Bram Stoker He was born in 1847 and died in 1912. A native of Dublin he worked for ten years as a civil servant and theater critic until he left for England in 1876. There he served as secretary and representative of the actor Sir Henry Irving, with whom he directed the Lyceum Theater in London. He wrote numerous works, among which is his novel ‘The lady of the shroud’, as well as various stories.
‘Dracula’ it was published in 1897. It is one of the strangest and most powerful classics ever written. He created the character of the Transylvanian vampire and has inspired countless covers, sequels, and movies. But none surpasses Bram Stoker’s novel. It is a hinge novel in which everything fits. It is dark, deep, unsettling, terrifying, erotic, pathological, philosophical, psychologist, and we would even say feminist.
The nightmare that inspired Bram Stoker to create Dracula
On the night of March 7, 1890, Stoker gives his very beautiful wife Florence a chaste kiss and retires to his rooms after a late dinner of highly seasoned crabs. Stoker has a nightmare, it is his own screams that wake him up, and the next morning he writes the first notes to mold the character. Then Stoker points out possible titles. Then, taking advantage of a holiday in Whitby – a fishing village on the Yorkshire coast where a Russian schooner has run aground not long ago – Stoker begins to gather and organize various materials for what in principle he thinks as a play and not as a novel.
Stoker learns of the existence of the historic and bloodthirsty voivode Vlad III of Wallachia, also know as ‘the Impaler’ and discovers that his father, Vlad II, had been a member of the Order of the Dragon, and that is why Vlad III was nicknamed ‘Draculea’ or ‘Son of the Devil’.
Stoker likes the exotic and foreign sound of the name. Study in detail the very successful theatrical adaptation of ‘The vampire’ by John Polidori, gets excited about the sexual ambiguity that exudes ‘Carmilla’ by Sheridan Le Fanu. To this add a pinch of ‘Macbeth’ and another of Edgar Allan Poe, as well as several anonymous stories or titles of Alexandre Dumas, Prosper Mérimée, Wilkie Collins and, most especially, ‘The Parasite’ of his friend Arthur Conan Doyle.
Consolidating the success of ‘Dracula’
The novel sold well, but, contrary to what many imagine, it did not enrich its author. Will be the actor Hamilton Deane, almost 30 years later, who would achieve resounding success with the adaptation and staging of Stoker’s novel. In 1927 he premiered in Broadway a remake starring a hitherto unknown Hungarian actor named Bela Lugosi. Oscar Wilde did not hesitate to define it as “perhaps the most beautiful novel of all time”, while Arthur Conan Doyle stated that “this is the best diablerie story I have read in many years. It is truly amazing that despite being such a long book, it is capable of arousing so much interest and excitement.”
It was George Stade who, perhaps, detected the most interesting thing about Dracula by underlining the fact that “he does not tell us something that has already happened, but shows us what can happen wherever there are human beings.” And it is that, unlike what happened with a good part of the Gothic novels of that time, the events that Stoker narrates – taking place in 1893, a few years before publication – turn the monster into something present and close.
One of the most interesting readings of Dracula is to understand it as a duel between the Old and the New World, between ‘the English’ and ‘the other’, between the past of a still primitive Europe and the dazzling flashes of a futuristic present and British. A place and time where the ancient vampire is fought with the help of the latest scientific discoveries by a collective hero.
In ‘Dracula’ there is the idea that it is one who always invites catastrophe. And that, as Van Helsing affirms, in one of the most interesting sections of the novel it is the vampire who must be invited to our houses because, until we have done so, he cannot attack us in the safety of someone else’s home. Inviting the vampire is equivalent to believing in him. And once we have opened the door, we are lost, infected, invaded. A) Yes, it is not the vampire who chooses his victims, but the victims who, consciously or unconsciously, choose the vampire.
“One of the most memorable and engaging stunts in all of English literature”
As well comments Stephen King, the triumph of ‘Dracula’ as a novel and of Dracula as a character —and Stoker as an author— lies in having managed to humanize the hitherto always “alien” concept of Evil. And how does he achieve it? Easy but very difficult: keeping Evil out of action throughout most of the story.
The Count appears during the first chapters and, once his person and personality have been established, he disappears completely for about 300 pages to be visible again, fleetingly, on few occasions during his stay in London. King describes this strategy as “one of the most memorable and attractive tricks in all of English literature”, discovering in writing what we have always known since the beginning of time: nothing scares more than what is not seen but, nevertheless, he watches us and watches us.
This article contains excerpts from Rodrigo Fresán’s introduction to the Random House literature edition and Christopher Frayling’s preface and Maurice Hindle’s introduction to the Penguin Classics edition