Like many teenage girls before and after me, I was raised on vampires.
In my day it was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Christopher Pike’s kick-ass Sita and Anne Rice’s Lestat – including the Tom Cruise celluloid version. Now it’s HBO’s True Blood, Tim Burton/Johnny Depp’s latest make-up bonanza and the pouting Twilight couple. Pop culture can’t get enough of the neck-biting drama. I know I can’t.
But here’s the revelation. All of them originally stem from the deliciously dark imagination of a Dubliner.
Let me take you back. Back 165 years to Victorian Dublin, in an unassuming house in the seaside suburb of Clontarf, where a certain Bram Stoker was born. The same Stoker who, 43 years later, penned the story of the most famous vampire of them all… The daddy of bloodsucking fiction: Count Dracula.
It’s a tragedy that Stoker is not more firmly linked to his native city. First, because the country that does suck off the Dracula story has no real claim to it – Stoker never visited Romania. And because in the first 31 years of his life, he grew up, studied, worked and got married in . The best part of this, especially for a fan like me, is that so much of the Victorian-era city that Bram ‘haunted’ still stands today.
First stop is 15 Marino Crescent in Clontarf, a quick DART journey from the city. The three-storey Georgian affair was where Stoker was born and grew up. When it went on sale recently, the real estate agent’s photos and even a video revealed the interior to the delight of nosy Stoker fans everywhere. “Wouldyalook – original fireplaces!”
I love the legacy he left in the area. Bram’s Café round the corner serving a Dracula burger (cooked rare, obviously). Owner Jimmy Bowler gets a lot of ‘Bramoraks’ through the door asking questions about the big man. His notes tucked behind the counter mean he can even answer some of them.
In , Stoker was quite the mover and shaker, literally. He was a university athletics champion, prize gymnast, weightlifter, swimmer, rugby player and capped footballer. He was also President of Trinity’s Philosophical Society – a very high position in society.
I find it strangely comforting that even the great mind behind Dracula was not immune to parental pressure. Stoker loved theater, but after university he followed his father’s footsteps to the civil service. This is Victorian Dublin though, so even a boring office clerk job has the Gothic setting of . The paper-pushing work actually influenced the writing style of Dracula. The diary entries, memos and telegrams are like a folder of evidence, and a dead giveaway to his work as a civil servant, compiling folders on cases around Ireland. [Side note: apparently Anne Rice's Interview With A Vampire is a response to this format, letting the vampire tell his story in his own words]
One of the best things about the little world of Irish Literature is how the main characters bump into each other. Want to guess Stoker’s connection to Oscar Wilde? He only married Wilde’s ex-girlfriend. Stoker wed 20-year old Florence Balcombe in 1878, in a sweet little church called on Dawson Street. A bust of him sits in the church today. Stoker was also a regular guest in the house of Wilde’s parents.
Stoker lived in Rathmines, Rathgar, and three or four places around Trinity. In 7 Stephen’s Green, he would have had a lovely view out over the park.
All too soon though, Stoker followed his ambition to London’s theatre scene, to actor Henry Irving and his Lyceum Theatre.
But Dublin remains the city to feel closest to him I think. In one day, you can soak in his humble beginnings in Clontarf and the painting of him in the . Stroll from the little church he got married in to the city’s annual . See how the city still winks at his memory with the real-life undertaker and Dracula-impersonator Paddy Drac.
When you peel back all the Victorian lore and vampire myth and gothic academia, Stoker was just another Dubliner with a wild imagination.
One who took a while to realise his talent – I mean, his first book was called ‘The Duties of Clerks of Petty Sessions in Ireland’. But the point is that he did, eventually. Everyone can relate to that.
And 150 years later, the successful Tim Burton, Stephenie Meyer, Alan Ball and Robert Pattinson’s Porsche dealer, all have Stoker to thank.
The Bram Stoker Festival takes place in Dublin on 26 – 28 October.
, a play based on his life will run on 25 October – 11 November 2012 at the Samuel Beckett Theatre in Stoker’s Alma mater, Trinity College.