Posted Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, at 4:33 PM
Happy 165th birthday, Bram Stoker, writer as deathless as the fiend you brewed up for your finest novel, Dracula, published in 1897. Today’s Google doodle salutes you. The cheesy Breaking Dawn poster in the bus stop outside Slate’s D.C. office celebrates you. And, best of all, fans around the web are rolling out a monster mash of profiles and vampire film clips to refresh your legacy. Mayhap there’s still time, before the light wanes and the mists creep in, to share a few of the Stoker facts we’ve learned from these tributes. In any case, we will be quick, as we are expecting a visitor.
You entered the world—Ireland, to be specific—in 1847, when, as Michael Cavna notes in his excellent post-post-mortem, “millions of starving countrymen [walked] dying and gaunt and haunted-looking through” the land. It was the Great Potato Famine. Was that how Dracula got his pallor, his leanness? You were a sickly child, the third of seven, and your mother kept you inside, where you’d be safe. But like the Count, you soon grew robust, not delicate: Matthew Shaer at the Christian Science Monitor described you, during your college years, as “a swaggering, flush-cheeked bon vivant.” You became a star athlete, especially in soccer and track and field.
After graduation, your father forced you to join the Irish Civil Service, where you served as a clerk. (In Dracula, Jonathan Harker is a humdrum lawyer specializing in real-estate. Coincidence?) You wrote fiction—The Primrose Path, The Snake’s Pass—and reviewed plays for the Dublin Evening Mail. Your glowing assessment of Hamlet recommended you to the actor Henry Irving, with whom you would become close friends. Irving owned the Lyceum Theater in London, and upon moving to the city years later you would be roped into managing it.
Dracula is a very sexy novel, so we weren’t surprised to learn of your lustful courtship of Florence Balcombe. You wed the English lady in 1878, after she chose you over Oscar Wilde (Count Dracula also appears to swing both ways). Through Wilde, you met Walt Whitman, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, and Teddy Roosevelt.
Your first book, published in 1882, was ostensibly directed at children. A collection of fantasy tales called Under the Sunset, it contained seeds of what was to come. For instance:
[The fog] rose silently, higher—higher—enveloping the wilderness for far around. It took deeper and darker shades as it arose. It was as though the Spirit of Gloom were hid within, and grew mightier with the spreading vapour. To the eyes of the dying Poet the creeping mist was as a shadowy castle. Arose the tall turrets and the frowning keep. The gateway with its cavernous recesses and its beetling towers took shape as a skull.
Already, Stoker, you slay us. But your crowning achievement, of course, would be your fifth novel, Dracula, originally titled The Undead and organized loosely around the legend of Vlad the Impaler, as well as contemporary accounts of “born criminals.” In the interests of mist comparison, here are a few lines from the book:
All was dark and silent, the black shadows thrown by the moonlight seeming full of a silent mystery of their own. Not a thing seemed to be stirring, but all to be grim and fixed as death or fate, so that a thin streak of white mist, that crept with almost imperceptible slowness across the grass towards the house, seemed to have a sentience and a vitality of its own.
Horrifying! We should probably mention that you died in 1912, although that didn’t seem to slow you down much: Your ghastly magnum opus has returned, onscreen, over 1,000 times. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we think we hear a knock on the door.