Bram Stoker: an Irish literary great?


It is not an exaggeration to say that some artists carve out a corner of their fields. In English literature, works can be described as “Shakespearean” or “Dickensian”, a tribute to the titans that defined a genre.

Bram Stoker, whose 172nd birthday falls on the 8th November, is a writer who has truly defined the gothic genre. Dracula as a figure and as a story is one of the most influential icons of Victorian literature, and its staying power in popular culture, whether it be through the popularity of the vampire on Halloween or on the Hollywood screen, is a testament to the genius of its creator.

One of the first things to note about Stoker is that the elusive nature of his characters is reflected in the fact that he is full of surprises. For an author whose work exemplifies an English gothic, he was actually an Irishman. Indeed, he stands alongside Joyce, Swift and Yeats as one of the legends of Irish literature. As a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin, it is also intriguing that mathematics was the degree of choice for Stoker. An unusual marriage of science and humanities is part of what makes digging into Stoker’s life beyond his writing so rewarding.

A writer who has truly defined the gothic genre

His literary works other than Dracula are often under-represented but much of what makes his seminal text so worthy of remembrance is present in the other works in his bibliography. The Snake’s Pass and The Lady of the Shroud possess the horror that Stoker is known for, but arguably his greatest quality is the way he blends elements of the gothic and romance genre in his novels.

This is what makes Dracula so pertinent. Love and death are intertwined in a deeply intimate epistolary novel which vividly deals with desire and breaking the bounds of Victorian tradition. The text draws allusions to a forbidden sexuality that is pervasive enough to still be relevant today. Even the Twilight franchise, while we may not want to admit it, owes its fascination with intimacy and forbidden sex to Stoker’s original story.

Indeed, there are conflicting interpretations that accompany Dracula, and its inability to be labelled as one theme is what makes it so intriguing. Countless theories have emerged alongside its general messages on love. For instance, the threat of disease in late Victorian urban London resonates with Dracula stalking the capital’s streets feeding on women and children. Moreover, the unfortunate fate of Lucy Westenra, the fun-loving young woman who attracts three potential marriage suitors could possibly be Stoker’s warning against sexual promiscuity and its consequences.

But perhaps these theories are a little far-fetched, and a more frivolous tale is being told. Stoker’s fascination with the dark Sir Henry Irving during his stint in the West End theatre scene has prompted some to suggest that Dracula is simply a light-hearted caricature of the man. Others argue that the story is steeped in Irish folklore with ‘Droch fhola’ literally translating to bad blood. Finally, Stoker’s fascination with both the English countryside and the rich history of Continental Europe have often been popular targets of interpretation. Indeed, one cannot forget the character’s unavoidable association to the Transylvanian setting.

This man of mystery and his work are worth another look

In such a short space of time, and with more research to be done on the esteemed writer, few conclusions on the author or his work are apparent. But one thing that is certain, is that on his birthday, this man of mystery and his work are worth another look. Who knows what surprises wait in store?

Photo by Clément Falize via Unsplash

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