Stoker, Abraham (‘Bram’) (1847–1912), writer, barrister, and theatre manager, was born 8 November 1847 in Dublin at 15 Marino Crescent, Clontarf, third among seven children of Abraham Stoker, clerk in the British administration at Dublin Castle, and Charlotte Stoker (née Thornley), social activist and writer. A sickly child, he grew up to be a large and energetic adult who as an undergraduate at TCD (1864–70) excelled in sport, including rugby. A keen debater, he was one of the few to hold office both as auditor of the College Historical Society and as president of the Philosophical Society.
Professor Edward Dowden (qv) of TCD exercised an early influence, especially in stimulating his interest in the work of Walt Whitman (which developed into a lifelong enthusiasm for American culture). Stoker's TCD contemporaries included key figures in the Irish literary revival: Standish James O'Grady (qv), Alfred Perceval Graves (qv), and John Todhunter (qv). Many of the convictions that underlay Stoker's later fiction were formed in this era, including that reform, in the Irish context especially, obviated the need for violent or revolutionary change. Stoker's concern about the perceived degenerative tendencies of advanced western culture and its possible decline, an element in his later fiction, was also evident at this time.
Early career Stoker was employed in the Irish civil service (1866–78), during which time he also acted as a newspaper editor and theatre reviewer. He wrote a civil service manual, The duties of clerks of petty sessions in Ireland (1879), the methodology of which is seen by some as relevant to the means used to defeat Count Dracula in his eponymous novel. His position as a courts' inspector in his final two years in the civil service involved Stoker in travelling around Ireland, and his observation of the life of the countryside was reflected in some of his short stories, such as ‘The man from Shorrox’ (1894), and his novel The Snake's Pass (1890).
‘The primrose path’ (1875), an early multi-episode story published in the Shamrock, a Dublin weekly journal, includes features that anticipate elements of Stoker's later work, including a Manichaean struggle between good and evil. The prototypical evildoer, a mixture of human and supernatural, living and dead, makes his entrance into Stoker's writing, elements of which would be recreated in Stoker's later fictional monsters, Black Murdock in The Snake's Pass and Count Dracula in particular. Other early stories also feature themes that would recur in his future work: surrogacy, male bonding, deus ex machina means of achieving wealth (Count Dracula was only one example of Stoker's fictional characters who do not have to earn money by conventional means), and dreams that are linked with horror and death.
Lady Wilde (qv), mother of Oscar Wilde (qv), was a close friend in these Dublin years when Stoker was attempting, with limited success, to establish himself as a writer of fiction. She remained a lifelong friend after both of them moved to London, and her work on folklore exercised a significant influence on Dracula.
London Stoker abandoned a promising civil service career and joined Henry Irving, lessee of the Lyceum Theatre in London, as his acting manager in 1878, and remained with him till the actor's death (1905). This position gave him significant artistic and social influence in the London of the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The Lyceum was the epitome of glamour, where Irving and his leading lady, Ellen Terry, shone as the outstanding actors of the era. Stoker was in contact with a constellation of literary and other talent: the writers included Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, George Bernard Shaw (qv), Jerome K. Jerome, Anthony Hope, George Moore (qv), W. B. Yeats (qv), W. S. Gilbert, Oscar Wilde, and artists in other media such as the painter James Abbott McNeill Whistler, as well as the explorers Sir Richard Burton and David Livingstone. He qualified as a barrister in 1890 but never practised. He was a prominent member of the Irish Literary Society in London in the 1890s.
The all-consuming nature of his work for Irving diluted Stoker's early literary ambition, but he still managed to write a good deal of fiction, both short stories and novels, throughout his Lyceum career, which, like his earliest work, was often permeated by themes of violence and horror. He maintained his fictional output in the 1880s with a book of fairy tales, Under the sunset (1881), and some excellent short stories that appeared in newspapers and magazines. In 1890 he published the first of his eleven novels, The Snake's Pass, set in Ireland, which in some respects prefigures his later Gothic masterpiece, Dracula (1897), and attracted the attention of the former prime minister William Gladstone, whose home rule policies he emphatically supported.
Stoker's use of his Irish background found its most sustained outlet in The Snake's Pass. The character of Black Murdock, a villainous gombeen man, reflected Stoker's concern with contemporary issues such as moneylending in the Irish countryside. The ruthlessly accumulative Murdock is representative of a new breed of upwardly mobile, native entrepreneurs. As a moneylender, he conformed to an established fictional type in nineteenth-century Irish novels; as a ‘human-shaped wolf’, he is linked to Dracula, whose basic characteristics are those of a werewolf. As in Dracula, contemporary technology triumphs over the reactionary forces of evil, with land sought by Black Murdock being developed through the application of power and electric light by one of the novel's virtuous characters. Stoker can be seen as creating reconciliatory scenarios in which idealistic solutions triumph over the sordid contemporary realities of division and violence, and economic development revitalises a stale and under-developed economy.
Dracula Though the quality of Stoker's fiction is admittedly uneven, Dracula is best understood in the context of his entire fictional output, with common themes and preoccupations evident, as well as the imprint of his Irish protestant upbringing and contemporary social and political concerns. Diverse speculation about Stoker's political intentions in relation to Dracula continues in critical discourse. Debate rages as to whether Dracula is emblematic of the Anglo-Irish absentee landlord or whether he represents the opposite, the atavistic violence commonly attributed to the landlords' opponents in the Land League. It has even been suggested that Dracula may represent the Irish nationalist leader, Charles Stewart Parnell (qv), or that the origins of the book may lie in the National League demonstration at Mitchelstown, Co. Cork, on 9 September 1887, the ‘Mitchelstown massacre’ in which police shot dead three rioters. Punch's Irish political cartoons of the 1880s, which Stoker would have seen, featured monsters some of which shared characteristics with the vampiric count. In a wider context, Dracula is seen by some as a narrative of reverse colonisation in which the ‘civilised’ world is threatened with being overrun by ‘primitive’ forces linked to social tensions in British society, with the disruptive vampiric figures, mirroring imperial practices in monstrous form, moving from the edge of empire to threaten its troubled metropolis.
Later work; death Irving's Lyceum reached its glittering apogee in the last years of Victoria's reign, before succumbing to a series of misfortunes, combined with changing public taste. Notwithstanding the increasing difficulty of his role in supporting Irving, Stoker managed to publish some of his most extended fiction in this period: The mystery of the sea (1902), The jewel of seven stars (1903), and The man (1905). His Personal reminiscences of Henry Irving (1906) is an important source of information on its author as well as its subject. Further novels followed: Lady Athlyne (1908), The lady of the shroud (1909), and The lair of the white worm (1911). The manic quality of The lair has given rise to speculation about the state of Stoker's mind in his later years. He suffered a paralytic stroke some months after Irving's death and was in poor health for the rest of his life. While he may have been afflicted with locomotor ataxia as a result of syphilitic infection at the time of his death from kidney failure in London on 20 April 1912, he was not suffering from general paresis of the insane as has been alleged. His final non-fiction work, Famous impostors (1910), published just a year before The lair of the white worm, is well researched and clearly written.
Reputation A decade after Stoker's death, Nosferatu, by the German director F. W. Murnau (1922), was the first of many film adaptations of Dracula. Hamilton Deane, an Irish actor, adapted Dracula for the stage in 1924 with great success. Yet, while Hollywood had begun to imprint the terror of the aristocratic Count Dracula on a global audience in the 1930s, it was only in the period after the second world war that Stoker's greatest creation came into its own, when, ironically, the values that gave rise to it were being discarded by its egalitarian mass audience. The recognition that Stoker was more than the pot-boiling author of an enduringly popular novel developed initially from American critical studies in the 1970s, often with a feminist or Freudian orientation. The powerful sexual charge that runs through Dracula has caught the attention of modern commentators who see in it deviant and taboo forms of sexuality.
These readings are often based on an assumption that Stoker himself was unaware of the sexual element in his work, unconsciously revealing both inner tensions and anxieties and external concerns about contemporary issues such as female empowerment and liberation. This has led to a tendency to attribute to Stoker many of the insecurities and neuroses of his characters, a process facilitated by the relative paucity of biographical material that would illuminate the interior life of a man who, ironically, lived a highly public professional life. Nevertheless, such material as does exist poses formidable problems for some of these readings of his character: for example, how a man suffering from alleged chronic insecurity in his dealings with women was capable of deep and easy friendship with some of the strongest and most distinguished women of the era, such as Terry and Geneviève Ward; or how, as a young man, he had had the confidence to win his wife Florence, one of the most beautiful women of the era, from Oscar Wilde. The waters were muddied by controversial claims in the biography (1975) of his great-nephew, Daniel Farson, that Stoker compensated for a frigid marriage by a life of private dissolution, leading to a syphilitic death.
We have to assume, therefore, that while Stoker was probably aware of the psychological and sexual elements he was weaving into the tapestry of his masterwork, they did not necessarily represent his own desires and impulses. Similarly, his concern with a range of other issues, from societal degeneration to the unity of the British empire, were probably more reflective of the intellectual currents of the era than personal eccentricity on Stoker's part.
Uniquely among Irish writers, Stoker's reputation has been maintained more by Dracula's continuing hold on the popular consciousness through adaptations in the mass media, primarily films, than to the quality of his writing. This has led to a certain ambiguity about his place in the Irish literary pantheon, his creation of the best known character in Irish fiction notwithstanding.
He married (1878) Florence, daughter of Lt-col. James and Phillippa Anne Balcombe; they had one child, Noel (b. 1879).