"Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood"
by Jim Steinmeyer
Reviewed by Jon Koons
If you are looking for an informative biography about Dracula creator Bram Stoker’s life then this book will be of great interest. It chronicles Abraham Stoker’s adult life and times in Victorian England, his association with the Lyceum Theatre and his friendship and adulation of it’s founder, London’s leading actor, Henry Irving. There is, in fact, quite a lot about behind-the-scenes theater production at the turn of the century. We meet many of the “barrel chested Irishman’s” colorful and often famous friends and associates with whom he rubbed elbows, as well as learn about his family and personal life. The book describes Stoker’s long process in creating Dracula, through concept, inspiration, drafts, revisions and ultimately to publication. If you want to know about the man in who’s mind the most famous of vampires, Count Dracula, first took shape, and then who set pen to paper to bring him to life, or death, so to speak, then this is a well written, often engaging biography.
If you are looking for the answer to the question which the book’s title poses, “Who Was Dracula?” then you will likely be disappointed. Jim Steinmeyer, best known as a magic historian and author of such books as “The Last Greatest Magician in the World”, has researched and assembled all sorts of documentation as to the particulars of Bram Stoker’s life and relationships, often siting previous research by other authors. Stoker’s work in the theater, and his relationships with his boss and friends are all quite fascinating. But does it answer the question? In his introduction, Steinmeyer states: “I believe that the most important elements of Dracula were inspired by four people: Poet Walt Whitman’s bold carnality; author Oscar Wilde’s corrupting immorality; actor Henry Irving’s haunted characters; and murderer Jack the Ripper’s mysterious horrors.” That pretty much sums up the book in a nutshell. He then goes on to support his theories, plus adds in a cast of supporting characters, any of whom might also have had some influence on Stoker. And he makes a fine case. But, forgive me, my question is, why?
Theories based on suppositions on top of assumptions…? A very creative man invented a miraculous, beloved character drawn from his life experience. Can’t we just leave it at that? Every author of fiction brings everyone they’ve ever met and places they’ve been and things they’ve experienced into the creative process to create characters and situations. Consciously and sub. Sure, Dracula may be largely inspired by Oscar Wilde, but Stoker may just as easily have based him on his postman, Maury, who he’d noticed had a weird way about him. I think discussions of what influences go into the creation of fictional characters may constitute an interesting intellectual exercise for some, but in the end are pointless. Sometimes there are obvious “similarities to any persons either living or dead” that we are always told to overlook, and sometimes the influences are beyond the ken of anyone other than, sometimes including, the author. And what does it matter? Let the character stand on it’s own. Can we please let creative people just have the credit for being creative?