While he was the author in 1879 of that truly fascinating page-turner The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland – the definitive work on the subject – posterity has chosen to recognize Bram Stoker for his fiction based on an obscure Transylvanian tyrant Vlad Dracul.
Stoker, born Abraham Stoker in Clontarf in 1847, was theatre critic for the unionist Dublin Evening Mail in his 20s. A favourable review of a Dublin production of Henry Irving’s Hamlet led to a meeting between the two men in 1876. The rest was history. Irving was taken with the young Dubliner. Stoker would become his personal assistant and eventually run the Lyceum theatre in London for the famous actor-manager. Stoker also became Irving’s biographer and called his only child after him.
Stoker, who was distantly related to Arthur Conan Doyle, also had an interesting relationship with Oscar Wilde. He had proposed the future playwright for membership of the Trinity College Philosophical Society when he was president. Later they both wooed the same woman, the aspiring actress Florence Balcombe. Wisely, she chose Stoker. After Wilde’s fall from grace in the wake of his infamous libel action against the Marquis of Queensberry and his jail term for sodomy and gross indecency, Stoker stood by him and visited Wilde in his final years on the continent.
Notwithstanding his momentous early triumph with the publication of The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland it is for his fiction that Stoker will be remembered. In addition to Dracula, published in 1897, Stoker also had considerable success with works like The Lady of the Shroud in 1909 and The Lair of the White Worm in 1911. In all he wrote 18 novels before his death in 1912 at the age of 64.
It appears that his most famous work might well have gone by a different title but for a last minute change of mind. The original manuscript for Dracula was lost and didn’t turn up until the 1980s. While the manuscript was typed the title page was handwritten with the words ‘The Undead’.
Bram Stoker, creator of the most famous gothic horror novel of them all (with the greatest of respect to Mary Shelley), was born in Clontarf on the northside of Dublin, 166 years ago on this day.