It’s so often about the weather. If it hadn’t been for the incessant rain that year, there’d have been no story about an aristocrat drinking the blood of his bride-to-be and vanishing into the night.
That was the basis of Dr. John Polidori’s novella The Vampyre, the first real example of the genre. Polidori was Lord Byron’s personal physician and spent the summer of 1816 at Byron’s villa on Lake Geneva. One night in June – after rainy days spent indoors reading German ghost stories -Byron challenged Polidori and two other guests – Percy Shelley and Mary Wollstonecraft – to write a mystery story. Mary’s contribution would become Frankenstein and Polidori’s tale of the evil Lord Ruthven would morph into Dracula.
Sheridan LeFanu wrote a vampire story in the 1870s and ‘Varney the Vampire’ was serialized in a tabloid, but the quintessential vampire didn’t appear until 1897, when Bram Stoker, manager of the Lyceum Theater and assistant to Sir Henry Irving, created the iconic Count Dracula. (Stoker apparently gave Irving’s suave manners to the Count.)
Biographers estimate that Stoker spent about seven years reading about European folklore, studying maps and delving into the history of Wallachia, the home of Vlad the Impaler. It was Vlad’s family name Dracul – dragon – that he borrowed for the Count. Stoker never saw the landscape he described, but he cleverly wrote a horror story in a documentary style, with letters, newspaper reports and entries from a ship’s log that make the story so believable.
Polidori’s novella early in the century had been popular and Stoker’s got good reviews, but it wasn’t until the 20th century and the many film versions that it really took off.
After a series of strokes, Bram Stoker died one hundred years ago today, at the age of 64. While most of his life is well-documented, two small mysteries remain: There is no clear evidence of what illness or condition kept him bedridden until he was 7 years old – at which point he seems to have risen and gone to school – and what was the original manuscript of his novel doing in a Pennsylvania barn, where it was found in the 1980s?
The manuscript was auctioned by Christie’s to a buyer who remained anonymous until author Leslie Klinger tracked him down and asked to see the ms. Klinger wrote The New Annotated Dracula based on the manuscript and was allowed to reveal that the owner was Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.
The manuscript, btw, carried what would soon be considered a working title: The Un-Dead. Read it, or download the ebook, at Project Gutenberg,