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Stoking the Fire of Stoker’s Legacy

Abraham “Bram” Stoker may not be the father of Gothic Horror like his predecessor Edgar Allan Poe, but this Irish author is known to have mastered the art of writing Gothic Horror in his lifetime. Known mostly for being the personal assistant of Sir Henry Irving, Stoker is probably one of the most underrated, yet famous authors of horror culture; known mostly for his 1897 Gothic horror novel Dracula, he was actually a very prolific author throughout his lifetime.

He is tall and heavily built, with a sandy beard and good-natured blue eyes. Speaking of his rather striking name, he said: “I was named Abraham Stoker, but since my very young childhood I have been called Bram–and Bram I have let it remain.”

The Constitution, Atlanta, GA, January 26, 1896

Life Before His Writing Career

Born on November 8, 1847, on the north side of Dublin, Ireland in Clontarf to Abraham and Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornley, Bram Stoker was the third child of seven. His father was a civil servant and his mother was a charity worker and writer, who told him horror stories as a child and may have been the first to influence his writing later on in life. During the majority of his childhood, Bram Stoker was bedridden with a still unknown illness until he started school at seven. When he finally started school, he made a complete recovery from his childhood illness and by that time had matured into a thoughtful young boy. In Stoker’s own words he was, “naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years.” Schooling during his youth was at a private school run by Reverend William Woods.

Despite his frailty as a child, after his recovery, he grew up without any other debilitating illness and even excelled in multiple sports later on during his university years. Bram attended Trinity College in Dublin from 1864 to 1870, when he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree, then later pursued a Master of Arts in 1875; his school portfolio shows he was the auditor of the College Historical Society and the president of the University Philosophical Society, where he wrote a paper titled Sensationalism in Fiction and Society.

The Legacy of Stoker’s Name

When Bram attended college he began working as an Irish civil servant and also picked up freelancing work in journalism and critiquing theatre. Not having predestined himself to become a writer Stoker was, at an early point in his career, highly interested in theatre. During the time in which he worked for the Irish Civil Service, he actually became a critic for the Dublin Evening Mail, which was co-owned by Sheridan Le Fanu who at the time was an author of Gothic tales.

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Even though theatre critics were, at the time, not incredibly popular people, Stoker attracted the attention of people with the quality of his reviews. One fateful December day in 1876, after praising the performance of Hamlet by Henry Irving at the Theatre Royal in Dublin, he was invited to dine with Irving at the Shelbourne Hotel. This dinner marked the beginning of a prolific friendship between Stoker and Irving. Not long after becoming friends with Henry Irving, Stoker met and subsequently fell in love with his future wife, an aspiring actress by the name of Florence Balcombe. Florence was a celebrated beauty who had, at one point, been courted by Oscar Wilde. Wilde and Stoker had been classmates during their days at Trinity College; despite being upset with Balcombe’s decision to marry Stoker, the two men eventually resumed polite exchange.

Not many know how Mr. Bram Stoker came to be associated with the fortunes of Sir Henry Irving. It was in this wise, says a contemporary: Sir Henry , when on a visit to Dublin, was invited to a supper party, and during the course of the evening was induced to recite his in his thrilling way “The Dream of Eugene Aram.” One of his auditors, a young man with a brilliant reputation at Trinity College, was so affected by the tragedian’s delivery that he burst into tears. Henry Irving asked the young man to call on him the next morning, and then and there made him an offer, which was accepted to the mutual advantage of both. The young man was Mr. Bram Stoker.

The Leeds Times, Leeds, UK, July 13, 1985

The Lyceum Theatre

During the year 1878, Bram began working in London as Henry Irving’s secretary at the Lyceum Theatre. In December of that same year, Stoker and Balcombe were married and their nuptials were reported the next day on December 5, 1878, by The Freeman’s Journal and Daily Commercial Advertiser. Four days later, on December 9, Stoker and his new bride moved to England to join Henry Irving, a man which he greatly idolized. After their move to London, Stoker accepted the offer to become the acting manager for Irving, then ultimately became the business manager of Irving’s Lyceum Theatre in London, a job which he held for twenty-seven years.

A little over a year later on December 31, 1879, Stoker and his wife had a child, Irving Noel Thornley Stoker, then Bram published his first book. Through Stoker’s work with Irving, he began to have access to London’s high society and made some of his most important professional acquaintances, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to whom he was distantly related. During his employment under Irving, who was the most famous actor at the time, he managed the most successful theatre in London and was consequently a quite well known, albeit busy man.

Despite having traveled the world with Irving as his manager, Stoker never once visited Eastern Europe, the place in which his most famous novel was set. Instead, he visited and thoroughly enjoyed the United States and accompanied Irving to the White House twice, where he met William McKinley and Theodore Roosevelt. As evidence of his appreciation of the United States, Stoker actually set two of his novels in the United State. He happened to have the opportunity to meet Walt Whitman as well, who he held great admiration for as a writer.

The Legend Started with Slains Castle in Cruden Bay

The magic happened when Stoker traveled to Cruden Bay, where the Slains Castle sits, it is rumored that this castle was actual the visual inspiration for Bram Stoker during this phase of his writing career. He began the early chapters of Dracula in Cruden Bay, in 1985 while in residence at the Kilmarnock Arms Hotel, where his signatures in the guestbook from 1894 and 1895 are still present. Stoker also penned two other novels that were based on Cruden Bay, The Watter’s of Mou (1985) as well as The Mystery of the Sea (1902).

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Portrait of Bram Stoker in 1906
Portrait of Bram Stoker in 1906

History As an Author

The writing career of Stoker will be something that we delve into greater detail in the next installment of our Dead Author Dedication for the month, but it’s worth noting that despite Stoker’s productive career as a writer, he’s really only known for his classic Dracula (1897). Upon the finality of his famous novel, Dracula, he dedicated it to one of his closest friends, by the name of Hall Cain, whom he had met in London. During the period in which he had started to write his novels, he was also a part of the literary staff of The Daily Telegraph in London. Other than his novel publications, after Henry Irving’s death in 1906, he ended up managing productions at the Prince of Wales Theatre.

At the End of His Life

Stoker finally succumbed to multiple strokes and died of exhaustion on April 20, 1912, at Number 26 St. George’s Square–although some biographers believe it also had something to do with tertiary syphilis. His ashes were placed on display at Golders Green Crematorium in Northern London

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