Bram Stoker Biography


Many of the events of Bram Stoker's life are still a mystery and are open to speculation. Most biographers have had to rely on public records to determine the interests and life of the author, thus prompting Daniel Farson, Stoker's grandnephew and also one of his biographers, to write: "Stoker has long remained one of the least known authors of one of the best-known books ever written."

We know that Bram Stoker was born in Dublin, Ireland, on November 8, 1847, the third son of seven children. Sickly and bedridden as a child, Stoker eventually grew to well over six feet in height and became athletic and muscular, crowned with a head of thick, red hair. He is referred to by biographer Farson as a "red-haired giant." As a student at Trinity College in Dublin, Stoker graduated with honors in science, and he later returned to the college for an M.A. degree.

It appears that Stoker was always interested in writing because, for a time, he worked as a drama critic; additionally, the author whom he most admired was Walt Whitman, whose controversial book of poetry, Leaves of Grass, Stoker publicly defended. After years of correspondence, Stoker finally met Whitman in 1884, and he met him again a few more times, the last time in 1887. Stoker also worked for the Irish civil service, much like his father had done.

In 1876, when Stoker was twenty-nine years old, he met the famous and talented actor Henry Irving, a meeting which became of great value to both men. Of course, Stoker had seen Irving many times before this, witnessing with awe Irving's considerable dramatic talent. Stoker and Irving became close friends, and Stoker soon became the actor-manager of Irving's theater. Stoker appears to have enjoyed the life of the theater for he held the position for twenty-seven years, beginning in 1878, until Irving's death in October of 1905.

In 1878, Stoker married Florence Balcombe, who had had the choice of marrying either Bram Stoker or Oscar Wilde. At the time, Stoker was thirty-one years old, Wilde only twenty-four. Stoker and Wilde remained friends, however, and Stoker was admitted into Wilde's literary circle. During his life Bram Stoker met many leading artistic and prominent figures of his day; in addition to Oscar Wilde, he entertained Arthur Conan Doyle, Alfred Lord Tennyson, Mark Twain, and once he even met Theodore Roosevelt. Bram Stoker's son and only child, Noel, was born in 1879, and in 1882 Stoker published his first substantial literary effort, Under the Sunset, a collection of tales for children.

Evidently, Stoker was a man of considerable energy and talent. As well as being acting manager of Irving's theater, he delivered lectures, traveled extensively, toured with Irving's acting company, and he wrote several novels, as well as several works of non-fiction. His first novel, a romance entitled The Snake's Pass, was published in 1890. Then, written over a period of several years, beginning in 1890, Stoker's masterpiece, Dracula, was published by Archibald Constable in 1897. The book has continued to grip the public's imagination ever since, and it has never been out of print since its publication. Upon the publication of Dracula, Charlotte Stoker, the author's mother, felt the book would bring Bram immediate success, and she personally liked the book very much.

Stoker dedicated Dracula to one of his close friends, Hall Caine, who was also a novelist; in fact, few people know that the "dear friend Hommy-Beg" of the dedication is Hall Caine. "Hommy-Beg" is an affectionate childhood nickname for Caine, which means "little Tommy."

During his recovery from a stroke which occurred soon after Irving's death, Stoker wrote a book of non-fiction which he called Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906), a volume about both the famous English actor and Stoker himself. Meanwhile, Stoker had earlier published The Mystery of the Sea, in 1902, and he produced another romantic novel, The Man, in 1905. Both novels are interesting reading, primarily for their examination of the roles of women in society, as well as for Stoker's characterization of women.

Stoker did not cease to write stories of horror and mystery after he finished Dracula. After Dracula, his novels of mystery and horror include The Jewel of Seven Stars (1903), a compelling Rider Haggard-like tale of adventure and romance set in Egypt, The Lady of the Shroud (1909), and The Lair of the White Worm (1911), both of which are interesting novels and deserve more than a passing glance, though they are not near the achievement that Dracula is. Some of Stoker's short tales of horror, particularly "Dracula's Guest," an episode cut from the final version of Dracula, as well as the Poe-like "The Judge's House," are very good and well worth reading.

Regardless of which novel Stoker himself considered his best, Dracula remains his most popular work, and it has spawned countless adaptations and spin-offs in plays, novels, and movies, as well as comic books. Critical analyses and psychological interpretations of Dracula abound.

In his last years, Stoker's health declined rapidly, and the cause of his death, though clouded by mystery, has generated some substantial amount of discussion. His biographers have been reticent to discuss it. Recently, though, Daniel Farson, Stoker's grandnephew, in his biography, cites Stoker's death certificate, which has as the cause of death the medical phrase Locomotor Ataxy — also called Tabes Dorsalis — known in those days as general paralysis of the insane, which implies, therefore, that Stoker had contracted syphilis, presumably around the turn of the century, and died of it. If Stoker died of syphilis, it will probably remain only speculation, since the truth of the matter hinges on whether or not Locomotor Ataxy can be construed as being syphilis.

Stoker's literary efforts certainly hold some degree of achievement, and these efforts probably represent those things by which he should be remembered. Stoker died on April 20, 1912, at the age of sixty-four.