Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Literary Scandals: Who Was the Real-Life Dracula?

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My mates, allow us to start drawing up some strains of conspiracy and scandal. From the outset, I’m absolving myself of journalistic integrity and the regular want to offer proof of my claims, or — extra importantly in lots of instances — proof that outweighs my claims. Everyone concerned on this scandal is long-dead, and actual, precise students have written about and studied this topic. In the sense of an individual devoted to discovering fact, I’m neither a journalist nor a scholar on this second, however merely a literary gossip, and I dearly love a superb scandal.

Let’s get one thing out of the means instantly: vampires — the blood-sucking, immortal, turning-into-bats, sparkling-in-the-sunlight, “I-vant-to-saaaahck-your-blooood” vampires, usually are not actual. At least, not on our airplane of actuality. That I do know of. And to be trustworthy, I’d moderately not know in the event that they’re actually actual. But when you occur to return throughout one, please ask him (it’s at all times a “him”) why his form appear drawn to younger, impressionable ladies who haven’t but fashioned their sense of autonomous self. On second thought, scratch that. I feel I simply answered my very own query.

ANYWAY. We are right here, denizens of the grapevine, to debate that almost all notorious of literary characters: Dracula.

Any fast web search will inform you that Bram Stoker’s character Dracula was primarily based on Vlad Dracula, Vlad III of Romania, Vlad the Impaler. However, Stoker’s depiction of Vlad Dracula is totally fantastical, barely primarily based on the broad outlines of his life. It is apparent to any web armchair historian — akin to I — that another person will need to have served as a way more speedy and private reference for such an iconic villain.

I current to you, fellow scuttlebutt fanatics, the one and solely Oscar Fingal O’Flahertie Wills Wilde, well-known creator, playwright, and aesthete.

A sepia photograph of Oscar Wilde from 1882, at age 28. He is seated, leaning forward onto his knee, holding a cane. He wears a suit and a jacket with fur-trimmed collar and sleeves.
Oscar Wilde, age 28 (1882)

“What?” chances are you’ll be pondering. “What on earth has a vampire to do with Oscar Wilde, author of The Picture of Dorian Gray and The Importance of Being Earnest?” I’m getting there. It seems that one Abraham Stoker, Irishman, and one Oscar Wilde, additionally an Irishman, have been a part of the similar circle rising up. Their mother and father have been mates, and so they have been at Trinity College at the similar time, the place they have been mates. Very shut mates.

That is, till they each met Florence Balcombe, celebrated magnificence. Wilde courted her first, and he or she accepted his swimsuit, though the pairing was ultimately damaged off and Florence took the title of Mrs. Bram Stoker. Stoker’s proposal was one thing of a scandal in and of itself, contemplating that Wilde was nonetheless her foremost suitor. And, rumor has it that whereas Stoker was the eventual victor of the younger Miss Balcombe’s coronary heart, he by no means fairly recovered from the discrepancy of Florence’s love for Wilde’s flamboyant, outsized dandy character. His character, in distinction, was extra strong and decided, with a gradual job as theater supervisor for Henry Irving.

In 1897, Oscar Wilde was sentenced to 2 years of laborious labor for “gross indecency” concerning acts of sodomy, and Bram Stoker started what was to be his masterwork. In it, he describes the titular villain utilizing the similar phrases that the up to date press used to explain Wilde: as an “overfed leech” and a dwelling personification of all that’s dilettante and fallacious with late Victorian society.

Stoker’s revenge was totally Pyrrhic. Journals found in his attic (how is it that this type of discovery continues to be taking place??), printed in 2012 as The Lost Journal of Bram Stoker, discuss in coded language about Stoker’s personal sexual preferences and predilections. What is much less coded is the textual content of his letter to Walt Whitman:

I wish to name YOU Comrade and to speak to you as males who usually are not poets don’t typically discuss. I feel that in the first place a person can be ashamed, for a person can’t in a second break the behavior of comparative reticence that has turn out to be second nature to him; however I do know I might not lengthy be ashamed to be pure earlier than you. You are a real man, and I wish to be one myself, and so I might be in direction of you as a brother and as a pupil to his grasp.

Bram Stoker to Walt Whitman.

This letter is printed in full, for the first time, in Something in the Blood by David J. Skal. In Victorian occasions, admiration for Whitman was akin to a declaration of homosexuality, nearly as damning as a relationship with Oscar Wilde himself.

Stoker famously saved to himself, enhancing his public picture ruthlessly. In distinction to Wilde, and maybe in response to what he perceived to be Wilde’s recklessness concerning his sexual exploits, he retreated farther and farther into the closet, going as far as to say in 1912 that every one homosexuals needs to be locked up — a gaggle that positively, on reflection, included himself.

In the finish, this literary scandal finally ends up being much less lascivious and extra a story to tug at the coronary heart. Two mates, rivals, lovers, and authors; Stoker put them at odds in Dracula, casting Mina as the love curiosity, however in the finish, it’s the stress between the regular, reliable Harker and the lethal, mesmerizing Dracula that compels us.

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