Friday, April 20, 2012

Dracula's Irish Origins - bringing it all back home

With the centenary of Bram Stoker's death now upon us, we have chosen to mark the occasion by re-publishing an article we first posted last year. It can only be hoped, that the man who is singularly responsible for altering the way we think about life and death in popular culture, will find a fitting memorial in this, his native land, on the occasion of this, his 100 anniversary. 

First edition of Dracula
published in 1897
Next year marks the centenary of the death of one who has a very good claim to be regarded as the most successful Irish writer ever. Dublin-born novelist, Bram Stoker died on this day in 1912. 
While Ireland lays claim to a long and distinguished list of noted authors, writers, poets - including a few Nobel laureates - Stoker has a special claim to fame. He alone created a character that has come to be immortalised and embedded in popular culture right down to this very day. 
A Wikipedia article on Dracula in Popular Culture informs us that the character of Dracula is second perhaps only to Sherlock Holmes, in terms of the number and frequency of cinematic and other renditions in which he has appeared. It is likely that if Stoker was alive today he would scarcely believe what he set in motion. 
But is it merely coincidence that the character of Dracula was created by an Irishman? Could Dracula's creator have come from any country? By all accounts Stoker himself was a cosmopolitan spirit who travelled widely and absorbed a broad spectrum of cultural influences. He never actually travelled to his villain's stomping ground of Transylvania, even though for most people he is the one who put it on the map. But it is reported that in the course of writing his great work, he made meticulous study of the history, culture, folklore and even the geography of the locality.  
Interestingly though, there is also information that "despite being the most well-known vampire novel, Dracula was not the first. It was preceded and partly inspired by Sheridan Le Fanu's 1871 Carmilla about a lesbian vampire who preys on a lonely young woman. Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu was another Irish and Dublin-born writer of ghostly tales who lived between 1814 and 1873. 
One person who has presented claims for Dracula's Irish influences is Dennis McIntyre, director of the Bram Stoker's Dracula Organisation. He points out that Stoker's imagination was surely fired by events going on around him. He was very much a man of his time:  
Bram Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847 at the height of the Great Famine. This was one of the most catastrophic events in Irish history, with hundreds of thousands of people dying from starvation and disease or emigrating in 'coffin ships' to America. The famine may have inspired the visual characteristics of Count Dracula and also his infamous obsession with bloodsucking, McIntyre believes. "So metaphorically speaking we think that Count Dracula might be the landlord up at the big castle sucking the blood of the peasants. - Bram Stoker's Dracula - more Irish than Transylvanian?  
It is known that Stoker was afflicted by a strange and unexplained illness in childhood which meant that he was bedridden for the first seven years of his life. During his long convalescence his mother reportedly bolstered his spirits by regaling stories of a cholera epidemic that took place in her home town of Sligo in 1832!  
It is also claimed that Stoker's family home in Clontarf was close to a burial plot for suicide victims and the Stoker family had a burial plot in St. Michan's Church in Dublin. According to Dennis McIntyre:  
By some atmospheric freak in this church bodies are preserved by a natural mummification or they were in the past.  
And finally, for those who like intrigue, McIntyre suggests that the name Dracula might itself be derived from the Irish words Droch Ola, meaning of course 'bad blood'.  
Let's hope that the centenary year of Bram Stoker's passing is suitably marked with the respect and recognition that he deserves:  
In Ireland we rightfully sing the praises of Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, Wilde, Shaw, O'Casey, Swift, Goldsmith, Synge, Behan and Kavanagh - but where is Bram Stoker? Sadly and shamefully [Stoker] is totally neglected in his own birthplace, by his own people.   
Further Reading/Resources: 

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