It’s OK if you don’t know the name, but you’ll kick yourself when I tell so, I’ll give you a little more time to run the memory tapes…. No? He was the guy who wrote Dracula. See, I told you! Yes, the main figure in the contemporary cult of vampirology, which was threatening to get out of hand until it was blindsided by the zombies, was the brainchild of a 19th century Irishman, who was a prolific and not bad writer. He was born in Dublin, but identified very strongly with England and the whole Empire thing. Although he wrote a number of novels and stories, his greatest success was as the assistant to Sir Henry Irving, the superstar actor and as manager of Irving’s theater in London, the Lyceum. Irving had “access” and that meant that Stoker did too, so he became a familiar figure in Upper Class circles. He traveled a good bit, including a trip to the USA, which he liked. But his fame rests on one book: the story of the Undead Count from Transylvania, You Know Who. Stoked went into training for this, reading up on mythology, ethnic studies, geography and history of the murky eastern European realms. And in 1897 Dracula appeared and that was it: the Flying Count took off on his own journey through innumerable books, plays, movies, TV shows, and so on. The word ‘iconic’ is thrown around rather loosely, but the performance by Bela Lugosi in the movie version of Dracula earns the adjective honestly. The cape, the accent, the mannerisms… all Bela. Even the Count on Sesame Street is a Bela Lugosi knock-off.
I guess you could say that Stoker had a more than ordinary life, but his literary creations eclipsed the adventures of their creator. For example, the manuscript of Dracula disappeared for many years, only to turn up in a barn in Pennsylvania sometime in the 1980s. I’m not making this stuff up. How did it get there? Write a story about it. Put in some vampires, and a couple or three zombies, and a were-wolf, to cover all the bases. It might be optioned, who knows? That wasn’t the only item that disappeared. There had references and rumors about a journal Stoker kept, which could not be found in his papers. English majors and Victorian Lit specialists were very anxious to get a hold of that. A Stoker relative was asked if he had any knowledge of papers, memos or books of the author’s that might have come to his hand. He checked around and found, hidden in plain sight on a bookshelf, the lost journal. Bingo!!! It’s about 300 pages long, written in longhand of course, with notes about the vampire story and other topics as well. The book had somehow been moved to the cottage, and had just sat there, for years.
I used to sneer at those “Treasure in Your Attic” TV shoes, but, hey: in a Pennsy barn? On a bookshelf on the Isle of Wight? It could happen.