“I want you to believe...to believe in things that you cannot.”
-Van Helsing, Dracula by Bram Stoker
Hello! Welcome to my brand new blog. You don’t know me, and I don’t know you…yet, but let’s get to know each other. This blog is where I infodump. Oh yes, there will be dumps upon dumps of information.
What does one do when your head is full of all this random and very niche information that your friends and family really don’t give two rat’s bagodas about? Well…you could write an academic research paper. But…I’m a grad student so I do enough of that already. You could start a YouTube channel...but despite my background in Theatre and years of stage acting I have very little on camera dynamic.
No, the obvious answer is to start a blog, where I can infodump to my heart’s content.
And here you are!
And now that you know a little bit more about me, let’s cut to why you are most likely here. Vampires.
Yes. Vampires. And not just any vampire, but the vampire of vampires, the one who started it all, the King, the grand high poobah of bloodsuckers…Dracula.
Ok, Dracula isn’t actually the one who started it all, but that’s a topic for another blog for another day. But when we think of famous vampires, Count Dracula is by far the one who comes to mind the most. He has been depicted on screen by the likes of Bela Lugosi:
And even Leslie Nielson
But it all began in 1897 when a relatively unknown Irish writer published a certain little novel that would become a cultural icon across continents and throughout decades. The writer was Bram Stoker, and the novel was Dracula.
Now myths about vampires weren’t new when Dracula was published. Fears of undead creatures that were once human preying on the blood of the living was a common superstition across Europe, and by this time the vampire panic in New England had already taken hold. But what Stoker’s novel did was solidify the the legend, taking superstition and giving it form, time, place, stature, and a name- Count Dracula.
We’ve all seen the movies. I openly admit however, that I didn’t read the novel for the first time until about 4 years ago. Honestly, despite being a big fan of horror, and particularly folk horror, vampires were just never really my thing. After all, they have been soooo over saturated in film, t.v. and literature.
We’ve had scary vampires-
Suave and sexy vampires -
Even .....sparkly vampires. But we don't talk about that here.
Vampires, vampires everywhere! It’s…a bit much….but that only shows the power this particular piece of fiction has over us culturally. After finally reading Dracula, I was surprised, and I hate to say it…that it’s actually a really good read, and a lot creepier than I had anticipated. I made the mistake of thinking I know the story already, and I was happy to discover it wasn’t what I thought.
But that’s only the beginning of the misconceptions around the novel. Let’s start from the beginning. Who was Bram Stoker?
Bram Stoker was born November 8th, 1847 in Dublin, Ireland. He was the third of seven children and suffered a terrible illness as a child. But he would go on to make a full recovery and even become an athletic Rugby player as he later pursued his BA and Masters at Trinity College. After graduating, his interests turned to the Theatre, as he became the staff Theatre critic for the Dublin Evening Mail. During this time he also wrote a number of short stories and non fiction books, but none garnered him the notoriety that would later come from Dracula.
Around 1878 Bram and his wife moved to London and he became business manager of the Lyceum Theatre. This also afforded him the ability to mingle with London’s high society, becoming friends with Henry Irving, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and even Stoker’s now wife, Florence, had once courted Oscar Wilde. (There's a whole other story here as well as Stoker's alleged obsession with Walt Whitman, but once again, that's another post for another day.)
Stoker traveled extensively, including frequent trips to the United States. He met several U.S. presidents and would have definitely been around New England during the vampire panic. I personally like to speculate that maybe a bit of inspiration for Dracula came from this experience, but there is no direct evidence to suggest it. It’s just my own little headcanon.
It was in the seaside town of Whitby, England that the true inspiration for the novel came. It began with a mystery that Stoker was intent to solve. A mystery of a ghost ship, a looming cliffside, and a black dog.
This is where things get spooky.
You see, Stoker’s writing career had begun with journalism, which is apparent in Dracula as the book is what is known as an epistolary novel, meaning the story is told in the form of letters, newspaper clippings, etc. Think of it as a 19th century version of a found footage film.
Stoker had become interested in a mystery that had gone unsolved around Whitby for quite some time. In 1885 a Russian cargo vessel by the name of the Dmitry (sometimes also spelled Dmitri) washed up on the shore of Whitby following a violent storm. What made this vessel so fascinating to Stoker, and the citizens of Whitby, was the state of the ship.
Only seven members of the Dmitry’s crew were still alive, with no real explanation for what had happened to the rest. What made the wreck even more strange, was the ship’s cargo. It had been carrying what could be best described simply as crates of dirt.
A researcher at heart, Stoker visited the library, requesting a rare book on the Principalities of Wallachia, where he seemed razor focused on finding one specific piece of information. After searching the text, he wrote down one name in his notes: Count Wampyr, with the word “Wampyr” crossed out and written over with “Dracula”.
Stoker chatted with the Royal Coast Guard, and made a visit to the Whitby Museum. He was told a story that upon the arrival of the Dmitry, a large, black dog had emerged somewhere from the bowels of the ship, ran ashore, up the 199 steps to St Mary’s Church, only to vanish within the Church’s graveyard.
If you’ve read Dracula, then all of this should sound very familiar. A shipwreck? A mysterious dog? Stoker, in his novel, changed the name of the vessel from the Dmitry to the Demeter, and attributed the arrival of the black dog to be his deadly Count in disguise.
Now, you may be asking…what’s so unusual about all of this? Authors often use bits and pieces of real history mixed with lore to compose a compelling story. This isn’t new. But, what if I told you that Stoker 100% believed he was not just writing a work of fiction, but a real story, told from the point of view of the real people that lived it?
Sounds crazy, right?
Let’s take a closer look. As I mentioned previously, Dracula wasn’t written as a novel with a traditional narrative. It was written through letters exchanged back and forth among the various characters in the story, as well as newspaper clippings and journal entries. As I’ve also mentioned, Stoker began his writing career as a journalist. It makes sense that he would present a story this way, however, what a lot of people don’t know is that the version of Dracula we all know and love, was not the original.
Stoker’s original manuscript contained a preface, in which he stated unequivocally that the events outlined in the book actually happened, and reader beware. Although the names of the characters were fictionalized, borrowed from the aforementioned graveside of St Mary’s, as well as some of the vampire tales coming out of New England, he swore that the events were true. “Names have been changed to protect the innocent”, as Jack Webb would say.
Unfortunately for Stoker, his editor, Otto Kyllman, of Archibald Constable & Company, absolutely would not let it go to print with the preface intact. They would only publish the book if it was presented as fiction, for fear of inciting a public panic.
Considering that at that time a serial killer was stalking and slaughtering the citizens of White Chapel in London, it makes sense that the last thing anyone needed was to worry about undead, shapeshifting, blood drinkers washing up on the shores. The editor returned Stoker’s original manuscript to him with a single word response: No.
Kyllman also forced Stoker to whittle the story down, removing any claims or statements of fact. By the time the novel was finally published, the first 101 pages were cut entirely, along with the preface, and the ending had been altered. What we know as the beginning of the novel, Jonathan Harker’s journey on the train, originally didn’t happen until well into the story.
What those missing 101 pages contained remains a mystery, much like the fate of the Dmitry. One has to ask, what was so troublesome on those pages that the editors were afraid to publish? What did Stoker learn in his visits to the library and interviews with the Coast Guard? Clues to the answers to these questions have been scattered about in Stoker's notes, other short stories (it is believed that the short vignette, Dracula's Guest by Stoker was originally part of the novel), but to my knowledge and what I was able to research, the pieces have never been adequately put together. We may never know the "true" story that Bram Stoker meant to tell.
Thank you so much for reading! This has been According to the Book of Bonny. I’m Bonny, and I'll be back.
Dracula and the Gothic in Literature, Pop Culture and the Arts, BRILL, 2015. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/utulsa/detail.action?docID=4007474.
Leatherdale, Clive. Dracula: The Novel & the Legend : A Study of Bram Stoker's Gothic Masterpiece. Aquarian Press, Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, 1985.