So…why are we watching a “nosferatu” named “Count Orlok” in today’s Halloween feature, and not Count Dracula, the vampire?
Therein hangs a tale.
The Early Years
Born the third of seven children on the north side of Dublin, Abraham “Bram” Stoker was afflicted with some sort of an illness that left him bedridden until the age of seven, when he started school. Then something amazing happened.
The tough Irishman describes his childhood and early career in Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906):
It is true that I had known weakness. In my babyhood I used, I understand, to be often at the point of death. Certainly till I was about seven years old I never knew what it was to stand upright. I was naturally thoughtful and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.
This early weakness, however, passed away in time and I grew into a strong boy and in time enlarged to the biggest member of my family. When I was in my twentieth year I was Athletic Champion of Dublin University. When I met Irving first I was in my thirtieth year. I had been for ten years in the Civil Service and was then engaged on a dry-as-dust book on “The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions” [this is still a standard work today, per Wikipedia]. I had edited a news paper, and had exercised my spare time in many ways — as a journalist; as a writer of short and serial stories; as a teacher. In my College days I had been Auditor of the Historical Society — a post which corresponds to the Presidency of the Union in Oxford or Cambridge — and had got medals, or certificates, for History, Composition and Oratory. I had been President of the Philosophical Society; had got Honours in pure Mathematics. I had won numerous silver cups for races of various kinds. I had played for years in the University football team, where I had received the honour of a “cap”! I was physically immensely strong. In fact I feel justified in saying I represented in my own person something of that aim of university education “mens sana in corpore sano.”
How did this jock get mixed up with Carpathian ghouls? After all, it’s not a fate destined for every theater critic at the Dublin Evening Mail, which was one of the journalistic gigs the athletic and intellectually gifted young man had at that time.
Influential members of 1870s Dublin society noted the high quality of Stoker’s reviews. Henry Irving invited him to dinner, and the two men became friends. In fact, Bram Stoker and his family eventually moved to London, where he became business manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theater.
Being friends with the world’s most famous actor and having an important job at one of London’s biggest theaters opened a lot of doors for Stoker, including a position on the literary staff of the Daily Telegraph. With all this going on in his life, he also wrote and published a romantic novel in 1890.
His next book would be Dracula.
In London, Stoker met the Hungarian adventurer Vámbéry Ármin, another overachiever who had started life with a handicap (in his case, a congenital disorder that required the use of crutches). Some believe Ármin provided Stoker with background about Transylvania, and per Wikipedia, he may have been the inspiration for Professor Van Helsing (just as Henry Irving was the basis of the Dracula character’s physical appearance and mannerisms).
However, Stoker also researched his next book for years, and among other sources, he was strongly influenced by Emily Gerard’s “Transylvania Superstitions” (1885).
Dracula was published to good reviews in 1897, though it didn’t become the icon it is today until after film versions came out in the 20th century.
Indeed, in his last years the world was unkind to Stoker. He died broke in 1912, possibly of overwork or perhaps tertiary syphilis.
The next year, his widow got only around 2 pounds at Sotheby’s when circumstances forced her to auction off his notes and outlines for Dracula. She was, therefore, less than thrilled when F. W. Murnau’s Nosferatu was released in 1922 and became a hit.
The film makers had relied on other popular vampire fiction (Stoker wrote the classic, but not the first of its kind), but they also had borrowed heavily from Dracula for their screenplay without bothering to purchase film rights from the Stoker estate. They even advertised that Nosferatu was “freely adapted” from Stoker’s Dracula.
Changing the names of characters and the geographical setting didn’t make them immune from a lawsuit launched by Florence Stoker and the British Incorporated Society of Authors. In 1925, she won and besides monetary damages was awarded all the negatives and prints of Nosferatu, which she destroyed.
However, fortunately for future generations, Florence missed a few.
Bram Stoker would have been 166 years old in a couple of weeks, had he himself been a vampire. However, even as a mortal he led quite an interesting life. The full A&E presentation of his biography is available for free online here. Enjoy!
Categories: Thursday Lit