My sisters and I grew up with the knowledge that Bram Stoker was our great-grand uncle. We considered Dracula to be a cousin, someone whose story was intertwined with our own.
Halloween is a big deal for children in Canada, so growing up with a personal Dracula connection caused a certain stir, although our friends were more impressed by the idea than my sisters and I. Of course we dressed the part at Halloween. Thanks to the enduring popularity of all things vampire, even today some fangs and a cape make a simple, yet unmistakable costume.
Given the family connection, it may seem surprising that the first time I read Dracula was in college. I was writing a paper on the subject of repressed Victorian sexuality, and read the novel under the pressure of considering such knotty problems as what the characters ‘really’ represented, and all the potential subtexts and ‘deep meanings’ in the book. But almost immediately I was drawn into the narrative and swept away in its tide. I quickly came to the conclusion there is no need to examine Dracula too deeply in order to enjoy Bram’s most famous book. Even now, after all the time I have spent with the novel, I regard Bram as a hard-working and honorable man who happened to write a most remarkable story. I leave the psychoanalysis to others.
While researching that paper I became overwhelmed by the many variations of the story that were available in book and film form. Clearly my ancestor had struck a chord in the popular imagination. But what I found most confounding was that there seemed to be little or no respect for his original work.
Then I met Ian Holt, a young man who had his own fascination with Dracula and had spent twenty years researching both the historic Prince Dracula and Bram’s Dracula, lecturing and giving papers at scholarly gatherings around the world. At Ian’s suggestion, my wife Jenne and I made a pilgrimage to the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia, drawn there like so many others seeking the genesis of Dracula. As I held my ancestor’s jotted notes in my hands, I sensed his presence and felt my connection with him flowing through my veins. It was the first time in my life I had felt so close to him, and this sense was pivotal in prompting me to dig deeper. I realized that my own research methods were similar, for while some of my ideas and information were methodically collected in spiral notebooks or in Word files, at other times I grabbed fleeting ideas, scribbling them on the backs of envelopes or whatever first came to hand.
I discovered that Bram Stoker carried out thorough research before writing Dracula, although he never set foot in the foreign lands he so accurately described in the novel. Instead, he made good use of stories told by my great-grandfather, Bram’s younger brother George, set in the rugged mountains of Eastern Europe where George served in the Red Crescent (originally the Ottoman equivalent to the Red Cross), as well as his own extensive research in the British Museum library. Similarly, in order for Bram’s characters in Whitby to use just a few words of the correct local dialect, Bram compiled for himself an entire dictionary of Yorkshire dialect during his visits to the area.
Sir William Thornley Stoker, Bram’s oldest brother, also contributed to his notes with diagrams and explanations of brain surgery which Bram used to describe Renfield’s medical condition.
When I introduce myself, someone is likely to ask casually, ‘Any relation to Bram Stoker?’ Until now there has usually been surprise when I answer, yes. Perhaps now, with the publication of Dracula: The Un-Dead, that will no longer be the case.
I am proud to have Bram Stoker as a relative, as well as many other Stokers, past and present, who have strived to their purpose, and have left high marks in their pursuits, professions, military service, sporting endeavors, and charity work. In reality, Bram is but one of many Stokers to be admired, and as much as we share characteristics, we also share the family motto, ‘whatever is true and honorable’.
I hope you will greatly enjoy this classic and beloved novel.