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The lives of most authors — even, or perhaps especially, the great ones — are necessarily a catalogue of tedious inwardness and cloistered composition. Globe-trotting Hemingways and brawling Christopher Marlowes are the exception, not the rule. In many respects, a cursory overlook of the life of Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, fits this milk-mild template, albeit in a slightly divergent and commercial fashion.
For nearly three decades Stoker was the subservient factotum to one Henry Irving, a self-satisfied and slightly bombastic Victorian actor of great fame. (Irving's production of Faust was adjudged "one of the great spectacles of the nineteenth-century theater.") Stoker, the "Stage Manager," kept accounts, managed actors, wrestled scenery, and in general did everything — in a genuinely loyal, worshipful and dutiful fashion — that he had to do in order to make Irving's career at the prestigious Lyceum Theatre in London possible. When it was all over, Stoker estimated he had written over half a million bland letters in the course of his job — and surely some of those words could have been turned to Stoker's own purposes.
But of course, Stoker did manage, despite this selfless dedication, to gain literary immortality (regardless of the forgettable dross he also churned out, viz., The Shoulder of Shasta) with one special book: Dracula. Always seen as something of an anomalous production of Stoker's career (he spent a full seven years on the book, more time than on any other project) and so "well known" as to have its actual lineaments obscured in a fog of familiarity, the genesis of Dracula is at the heart of Jim Steinmeyer's fascinating study. But he also manages to instill Stoker's quiet personal life with immense allure, due mainly to two aspects of the book. First is the large empathy and fondness Steinmeyer has for his subject, which is visible on every page. Then, second, is the era itself, and the wealth of grand personages moving in Stoker's orbit. From the glamorous, ill-fated actress Ellen Terry to the daring explorer Arminius Vambery (a name no novelist could better), from Oscar Wilde to several candidates for Jack the Ripper, including the gloriously eccentric Dr. Tumblety, Stoker's life path intersected enough colorful characters to stock a dozen of Henry Irving's favored melodramas.
And Steinmeyer conjures them up beautifully. Here's his description of Oscar Wilde's mother:
Lady Jane Wilde, called Speranza by her friends, seemed to tie every conversation together by swanning from room to room, effortlessly offering clever introductions, witty and vaguely insulting bon mots, and an assortment of tea cakes and sandwiches. She was a tall, ungainly figure swathed in a Gypsy- inspired skirt and festooned with long sashes and dangling brooches.Whether Steinmeyer is describing the fabled Beefsteak Room, with its glittering attendees, or the atmospheric coast town of Whitby, from which Stoker drew much inspiration, the scene is always clear and vivid, as are the actors that populate it. Unforeseen historical wonders abound. Stoker meeting his unlikely idol, Walt Whitman, in America? Bela Lugosi stepping unannounced onto a London stage in 1939 to surprise the audience watching the play version of Dracula? You've got it!
Reviewer: Paul Di Filippo
Posted March 26, 2014
Posted July 9, 2013
This book reminded me of the term papers we were forced to write in high school. It was boring and all over the place. It should have been titled who was Irving, Whitman, Shaw and Wilde.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 14, 2013
We all know the stories of the significance of Vlad Tepes to Dracula was. But what do Henry Irving, Jack the Ripper, Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, Jekyll and Hyde, and The Picture of Dorian Gray have to with Bram Stoker’s Dracula?
To be perfectly honest, I thought Who Was Dracula?: Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood was going to be more about Dracula himself. And I guess, in a sense it is, but it read more like a biography of Bram Stoker’s life and how he came about starting to write Dracula. I, myself, am not a huge biography/autobiography reader, and so when I started to read this book, I was getting more and more disappointed as the book went on. With a humorous line in the first few pages of the book where people depiction of Dracula was that of a “Latin lover in a long cape” which did elicit a chuckle from me, I was hoping for more.
The events start where Bram Stoker is a stage manager at Lyceum Theatre in London, England where he has not yet even written the book, to the days after he has passed away and his wife, Florence Stoker, looks after further the requests for other productions of Dracula.
The details in the book do touch base with the different individuals that Bram Stoker encounters in his life. And how little details of either the person, their works, or their scandals somehow filter into how he creates Dracula, and who he sees him to be. And that, my friends, is what I was hoping for when reading this book. But just when it would start to go into detail on who and why a certain individual was speculated to be chosen to be immortalized in the character of Dracula, it would veer away from it all to soon, and go off onto another biographical read.
I did, however, find some parts of the book extremely intriguing. For example the documentation of the Jack the Ripper events which included some grissley descriptions of the murders as well as a brief telling of who the suspect was in the killings and what came of him. As well, it talked about how an individual who was an acquaintance of Bram Stoker was being suspected for the murders due to his current performance at the theatre.
I also have a great fascination in the story of Vlad Tepes and his correlation to the Dracula stories and myths. And it was really interesting to read the accounts of how he came about, and how the measure he took to instill fear into the hearts of his enemies. Although this is not new news to me, I can’ help but want to recount the details of this individual.
Another fascinating point in the book was that in order for an author to claim his work as his own and prevent other adaptations of the work from other individuals, the legality of it was to have the work performed on a stage. It did not have to be extravagant, nor did there have to be a full house. And it was interesting to read that Bram just threw a bunch of parts of his book to try and make something that would resemble a play, and that it was the only performance during Bram Stoker’s lifetime where he would see his own Dracula performed on the stage.
I also really enjoyed being able to see one of the first few reviews done for Bram Stoker’s Dracula when it was introduced to the word. And I really liked that we were shown the positive and the negative reviews.
I would recommend this book to those interested more in the history and background of the Bram Stoker. There are tidbits of information that you will find very interesting, and may illicit a drawn out “ohhhhhhh”. If you’re looking for a read that focuses more on Dracula himself, this may be a bit of a disappointment for you. There are parts in the book you may find interesting and may have you thinking back and perhaps see the similarities of the individuals suspected to have played a small part in the creation of Dracula.
Posted March 31, 2013
Our Review, but LITERAL ADDICTION's Pack Alpha - Michelle L. Olson:
*ARC provided by the Publisher in exchange for an honest review
Jim Steinmeyer's Who Was Dracula is a delightful pastiche of research & knowledge intertwined with captivating literary allocution.
The fact behind the fiction reveals the complicated social web among the Victorian elite at the time of the novel - both famous and
infamous - and shows that the brilliance behind the novel is the fact that there was no brilliance behind the novel.
I loved the factual story woven by Steinmeyer, & truly felt that both my book addict/paranormal junkie side, as well as my inner nerd were
Reading the book immediately made me go back & skim the Classic again, do a ton of Google searches to get more caught up with
the primary players mentioned throughout the book, and rewatch the 1931 Bela Lugosi production of the film, all of which reminded me
why the delicate simplicity of the horror from that time is still king.
Steinmeyer's tale can be summed up best by the brilliant last line of the book - "A truly great nightmare is once experienced, never
forgotten. It is summoned again when we simply close our eyes. It needs nothing but imagination.it is never very far away."
LITERAL ADDICTION gives Who Was Dracula 5 Skulls. I was thrilled!
Posted February 25, 2013
Who was Dracula? Well apparently he was much more than just his creator, Bram Stoker. At best, Stoker was for the most part, a mediocre writer, gaining very little acknowledgement from critics in his time. He was, however, an excellent manager for one of the Victorian era's major stage actors, Henry Irving. Stoker dedicated his life to helping Irving, who has almost vanished into history, achieve fame on the English stage. In turn, Stoker borrowed freely from Irving's character to help characterize Dracula. Bram also drew from other personalities of the time, with whom he was well acquainted, notably Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, and perhaps even Jack the Ripper. The book notes in detail Stoker's interactions with these personalities. It attempts to detail what characteristics Bram borrowed either consciously or unconsciously, to invest in his character, Dracula. It would take Stoker seven years to meld his thoughts with some of the characteristics of these persons, thus giving birth to Dracula. Although Dracula appears in only 60 or so pages of his 400 page opus, Stoker created a character that would take on a life of it's own. This book much like it's subject, Dracula, is at times lusty and full of life, while at other times it can descend into the dryness and dust of history.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 3, 2013
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