Perhaps Irishman Bram Stoker wasn’t inspired by Romanian legends. There’s plenty of evidence that suggests his masterpiece Dracula came from Irish horror stories. Leonie O’Hara reports.
Dracula is considered a masterpiece of Gothic horror genre and was published in 1897. It has been immortalized in films, stage productions and popular culture for years. The story which is is set in Victorian times and revolves around attempts of Count Dracula, a vampire, to relocate from Transylvania (present day Romania) to England, and often ghoulish interaction between him and a small group of people. Author Bram Stoker had never been to Romania. Where did he get his inspiration? People have believed in vampires since time immemorial. Many primitive cultures held beliefs in vampires and guidelines on how to protect oneself from an attack, how to kill vampire and exterminate its immortality. Legends of vampirism reach back to Assyria, Babylonia, China and South America. In 1800s in Greece belief in vampirism was particularly prevalent – anyone with red hair was suspect, and may have been killed. The real home of vampirism however, is Eastern Europe, specifically Romania. The reason Romania is most associated with vampire is thought to be a combination of legends, superstitions, a war-mongering history and culture of Roma gypsies. Vampirism could be explained by many things.
The medical condition porphyria for instance. Patients with this affliction develop pale skin, sensitivity to sunlight, receding gums which make their teeth appear larger, and severe anemia. The cure for anemia in past was to drink blood of animals. Vampirism may also be linked to practice of grave robbing common at time. Or it may have come from need to drink blood of animals which originated when soldiers or huntsmen went out in wilderness and having no cooking facilities drank animal’s blood and then became addicted. Popular opinion believes Stoker spent several years researching vampires and European folklore. He based novel on real life person of Dracula, Prince Vlad III of Wallachia who lived from 1431 to 1476. Vlad, who is regarded as a national hero in Romania, was a bloodthirsty prince with a penchant for impaling enemies, hence name Vlad Impaler. The name Dracula, according to this theory, comes from Drac which was name of Vlad’s father. Dracula simply means son of Drac which means devil, or it may mean dragon.
Yet there have been arguments against this idea, some critics suggest that it was impossible that Stoker based his horror fiction on Prince Vlad Impaler and real connection and inspiration for Dracula may be closer to home. What’s more, what may come as a surprise is that Ireland does have an affinity for that bloodsucking entity, vampire. There are several elements that may have contributed to Stoker’s imagination for novel. For example, a number of factors from Stoker’s childhood in Ireland may have inspired writer’s early imagination to idea of blood-sucking. Bram was an extremely sickly child, though it is very unclear what his illness was, and why he had a sudden recovery when he was seven years old. However, it was quite common at time in Ireland of 1840s to bleed a sickly patient, and it is likely young Bram was bled as an attempt to cure his ailment. So, story goes, with Stoker’s vivid writer’s imagination he recycled these memories of being bled into a story about vampires. His mother was another considerable influence on Stoker as a child. Charlotte Blake (1818-1901) was born in Sligo and was a prominent proponent of women’s rights. She had lived through Famine years and regaled young Bram with stories of destructive effects on humanity with accounts of skeletal people walking countryside, effectively, living dead. Interestingly, Stoker’s original manuscript was in fact titled The Undead.