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Happy Birthday Bram Stoker – father of Dracula

Tom Winnifrith
Thursday 8 November 2012

Bram Stoker was born this day in 1847 In Clontarf Dublin – the place where I now and again play rugby with John Teeling. Like all the very best of us he is of Donegal Church of Ireland stock (on his mother’s side at least). His two claims to fame are that he stole the heart of a woman who was at the time dating fellow Dubliner Oscar Wilde and, his only great work: Dracula.

Clearly Mrs Stoker made a good call on dumping Wilde given that he clearly would rather have “batted for England.” But Stoker’s own sexuality has also been the subject of some speculation. Rather like my late godfather Roger whose first wife decided to become a lesbian and then the mother of his daughter made the same call, perhaps it was just that Mrs Stoker was drawn to a certain type of man.

The novel Dracula was published in 1897 – a wonderful time for crime, gore and a belief in the supernatural. It is the eta of Jack the Ripper, Jekyll & Hyde, Sherlock Holmes and this great work and there is something of a thread running through all of that. It was a dark era in London when the gap between rich and poor was chasmous and it was estimated that there were 100,000 child prostitutes who the great and good used with impunity. No comment. As the Victorians approached 1900 the normal turn of the century madness and belief in superstition occurred. People do crazy things and believe in odd superstitions as 00 approaches. Heck we believed in Tony Blair back in 1997.

Mauled by the silver screen, the original novel is a gripping read. I read it in full for the first time a couple of years ago after revisiting Whitby, the place where Dracula’s ship comes ashore. Stoker never visited Transylvania or indeed Eastern Europe but researched the folklore of the region for some years before putting pen to paper.

Vlad Dracul was a real person if not a vampire. It was Vlad the Impaler who dealt with captured enemies in the way his nickname suggests. He was clearly a total monster but he was “one of our monsters” in that it was he who held the Turks at bay and kept them from marching up from Greece towards Vienna and civilisation. In the same way we used to give weapons to Saddam Hussein when he was “one of our monsters” fighting against the real enemy (Iran) Vlad was “one of us” and so we rather liked the old mass murderer.

I have always wanted to visit the Carpathian Mountains but never got around to it. Perhaps that might be my next summer adventure.

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About Tom Winnifrith
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Tom Winnifrith is the editor of TomWinnifrith.com. When he is not harvesting olives in Greece, he is (planning to) raise goats in Wales.
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