The Story Behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The Story Behind Bram Stoker’s Dracula
By: Alexis Fabricius
During my undergrad, I took a course on Gothic Literature that was taught by a professor who was obsessed with vampires; in fact, he was one of only three people in Canada to have received his doctorate in “vampirology”. Throughout the course he gave us more and more background on Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which had been the focal point of his doctoral thesis. One day, after the class had finished Dracula, my professor went into detail about the inaccuracies and myths surrounding the book; the most interesting myth concerned how Stoker dreamt up the idea of Dracula in the first place. It is commonly held that Stoker got the idea for the character Count Dracula when he learned about Vlad the Impaler; however, there is more to the story.
Vlad the Impaler (patronym: Dracula):
Vlad the Impaler (Vlad III, Prince of Wallachia, aka Vlad Tepes) is certainly an interesting historical figure, who’s heralded today by modern day Romanians and Bulgarians as a saviour of their people, though to the rest of the world is undoubtedly known for his preference for impalement as a method of execution.
When Vlad was a boy, his father sent him and his brother Radu to serve as hostages of his loyalty in the Ottoman court. After Vlad II’s death, Radu stayed behind, but Vlad Tepes returned to Wallachia with a considerable amount of education, though it is also known that when he returned he was greatly disturbed. To this day, no one is quite sure what happened to him during his stay at the Ottoman court, but we do know that whatever it was, was enough to turn him into quite a brutal man.
During his time as Voivode of Wallachia, he developed a reputation for sadism and cruelty, particularly in regards to torture. In fact, German pamphlets from the late 15th-mid 16th c. that circulated after his death told of his grim actions with macabre fascination; estimations of the number of people he killed number anywhere from 40 000- 100 000, which would put Vlad`s executions in roughly the same numbers as the European witch hunts. The few wood carvings that exist of Vlad always depicted him surrounded by impaled victims; in fact, the most well-known wood carving shows Vlad sitting and having a leisurely picnic while surrounded by impaled corpses.
Vlad vis-à-vis Count Dracula:
We know that Stoker read about Vlad III in William Wilkinson`s book, An Account of the Principalities of Wallachia and Moldavia: with various Political Observations Relating to Them, because he made notes about Vlad in the margins. Undoubtedly, that is where he got the name ‘Dracula’.
After Vlad’s death by assassination, his body went missing, and to this day has never been located. In fact, we’re not even sure when he actually died. Historians have pieced together that he was certainly dead by January 10, 1477, but we have no idea on what date or exactly where he was assassinated. Historians assume it would have been somewhere along the road between Bucharest and Giurgiu, but that has never been confirmed. Vlad’s head was supposedly taken as a trophy and brought to Constantinople, though no remains of either his head or body have ever been found. Furthermore, after Vlad’s death, people began to report that they would see him walking his castle walls at night, pacing back and forth. This is where Stoker first had the idea for Dracula to have lived after he died.
At the time Stoker was writing, a disease called porphyria developed among the European aristocracy. Some of the chief symptoms of this disease of the distinguished included: extreme photosensitivity, so those afflicted would never go out during the day; extreme anemia, making sufferers look sickeningly pale; gum recession over the incisors giving the impression that those two teeth looked more pronounced and longer than the rest; blisters on the mouth and gums, which gave the appearance of having a blood-filled mouth and blood-stained teeth, and mental disturbances including depression, hallucinations and anxiety. Fun side note – the urine of porphyria sufferers turns purple when left in the sun. Fancy.
So, in summary:
‘Dracula’ + reputation for brutality + myths of life after death + no evidence of Vlad actually dying + the symptoms of porphyria during Stoker’s time = Count Dracula.
There you have it, kids!
About the Author: Alexis Fabricius graduated from the Centre for Medieval Studies at the University of Toronto with an MA in Medieval history (focus on Medieval magic, heresy, necromancy and the history of Satan). She works as a small business consultant within the fitness industry, helping to improve martial arts studios and small gyms by assessing their business practices, identifying what they are struggling with, and showing them how to improve things so that business owners can have a more financially viable club. Alexis holds black belts in karate and kung-fu, and with almost twenty years of experience, she is opening Toronto’s first women’s self defense company, Invicta Self-Defense. She also teaches kickboxing and ju-jitsu privately, as well as Zumba.