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Dracula (Stoker)

Dracula
Bram Stoker, 1897
350-400 pp. (varies by publisher)


Summary
The punctured throat, the coffin lid slowly opening, the unholy shriek as the stake pierces the heart—these are just a few of the chilling images Bram Stoker unleashed upon the world with his 1897 masterpiece, Dracula. Inspired by the folk legend of nosferatu, the undead, Stoker created a timeless tale of gothic horror and romance that has enthralled and terrified readers ever since.

A true masterwork of storytelling, Dracula has transcended generation, language, and culture to become one of the most popular novels ever written. It is a quintessential tale of suspense and horror, boasting one of the most terrifying characters ever born in literature: Count Dracula, a tragic, night-dwelling specter who feeds upon the blood of the living, and whose diabolical passions prey upon the innocent, the helpless, and the beautiful.

But Dracula also stands as a bleak allegorical saga of an eternally cursed being whose nocturnal atrocities reflect the dark underside of the supremely moralistic age in which it was originally written — and the corrupt desires that continue to plague the modern human condition. (From Barnes & Noble edition.)



Author Bio 
Birth—November 8, 1847
Where—Dublin, Ireland, UK
Died—April 20, 1912
Where—London, England
Education—Trinity College, Dublin (in mathematics)


Abraham "Bram" Stoker was an Irish writer of novels and short stories, who is best known today for his 1897 horror novel Dracula. During his lifetime, he was better known for being the personal assistant of the actor Henry Irving and the business manager of the Lyceum Theatre in London, which Irving owned.He was born in 1847 at 15 Marino Crescent— then as now called "The Crescent"—today in Fairview, Dublin, Ireland. His parents were Abraham Stoker and the feminist Charlotte Mathilda Blake Thornely. Stoker was the third of seven children. Abraham and Charlotte were members of the Clontarf Church of Ireland parish and attended the parish church (St. John the Baptist located on Seafield Road West) with their children, who were both baptised there.

Stoker was bed-ridden until he started school at the age of seven — when he made a complete recovery. Of this time, Stoker wrote, "I was naturally thoughtful, and the leisure of long illness gave opportunity for many thoughts which were fruitful according to their kind in later years."

After his recovery, he became a normal young man, even excelling as an athlete (he was named University Athlete) at Trinity College, Dublin (1864 – 1870), from which he graduated with honours in mathematics. He was auditor of the College Historical Society and president of the University Philosophical Society, where his first paper was on "Sensationalism in Fiction and Society

In 1878 Stoker married Florence Balcombe, a celebrated beauty whose former suitor was Oscar Wilde. The couple moved to London, where Stoker became business manager (at first as acting-manager) of Irving's Lyceum Theatre, a post he held for 27 years. On 31st December 1879, Bram and Florence's only child was born, a son that they christened Irving Noel Thornley Stoker. The collaboration with Irving was very important for Stoker and through him he became involved in London's high society, where he met, among other notables, James McNeil Whistler, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

In the course of Irving's tours, Stoker got the chance to travel around the world. In the mid 1890s, Stoker is rumored to have become a member of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, though there is no concrete evidence to support this claim. The Golden Dawn was a fraternal magical order that also included among its members author W.B.Yeats, occultist Aleister Crowley, author and co-creator of the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, Arthur Edward Waite, London stage actress and musician Florence Farr and others. Although there is no evidence that Stoker was actually a member of the order, one of his closest friends was J.W. Brodie-Innis, a major figure in the Order, and Stoker himself hired Pamela Coleman-Smith, the artist who created the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, a major instrument in the Order, as an artist at the Lyceum Theater.

Stoker supplemented his income by writing novels; the best known being the vampire tale Dracula which was published in 1897. Before writing Dracula, Stoker spent eight years researching European folklore and stories of vampires.

Dracula is an epistolary novel, written as collection of diary entries, telegrams, and letters from the characters, as well as fictional clippings from the Whitby and London newspapers. Stoker's inspirations for the story were a visit to Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire, and a visit to the crypts under the church St. John the Baptist where Stoker was baptised.

Bram Stoker died in 1912, and was cremated and his ashes placed in a display urn at Golders Green Crematorium. After Irving Noel Stoker's death in 1961, his ashes were added to that urn. The original plan had been to keep his parents' ashes together, but after Florence Stoker's death her ashes were scattered at the Gardens of Rest.

The short story collection Dracula's Guest and Other Weird Stories was published in 1914 by Stoker's widow Florence Stoker. The first film adaptation of Dracula was named Nosferatu. It was directed by Friedrich Wilhelm Murnau and starred Max Schreck as Count Orlock. Nosferatu was produced while Florence Stoker, Bram Stoker's widow and literary executrix, was still alive. Represented by the attorneys of the British Incorporated Society of Authors, she eventually sued the filmmakers. Her chief legal complaint was that she had been neither asked for permission for the adaptation nor paid any royalty. The case dragged on for some years, with Mrs. Stoker demanding the destruction of the negative and all prints of the film. The suit was finally resolved in the widow's favour in July 1925. Some copies of the film survived, however and the film has become well known. (From Wikipedia.)



Book Reviews
(Classic works have few, if any, mainstream reviews online. See Amazon and Barnes & Noble for helpful customer reviews.)

Stoker gives us the most remarkable scenes of horror…Each is unforgettable, and no movie has quite done justice to any of them.
Stephen King


Stoker puts a creative, psychoanalytic twist on the staple Gothic convention of the doggelganger...popularized by...The Strange Cae of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.... Over the century or so since Dracula was released, the popularity of the novel has mushroomed steadily....one of the reasons is surely the amazing versatility of Dracula, the different interpretations it admits, each with its own level of coherence and complexithy....  Unusual among novels of the period, Dracula has remained a favorite of popular fiction while becomeing a landmark of serious literature, has remained a timeless thriller, while becoming recognized as an important historical document, has remained a classic tale of the supernatural while coming into its own as commentary of the social condition.
Joseph Valente (Introduction to Simon & Schuster 2003 edition.)



Discussion Questions 
1. Dracula relies on journal fragments, letters, and newspaper clippings to tell its story. Why might Stoker have chosen to narrate the story in this way? Do letters and journal entries make the story seem more authentic or believable to you? Likewise, discuss the significance that many of the male protagonists are doctors (Dr. Seward) or men of science (Dr. Van Helsing). Why is this important to the story?

2. How does the novel invert Christian mythology in its description of Count Dracula's reign of terror? For instance, what specific elements of Stoker's story parallel scenes or images from the New Testament? Why might this subversion of Christian myth be significant?

3. Discuss the roles of Lucy Westenra and Mina Harker in the novel. How are the two women similar? Different? What accounts for their differences? To what extent does the novel depend on both of these women to propel the narrative forward?

4. Discuss the role of sexuality in Dracula. Would you say that Dracula attempts to reproduce himself sexually or by some other means? In what ways does the figure of Dracula subvert conventional notions of heterosexuality? Consider, for instance, his predilection for drinking blood and his habit of making his victims feed from his chest.

5. What are the elements of vampire folklore? For example, what, according to the novel, attracts or repels a vampire? How do you kill a vampire for good? Although Stoker did not invent the mythology of the vampire, his novel firmly established the conventions of vampire fiction. Choose another novel that deals with vampires and compare it with Dracula. (Consider, for example, one of Anne Rice's vampirebooks or Stepanie Meyer's Twilight series.) In what ways are the novels similar? Different?

6. Consider Freud's essay "The Uncanny" in relation to Stoker's Dracula. How would Freud describe the world that Stoker evokes in the novel? Is this a world of common reality? Or is it a world governed by supernatural belief? Or both? Discuss Freud's claim that the writer of gothic fiction is "betraying to us the superstitiousness which we have ostensibly surmounted; he deceives us by promising to give us the sober truth, and then after all overstepping it." In what ways does Stoker's narrative strategy of employing newspaper clippings and journal entries promise the "sober truth"? To what extent do you think Dracula achieves a sense of the uncanny?
(Questions issued by Random House.)

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