Thursday, April 4, 2013

Review: Who Was Dracula? by Jim Steinmeyer

Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood by Jim Steinmeyer
Published: April 4, 2013
Publisher: Tarcher
Pages: 318
Received ARC for honest review from publisher

An acclaimed historian sleuths out literature’s most famous vampire, uncovering the source material – from folklore and history, to personas including Oscar Wilde and Walt Whitman – behind Bram Stoker’s bloody creation.

In more than a century of vampires in pop culture, only one lord of the night truly stands out: Dracula. Though the name may conjure up images of Bela Lugosi lurking about in a cape and white pancake makeup in the iconic 1931 film, the character of Dracula—a powerful, evil Transylvanian aristocrat who slaughters repressed Victorians on a trip to London—was created in Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel of the same name, a work so popular it has spawned limitless reinventions in books and film.
But where did literature’s undead icon come from? What sources inspired Stoker to craft a monster who would continue to haunt our dreams (and desires) for generations? Historian Jim Steinmeyer, who revealed the men behind the myths in The Last Greatest Magician in the World, explores a question that has long fascinated literary scholars and the reading public alike: Was there a real-life inspiration for Stoker’s Count Dracula?

Hunting through archives and letters, literary and theatrical history, and the relationships and events that gave shape to Stoker’s life, Steinmeyer reveals the people and stories behind the Transylvanian legend. In so doing, he shows how Stoker drew on material from the careers of literary contemporaries Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde; reviled personas such as Jack the Ripper and the infamous fifteenth-century prince Vlad Tepes, as well as little-known but significant figures, including Stoker’s onetime boss, British stage star Henry Irving, and Theodore Roosevelt’s uncle, Robert Roosevelt (thought to be a model for Van Helsing).

Along the way, Steinmeyer depicts Stoker’s life in Dublin and London, his development as a writer, involvement with London’s vibrant theater scene, and creation of one of horror’s greatest masterpieces. Combining historical detective work with literary research, Steinmeyer’s eagle eye provides an enthralling tour through Victorian culture and the extraordinary literary monster it produced.

I thought this book would be more about Dracula, but it seems to be more about the author, Bram Stoker. It focuses on Bram and the inspirations all around him that may have formed his dark and devilish character, Dracula. 

I found it to be very interesting and filled with some amazing people and periods in history. Honestly, I had no idea who Henry Irving was, but he was one of the most influential people in Bram's life. The people who did interest me were Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde - people who Bram was in awe of and looked up to. Also, there are references to other stories, like Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Vlad Tepes was an obvious influence that I had already known about, but Jack the Ripper was one that I did not see coming. The entire chapter about the Ripper was fascinating, as it delved into the murders, the areas surrounding Whitechapel and the suspect who got away. 

It seems to me that Stoker, may have taken characteristics from many of the above noted people in his life, whether he did it knowingly or not, we'll never really know. Each chapter seems to explain how he knows them, what characteristics they each share with his most well-known character and how their friendships evolved. 

There was a wonderful chapter that pretty much breaks down the entire novel of Dracula. If you are looking to learn more about the author or the influences for Dracula himself, this might be the book for you. 

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