This is the tale of an Irish writer who will forever be remembered for writing one particular book, one of the most influential works in the history of fiction. His name was Abraham ‘Bram’ Stoker, and his book was Dracula.
Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847, one of seven children of Abraham and Charlotte Stoker. He was ill as a child and often bedridden, but by the age of seven he was fully recovered. He attended Trinity College in Dublin where he studied mathematics, graduating with honours in 1870. Stoker then joined the civil service like his father before him, but he also took on some additional work in the evenings writing theatrical reviews for Sheridan Le Fanu’s Dublin Evening Mail.
A creative career move
After spending 10 years working in the civil service, Stoker decided that he wanted to pursue a more artistic career. Always interested in theatre and literature, he had established a friendship with the famous actor Henry Irving through his work as a reviewer, and Irving encouraged Stoker to write himself. Irving offered Stoker a job as the manager of his production company and London’s Lyceum Theatre, which he owned. It was a busy role that required Stoker to travel with the company on tour, but it also inspired him to write.
Stoker began writing short stories in the 1870s and published his first novel, The Snake’s Pass, in 1890. He was active in the arts communities in both London and Dublin, and became acquainted with several well-known artists of the day including James Whistler, Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde; while touring in America with Irving he also met President Theodore Roosevelt and Walt Whitman.
The original vampire novel
Dracula was published in 1897 and was followed by The Lady of the Shroud in 1909 and The Lair of the White Worm in 1911, as well as the well-received Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving that was published following the actor’s death in 1906. Stoker’s literary output, especially in the later part of his life, was wide ranging and of a high standard. He wrote everything from textbooks to memoirs and short stories, and eventually published 19 novels but it is for his 1897 novel Dracula that he will be remembered.
It was immediately successful and has continued to grow in popularity ever since its publication. The novel was inspired by a trip to Whitby that Stoker took while touring with Irving in 1890. The town’s dramatic location and ruined abbey were key locations in the novel. He was also inspired by the vampire story Carmilla by his compatriot Sheridan Le Fanu and his own life-long interest in folklore from around the world.
He died in London in 1912 and since his death Dracula has become the most successful horror novel in history and one of the most adapted works of any genre.
David Forsythe’s What Have The Irish Ever Done For Us illustrated by Alba Esteban is available here.