Sunday, November 10, 2013

Review ~ Who Was Dracula?


In more than a century of vampires in pop culture, only one lord of the night truly stands out: Dracula.

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.

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. (via )

I'm excited this year because for once I've read enough books to post a Top 10 of 2013 without including half of what I've read during the year. On the other hand, nearly half of the top ten could belong to one author: Jim Steinmeyer.

Who Was Dracula? was published this year in April. At first blush, the subject might seem to be a departure for Steinmeyer. His other books have primarily been about magic apparatuses and magic history, but stage magic and theatrical productions are less than a skip-jump away from each other in this era.

Much of this book is devoted to Stoker as the stage manager for Henry Irving and the Lyceum theater. What I really enjoy about Steinmeyer's writing is his ability to efficiently sketch out the historical setting and people it with those names we think we know. I'd love to see a TV series based around Stoker being the stage manager at the Lyceum, writing and researching in the background.

Another portion of the book takes a closer look at some of the possible inspirations for the character of Dracula. Oscar Wilde, Walt Whitman, Jack the Ripper. Some pretty heavy-duty controversial figures and Stoker knew them all (well, knew the first two and was acquainted with a man suspected of being the third). The origin of Dracula, the historical figure, is also examined. All sorts of good historical nuggets are investigated.

I also like the agnostic quality of Steinmeyer's conclusions, or rather, he doesn't worry too much about making any grand pronouncements about who is or isn't "Dracula." I have a degree in English lit and I know the propensity to want a clear-cut motivation for everything that is placed in a novel. I'm also a writer and I know how arbitrary things can be. Have I ever used an amalgamation of people I know in a character for no other reason than I need details for a character? Yep. Have I ever appropriated a hobby/work from life and given it to a character? Yep. Have I ever *accidentally* named characters in a way that might have been construed to mean something? Uh, yep. Alas, being writer is often more a matter of appropriating what's around you rather than being original or intentional.

GENRE: Non-fiction



FORMAT: Hardback

PROCUREMENT: Tempe Public Library

BOOKMARK: Checkout receipt.
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