Kirsten Reviews: Who Was Dracula by Jim Steinmeyer

, by Kt Clapsadl

Who Was Dracula by Jim Steinmeyer

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.

Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker’s Trail of Blood by Jim Steinmeyer is an effort to find the sources behind the famous figure of Dracula, the vampire behind the author, so to speak. This book clearly was put together with a lot of research, and focuses on both Stoker and Dracula. However, it does suffer from some repetition of facts and information.

The enthusiasm of the author is clear, and he attempts to inform audiences both about Stoker and Dracula, as well as the ways in which modern audiences have been removed from the original text. In short, this is not where ‘vampires’ got their sparkle.

There’s a scarcity of information about Stoker’s childhood, at least when compared to how much detail is provided about his time at university, but the author's method of highlighting key events of Stoker’s life makes this feel more like a novel than a biography or dry text.

To be clear about the repetition, Steinmeyer seems to be attempting to remind readers of certain facts, but goes into a bit too much detail, and various events and people will stand out in comparison to the rest of the text.

Anybody who’s interested in how Dracula has been successful in modern times will find the last chapter maybe a bit too brief, and the lack of focus on Francis Ford Coppola’s film is strange. This would have seemed to be an obvious choice, since the film focused so much on Dracula being a more erotic figure, and it would have been an opportunity to reflect on that in relation to the original text’s version of the vampire. Nor was there any in depth analysis of derivative works that would be of interest, legally, if not creatively to the Stoker estate.

However, Steinmeyer’s research is evident, as is his fascination with the subject, and the result is a book that anybody interested in Stoker will find to be of interest.

(Received a copy from the publisher)

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