Saturday, November 8, 2014

Happy Birthday - Bram Stoker!

Happy 167th!!

He was born Abraham Stoker on November 8, 1847 in the Dublin suburb Clontarf, Ireland.  A minor civil servant who started out life as an invalid and did not walk at all until the age of seven. However, his early physical incapacity vanished and he excelled athletically at Trinity College in Dublin.  Stoker also became interested in literature and harbored ambitions as a writer; his first published work (1879) was entitled, The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland.

His interest in theater led him to write theater reviews for The Dublin Mail.  Well known actor Henry Irving appreciated Stoker's editorial praise so much he sought out an introduction.  This led to a life-long friendship and to Stoker becoming the manager of Irving's Lyceum Theater in London.  

Before Dracula, Stoker published a novel The Snake's Pass in 1890 and in 1882 a bizarre collection of children's stories titled Under the Sunset.  This book foreshadows Dracula in its morbid fairy tales about plague and death.

One of his most eccentrically aberrant yet comical short stories was "The Dualists; or, the Death Doom of the Double Born" which was published in 1887.  The protagonists are two little boys, Tommy and Harry.  They share a fascination with torture and death, starting with the dolls of the local little girls...

"It was a thing of daily occurrence for the little girls to state that when going to bed at night they had laid their dear dollies in their beds with tender care, but...when again seeking them in the period of recess they had found them with all their beauty gone, with arms and legs amputated and faces beaten from all semblance of human form." *

  *Bram Stoker.  "The Dualists; or, the Death Doom of the D0uble Born."  The Theatre Annual.  London.  Carson and Comerford.  1887.  pgs. 23-24.

...onto neighborhood pets and other small animals - they use one dead creature to beat the life out of another.  Eventually they enlarge their scope and kidnap twin babies, Zachariah and Zerubbabel Bubb.  The boys stand on a rooftop and murder the infants by beating one with the other while the horrified parents on the ground beg for mercy.  Not receiving any, they fire at the murderers but instead shoot off the heads of the babies which the two naughty boys then use in a game of catch.  When they toss the bloody bodies down to the ground they land on the parents, killing them.  The boys testify that the parents themselves were responsible for all the carnage and Tommy and Harry are knighted for bravery.  Oy.  Makes Dracula seem pretty tame, doesn't it?

Stoker's interest in the unusual and his wild imagination led to writing what eventually became Dracula, pubished in 1897.  

You can see in the above excerpt from his notes that he started with many more characters than appeared in the finished novel.  Many of the names were changed, yet some remain familiar, e.g. "Lucy", "Jonathan Harker" and "Seward".   He played with several different names for the main character; in the middle of the notes you see crossed out, "The Count -- Count Wampyr"  and then, "Dracula".  

 cover of 1897 first edition

In spite of the facts that on its initial printing, Dracula was moderately successful, and has never been out of print (it was one of two books found most often in homes - the other being The Bible), has achieved immortality many times over on the stage and on film, Stoker made very little money from the book.  

Bram Stoker died in 1912.

Stoker's widow, Florence, spent the rest of her life involved in one litigation or difficult negotiation after another over rights to the book.  All prints of the 1922 German film, "Nosferatu" were ordered destroyed by courts due to F.W. Murnau's company neglecting to even attempt to secure production rights.  Fortunately for posterity a few prints were saved.  Werner Herzog considers it the greatest of German silent films.  Who are we to disagree? 

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