In just a blink of the eye the month of October has come and gone. Now it is the next holiday’s time to shine. But if you’re like us and you’re not quite ready to say goodbye to Halloween, then look no further! Bruce Scivally, author of the book Dracula FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the Count of Transylvania, is here to satisfy your Halloween needs. Read below for an excerpt of Dracula FAQ!
Bram Stoker held memberships in the National Liberal Club, the Authors’ Club, and the Green Room Club. John J. O’Connor, writing in the New York Times sixty-five years after Stoker’s death, claimed that the author also belonged to “the Order of the Golden Dawn, an occult society whose members included William Butler Yeats, the poet, and Aleister Crowley, the notorious Satanist.”
A collection of Stoker’s rather morbid short stories, Under the Sunset, was published in 1881, but his next novel, The Snake’s Pass, didn’t appear until 1890. That year, Stoker had a dream that would fuel his most lasting creation. He saw a man reclining, sleeping, while three vampire women hovered over him. They kissed him, not on the mouth, but on the neck. Then, a man tore into the room and savagely pushed the women away, saying, “This man belongs to me. I want him.” The dream simmered in Stoker’s imagination, and he began developing a story around it. In early August 1890, he took his family for a holiday in Whitby, in North Yorkshire. The seaside town fired the imagination of the author.
Whitby is situated on two cliffs, split in the middle by the River Esk. Stoker wrote parts of the novel while vacationing in the town, and wove the location into his story. In his new novel, the vampire’s ship runs aground at Whitby, an episode based on a real-life incident—the Russian ship Dmitry out of Narva ran aground there during a storm in October 1885; in the novel, it is the Demeter, out of Varna. But it was the East Cliff, with its 199 steps leading up to a graveyard and the ruins of Whitby Abbey, that made the greatest impression on the author. It’s said that in the Abbey ruins, Stoker found the inspiration for Castle Dracula.
Most importantly, in the Whitby Library, Stoker found a book called An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia, in which there was a footnote about a fifteenth-century warlord named Dracula. Stoker had thought of calling his villain Count Wampyr, from Styria (a location mentioned in J. Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla). Now, he changed his vampire’s name to Count Dracula, and situated his castle in Transylvania.
Some of the most evocative writing in Dracula comes at the beginning and end, the portions set in Transylvania. In reality, Stoker never visited the country, relying instead on information gleaned from books and from his friend Arminius Vambery, a professor from the University of Budapest. After conversations with Vambery, Stoker conducted further research in the British Library, uncovering facts about Vlad III.
While collecting information and working out the plot of Dracula, Stoker also wrote two other novels, The Watter’s Mou’ and The Shoulder of Shasta, both of which appeared in 1895. In May of 1897, Stoker sent the manuscript of his latest novel to Constable, his publisher. There was some uncertainty about the title; in his working notes, he had jotted down three possible titles: “The Un-Dead,” “The Dead Un-Dead,” and “Dracula.” Stoker submitted it under the title “The Un-Dead.” Before publication, the title changed to Dracula. The book arrived at booksellers on May 26, 1897.
Since its publication, Stoker’s book has been subject to all kinds of interpretations of the author’s unconscious influences. Some have seen it as an exploration of the fear of foreign immigration, with a malicious invader from Eastern Europe attempting to spread his evil influence over civilized cosmopolitan London. Others view it as a misogynistic fantasy of male power dominating the “New Woman,” as women with progressive, liberated ideas were referred to at the time; Mina Murray, with her aspirations to work alongside her husband-to-be, Jonathan Harker, and her mastery of shorthand and the typewriter is definitely an exemplar of this progressive female, Others say the novel’s vampirism is a metaphor for the sexuality that Victorians were prohibited from expressing, with the vampire’s bite being symbolic of penetration, and the “blood disease” of vampirism being a metaphor for syphilis. But Stoker may have thought he was simply writing an exciting thriller, given verisimilitude by its presentation as a series of journal entries and letters.