The Book Owl is still in the Halloween spirit, and that means from the huge number of authors who are having a birthday this month (or would have been if they were still alive), I’ve chosen Bram Stoker as the Book Owl birthday boy. In this episode we dive into his troubled personal life and the reality behind his most famous tale.
Links Mentioned in this Episode….
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- Thanks to Tierney of TierneyCreates: https://tierneycreates.com
- Get a free copy of Dracula (public domain ebook) via Project Gutenberg at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/345
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*Note: I mention Dublin’s St. Michan’s Church in this episode. If you’d like to read about my own odd visit to their creepy crypts, please visit my blog post Finn McSpool Cries Out for His Mummy.
Biting Into Bram Stoker (Rough Transcript)
Hey everyone, this is Tammie Painter and you’re listening to the Book Owl Podcast, the podcast where I entertain your inner book nerd with tales of quirky books and literary lore. Where I am just trying to get through this day after election day. And I am recording this on 4 November, making kind of a struggle to sound chipper but I’ll do my best.
Behind the Scenes (aka “Intro Part 2”):
A few episodes ago we celebrated Agatha Christie’s birthday, and I think it was episode 12 if you want to go back and give it a listen, and I figured it was time for another birthday party on the podcast. The problem is that November is apparently a good time for birthing an author because there are a huge number of writers that were born this month.
So, the trouble wasn’t finding a topic, it was deciding which author is getting a birthday bash on the show. And, because I’m recording this not long after Halloween, and maybe I’m still a little bit in the Halloween spirit, I’ve chosen Bram Stoker as the Book Owl birthday boy.
Big Thank You to a Loyal Listener:
But before we jump into the show, and while I give you time to scramble to come up with a present for Bram, I just want to give a huge thanks to Tierney for not only leaving some lovely comments on the Book Owl Podcast blog, but also for leaving some kind words along with a five-star review on Apple Podcasts. Hoorah!! And just so you know, leaving reviews, or even simply a five-star rating, does give the algorithms a little tickle, so if you have a few seconds and have been enjoying the show, please pop into whatever podcast app you’re listening in right now and rate or review the show.
Setting the Mood:
Okay, so put on your cloaks and hop into your horse-drawn coach because we’re going to Whitby, England. It’s the 1890s and the ship Dmitri which has sailed from Varna on the Black Sea is trying to pull into Whitby’s harbor. There’s a storm kicking up, and more than one vessel has already been lost to sea, but it seems the Dmitri is going to make it into port. Before nightfall, a great cheer goes up at her sliding into the safety of the harbor.
But during the night a gale picks up, the seas rise and the ship runs aground. The force is so strong, the masts collapse, crashing onto the deck. Observers report seeing a black dog fleeing from the ship and charging up the slope to a nearby abbey. When the ruined ship can finally be inspected it’s discovered of the already small crew only a handful have survived. And when questions are raised about the cargo of the ship, they find only a strange sandy dirt in the hold.
Alright, if that sounds at all familiar, it’s because it is one of the true stories that inspired Bram Stoker’s most famous of his fifteen novels, Dracula. Which it turns out has more than one rather strange and mysterious event surrounding it.
Bram’s Early Days:
But let’s start with Bram, or rather Abraham Stoker. He was born on the 8th of November, 1847, in Dublin, Ireland. His dad, Abraham, was also from Dublin where he worked as a civil servant. His mom, Charlotte, was from County Sligo on the western side of the island.
Bram wasn’t the healthiest of kids at the start and was actually bed ridden pretty much until the age of seven. And I don’t know why, but no one is really sure what was wrong with him, which seems a little strange given it wasn’t all that long ago. But as he lay in bed, his mom would tell him stories that might not have been completely age appropriate for their scare levels.
But somehow, Bram makes a full recovery and even ends up being quite the athlete when, from 1864 to 1870, he attends Trinity College, which reminds me that I need to cover that library on the podcast very soon. He graduated, then went on to earn a Masters degree in 1875.
Bram Stoker, Theater Critic?:
Bram, while it’s not clear exactly what he studied, loved the theater, but he also knew he needed to earn a living, so ike dear old dad, he got a job in the civil service and worked in Dublin Castle. But while he was there, he also worked for free as a theater critic and wrote pieces for the Dublin Evening Mail.
And now, these days, theater critics are kind of respected and maybe even treated a bit loftily. That was not the case back then when theater critics were thought of as the lowest form of journalists. But Bram showed the snobby people a thing or two, because he wrote such eloquent and well thought out pieces that readers ended up really admiring his work and even improved the notion of what a theater critic could be.
As if holding down two jobs wasn’t enough, Bram was also writing short stories that got published and he also published the god awfully boring sounding non-fiction tome The Duties of Clerks in Petty Sessions in Ireland. Despite the dull name, the book was lauded by, well, by the type of people who would bother to read something like that.
Florence vs. Henry:
Now due to his work at the theater, Bram was meeting all kinds of characters including Henry Irving, who comes to play a larger role in a bit, and Oscar Wilde. At the time, I guess Oscar was trying to keep things under wraps because he, Oscar, was wooing a young woman by the name of Florence Balcomb. Well, Bram came along, and stole her right from under Oscar’s nose and the two — that would be Bram and Florence, not Bram and Oscar — got married in 1878. But because I’m guessing that Oscar wasn’t terribly upset by losing Florence, the three maintained their friendship.
Unfortunately, although Bram did seem gaga for Florence at first, within a year of their being married, he ditched her for Henry Irving who wanted Bram to come to London to manage his theater, the Lyceum. And let’s just say that Bram idolized Henry and the two became so close that almost anywhere Henry went in the world, so did Bram.
Building the Bones of Dracula:
During this time, Bram is also continuing to write, and by this mid-1890s he’s already published four novels. It’s also in this time and during his travels with Henry that he meets a Hungarian traveler and writer who tells Bram tales of the Carpathian Mountains, and told Bram, who showed a huge interest in the topic, that he should go to Whitby, England to continue looking into the Carpathian’s strange history and legends.
Bram gets to Whitby, heads to the library, and asks to see a book called The Accounts of Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia. This was rare book, so rare that the library didn’t even let people know they had it, but Bram’s Hungarian friend had told him about it and exactly what pages to look at. The librarian hands over the book, and as the librarian maintains a close watch over Bram, he doesn’t idly thumb through the book. Instead he goes immediately to a specific section and begins making notes about the name Dracula, which in Moldavian means devil and was given as a surname to anyone known for exceptional cruelty. And I like how they specify exceptional cruelty, Like your everyday run of the mill cruelty was okay.
Anyway, Bram finishes his notes and heads over to the Whitby Museum to look at their collection of maps. It’s here he gets the exact longitude and latitude for the village that will house Dracula’s Castle. From the museum, Bram makes his way to the harbor, where he hears first hand accounts of the demise of the ship Dmitri.
As Bram is on his research trip to Whitby, Oscar Wilde is being tried for and convicted of lewd acts…which is a euphemism for being homosexual. The courts portrayed Oscar as a monster, as the most vile and draining pestilence on society. It’s this vile portrayal of his close friend that inspires Bram’s most famous character. He begins writing Dracula only months after Oscar’s conviction.
Part of Bram’s writing of Dracula took place in Scotland’s Cruden Bay where he was a regular when he wanted to get away from it all. Nearby the town, stood Slains Castle, which provided a visual cue for Dracula’s Castle and many features of the real castle can be seen in the novel such as an octagonal room.
Another thing that inspired Bram’s tale was a visit to St. Michan’s Church in Dublin Ireland, where they have in the crypt some very lifelike corpses that would have been there for about a couple hundred years when Bram would have visited, And I have seen those bodies and been in those crypts and I will tell you they are a bit unsettling…then again, so is the tour guide who takes you down there but that’s another tale altogether.
So if you’ve ever read Dracula, which is a pretty dense book, but also really good, you’ll know it’s written in the form of letters. And it’s here you can really see Bram’s previous work in journalism because he’s spot on with noting realistic details, ships’ logs, and the diary entries are just like people reporting on their daily — albeit very strange — lives.
So Bram writes his book and sends it to his editor for publication. In the original version, Bram claims that all the events are real, that Jonathon and Mina Harker are his close friends who brought him their diaries and newspaper clippings from the time period around the events.
The editor did not like the idea of presenting the book as fact and rejected it, telling Bran to change it so it’s more fictional. And to be fair, this was the late 1890s and London had just endured the Jack the Ripper mayhem, and the killer was still running loose. People might have been up for a scary story, but they didn’t want that story to be anything but fiction and the editor worried the book might cause a panic.
The editor also decided the book was way too long, so in addition to changing many aspects of the text, Bram had to remove the first 101 pages of his book. And let me tell you, Dracula is already a long book, so the idea of getting through another 100 pages? Not sure if I could manage.
Dracula Sees the Light of Day:
Anyway, finally the book was released in May of 1897 and ended up being very well received. And although somewhat popular, the book wouldn’t gain a rabid readership until 1922 when the film Nosferatu came out. The film took the story line from Dracula without permission and the legal fight that ensued ended up gaining the book so much notice, it started selling like mad. And in the bonus feature in this episode’s newsletter, I’ll cover that fight a little bit more.
Troubled Times and a Troubled End:
Bram, in addition to managing Henry Irving’s theater and writing for newspapers, would go on to write another 8 novels, loads of short stories, and four more non-fiction books. As some of the homo-erotic scenes in Dracula and his other books, and his own devotion to Henry Irving show, Bram did have a strong adoration of other men, but he repressed it heavily and even went so far in 1912 to demand all gay authors in Britain be put in prison.
His overworking, the stress of his repression, and possibly a form of syphllis, led to aseries of strokes in that same year. Bram died in London on the 20th of April, 1912.
Dracula Lives On:
As for Dracula, the most famous of the undead and dozens of characters inspired by him continues to live on. But the actual manuscript of Dracula also can’t be kept down. In the 1980s, the original manuscript was discovered in Pennsylvania. Why there? I could not find out, but it does begin on page 102 with Jonathan Harker heading off on his ill-fated train journey. Which does make it strange to think Bram, with four novels already under his belt and plenty of writing experience didn’t actually start the true action of his story until 100 pages into his book. But what was in those first pages? Supposedly you can garner clues from his notes and journals, but you’ll have to get to the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia to see for yourself.
So that’s it for Bram. He seems to have had a successful life, but also a troubled one, and I do wonder what he would make of sparkly vampires.
As for updates, regarding the podcast, I’m not entirely sure if I’ll do a second episode this month. The week I would be researching, writing, and recording I’ve got a lot of “life” stuff going on, so I’m not sure if I’ll have time to get an episode together, but we’ll see.
As for writing, I do have my own little vampire story called the Drive Thru Window. It’s not gory, and it’s got a fair bit of dark humor, so if you want to check it out on my Payhip Store, it’s only 99c. And other than that, I finished the first draft of book three of my Cassie Black trilogy. I’m reading over all three books this week to see how they flow together and to make sure I don’t have any major inconsistencies. Which is a lot of reading in only a few days, but it’s a bit icky out this week, so it’s good rainy day chore.
Alright my friends, that’s it for this week. If you’d like to help keep the show running, please visit the book owl podcast dot com slash support to see the very inexpensive options for keeping the microphone charged, and I will hoot at you next time.
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