatic and cunning) was written by John Polidori (The Vampyre) in 1819 and was considered a success, it was Stoker’s 1897 novel that became the template for the modern day bloodsucker. Whether you prefer that your vampires be more animalistic, brutal, suave, melodramtic or sparkling, it can not be denied that Stoker’s tortured soul is a polarizing character that still resonates with audiences around the world.
Stoker’s take on vampirism and the way he masterfully made it more of a disease (during this time, Europe was in the grasp of horrific outbreaks of syphilis and tuberculosis) made the character of Dracula that much more of a tragic figure, and when you added in all of the sex and death, it was a story that his readers could almost relate to. Death being such a common thing during this time in Europe, combining romaticism with death was seen almost as poetic and a release from the daily terrors people would see. With folklore being a driving force behind many of the beliefs of the people during this time, Stoker’s research was exhaustive and meticulous, going to great lengths to speak to travellers from Eastern Europe and looking into all of the mythology that he could find. To further strengthen the story, he even incorperated the story of Vlad Tepes into his (due to his research into vampire mythology and after hearing stories about Tepes from a colleague), blurring the lines of reality and fiction to the point where his story was blended into folklore for all time.
Stoker was a writer (with a total of twelve novels as well as several collection of short stories, poetry and non-fiction) and a theater critic (at a time when critics were looked down upon). What really made his story unique was the style it was written in, which is known as an epistolary novel (a novel written as a series of documents. The usual form is letters, although diary entries, newspaper clippings and other documents are sometimes used. Recently, electronic “documents” such as recordings and radio, blogs, and e-mails have also come into use.).*1 His time as a reporter helped with this style of writing and made the story so much more personal as you can almost hear the voices of the characters whispering the words in your ear. At times, you feel great sympathy for the characters, while at the same time are repulsed by the nocturnal activities of Dracula. How much more romantic does it get than thinking that death can be overcome by the strands of love? If a creature of pure evil can feel those emotions, what does it say about our humanity when most times we as a society destroy the very things we love? Is there redemption after death?
In all, Stoker’s vision has influenced countless writers, directors and artists over the years. The mark he left on the literary world is the same as the vampire’s bite: raw, vicious and tender all at the same time. There is a heat to it, a passion that is missing from many day modern relationships, but the thing that has not changed from his days to ours is the extreme emotion found within it. Whether it is contempt or pity you feel for Dracula, he is certainly a tragic figure that in many ways surpasses what we are today. While he was a monster than seeked true love, he never really hid what he was, exposing to those the demons that lived within him. Many thanks needs to go out Stoker for his fantastic vision and storytelling, but most of all, he has tapped into that place in our minds where the mosters really dwell and claw out for our blood and souls. This week, and every week, we celebrate you! Happy birthday Mr. Stoker…
“Because I am the Dedman, and you are not!”
*1. Epistolary Novel