Monday, July 27, 2009

Pint of Guinness, not blood, please

Bram Stoker's Dracula - more Irish than Transylvanian?
It has inspired more than 1,000 movies and after the bible it's the biggest selling book of all time. But does Bram Stoker's gothic novel Dracula owe more of its inspiration to Ireland than to Transylvania?

Was Count Dracula really a bloodsucking Irish landlord who preyed on his19th century tenants? And were the undead and the gaunt haunted figures that fill the pages of Stoker's famous book straight out of Ireland's Great Famine?

These are the claims of director of the Bram Stoker's Dracula Organisation Dennis McIntyre, who says that very few people know that Stoker was in fact an Irishman.

"A lot of people are under the impression that Bram Stoker was an American, an Englishman, or a Romanian, but he wasn't. He was very much an Irishman," McIntyre said in an interview with Ireland's RTE Radio 1.

First published in1897, the took has never been out of print and has been translated into over 50 different languages. But while the story of Dracula is known by every generation throughout the world, many moviegoers and readers are unaware of its origins.

It's widely believed that Bram Stoker's Dracula tells the story of the 15th century bloodthirsty Romanian Prince Vlad Dracula III, better known as Vlad the Impaler.

The Transylvanian prince earned this name because of his reputation for impaling his enemies and watching them slowly and painfully die.
But according to Dennis McIntyre there the similarities end, and with the exception of the setting the story is a very Irish one.

He points out that the name Dracula comes from the Irish word "Droch Ola", which means "bad blood". Stoker's mother was from the West of Ireland and she told Bram about a cholera epidemic in 1832 when she witness large graves and people being pushed into them with wooden poles while they were still alive.

"They were literally buried alive. Did he get the idea of the undead being one of these?" McIntyre asked. If you committed suicide in Stoker's time it was actually believed that you became a vampire unless you got the stake through the heart treatment, he added.

There was a suicide burial plot in Clontarf, Dublin, where Stoker lived. As a boy the author used to spend hours playing in that graveyard and St. Michan's Church, where the Stoker family had a burial vault. "By some atmospheric freak in this church bodies are preserved by a natural mummification or they were in the past," said McIntyre.

Bram Stoker was born in Dublin in 1847 at the height of the Great Famine. This was one of the most catastrophic events in Irish history, with hundreds of thousands of people dying from starvation and disease or emigrating in 'coffin ships' to America.

The famine may have inspired the visual characteristics of Count Dracula and also his infamous obsession with bloodsucking, McIntyre believes. "So metaphorically speaking we think that Count Dracula might be the landlord up at the big castle sucking the blood of the peasants."

Stoker's Dracula is also full of Irish symbols - storms, fog, rats, gypsies, castle, abbey, etc.

Stoker was educated in Trinity College Dublin, spend 10 years working as a civil servant in Dublin Castle and lived his first 31 years in Dublin before moving to England. But he has been the forgotten man of Irish literature, McIntyre believes.

"In Ireland we rightfully sing the praises of Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, Wilde, Shaw, O'Casey, Swift, Goldsmith, Synge, Behan and Kavanagh - but where is Bram Stoker?"

His Dublin based organization was set up as a global focal point for the study of Stoker, and to gain for author the international recognition his work and achievements s deserve.

"Sadly and shamefully the author is totally neglected in his own birthplace, by his own people," the organization's website claims.


James Higham said...

North Yorkshire would claim him as theirs. A good read, HGF.

His Girl Friday said...

thank you.

I started looking for a 'silly' post, and came up with this; I thought it too interesting not to post.

Honey said...

Scotland' claim to fame - it is claimed that our 'slains castle' inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula.

Just so that I don't let my side down :)

CherryPie said...

I am with James on this one - Whitby, the land of my ancestors. Hang on a minute... I hope they weren't vampires...

Mrs Successful said...

Great story which you tell so well.

I watched a TV programme last week about how Slains Castle, in Scotland, inspired BS to write Dracula (as mentionned above by Honey). He viewed it as the 'castle of the dead'. Us Scots have got to have our claim to fame too you know!

Dracula is the one person that spooks my hubby! Great. xx

jams o donnell said...

An interesting post. Thinking about it, he really doesn't get included in the pantheon of great Irish novellists. Neither dos Sheridan Le Fanu either.

His Girl Friday said...

Hi Honey,
interesting, didn't know about the castle, will have to go and see it, looks like a rather eerie place1 :)

hmmm, Yorkshire, land of ancestors, too.
Maybe not vampires,but definitely vikings... ;)

Mrs S,
alas, I cannot claim the essay, twas borrowed from weirdfacts. Scots, claim to fame? surely, as they've invented most everything else... :D

honestly, I didn't know he was Irish till now.

Nick McGivney said...

One night, many years ago, at a party on the roof of the complex where I lived, I got a touch intoxicated, let's say. :) Leaning over the balcony, I glanced towards the house two or three doors down the crescent. It was in total darkness, but for the reflected rear lights of the distant traffic playing across the gloomy windows. I managed to convince myself that the dancing pairs of red dots were vampires, gliding and dancing within. It didn't take much convincing. Marino Crescent is still there in Clontarf. I was a wee bit surprised when I was told who the neighbours used to be. Tall tale? You decide...,-6.227832&spn=0.008938,0.016673&z=16

His Girl Friday said...

and the low eerie music slowly increases in tempo.... ;)