Born in Clontarf (near Dublin, Ireland) on November 8, 1847, Bram (Abraham) Stoker is recognized as one of the most prominent Gothic authors of the Victorian fin-de-siècle. An accomplished athlete, journalist, author, biographer, theatre critic and theatre manager, Stoker is best known for his Gothic masterpiece Dracula (1897). Like his immortal creation Count Dracula, Stoker’s life is shrouded in mystery, from his rumored participation in occult circles, to his purported death from syphilis.
Stoker was educated at Trinity College, “where he won honours in science, mathematics, oratory, history, and composition (“Obituary”).
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After graduating he entered the Irish Civil Service where he served as Inspector of Petty Sessions (Byron 9). In 1876 Stoker met the actor Henry Irving and by 1878 had moved to London where he was acting manager at the famous Lyceum Theatre. It was there that Stoker entered into fashionable circles through which we learn much of his character and influences. In the same year Stoker married Florence Balcombe, who was also courted by Oscar Wilde. There has been much speculation about the Stokers’ family dynamic, some of which suggests that the marriage was loveless (10). The Stokers’ only child, Noel, was born in 1879.
Stoker’s interest in the supernatural and the occult — which would become a salient focus for his later fiction — may have been rooted in his unidentified childhood illness, which supposedly kept him bed-ridden until the age of seven; this seclusion would be compounded by an interest in Irish folklore, which often concerned tales of bogeys and vampires. In fact, Stoker’s later interests included “Egyptology, Babylonian lore, astral projections, and alchemy” (Bedford 211), and he was rumored to be a member of the infamous Order of the Golden Dawn, an esoteric circle of magicians attended by W.B. Yeats and Aleister Crowley; however, today such rumors are largely viewed as apocryphal.
Stoker published his stories since 1872, including the “Crystal Cup” (1872), his first horror tale “The Chain of Destiny” (1875), a collection of children’s stories Under the Sunset (1881), and his first novel The Snake’s Pass (1890), but he did not realize fame until the overwhelming success of Dracula (1897). The responses in popular periodicals were broad, but generally positive. One 1897 review in the Athenaeum even states that Stoker goes “‘one better’ than others in the [supernatural] field” (Senf 59). He began the novel in 1890 and was influenced by his visit to Whitby, where he discovered in William Wilkinson’s An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia a reference to the historical Dracula (Byron 27). [Originally, the novel was to be entitled “The Undead”] He also researched Eastern European folklore and geography in travel guides, the most well known source being Emily Gerard’s The Land Beyond the Forest (1888). The reasons for Dracula’s success are many, and it has become a major focus for stage, musical and cinematic adaptations and, more recently, has become a major focus of academic criticism.
Stoker continued to write Gothic and fantasy fiction, including The Lair of the White Worm (1911), which would eventually be made into a cult film, and published Henry Irving’s biography, Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906). In 1907, he also entered the debate over censorship with the essays “The Censorship of Fiction” and “The Censorship of Stage Plays,” which were published in The Nineteenth Century (Byron 28). “Dracula’s Guest,” an excised chapter from Dracula, was published posthumously in 1914.
After being ill since 1906, Stoker died on a Saturday evening April 20, 1912 at 26, St. George’s Square S.W. London (“Obituary”). His death, although often attributed to syphilis, was likely due to a stroke.