My plan had been to do a chapter devoted entirely to Dracula in which I would discuss the book, the author, the play, the movie, the movie studio, the actor responsible for giving us the iconic "look" we think of when we think Dracula, etc. For all these factors are key in the continuing popularity of the character.
The editor of Vampires' Most Wanted saw it differently, however, and requested that I put the entry on the book in the chapter on Vampire Literature, the movie in the chapter on Vampire Movies, the play...well, you get the idea. Maybe that was a better way, I don't know. But I still like the idea of a chapter exclusively examining the popularity of Dracula.
So, just for fun, I thought I'd offer the next several days the chapter I had originally planned, cut up for easier blog digestion. The entries are also larger than what you'd see in the book because at the time I submitted them I wasn't sure what word count they'd give me, so I just let the info fly! :)
So let's start at the beginning with the novel itself.
Timing is everything, or so it’s said, and timing played a crucial part in so much of the Dracula saga for it was over time that it gained its true success. And as time went on, the story would find its way to the stage and onto the silver screen. It was a long and complicated road that took a lot of detours and affected a lot of lives (not all for the better). But then who worries about time when one is immortal.
1. The Novel
Other stories and books on vampires had come before Dracula, Bram Stoker himself having been influenced by Carmilla by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu. For some reason, however, it’s Stoker’s story that’s been able to capture the imagination of generations of readers. Of course, timing is everything and nothing proves this more than the affect timing has had in Dracula’s many incarnations. Stoker researched the novel extensively for several years before it was finally published in 1897, on the cusp of the new century which the author himself seems to acknowledge the wonder of by mentioning fabulous devices such as the Kodak camera, the Graphophone (the precursor to the dictaphone), the “type-writer”. Even Mina Harker is given a more modern strength of character than other women of the day were thought to have possessed. The story is told through a series of journal entries and correspondence by its principle players. The style known as the epistolary form had been used before but never to such amazing success. It must be remembered however, that the success of a Dracula was a gradual thing. Over time, the character of Dracula would find his way into other novels, stage plays, movies, television, even comic books and would be the seed for an entire genre. But early on, the novel’s royalties never enabled its author to quit his day job, nor would he live to see just how successful his creation would become.
That the character has become so influential is a curious thing considering that Dracula is a menace observed by the reader from afar, vicariously through the characters writing about him. Outside of a few scenes where conversations with him are recorded by the journal authors, he is a figure on the outskirts of the novel, alluded to, physically described but never really mentally or emotionally assessed. It could very well be this vagueness that is the secret to Dracula’s endurance throughout the decades. By leaving him enigmatic, Stoker has allowed him to be refashioned with time, soulful or soulless depending on what the script calls for.
|Jonathan Rhys Meyers|
For years it was believed that Vlad the Impaler was the inspiration for the character of Dracula though now that belief has been dispelled. Still, based on Dracula’s own words to Jonathan Harker regarding his past, it seems obvious that while Vlad himself wasn’t the inspiration, his history was. It’s a brutal history; full of battles, conquest and cruelty and used to patch in the holes in Dracula’s own past. There was a more likely candidate for the personality of Dracula in Stoker’s boss Henry Irving, a larger than life actor who the author struck up a friendship with years before agreeing to become his acting manager at the Lyceum Theatre.
Indeed to see a photo of Irving it’s easy to match him to the description of Dracula in the novel. Irving, the first actor to be knighted, was beloved by audiences and had an almost mesmerizing effect on the people around him. Stoker, in particular, seemed to be trapped by the actor’s charisma (though a genuine friendship does seem to have existed between them). If Irving was the inspiration for Dracula, then Stoker was indeed his Renfield, devoting his time and energy to the survival of his master (or his master’s ego) to the exclusion even of his own family. Indeed, as Stoker seemed on the verge of a successful career of his own, his good friend seemed to turn on him, mocking the stage play he’d written for Dracula, selling the Lyceum Theatre without even consulting Stoker. As loyal and generous as Irving could be, he could be just as petty and egotistical. Perhaps, as seemed to be the case with so much, it was a subconscious thought that led Bram to take his friend’s negative side and apply it to the character of Dracula.
There is something about this novel that opens the imagination of the reader. Dracula’s description in the novel, while perhaps unattractive, is not as awful as some people have described it to be. Nor, however, as he regains his youth over the course of the novel, is Dracula the dashing, alluring character that later retellings would fashion him to be. (This sexiness would reach the heights with Frank Langella’s portrayal of him in the 1979 version). Again, perhaps Stoker’s true genius was being able to write a story that people could plug their own interpretation into. For his part, Stoker claimed never to understand where these theories came from. He wrote a horror story—plain and simple.