The undying legacy of Bram Stoker
“Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own will!” Meriem Lamara explores the legacy of the macabre author to mark his birthday.
Meriem Lamara is a PhD student studying within the Faculty of Education and Humanities.
The month of November is a special month for vampire enthusiasts as it coincides with the birthday of the literary father of one of the most iconic monsters of Gothic literature, Bram Stoker. Author of 12 novels, including The Primrose Path and The Jewel of the Sea, as well as several other works of fiction and non-fiction, Bram Stoker is one of the most prominent Gothic writers of the nineteenth century and early twentieth century. Yet, most people associate him with the Gothic novel he is most known for, Dracula (1897).
Stoker’s visit to the English coastal town of Whitby in 1890 alongside Emily Gerard’s travel book on Romania, The Land Beyond the Forest, is argued to have had a great impact on Stoker’s notion of the vampire, and shaped the creation of Dracula.
Stoker spent several years researching vampire mythology and European folklore, taking extensive notes from Gerard’s book, before he finally published Dracula in 1897. Although the critics’ response has been mixed since the novel was first published, Dracula has always been immensely popular among readers. During that same year another vampire book was published by Florence Marryat. The Blood of the Vampire share some similarities with Dracula; however, Marryat’s is a female psychic vampire who drains her victims’ life force, rather than their blood. The book was overshadowed by the publication of Dracula and even today not many people know about it.
Indeed, although not the first vampire in English literature — that title belongs to John Polidori’s Lord Ruthven in “The Vampyre” (1819) — Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula is the first character that comes to mind when thinking about vampires. The suave, blood-sucking aristocrat that is Count Dracula has become synonymous with the word vampire itself, even though the notion of vampires or, to be more accurate, vampire-like entities is as old as the earliest recorded accounts of humanity.
Choosing to base his vampire on the Wallachian Prince Vlad III Dracul who was notorious for impaling his prisoners on large stakes, an act that would gain him the name of Vlad the Impaler, Stoker blurs the boundaries between fact and fiction. Following the publication of his story, Transylvania became synonymous with vampires.
Amongst the various readings of Dracula, the vampire as a representation of the racial ‘other’ and the ‘dangerous outsider’ is the most prominent. The text depicts a weakening nation being invaded by a much stronger ‘outsider’ who tries to replicate itself. Dracula expresses the Victorian fear of invasion. As such, Count Dracula, leaving his home in Transylvania, crossing the boundaries of England, and preying and feeding on innocents on English soil, becomes an ‘other’ par excellence. This is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons behind the everlasting appeal of the vampire. Stoker’s vampire is both ancient and modern, reflecting issues that are, sadly, still relevant today in a world that feels threatened by ‘Otherness’.
I was seven years old when I first read an illustrated easy-to-read abridged French translation of Dracula. I was of course fascinated by the count more than any other character and I hoped he would manage to survive. Ever since that first read, I have returned to the story several times, as it is after all the story that first introduced me to the literary vampire. Writing a PhD thesis on contemporary Gothic literature, reading Dracula over and over again has just become inevitable.
Luckily for me, new material from Stoker’s own notes is now made available. In 2009, an official sequel to Bram Stoker’s Dracula was written by Dacre Stoker, Stoker’s great-grand-nephew, and Ian Holt, based on Bram Stoker’s personal notes. Dracula the Un-Dead takes place twenty-five years after the events of Dracula and follows the exploits of Quincey Harker, Jonathan’s and Mina’s son, and the return of many characters from the first novel after its conclusion, including Abraham Van Helsing and the Count himself. And earlier last month, Dacre Stoker put the notes of his great-grand-uncle to good use again, writing Dracul (2018), a prequel to Dracula.
The legacies of Stoker’s creature are still very apparent today. Recently, Netflix’s release of the second season of the animated series Castlevania, an adaptation of 1990’s Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, a Nintendo Entertainment System game, which, in itself, used Bram Stoker’s Dracula as source material rekindled our fascination with the vampire right in time for Halloween. The figure of the vampire continues to frighten and fascinate us and will certainly continue to do so.