Narrator: James Patrick Cronin
Published by HighBridge Audio on 4 October 2016
Length: 21 hrs and 26 mins
Genres: History, Horror, Non-Fiction
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Bram Stoker, despite having a name nearly as famous as his legendary undead count, has remained a puzzling enigma. Now, in this psychological and cultural portrait, David J. Skal exhumes the inner world and strange genius of the writer who conjured an undying cultural icon.
Stoker was inexplicably paralyzed as a boy, and his story unfolds against a backdrop of Victorian medical mysteries and horrors: cholera and famine fever, childhood opium abuse, frantic bloodletting, mesmeric quack cures, and the gnawing obsession with "bad blood" that informs every page of Dracula. Stoker's ambiguous sexuality is explored through his lifelong acquaintance and romantic rival, Oscar Wilde, who emerges as Stoker's repressed shadow side - a doppelganger worthy of a Gothic novel.
The psychosexual dimensions of Stoker's passionate youthful correspondence with Walt Whitman, his punishing work ethic, and his slavish adoration of the actor Sir Henry Irving are examined in splendidly Gothic detail.
©2015 David J. Skal (P)2016 HighBridge, a division of Recorded Books
Explore not only Bram Stoker’s life, but the Victorian era, contemporary authors, famous theater celebrities, and the various works of Stoker in this book.
I grew up watching all sorts of Dracula and vampire stories and as an adult I finally read Dracula by Bram Stoker. It remains one of my favorite horror stories, being full of suspense and the darker, often repressed, side of human nature. When I saw that a biography on Stoker was available, I jumped on it.
This book was so much more than I expected. It was educational and entertaining. Not only did I learn about Stoker but also about this writer and theater side of the Victorian Era. Then there was also Victorian viewpoint on same-sex relationships that played a big role in shaping Stoker’s life.
Here are some of the things I learned from this book but there’s plenty more so don’t feel like you’re getting the complete picture. Stoker was a sickly child, often bedridden until he turned 7. Eventually he grew into a strapping young man who excelled at athletics. I particularly found it interesting that during this era, it was common to dress both boys and girls as young girls until they reached a certain age. I think partly, this is to assist in potty training (a smock or tunic-like dress easier to lift up and do your business and perhaps easier to clean). Stoker did blossom from this stage into a boy and that’s when he became much more active. All sorts of psychology of both Stoker and his mother are explored in the book concerning this particular thing.
There was a very scary cholera epidemic when Stoker was a child. At one point, his mom had to fend off the sick from breaking into their house. Perhaps young Stoker saw more blood and violence than most kids at that age.
One of the key things I learned concerned Victorian views on same-sex partners. For men, it was against the law. For women, it was never against the law as there was this underlying cultural belief that for it to be real sex, a male member had to be involved. Yes, that idea had me laughing a little bit. Also, curiously there was not a real term for homosexuality until much later so Victorian folks would use colloquialisms and slanted looks to get their meaning across. The idea that people didn’t really have words to express their sexual orientation, even to themselves, was an eye opener as to how in the closet homosexuals were at this time.
There’s plenty stuff about the London and Dublin theaters in this book since Stoker worked for the famous actor Henry Irving. Most of this was lost on me. I don’t recognize the names and have never been to these famous theaters. I do think that for folks who have even a passing interest in theater stuff from this era would find these sections of the book insightful.
Stoker himself was a very private man and there’s very little written by him concerning his personal thoughts on things. So much of his motivations have to be inferred from his actions and the few bits we have written by him (usually communications to others). It was very interesting to learn about his fascination with Oscar Wilde. I have never read anything by Wilde but after listening to this biography, I am sorely tempted to do so. Since Stoker and Wilde had an on/off friendship of a sort throughout the decades, we learn plenty about Wilde in this book including his imprisonment for homosexual acts.
Syphilis comes into play more than once. According to some reputable data this book dug up, perhaps as much as 25% of London males during Stoker’s time had this STD. It being pre-penicillin days, there wasn’t a good treatment for syphilis, which can also lie dormant for years. This means you don’t know you have it but you can spread it around.
As the book winds down, taking us to Stoker’s death, I still had 2 CDs left. This biography includes what happened after Stoker was buried not only to his family but also to his works. I was fascinated by the number of knock-offs of Dracula, both in book form and on screen. Copyright laws were not present in some countries back then. There was also some interesting stuff about Bela Lugosi after he played Dracula – apparently it was hard for him to get any kind of role outside of the monster characters.
All together, this was a very thorough and complete accounting of Stoker’s life and the life of his most well known work, Dracula. I feel the author treated his life with an objective hand. Stoker wasn’t a saint but he was a very interesting man in interesting times.
I received a free copy of this book via LibraryThing.
The Narration: James Patrick Cronin was a great pick to narrate this book. He sounded genuinely interested in the subject throughout the book. The pacing was good and occasionally, a little bit of emotion is injected at appropriate times.
This review first appeared on Dab of Darkness.