“Listen to them – children of the night. What music they make.” Bram Stoker
Welcome to the new biography series at Muse Tracks.
Writers have created fascinating stories throughout the centuries for our enjoyment and education. I thought it would be interesting to turn the tables and look into the private lives of those who spent their days on earth creating unforgettable characters. I have found that they themselves are some of the most unforgettable characters I’ve run across.
On November 8, 1847, a red haired Irish boy was born named Bram Stoker. His birth was unremarkable as he was sandwiched in between 6 other brothers and sisters. His childhood, however, was cloaked in a mystery that remains unexplained. Bram was paralyzed until he was seven years old and it was time for school. He remained mostly in his bed and never walked. Some have theorized that it was a type of hysterical paralysis perhaps due to some form of abuse that happened in his young life. What we do know is that his mother spent countless hours telling him stories of strange creatures doing even stranger and horrifying things.
Once school began, he excelled. Health issues never plagued him again and by the time he reached Trinity University in Dublin he was named University Athlete. He graduated with honors in Mathematics and went on to become a civil servant. While he worked hard at his day job, it was his writing that gave him great joy. He also loved the theatre and worked as a critic writing reviews (for free, I might add) about current plays and the actors who performed on stage. He published a book on being a civil servant and a few short stories, but it was a review about a famous actor that changed the direction of his life.
Sir Henry Irving was a rock star of the stage and Bram idolized the actor’s performance in his critique. Irving, who loved being loved, invited Bram to dinner and the two spent the evening drinking and forging a friendship that would last for the rest of their lives. Soon after, Bram quit his job and joined Sir Irving as the manager of the famous Lyceum theatre in London and as his personal assistant. This decision allowed him to travel around the world as the company toured their theatrical productions. He met presidents, royalty, other famous artists and led a life most would envy. Unfortunately, this life came with a price and some say caused his death in the end.
During the early years, Bram met a beautiful young woman named Florence Balcombe. This 6’2″ strapping Irishman began to court her immediately and wasn’t slowed down by the fact that she was already engaged to another young writer named Oscar Wilde (who was his friend as well). Mr. Wilde lost his love and Bram and Florence were married in 1878. While Wilde was upset with Bram for a time, the two resumed their friendship and even met on various continents for dinners.
While we all know he was married to Florence, many say he was truly married to Henry Irving. Even the couple’s only child was born Irving Noel Stoker. (When he came of age, he only went by Noel Stoker.) Bram was at Irving’s constant call. He travelled with him, would go to dinner with him after the shows, not returning home until early morning, and then take care of the business matters of the theatre during the day. It’s reported that if he did have deeper feelings for the actor, it didn’t seem that they were returned. Their relationship had a desperate obsessive quality to it that was fueled by the creative emotions of the actor. Irving was a volatile diva taken to fits of rage when things didn’t go his way yet would lavish praise and affection on those who pleased him.
Given his demanding lifestyle, it’s a wonder Bram Stoker wrote anything at all. It took him over seven years to complete his most famous work Dracula. His manuscript slowly took shape on bits of paper snatched from wherever he happened to be when an idea hit. He meticulously researched every detail placed between those pages right down to the actual train schedule that existed during Van Helsing’s trip back to London. His characters were reflections of himself as the professor and Irving as Dracula. Some say he even wrote this story for it to be the greatest part Sir Irving would ever play on stage.
Once it was published and had fair success, he brought it to the man he worshipped and had actors do a reading for him in the theatre. It’s said Irving twitched in his seat for 20 minutes before hurling the manuscript in the air, leaving a shattered Bram in his wake.
Despite his beloved novel being rejected in this manner, Bram remained by Irving’s side until the day he died. He continued to write and published several other short stories, poems, children’s tales, and novels. Much as his life began with a mystery, his death is also a source of question. While some say he died of a stroke and sheer exhaustion, other claim that he died of tertiary syphilis contracted by visiting prostitutes which was common in Victorian England.
Such was the bittersweet life of Bram Stoker.