We’re astoundingly lucky at the Project. Our first offering is a fascinating take on Stoker’s tale from the the author of The New Annotated Dracula (to published by W. W. Norton in 2008). His essay will make you read Dracula in a whole new light. (Check out more information on his writing at www.lesliesklinger.com)
DRACULA: FACT OR FICTION?
By Leslie S. Klinger (1)
Late in the year 1889 or early in 1890, probably as a result of their meeting at the halls of the Incorporated Law Society, Bram Stoker befriended a young Exeter solicitor. Stoker was preparing to sit for his own bar examination, and he and the lawyer may have shared an extralegal interest in the theatre or in Irish folklore. Perhaps over drinks in a local pub, perhaps in one of the Inns of Court, their acquaintance blossomed into real friendship, so that seven or eight years later, Stoker termed the solicitor and his wife (“a woman of character”) friends “who have been so for many years.”
Not long after their meeting, the solicitor and his wife outlined a bizarre tale to Stoker. Stoker began a set of notes, and apparently it took him seven years to draw the full details out of his friends. At some point in their discussion of the adventure, a mass of papers and records, consisting of transcripts of diaries and correspondence, was turned over to Stoker. With the help of the couple (as well as the assistance of a young doctor who was well acquainted with the couple), Stoker assembled the narrative published in 1897 under the title of Dracula.
Little is known of the life of Count or Voivode Dracula, as he is named in Bram Stoker’s Dracula. It is, of course, unlikely that “Dracula” is his real name, (2) and although some scholars insist that the vampire depicted in Stoker’s narrative is Vlad Dracula, also known as Vlad the Impaler, an historical leader of Wallachia, there is, bluntly stated, no evidence that Vlad had any vampiric characteristics. Elizabeth Miller, the most sensible of Dracula scholars, declares, “The case for Count Dracula and Vlad is wafer thin.” (3) The Stoker narrative contains no references to “Vlad” or “the Impaler” and no discussion of the grisly history of Vlad except in the vaguest, most general remarks about “iron nerve” and “subtle brain.”
The few facts of family history are based on the conversations recorded by Jonathan Harker. According to Harker’s recollection of the Count’s account, Dracula is a Szekely, descended from an “old family,” and he terms himself a “Transylvanian noble” or boyar. He apparently was a military leader, who led his troops “again, and again, and again” against the Turks, often retreating alone to his homeland, abandoning the field. There is no evidence that any others of his family remain, although some suggest that the three women who occupy Castle Dracula with him are sisters, daughters, or former wives.
Records of his physical appearance are consistent. Jonathan Harker describes Dracula as a tall old man, prodigiously strong, clean-shaven except for a long white moustache. (4) His eyebrows are bushy, virtually a single brow, and he has “peculiarly sharp” teeth and notably red lips. Dracula is thin-cheeked but with a broad, strong chin, and the tops of his ears are extremely pointed. Harker’s overall impression of Dracula’s face is one of extraordinary pallor. He describes Dracula’s hands as coarse and broad, with squat fingers, hairy palms, and long, fine nails cut to sharp points. He also observes that Dracula has foul breath—surprising in a presumably non-breathing dead being! Mina Harker supplements this description with her own observations of the Count, calling him a “tall, thin man with a beaky nose,” a hard, cruel, and sensual face, big white teeth, and extremely red lips.
There are scant traces of his personal history. In life, he made a reputation as clever, cunning, and brave. He studied diabolical secrets at the Scholomance at Lake Hermanstadt, and it appears that he became a vampire there. Before his mortal death, he sired great men and good women. How long he lived in Castle Dracula, and whether he had other homes, is unknown. It appears that he was poorly travelled outside Eastern Europe, but despite never having been to England, he is recorded as speaking only English, learned from his extensive reading of English newspapers, magazines, and books. It is highly likely that he spoke fluent German, Hungarian, Slovak, Serbian, Wallachian, and Romany.
According to the narrative published by Bram Stoker, Dracula perished at the hands of Quincey Morris and Jonathan Harker. However, there is substantial reason to doubt this claim. When the final attack on Dracula occurs, notwithstanding ample admonitions from Van Helsing, there is not a wooden stake in sight. We must question whether Dracula was in fact destroyed, or whether, as seems more likely, with the setting of the sun, Dracula chose that moment to disincorporate and turn to a mist.
There are numerous hints that Dracula was not destroyed. However, I suggest that to dissuade future generations of hunters from pursuing him, Dracula himself coerced the Harkers—or Stoker—to author a fiction, telling the tale of the utter destruction of the Vampire King. By the way, there are several accounts of Dracula’s life after the events of the narrative, including Kim Newman’s fine Anno Dracula, Marv Wolfman’s The Tomb of Dracula, and Fred Saberhagen’s The Dracula Tape. However, these accounts are contradictory, and there is no reason to believe one over another.
Let us examine other deceptions in the narrative. Stoker went to great lengths to conceal the involvement of a number of people in the events. Among those mentioned in Stoker’s notes but eventually suppressed in the narrative are a painter named Francis Aytown or Aytonn, an undertaker, an undertaker’s man, a maid engaged to the undertaker’s man, and a “crank.”
Dracula’s principal opponent—according to Stoker’s narrative—was the Dutch physician, philosopher, man of letters, lawyer, folklorist, and teacher Abraham Van Helsing. A man of medium height, he is strongly built, with a broad, deep chest; his head is described as noble, well-sized, broad, and large behind the ears. Although he is clean-shaven, he has big bushy eyebrows beneath a broad forehead, over wide-set blue eyes. Van Helsing is old, grey, and lonely. His wife (like that of Jane Eyre’s Rochester) is insane and probably confined; his son, possibly the same age as Dracula-hunter Arthur Holmwood, is dead.
Little is known of his career. Van Helsing studied in London and, although he reportedly speaks many languages, English is not one of his more successful attainments. Apparently occupying a chair at a European school of medicine at the time of Stoker’s narrative—probably in Amsterdam, to which he frequently travels—he taught more than one generation of doctors, including John Seward and Dr. Vincent. A devout Catholic, he is a specialist in obscure diseases, termed “one of the most advanced scientists of his day.” As Clive Leatherdale points out, Van Helsing is “principally a medical man: he is not a trained vampire hunter.” (5) Casting aside science, he quotes folklore as if it were a fixed body of knowledge and appears more magician or faith-healer than doctor. It also appears that his medical skills are more theoretical than practical: In the course of Stoker’s narrative, his treatment of his patients falls short of the standard of care of the contemporary medical community. (6) His circle of friends includes one Vanderpool, a grower of garlic, Arminius, a student of Eastern European folklore, and Palmieri, a leading seismologist of the day; he may have been acquainted with the great French neurologist Jean- Martin Charcot as well.
It is dubious that there was a single Abraham Van Helsing. Stoker’s notes indicate that there were three figures involved in the hunt for Dracula, who appear to have been combined in the fictitious “Van Helsing”: a detective inspector named Cotford, a psychic research agent (Alfred Singleton), and a “German professor,” also described as a “German professor of history” and a “philosophic historian.” In Stoker’s notes, the latter is tentatively identified as Max Windeshoeffel, an alias apparently considered by Stoker but later dropped. Cotford and Singleton soon disappear from Stoker’s notes as well.
The most likely candidate for the real Van Helsing is Friedrich Max Müller (1823-1900), professor of modern European languages and comparative philology at Oxford. Clemens Ruthner (in “Bloodsuckers with Teutonic Tongues: The German-Speaking World and the Origins of Dracula”) points out that Müller was also a specialist in religion and mythology and apparently was familiar with an article by Wilhelm Mannhardt on vampirism. McNally and Florescu (The Essential Dracula) erroneously identify Müller as the author of Magyarland, references to which appear throughout Stoker’s notes. However, Magyarland, in fact written by Elizabeth Sara (Nina) Mazuchelli, under the pseudonym “A Fellow of the Carpathian Society,” (“Magyarland”: Being the Narrative of our Travels Through the Highlands and Lowlands of Hungary (2 vols.). London: Sampson Low, Marston, Searle and Rivington, 1881) does refer to Müller’s seminal essay “The Science of Language.”
Sir Christopher Frayling believes that Stoker and Müller had corresponded in the 1880's but cites no evidence. A letter from Müller to Henry Irving is extant (cited by Ruthner), requesting tickets for a performance of Faust on 14 April 1886, but while the letter was undoubtedly seen by Stoker in his capacity as Irving’s secretary, this is hardly conclusive proof of correspondence between Stoker and Müller.
David B. Dickens, in “The German Matrix of Stoker’s Dracula,” makes the fascinating argument that “Van Helsing” was in fact an expatriate German professor teaching in Amsterdam. He points out the Professor’s frequent use of German expressions, grammar, and sentence construction and notes that the only identifications of him as Dutch are by Quincey Morris (who speaks no foreign languages) and the madman Renfield. Dickens also notes that like the Professor, whose son died young, Müller suffered the loss of a 16-year-old daughter.
Jonathan Harker must be counted high on the list of Dracula’s enemies. A recently qualified solicitor in his twenties, practising in Exeter, his assignment to fill in for his ailing employer brought him into contact with Dracula. Harker is a member of the Church of England, a sweet and simple man with a clever, strong, youthful face and brown hair. Although he is interested in foreign customs, he is prudish, lacking in intellectual curiosity, and fixed in his habits, with a rigid sense of class and propriety. Like many tightly wound individuals, however, Harker has a violent, perhaps perverse side. He readily succumbs to the seduction of the three women in Castle Dracula, physically attacks the Count in his coffin, attacks him again later with a decidedly out-of-character Kukri knife, and becomes a whirlwind of action in the final confrontation with the Count and his armed guards.
It is probable that Stoker concealed the identity of the lawyer under a name drawn from Joseph Harker, a scenic designer who worked at the Lyceum Theatre. See Ludlam, A Biography of Dracula, quoting Stoker as saying so, although the source of this quotation is not given. However, Colin Waters suggests that the name Harker was borrowed from Fanny Harker, Stoker’s landlady in Whitby. Interestingly, there is another lawyer mentioned in Stoker’s notes, with the last name of Young, although what rôle Young and his sister—another deleted persona described in Stoker’s notes only as “shrewd” and “skeptical”—played in the affair is unknown.
Harker’s sweetheart since childhood, whom he marries during the course of events described in Stoker’s narrative, is Mina Murray Harker. Mina, probably about the same age as Harker, is an assistant schoolmistress, at a school that she likely attended. While she was a schoolgirl there, she was part of a circle of friends including Lucy Westenra (although Lucy was younger than Mina), Kate Reed, and several other unnamed girls. She has studied shorthand and typing in order to assist Jonathan Harker with his law career, and she is well read in psychology and sociology. Mina is logical and orderly in thought, sensitive to the feelings of others and the impressions she and her friends create on those around them. A “man’s brain” is the unfortunate description applied by Van Helsing to her intellect, but Mina has little patience with the “New Woman.” Even though she is comfortable handling a carriage or a pistol, she clings to homely values and is willing to allow the men around her to place her on a pedestal.
John (Jack) Seward, another of Dracula’s hunters, is a physician, the proprietor of a private insane asylum. In Stoker’s notes, he is initially described as the “madhouse doctor.” Kim Newman, in Anno Dracula, proposes that Seward is the man later known to the public as Jack the Ripper. A former student and close friend of Van Helsing, Seward is twenty-nine, young for his position. He is of good birth, handsome, and strong-jawed; and although he has travelled the world seeking adventure, he is shy and awkward in the company of women. Devoted to his work and a compulsive diarist, Seward yearns to make a name for himself in his field, although he displays little compassion for his patients and little regard for medical ethics or law. He is credulous, sycophantic—at least with respect to Van Helsing, whose life he once saved—slowwitted, materialistic, and clings to rationalism.
Little is known about Arthur Holmwood, later Lord Godalming, or Quincey Morris, who rounds out the list of Dracula’s hunters. Holmwood is tall, handsome and curly-haired (or straight-haired, depending on the account), the heir of “Ring,” the family home. He apparently possesses substantial inherited wealth. Although he, Morris, and Seward travelled together to places of high adventure, he has little practical sense and relies on his privileged upbringing and title to obtain anything he may desire. Although he must have been educated in traditional schools, he knows little and says less. He woos Mina’s friend Lucy Westenra over the course of Stoker’s narrative, only to lose her to Dracula, but apparently marries someone else soon after her death.
Quincey Morris is a man of some mystery. An American from Texas, he may have been an inventor and may have been wealthy, but in either case, what little is revealed of his life consists of vague allusions to adventures in remote places in the company of Seward and Holmwood. Regardless of this life of travel, he spoke no foreign languages, appeared uncomfortable in social settings, and seemed devoid of intellectual curiosity or attainments. Although Morris was a poor shot—probably even with his beloved Winchester rifle—he was reasonably adept with a Bowie knife, although he was the only one of the troupe to perish in the final assault on Dracula.
Two others of the circle around Dracula are worthy of mention. Lucy Westenra, longtime friend of Mina, was Dracula’s first English victim. Lucy is the pampered child of an uppermiddle- class family, nineteen at the time of the events described in Stoker’s narrative. Leonard Wolf, in The Annotated Dracula, describes her as “silly, transparent, gushy, giggly, beautiful, and good.” (7) Her education was (as might be expected) limited to some years spent at the same institution attended by Mina and Kate Reed, and her life revolved around walking, picture galleries, riding, rowing, tennis, and fishing.
Perhaps the key to her doom was her tendency to sleep-walk, inherited from her father. There is little else to explain why Dracula, while still in Transylvania, chose her as his first English victim. This is one of the most troubling aspects of the Harkers’ papers—why did Dracula select Whitby as his first destination in England? Could it be that he made long-distance telepathic contact with Lucy Westenra before Harker’s journey to Castle Dracula and planned his voyage to land at Whitby because he knew that Lucy would be there? Two films, Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992), written by James V. Hart, and Dan Curtis’s made-for-television Dracula (1973), written by the eminent science-fiction author Richard Matheson and starring Jack Palance as Dracula, both posit that Dracula was drawn to England by his discovery of the reincarnation of his first wife as Mina (Coppola’s film) or Lucy (Curtis’s film) and planned to be reunited eternally with her. However, there is no suggestion in the Harkers’ papers that Dracula had any foreknowledge of Lucy (or Mina for that matter), and although romantically satisfying, the notion must be rejected.
Lucy is courted by Holmwood, Seward, and Morris, all of whom propose to her, and Van Helsing is clearly smitten by her as well. However, she appears unremittingly unaware. She is near-comatose during every encounter with Dracula and goes to her grave with apparently no knowledge whatsoever of what befell her.
The last figure of significance in the narrative is R. M. Renfield, a 59- (or 49)-year-old patient in Seward’s asylum, probably self-admitted. Renfield (privately referred to rudely as the “Fly-man” by Seward for his zoöphagous habits) is a man of great physical strength and strong intellectual character, highly educated and articulate. He is also selfish, secretive, obsessive, morbidly excitable, and prone to violent acts. Although his physician John Seward is the last to see it, his mania serves to connect him to Dracula, and he seeks to rationalise vampirism on psychic or spiritual grounds. Little is known of Renfield’s life before the asylum, and he was never visited by any friends or family. Renfield is the only person whose death can be directly attributed to Dracula. (8)
What connection can be drawn between theatre-manager/author Bram Stoker and this group of people? To understand how the Stoker narrative came to be, one must begin with the hidden truth: Dracula did not die at the hands of his hunters.
As observed earlier, Bram Stoker probably met Jonathan Harker in the course of his legal studies, in late 1889 or early 1890. Harker, anxious to alert the public to the danger of the vampire’s presence in England, sought the help of his friend Bram Stoker to disseminate his warning. Stoker had at this time only published a few books but was nonetheless a more “literary” man than Harker or any other of his circle of friends. Stoker undertook to help the Harkers, but the press of work kept him from devoting his undivided energy to the task.
Then, I suggest, the unexpected occurred—Dracula himself approached Stoker. Realising that it was too late to suppress the Harkers’ papers entirely, Dracula pressured Stoker—presumably with threats against his person and his family—into distorting the papers, hiding the facts essential to permit (or induce) readers to track the vampire. This required changing not only the names of the people involved but also the location of Castle Dracula and—most important—putting out the story that Dracula had perished and Castle Dracula had been destroyed. Through this process, Stoker probably worked in camera with Dracula, without consulting the Harkers or anyone else. In editing and approving the final version, Dracula—perhaps understandably—emphasized the worst and weakest aspects of the characters of his opponents. Only after the narrative was published did the survivors contact Stoker and persuade him to use the vehicle of the abridged text of the narrative, published in 1901, to soften their harsh portraits.
Consider in particular the ending of the narrative, the destruction of Dracula’s castle. Famously, the manuscript of Stoker’s narrative originally contained a detailed description of the disintegration of the Castle, a description mysteriously absent from the final published version. One may examine Stoker’s notes in vain for verification of the true facts of the destruction of the Castle. Was it actually destroyed? If, as I suggest, Dracula wished to perpetuate the myth that he perished and so forestall future hunters, a record of the destruction of the Castle would surely dissuade future generations from seeking it. It appears that it was originally intended that the falsehood of the destruction be included in the narrative. However, in a subversive act, someone—perhaps one of the Harkers—induced Stoker at the last minute to print the truth—that the Castle persisted. Once done, it was not practical to “cover up” the existence of the Castle by restoring the “destruction” scene to the 1901 abridged text, and the true story of the Castle’s existence remained in print.
The result was the narrative in its present form. Full of transparent plagiarisms, inconsistencies, made-up names, places, and dates, the narrative can hardly be relied upon as a source of definite knowledge about virtually anything associated with Dracula—not the name or history of the vampire-count, not the true characteristics of vampires, not the reasons for the inexplicable behaviour of so many people on so many occasions. Instead, the published version must be regarded as largely a work of fiction, created by Bram Stoker from the Harkers’ papers under the iron control of the master-vampire. Too many people had already heard the Harkers’ wild tale, and perhaps too many had already seen the Harkers’ papers, for the essential facts to be completely obfuscated, but only the most diligent cryptographer will be able to decode the secrets of Dracula.
(1) © Copyright 2007 by Leslie S. Klinger. This paper was first presented in slightly
shortened form at the May 2007 symposium of the Transylvanian Society of Dracula, in
(2) Stoker found the name in William Wilkinson’s partial account of the history of Transylvania and adopted it for the creature he originally styled “Count Wampyr.”
(3) Elizabeth Miller, Dracula: Sense & Nonsense (Southend-on-Sea, Essex: Desert Island
Books, 2006), 160.
(4) However, Mina Harker observes him later with a black moustache and pointed beard.
(5) Clive Leatherdale, Dracula: The Novel & The Legend, A Study of Bram Stoker’s Gothic Masterpiece (Wellingborough, Northhamptonshire: Aquarian Books, 1985; revised editions, Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex: Desert Island Books, 1993, 2001), 125.
(6) Dr. John Seward’s medical behaviour—and especially his medical ethics—were not significantly better, perhaps as a direct result of Van Helsing’s influence.
(7) Leonard Wolf, A Dream of Dracula: In Search of the Living Dead (Boston and Toronto: Little, Brown and Company, 1972), 208-09.
(8) There is no definite evidence that Dracula was the cause of the deaths of the captain or crew of the Demeter. Lucy likely died from the hazards of medical science; Morris was killed by the Szgany.