It seems as if an unusual number of our enduring literary monsters were created in the Victorian era. What was it about this time that lent itself to macabre invention: an especial attunement to the gothic and religious, the rapid encroachment of industrialization, a surge in the studies of anatomy and medicine? Whatever the case, in the 19th century, monsters were born, and became so popular that they still haunt today: Frankenstein (1815), The Mummy (1827), Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1886), the real life Jack the Ripper (1888), Dorian Gray (1891), the Invisible Man (1897), and all the stories of Edgar Allan Poe.
And on this day, May 26, in 1897 perhaps the most famous of these fiends hit the bookshelves of London—Dracula by Bram Stoker. Though the author of several novels, Abraham Stoker (1847-1912) wasn’t well
known as a writer during his lifetime, but as the business manager of the famed Lyceum Theater in London. While greeted with positive critical reviews, Stoker’s release of “Dracula” in 1897 met with relatively little popular success. The average reader of the day regarded it as little more than another penny dreadful. It wasn’t until Hollywood got ahold of the book in the 1920’s (after Stoker’s death) that “Dracula” and Stoker really began to take off.
Stoker didn’t invent the vampire; it existed in folklore long before Dracula. Stoker didn’t even invent the vampire novel; a few examples exist before “Dracula.” But Stoker’s creations, both the monster and the book, are the ones who lasted, and have since achieved iconic, legendary, classic status. Stoker’s work continues to frighten and inspire, and for good or bad, all vampire stories since should rightfully be considered the spawn of Dracula (Rice’s Lestat, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Twilight, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). In that literary sense then, Dracula will always remain undead.
*Bonus Dracula Fact: Dracula, in Romanian, means “the dragon.”
*Another Bonus Dracula Fact: The original 541 page manuscript of “Dracula” was found in a barn in Pennsylvania in the 1980’s
*A Further Bonus Dracula Fact: The original title of Stoker’s book was “The Un-dead,” and instead of Dracula, the title character was named Count Wampyr.”
To check out Dracula or numerous other vampire novels, be sure to visit your McCracken County Public Library…but only in the daylight.