Who Was Dracula?: Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood

Jim Steinmeyer. Penguin/Tarcher, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-14-242188-8
To get to the bottom of novelist Bram Stoker’s inspiration for his infamous Count Dracula, Steinmeyer (The Last Greatest Magician in the World) investigates turn-of-the-century London through the lens of Stoker’s cohort of actors and writers. At the forefront is Henry Irving, the renowned English actor widely recognized as the vampire’s chief influence. Stoker himself admits Dracula to be “a composite of so many parts in which he [Irving] has been liked.” The opening chapters cover Stoker’s life as “Acting Manager” at Irving’s Lyceum Theatre, a job that placed him in the midst of macabre classics such as Faust and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde—surely influences on his tastes if not on his greatest novel. From this position, the novelist met with Walt Whitman, Oscar Wilde, and (potentially) Jack the Ripper—or Dr. Francis Tumblety, Scotland Yard’s prime suspect in the gruesome murders. By detailing the relationship Stoker had to these diverse figures, Steinmeyer presents a composite inspiration for the mad vampire. His analysis of Whitman’s influence on Dracula’s voice proves most compelling. Though some of Steinmeyer’s arguments, especially regarding the role of Wilde, are less convincing, overall, this is a well-researched and entertaining take on Dracula’s origin story. Agent: James Fitzgerald. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 12/17/2012
Release date: 04/04/2013
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