May 26th, 1897 – Beware of Vampires!

Today-In-History

Famous for introducing the character of the vampire Count Dracula, the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker tells the story of Dracula’s attempt to move from Transylvania to England so he may find new blood and spread the undead curse, and the battle between Dracula and a small group of men and women led by Professor Abraham Van Helsing.

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Gary Oldman as Dracula in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992)

Throughout the 1880s and 1890s, authors such as H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Robert Louis Stevenson, Arthur Conan Doyle, and H. G. Wells wrote many tales in which fantastic creatures threatened the British Empire. Invasion literature was at a peak, and Stoker’s formula of an invasion of England by continental European influences was by 1897 very familiar to readers of fantastic adventure stories. Victorian readers enjoyed it as a good adventure story like many others, but it would not reach its iconic legendary status until later in the 20th century when film versions began to appear.

Between 1879 and 1898, Bram Stoker was a business manager for the world-famous Lyceum Theatre in London, where he supplemented his income by writing a large number of sensational novels, his most famous being the vampire tale Dracula published on May 26th, 1897. Parts of it are set around the town of Whitby, where he spent summer holidays.

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Sir Henry Irving (February 6th, 1838 – October 13th, 1905)

Shakespearean actor and friend of Stoker’s, Sir Henry Irving was a possible real-life inspiration for the character of Dracula. The role was tailor-made to his dramatic presence, gentlemanly mannerisms and affinity for playing villain roles. Irving, however, never agreed to play the part on stage.

Before writing Dracula, Stoker spent seven years researching European folklore and stories of vampires, being most influenced by Emily Gerard‘s 1885 essay, “Transylvania Superstitions”. Later he would also claim that he had a nightmare, caused by eating too much crab meat covered with mayonnaise sauce, about a “vampire king” rising from his grave.

Dracula has been assigned to many literary genres including vampire literature, horror fiction, the gothic novel and invasion literature. The novel touches on themes such as the role of women in Victorian culture, sexual conventions, immigration, colonialism, and post-colonialism. Although Stoker did not invent the vampire, he defined its modern form, and the novel has spawned numerous theatrical, film and television interpretations.

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The iconic Dracula – Bela Lugosi in “Dracula” (1931)

Despite being the most widely known vampire novel, Dracula was not the first. It was preceded and partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu‘s 1871 “Carmilla“, about a lesbian vampire who preys on a lonely young woman, and by Varney the Vampire, a lengthy penny dreadful serial from the mid-Victorian period by James Malcolm Rymer. The image of a vampire portrayed as an aristocratic man, like the character of Dracula, was created by John Polidori in “The Vampyre” (1819), during the summer spent with Frankenstein creator Mary Shelley, her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron in 1816. 


 

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