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Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula

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In the first full-scale biography of the complex author of Dracula, Belford tells the story of Bram Stoker, the hidden man. Here is Stoker the secret writer, whose novels and stories, imbued with sexuality, violence, and the celebration of death, were at opposite poles to the decorous life he presented in society. 87 photos & illustrations.


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In the first full-scale biography of the complex author of Dracula, Belford tells the story of Bram Stoker, the hidden man. Here is Stoker the secret writer, whose novels and stories, imbued with sexuality, violence, and the celebration of death, were at opposite poles to the decorous life he presented in society. 87 photos & illustrations.

30 review for Bram Stoker: A Biography of the Author of Dracula

  1. 5 out of 5

    Leslie

    Stoker was a reticent and very private man, more comfortable living in the shadow of a great man (the actor Henry Irving, one of the most famous people of his age) than occupying the limelight on his own account; these qualities make him a challenging subject for a biography. Given the difficulty of getting at the character of this almost impenetrable man, Belford has managed to produce a biography worth reading; you'll find out more about late Victorian theatre than you will about Stoker's fict Stoker was a reticent and very private man, more comfortable living in the shadow of a great man (the actor Henry Irving, one of the most famous people of his age) than occupying the limelight on his own account; these qualities make him a challenging subject for a biography. Given the difficulty of getting at the character of this almost impenetrable man, Belford has managed to produce a biography worth reading; you'll find out more about late Victorian theatre than you will about Stoker's fiction, but that's simply a consequence of the shape of his life. And the business of theatre in the period is pretty interesting in its own right.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    Fascinating! This was a superb biography of Bram Stoker. The biographer was very good at bringing a thousand little pieces together to show us how the iconic novel Dracula (published 1897) came to be. That Wilde, Twain, Shaw, Whitman, and did I mention Wilde, were in the mix just made it all the better. I knew Dracula was inspired by folklore and Stoker's weird boss but I didn't know (and I should have) that it was also inspired by Shakespeare's Macbeth. It was also a thousand other things that w Fascinating! This was a superb biography of Bram Stoker. The biographer was very good at bringing a thousand little pieces together to show us how the iconic novel Dracula (published 1897) came to be. That Wilde, Twain, Shaw, Whitman, and did I mention Wilde, were in the mix just made it all the better. I knew Dracula was inspired by folklore and Stoker's weird boss but I didn't know (and I should have) that it was also inspired by Shakespeare's Macbeth. It was also a thousand other things that were fascinating to read about. I've always thought (based on the little I knew) that the behind-the-scenes story of how Stoker's iconic tale came to be would make a fantastic movie. After reading this biography, I know it positively would. It was interesting how the times Stoker lived in (with all its decorum and civility) were juxtaposed against his story (with all its death and brutality). In its way, Dracula reflects Stoker as much as it does his whacky boss that was the impetus for the tale. In the end, Stoker is more of a mystery than his fanged antagonist. Stoker's boss was Victorian actor Henry Irving who was the Laurence Olivier of his day. He was at Irving's demanding beck and call around the clock. No matter how intimate they became, Irving always kept Stoker at an arms length. Stoker lived in Irving's shadow, always there but not there, the unseen face in the mirror, the souless invisible man, the eternal outsider: the vampire. The story of Dracula was birthed when Stoker first met Irving after writing a favorable review. Stoker didn't know it then but he had just met Count Dracula. Years after Irvings death, Stoker emotionally recalled his first hours meeting Irving, how they stayed up all night on that wet and chilly December night talking and how his "hosts heart was from the beginning something toward me, as mine had been toward him." Other characters in Dracula were inspired by people Stoker knew. Van Helsing was his father, Mina his mother, Lucy his socially ambitious fiancé. Harker was Stoker's alter ego but really all the main characters were projections of Stoker. The novel is sort of like Stoker's tricky coded Victorian diary in that it reveals Stoker in ways that his own journals never did (he focused almost exclusively on Irving's legacy) It's hard to imagine a world without Dracula. But Stoker always felt like a bit player in Irving's life. Because of this, it never occurred to him to leave a paper trail for biographers. Why would anyone want to write a biography about him? Stoker instead focused on ensuring Irving's legacy. Ironically, Stoker is the main reason we know of Irving today. Well, that and the evil fanged creature he inspired by sucking his employee, Stoker, metaphorically dry. No one gave much thought to the author of Dracula until decades after his death. And then only because of vampire films. It wasn't until 1983 that Dracula earned recognition as a classic. It took another decade before Stoker was worthy of mention in the dictionary of national biography that Virginia Woolf's father set into motion in 1882. At Stoker's death in 1912, he was not deemed worthy of mention. Ironically, both Stoker and Irving will eternally live in Dracula's shadow. Irving was the greatest actor of his day but he will forever be known for inspiring a vampire. A vampire he refused to play on the stage. Stoker never refused Irving anything, yet Irving refused this one ask. It's hard to know if Dracula would exist without both Irving and Stoker. I mean, Stoker didn't exactly invent the vampire tale, but it's doubtful it would be what it ended up being without Stoker having been pulled into Irving's orbit. A vampire by any other name definitely isn't Dracula. Amazingly, the famous vampire almost missed being called that. The origin of the name is interesting and it can't be overstated how much the novel owes to that name. Stoker was like one of those nesting dolls, one inside the other, growing backwards to infancy. The smallest doll represented Stoker the invalid child, unable to walk for seven years. An outsider watching the world go by, he was said later in life to always have a far away look in his steely gray eyes. As a child, Stoker lived in a coastal town in Dublin. From his third floor bedroom window, he watched merchant ships battling storms and thousands flee the Irish famine of the 1840s. The seaside at that time was a favorite place for robbers and thieves. Outlaws were hung and left to rot for days. Suicides were staked to prevent their spirits from wandering. All this was potent for a sickly child and its easy to see how it seeped into his famous novel. Added to this, Stoker's mother told him the myths of Ireland and his father the military exploits of ancestors. Besides the ghost stories were family stories of his mother having survived the cholera epidemic of 1832 and about how some extracted blood from cows veins and drank it to survive. His childhood was the perfect incubator for Dracula. Even his doctor uncle bled Stoker with leeches as was in the novel. It's possible he had rheumatic fever as a child as I did, though his illness was never really diagnosed. Interestingly, Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of another classic gothic thriller (Jekyll and Hyde) was sickly as a child too and surely inspired by his childhood view of two markedly different socioeconomic neighborhoods side-by-side. Stoker took six years plotting and writing Dracula. Most of his other novels were written quickly without much editing. Dracula was the only of his novels that he took within himself. It was like he was trying to work something out. Most writers have central themes they write about over and over again. Stoker was no different. He divided the world into good women and brave men, where rescue by chivalry reigned supreme. Dracula in some ways was Stoker's final quest to safeguard Victorian values from modernism. He was a product of his time and thought for women to behave equally to men was bad. I mean, how's a guy supposed to rescue a damsel in distress if they are equal to him? Today, we easily see the erotic overtones of Dracula. But in 1897, critics filtered out erotic messages. It was seen as a ripping good blood curdling novel. Interestingly, that same year Ibsen's "Ghosts" came out and he was crucified for daring to be explicit abut sexual relationships. Stoker got a pass because he was able to mask the erotic in the supernatural. The story has sex with no genitals, sex without confusion, sex without responsibility, sex without guilt, sex without love - better yet sex without mention. One prime example is the staking of Lucy that obviously depicts passionate intercourse ending in orgasm. It made me think of that Oscar Wilde quote that "everything is about sex except sex." The biographer ultimately comes to know Stoker as witty but sad, rigid but responsible, immature but loving. He took many secrets to the grave but he left us Dracula and an important message: unspeakable things happen to ordinary people. And a warning: those who allow themselves to be subsumed by a master are intellectually diminished. Like his Count Dracula, Stoker desperately wanted to connect but ultimately feared a changing world that he felt he was a failure in. The book has good mini-biographies of all who were important to Stoker. And it goes beyond Stoker's life since this is as much a biography of the novel as it is its creator. There are seriously interesting things on almost every page. If you are interested in the late 1800s, you will enjoy this biography even if you don't care about Stoker or Dracula.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Woolfhead

    Good read. Interesting view of the theatre world in which Stoker was immersed, parallel to but not really intersecting with the Irish Literary Revival that was going on at the same time. This biography sets Stoker in an Irish context in terms of his acquaintence with Oscar Wilde and his interest in gothic tales, but really is much more about his admiration for Walt Whitman.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Dan

    I read this book in college when I had to write a paper on Bram Stoker. I didn't like it. It seemed like the author, Barbara Belford, just hates Bram Stoker and likes to write about it. She made a lot of tall claims about him without much evidence to back them up. I would say that if you want to read this book, accompany it with another book on Bram Stoker by a different writer. I recommend reading one by Elizabeth Miller. I read this book in college when I had to write a paper on Bram Stoker. I didn't like it. It seemed like the author, Barbara Belford, just hates Bram Stoker and likes to write about it. She made a lot of tall claims about him without much evidence to back them up. I would say that if you want to read this book, accompany it with another book on Bram Stoker by a different writer. I recommend reading one by Elizabeth Miller.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Myriadofsins

    Entertaining read but a bit of a scholarly flop. There is quite a lot of opinion not backed up by references- the endnotes are scanty considering she says she had access to the Stoker papers. Some of the language was a bit sensational and it lost credit in my eyes because there was far too much of the author attempting causational foreshadowing of 'Dracula' in the historical account of Stoker's life. Yes, it is very important to why we would even be reading about Stoker in the first place, but i Entertaining read but a bit of a scholarly flop. There is quite a lot of opinion not backed up by references- the endnotes are scanty considering she says she had access to the Stoker papers. Some of the language was a bit sensational and it lost credit in my eyes because there was far too much of the author attempting causational foreshadowing of 'Dracula' in the historical account of Stoker's life. Yes, it is very important to why we would even be reading about Stoker in the first place, but it felt a bit laboured in places. Better to stop interrupting the narrative or at least be clearer about signposting of author supposition and what was actually backed up by Stoker's notes on Dracula and other first-hand sources.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Titus Hjelm

    More 'literary' than Haining & Tremayne's book (which argues this one has quite a few mistakes in it), but I'd take the latter for reference. The more interesting parts are where the author compares Dracula with similar books of the time. That said, most of the book is an attempt to prove that Dracula was Stoker's life in metaphor. More 'literary' than Haining & Tremayne's book (which argues this one has quite a few mistakes in it), but I'd take the latter for reference. The more interesting parts are where the author compares Dracula with similar books of the time. That said, most of the book is an attempt to prove that Dracula was Stoker's life in metaphor.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    A good biography, although in some ways a little more a history of Henry Irving's theater. The writing style was a little awkward at times & I wanted to know more about the writing of Dracula... But still, I enjoyed learning more about Stoker & his world, even when there are questions that cannot be answered. He remains & I think deliberately on his part, an enigma. A good biography, although in some ways a little more a history of Henry Irving's theater. The writing style was a little awkward at times & I wanted to know more about the writing of Dracula... But still, I enjoyed learning more about Stoker & his world, even when there are questions that cannot be answered. He remains & I think deliberately on his part, an enigma.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sally

    A biography of a fascinating man. I found it somewhat dry compared with the life of the man himself. He had a fabulous and interesting life. It also helps give context to how Bram Stoker conceived the character of the count for "Dracula". A biography of a fascinating man. I found it somewhat dry compared with the life of the man himself. He had a fabulous and interesting life. It also helps give context to how Bram Stoker conceived the character of the count for "Dracula".

  9. 5 out of 5

    Missie

    I wasn't expecting a co-biography about Henry Irving. I wasn't expecting a co-biography about Henry Irving.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Madly Jane

    Excellent piece on Bram Stoker and his fictional character, Dracula.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Michael

    01/25/20: Stopped on p 240 when Stoker meets Arthur Conan Doyle. Going to read the Doyle / Stoker chapters of Graham Moore's The Sherlockian concurrently with the rest of this. 01/26/20: After reading a couple of Moore's chapters that take place shortly after Conan Doyle and Stoker met, I'm back to Belford's biography. Stopped on p 289 shortly after the publication of Dracula and before the death of Oscar Wilde. This is when most of The Sherlockian takes place. 02/12/20: Finished the book. One of 01/25/20: Stopped on p 240 when Stoker meets Arthur Conan Doyle. Going to read the Doyle / Stoker chapters of Graham Moore's The Sherlockian concurrently with the rest of this. 01/26/20: After reading a couple of Moore's chapters that take place shortly after Conan Doyle and Stoker met, I'm back to Belford's biography. Stopped on p 289 shortly after the publication of Dracula and before the death of Oscar Wilde. This is when most of The Sherlockian takes place. 02/12/20: Finished the book. One of the things that I love about Stoker is that he really wasn't that interesting a guy. Not in the sense that there were any scandals around him or that he had any horrible vices. He loved the theater and his job in it and it sounds like he wasn't home enough for his wife and son, but that's the extent of the drama that Belford was able to dig up and I appreciate that. Stoker is one of my few literary heroes who have stayed heroes after I learned more about him. And even though he didn't have skeletons to dig up, he's still a compelling subject for study. His passion for the arts and his infiltrating the arts community by way of criticism makes him someone I identify with. And his position in that community made him the Kevin Bacon of his day, so Belford is able to digress into so many other Victorian legends in Stoker's circle: Oscar Wilde, George Bernard Shaw, Ellen Terry, WS Gilbert, Arthur Conan Doyle, and of course "The Man Who Was Dracula" himself, Henry Irving. Six Degrees of Bram Stoker would be a fun game. Speaking of Irving, calling him "The Man Who Was Dracula" is a stretch and an example of the big weakness in the biography. In an attempt to pull more drama from Stoker's life, Belford tends to overemphasize connections between his life and events in his most famous novel. Using Irving as an example, I don't doubt that the actor was super needy and couldn't get enough attention. Like a lot of people, he was an emotional vampire who sucked energy from his friends. But it's a big leap from that to suggesting that he was any sort of direct inspiration for the character of Dracula. Belford makes that leap though, along with other, similar connections that I found unnecessary. Stoker's story is relatable and that makes it strong enough on its own.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Susan Wands

    A much better look at Bram Stoker and his obsession with his novel, THE UNDEAD, later to become Dracula and his slavish devotion to Henry Irving. I enjoyed all the tidbits on his ambition to write.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Byrne

    Very enjoyable biography and insight to Victorian Dublin, London and America.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Stuart Hill

    The main impression that the reader takes away from this biography is that Stoker was enigmatic. He was famously reticent which has left little evidence by which to assess his motivations. The prose style is mainly quite easy to read, marred by the occasional clunky passage. The text is accompanied by well chosen illustrations including photographs, cartoons and play bills which really helped to bring the period to life. Like Robert Louis Stevenson, Stoker's childhood was marked by illness which s The main impression that the reader takes away from this biography is that Stoker was enigmatic. He was famously reticent which has left little evidence by which to assess his motivations. The prose style is mainly quite easy to read, marred by the occasional clunky passage. The text is accompanied by well chosen illustrations including photographs, cartoons and play bills which really helped to bring the period to life. Like Robert Louis Stevenson, Stoker's childhood was marked by illness which seems to have allowed his imagination to flourish. It was interesting to see how Irish fables and legends in conjunction with the local environment may have contributed to the creation of Dracula. The book gets bogged down later on with accounts of Henry Irving, Stoker's employer for decades when the author was his manager. There was an excessive amount of detail and I felt the book would have benefitted from a stricter editor here. This is related at the expense of information about Stoker as a writer. Most of his books are passed over quite quickly with little analysis. Belford does, however, never miss an opportunity to relate an event or person in Stoker's life to the themes and characters of Dracula. This felt rather laboured at times with some connections being made on scanty evidence such as a safe appearing in Dracula being inspired by one he used in the theatre. Possible, certainly but by no means absolutely the case as Belford suggests here. Similarly, Irving is cast as the primary inspiration for Dracula, a dominant person in relation to Stoker's factotum; in this interpretation writing Dracula was an act of revenge for Stoker. It is an interesting theory, but if true then why did Stoker spend the majority of his working life as Irving's assistant when this role brought neither status nor financial reward? As an account of the life and times of the subject this was successful, but it was disappointing in terms of describing Stoker as a writer, and ultimately the essence of the man escaped this biographer.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Ally

    So. I set out to find a Stoker bio after reading a really colourful description of him in The Sherlockian. And I did, but barely. Stoker, like Conan Doyle and J. M. Barrie and the rest of his contemporaries, was a complicated man, but the enigma of him is that much more complicated, because unlike Conan Doyle, Barrie, Oscar Wilde, or Henry Irving, the man he devoted so much of his life to, Stoker truly had no idea of his own genius. He never achieved the fame, the wealth, or the notoriety of his So. I set out to find a Stoker bio after reading a really colourful description of him in The Sherlockian. And I did, but barely. Stoker, like Conan Doyle and J. M. Barrie and the rest of his contemporaries, was a complicated man, but the enigma of him is that much more complicated, because unlike Conan Doyle, Barrie, Oscar Wilde, or Henry Irving, the man he devoted so much of his life to, Stoker truly had no idea of his own genius. He never achieved the fame, the wealth, or the notoriety of his peers in his own lifetime. He didn't leave behind much of a paper trail, as he himself was too busy chasing great men (and a few great women, too.) to bother much about his own life. He left behind a bitterly distant wife and a son who, according to the biographer, at least, he barely knew existed most days. Still, the biography is a veritable Who's Who of the end of the 19th, and beginning of the 20th century. It's a great reflection of the times Stoker lived in, and the people who knew him and how they loved him. And apart from his wife and Henry Irving, everyone DID seem to love him, and no one imagined him capable of such dark and taboo subject matters! The author also avoids the sensationalism, debunking the myths of the hows and whys Stoker wrote Dracula. Other people might have preferred to be shocked, but frankly, I find it a lot more interesting that such a likeable and unassuming man could have written something like Dracula. Overall I loved all the history and details and people. But I wish there was more information on the man himself.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    I'm not sure that I go all the way with her thinking, but this was an interesting read and her work cast some light on the man himself, what he did for work in the theater, and the culture of his times. I'm not sure that I go all the way with her thinking, but this was an interesting read and her work cast some light on the man himself, what he did for work in the theater, and the culture of his times.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    A readable biography of Stoker. Belford does not whitewash the man nor does she do a hatchet job. While the book does include criticism and facts about Dracula, Belford keeps the focus on the writer and not on the book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Hunt

    A very enjoyable read, hadn't realised the connections between the literary and theatrical personalities of the time. A very enjoyable read, hadn't realised the connections between the literary and theatrical personalities of the time.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Julia

    maybe, looks like it could be interesting

  20. 4 out of 5

    Dean

    I nice work, glad to have it in my collection.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Wendy

    really interesting person, especially the parallels with Dracula, his most famous work

  22. 5 out of 5

    Chris Gath

  23. 4 out of 5

    UglyOldBat(in Outsize Specs)

    Gave insight into the lives and friendship of Stoker and Henry Irvine

  24. 4 out of 5

    Coy Hall

  25. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jamieson Ridenhour

  27. 5 out of 5

    Christophe

  28. 5 out of 5

    Renne Sairanen

  29. 4 out of 5

    Holly

  30. 4 out of 5

    TYLER QXBEAR

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